Either twinned with a stay in Orlando, or as a holiday destination in itself, Florida’s Gulf Coast has plenty to entice travellers to its western white-sand shores.

Less than a two-hour drive from the Walt Disney World Resort, Clearwater and St Pete Beach is a collection of 26 small towns surrounded by the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Lining the coast are 35 miles of beautiful beach including barrier islands such as Caladesi Island, a remote nature escape ideal for keen snorkellers and swimmers. Likewise, Honeymoon Island is a picturesque setting for enjoying these activities, whilst Clearwater Beach provides a fun base for a stay with plenty of shopping, restaurants and nightlife. Nearby attractions include Busch Gardens Tampa with thrill-seeker rides; the Dali Museum, an art museum dedicated to the works of Salvador Dali; and Chihuly Collection, a display of unique glass-blown sculptures by the legendary Dale Chihuly.

Venture down the coast to Sarasota where the white sand beaches are the big draw for visitors. But there’s plenty to see away from the sun-drenched shores, with the new Sarasota Art Museum of Ringling College of Art + Design; the famous The Ringling, the State Art Museum of Florida set on a 66 acre estate and home to the Circus Museum; as well as the beautiful Marie Selby Botanical Gardens which is the only botanical garden focussed on the study of epiphytes - or air plants – and where children will love the rainforest garden. Sarasota’s many superb golf courses are another draw for tourists to this part of the Gulf Coast.

Further south and Fort Myers Beach invites you to enjoy a buzzy atmosphere with restaurants lining the beachfront. A short drive away, Sanibel Island offers an insight into a more natural Florida with the largest mangrove ecosystem in the country, countless stunning shells and spectacular sunsets. Next door Captiva Island is even more remote. To the north of Fort Myers Beach, Cape Coral is home to a maze of canals and is also an attraction for birding enthusiasts, with the most burrowing owls in the state.

See alligators and manatees in the J. N. 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge, explore some of the 100 barrier islands on a guided boat tour and learn about the lives of Edison and Ford Winter on their estates (the creators of the lightbulb and car). As with the rest of the USA, shopping is great here; head to the Sanibel Outlets or mall in Bonita Springs.

Next stop on the journey south along the Gulf Coast is Florida’s Paradise Coast, home to Naples, Marco Island and the Everglades.

Naples’ white-sand beaches, water sports and golf courses will draw you in whilst the older part of the city is a real gem.

It’s little wonder Florida’s Paradise Coast was voted Golf Destination of the Year – North America by the International Association of Golf Tour Operators, thanks to its approximately 90 courses decorating the landscapes! Or for some retail therapy head to the shops of Fifth Avenue South or Third Street South in downtown Naples.

Or why not escape to Marco Island, voted one of the top islands in the world by TripAdvisor Traveller’s Choice Awards, where glorious beaches await you? From wave runners spotting bottlenose dolphins as you go by, to kayaking around the 73 miles of local waters, exploring Florida’s Paradise Coast from the water is one of the best ways to experience it.


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