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4 of the Best Places to Visit on Florida’s Gulf Coast

Floridas Gulf Coast
Image via Flickr by Ines Hegedus-Garcia.

Disclosure: This post is in partnership with Trip.com's City Stories series.

After nearly a year on the road, Mr. Misadventures and I wanted to treat ourselves with a little bit of paradise. So, we spent three glorious weeks on Florida's Gulf Coast. No one was more surprised than I to discover just how much I enjoyed this diverse area of Florida. We did not waste a minute of our time visiting this warm, wonderous, tropical wonderland.

When planning for our time, Mr. Misadventures said, “There are a few things to do.” He lied. There aren't a few things to do, there is a lot to do, see and explore on Florida's Gulf Coast, and in the end, I wished we had even more time!

Florida’s Gulf Coast covers a large area, but of particular note are Fort Meyers, Sanibel, Panama City and Tampa. I wanted to share a few of our experiences in each one of these cities and encourage you to take some time to discover this unique area of Southern United States.

Fort Meyers – Paradise for Nature Lovers

Fort Meyers is a very popular city. It’s got excellent shopping, delicious seafood, and beautiful beaches. There is a great selection of hotels in Fort Meyers as well, certainly close to all the main attractions. But what I fell in love with most about this city is its proximity to many county, state, and national parks, perfect for the nature lover.

We spent many mornings walking the boardwalk of the Six Mile Cypress Slough enjoying the peaceful sounds of bird calls, peeking in on alligators and marveling at the many shades of green in the plants and trees that surround this manmade oasis. It was a favorite spot of ours during our visit.

We also really loved Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary where we strolled the entire park exploring the Everglades eco-system and hunting for owls. We didn't find owls but we saw many exotic birds, cute raccoons, and traces of a bobcat! Plus a gorgeous green dragonfly that stayed still long enough for me to capture him on film.

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary Dragonfly

There are many other parks in the area and we visited several including a day trip from Fort Meyers to Everglades National Park, this city is situated so close to everything!

If you are a sport’s lover, you might consider visiting Fort Meyer’s in February or March when you can check out major league baseball’s Grapefruit League at their best. I’ve only been to games for the Cactus League in the Southwest, so I’d really like to see some games in Florida. It's so fun to see professional baseball players gear up for a new season!

I can’t leave Fort Meyer’s without mentioning at least one food item. Don’t miss stopping by Norman Love Chocolate for an out-of-this-world chocolate experience. These chocolatiers are a Gulf Coast institute for a reason.

Sanibel – The Spot of Beach Bliss

Saying that Florida has beautiful beaches is obvious. People travel from all over the world to enjoy their little spot of sand in front of the turquoise hued water. But the beaches on Sanibel Island are extraordinary. We enjoyed a late morning at Captiva Beach on Sanibel after doing a driving tour at the nearby J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

Sanibel Island Beach
Sanibel Island Beach. Image via Flickr by Jeremy T. Hetzel.

The pristinely clean white sand beaches are breathtaking. Parking is convenient and we walked along the shore enjoying the warm waves hunting for sand dollars. I am not a big beach person, but this is the best beach I’ve ever been to and I can see why people seek out the beaches along Florida’s Gulf Coast. I would definitely return for Sanibel’s beaches.

We visited the Sanibel Lighthouse and stopped for lunch at one of Sanibel’s many grilles. It is a wonderful town with a great sense of community and is accessible by car, bike, or by walking around. I loved this little city! Given its small size, every hotel in Sanibel is a gem near the water.

Panama City – Seafood Heaven

While we stayed in Panama City I felt we had stepped back in time to a retro beach town that retained all the best parts of what a classic beach city ought to be. There are great beaches, ice cream everywhere and fun trolleys to get you around. It's a very popular resort area and I highly recommend you book in one of the many hotels in Panama City early or risk being too far from the action!

Gulf Coast Shrimp
Fresh Gulf Coast Shrimp. Image via Flickr by Khush N.

What I enjoyed most about Panama City was the fresh seafood. There are delicious seafood markets and tons of restaurants where you can enjoy gulf coast shrimp, snapper, and crab depending on what time of year it is. Everything we ate was absolutely delicious! Come for the vintage beach town in Panama City, stay for the fresh seafood.

Tampa – Animal Adventures

Before I dive into the animal adventures, you should note that Tampa is a beautiful city with great architecture. If you like night photography, the downtown area is a cool place to take pictures in technicolor.

Tampa in Technicolor
Tampa in Technicolor. Image via Flickr by Matthew Paulson.

I have lots of friends who take their kids to Busch Gardens, and they have always raved about it, but we didn't have a lot of time in Tampa, so the time we did spend was focused on animal-related activities such as a visit to the Big Cat Rescue, the Aquarium, and Tampa Electric Manatee Viewing Center. That's a lot to jam in but we managed to make it happen!

On previous trips to Tampa, I got to take a boat tour on the bay where I saw schools of dolphins and even a sea turtle. The tropical breeze was a  much different experience than my bay tours on the San Francisco Bay where you need about 10 layers of clothing!

The one thing I did regret missing was a visit to the historic Ybor City, a Tampa neighborhood famous for its coffee and hand-rolled cigars, something I'd really like to see. Plus I hear the Cuban food is to die for! My next trip to this city, I will get a Tampa hotel close to this area.

That's it! A few reasons why Fort Meyers, Sanibel Island, Panama City and Tampa are 4 of the best places to visit on Florida's Gulf Coast. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and will be back again.

How about you? Have you been to Florida's Gulf Coast area? What was your favorite part?

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4 of the Best Places to Visit on Florida's Gulf Coast 4 of the Best Places to Visit on Florida's Gulf Coast 4 of the Best Places to Visit on Florida's Gulf Coast

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  1. Heather Johnson says:

    I would love to explore the Florida Gulf Coast with my kiddos. All that seafood looks amazing!

  2. Heather @ Kraus House Mom says:

    I have family that lives by the Gulf Coast. I was swimming in the Gulf when I was a teenager and a manatee popped its head out of the water near me, I almost passed out right there in the water. Such a shock that they come so close just to look at you.

  3. My aunt goes to sanibel every year and always talks about how lovely it is! I really want to go check it out.

  4. I’ve never been to Florida but these all sound like places I would enjoy! I love seafood, beaches, and nature so I’m thinking I should put Florida on my travel list.

  5. My husband and I are heading to Tampa next month! I’ve never been and I’m so excited

  6. I love Florida. We head back every chance we get. We’ve never been to Sanibel but it’s on our list. Can’t wait to get there.

  7. I didn’t see Destin on your list! That’s our current favorite and seems to be a hidden gem!

  8. We are heading to Tampa next month. We’ve never been so I’m pretty excited!

  9. Toughcookiemommy says:

    These all look like such lovely destinations. I would love to visit any one of them with my family and take photos of the beautiful sights.

  10. WooHoo!!! I’ve been to all of these spots!!! I just love Sanibel! It’s so pretty.

  11. jack steve says:

    Sounds to be an wonderful place. Beautiful and impressive photos. I have added it to my travel bucket list.

  12. Sheila Rhodes says:

    We were married on Sanibel Island so it holds a place near and dear to our hearts. It is a slice of heaven and I can spend hours walking and looking for shells. The sunsets don’t get any better than on Sanibel 🙂