5 Great Florida Gulf Coast Beaches
Florida’s Gulf Coast is home to some of the most popular and highly regarded beaches in the country. You will find a diverse selection of beaches, each offering unique amenities in a gorgeous setting. From popular hotspots like Clearwater to hidden local gems like Fred Howard, there is a beach to suit everyone’s personal taste. A vacation to Florida’s Gulf Coast is a must for any beach lover.
1. Siesta Key Beach
- Location: Sarasota
- Amenities: Volleyball courts, tennis courts, restaurant, restrooms, outdoor showers, free parking
- Where to Stay: The Ritz-Carlton Sarasota (5 star), Hyatt Regency Sarasota (4 star), Venice Beach Villas (3 star), Comfort Suites Sarasota (2 star).
What to do nearby: Sarasota Jungle Gardens, Big Cat Habitat, Cat Depot, St. Armands Circle, Venice Beach (home to the most shark teeth in the world), Lido Beach. Look for discounted admission to attractions on sites like Groupon.
Sarasota, located about an hour south of Tampa and about an hour and 15 minutes north of Fort Myers, is home to one of the area’s most beautiful beaches. Siesta Key often ranks high on any list of the top beaches in Florida, and oftentimes is ranked amongst the best in the country.
Siesta Key is a wide, sandy, picture-perfect Florida beach. The smooth white sand is 99% quartz. You won’t find any rocks or broken up shells here on the “whitest and finest sand in the world” (an award given during the Great International White Sand Beach Challenge in 1987).
Siesta Key is a great beach for just about anything due to the shear amount of space available. Whether your feel like playing a game of volleyball or spending a quiet afternoon relaxing by the water, you will find what you are looking for at Siesta.
The beach is never too crowded to enjoy yourself unlike some beaches in Florida where you have to deal with the hassle of finding a quiet space to yourself. The water is warm, the waves are fun, and the sand is perfect for building sandcastles. In general, there is a nice summery atmosphere without feeling too touristy or too hectic. Siesta Key is the perfect Florida escape: a low-key beach offering plenty of opportunities for relaxation and recreation.
2. Indian Rocks Beach
- Location: Indian Shores
- Amenities: Walkable to area restaurants, restrooms, outdoor showers
- Where to Stay: Great Heron Inn, Laughing Lizard Bed and Breakfast, Gulfside Resorts
Indian Rocks Beach, located just 30 minutes from the Clearwater/St. Petersburg area, is a quiet picturesque beach. Absent are the heavy crowds found at other area beaches like Clearwater. It’s a great beach for a morning walk or jog. Many beaches are just too crowed to take a relaxing stroll, however, Indian Rocks offer a peaceful uncrowded setting. The further you walk down from the main parking area, the more desolate it becomes.
The sand is a bit rocky, however, it’s great for beach-combing – tons of shells to collect here. Visit the morning after a storm for the best haul.
The water is very warm and there are always large waves to spice up the swimming experience. Out of all the Tampa Bay area beaches, Indian Rocks is definitely your best bet if you are looking to boogie board.
The beach is narrow, although never too crowded. Most of the tourists skip over Indian Rocks in favor of the more popular options like Clearwater and St. Pete beach. Thus, you enjoy the benefits of less traffic and noise and more space. There really is no congestion or commercialization around Indian Rocks Beach, which is great for those looking for some R&R.
Grab your umbrella, beach chairs, and a good book: Indian Rocks is the ultimate relaxation beach in Tampa Bay.
3. Fred Howard Park
- Location: Tarpon Springs
- Amenities: Restrooms, outdoor showers, picnic tables, canoe and kayak launch, seasonal lifeguards
- Where to Stay: Hampton Inn and Suites Tarpon Springs (2.5 star), Ashley’s Victorian Haven Bed and Breakfast
Just 40 minutes north of Tampa lies the quaint Greek community of Tarpon Springs. The area is home to a handful of quiet beaches, Fred Howard being the best in the area. Although more popular with locals than tourists, this quaint beach is the perfect location to watch a beautiful Florida sunset.
The pretty palm trees add a nice setting for photography and give the beach a nice tropical Florida feel. Fred Howard isn’t the perfect beach for swimming, however, it is great for relaxing and enjoying a gorgeous Florida sunset. Grab your beach chairs and camera and enjoy a quiet night taking in a beautiful Gulf coast sunset.
An an added bonus, dolphins, manatees, and osprey are often seen in the area, so be sure to pack your camera and binoculars!
4. Madeira Beach
- Location: Madeira Beach
- Amenities: 1100 foot long John’s Boardwalk, restrooms, outdoor showers, restaurants, shopping, cruises
- Where to Stay: Shoreline Island Resort (3 star), Barefoot Beach Hotel (2.5 star), Charming Tides Cottages
What to do nearby: Hubbard’s Marina dolphin and sunset cruises, The Alligator Attraction, Treasure Island Beach (Treasure Island), St. Pete Municipal Beach (Treasure Island), Fort De Soto Park (St. Petersburg), Sunken Gardens (St. Petersburg)
Madeira Beach, located just 20 minutes from St. Petersburg, is an underrated beach, located right in the center of so many fantastic beaches and attractions.
The beach itself is beautiful – clean with smooth, white sand. Many relaxing beach activities such as yoga and stand up paddleboarding can be enjoyed here. What’s better than exercising in a gorgeous serene setting? The beach is long and fairly uncrowded, making it the perfect spot for fall and winter exercise.
The highlight here is St. John’s Boardwalk, a wonderful shopping, dining, and entertainment hotspot located just steps from the beach. Both the beach and boardwalk are much tamer than crazy Clearwater. There are enough people around enjoying the Florida sunshine and engaging in outdoor sports to give you an upbeat summer feeling, but not enough to make you feel claustrophobic.
Both areas are ideal to visit at sunset. Many cruises are offered to take advantage of this prime sunset location. In addition to sunset cruises, pirate themed and dolphin spotting adventures are offered. Hubbard’s Marina offers a wonderful narrated dolphin tour, complete with guaranteed sightings and gorgeous views of Boca Ciega Bay.
5. Clearwater Beach
- Location: Clearwater
- Amenities: cabana rentals, waterfront hotels and restaurants, volleyball courts, pier, restrooms, outdoor showers, concessions, 1/2 mile long BeachWalk
- Where to Stay: Sandpearl Resort (4 star), Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort and Spa (4 star), Sheraton Sand Key Resort (4 star), Pier House 60 marina hotel (3 star)
Perhaps the most famous beach in the Tampa Bay area, Clearwater draws its’ share of crowds. Recently, the area beat out many local beach towns to receive USA Today’s honor of best Florida beach town. This is by far the most popular and crowded beach in the area. In fact, it can get so crowded that parking is near impossible to find. Staying in a hotel with direct access is the preferred means over dealing with the frustration of circling for hours attempting to find parking.
Despite the crowds, it’s a gorgeous long, wide beach with the softest, smoothest white sand you will ever dig your toes into. Walking on the beach on a slow weekday morning is like enjoying a tropical escape. The water is crystal clear and warm – during the summer months it can get too warm for swimming.
One of the most active beaches in the area, Clearwater offers a big lineup of year-round events. BeachWalk is lined with local waterfront restaurants and shops. The year-round Sunsets on the Pier festival features live music, dozens of vendors, entertaining shows, and movies on the beach.
The pier is a beautiful place for photography. Visit during the evening hours to capture an amazing Gulf coast sunset.
Whatever you are looking for – relaxing, swimming, sunbathing, entertainment, or recreation, Clearwater is one of the only area beaches to offer it all. Whatever your interests, you are sure to enjoy your time at this amazing beach.
Tips for a great beach day
*If looking for a more relaxing experience, plan your visit to Clearwater Beach on a weekday morning. If you are looking more for entertainment and you aren’t bothered by large crowds, then be sure to plan your visit around the Sunset on the Pier festival.
*A beach umbrella is a must or your day will be pretty miserable with the intense sun shining in your face. Be sure to get one with an anchor as it can get pretty windy especially before a storm.
*Off-season is a great time for a vacation. There are less crowds and the temps are not as miserably hot. Plus the water will feel a bit cooler. Seriously, the water feels like bath water in the summer!
*Bring with lots of water. I recommend filling a cooler. And do not drink alcohol – it will just dehydrate you more!
*Bring with a picnic lunch to save some money. Most beaches in the area have picnic tables nearby.
*Don’t forget all the usual beach essentials – sunblock, sunglasses, a change of clothes, any beach toys, towels, reading material, snacks, etc. Check out my handy Beach Vacation Guide.
Have you visited any of the beaches listed above? What are some of your favorite Florida Gulf Coast beaches?