gulf coast villa holiday guide
Florida’s Gulf Coast stretches from Tarpon Springs to Marco Island, fringed with dazzling white sand beaches, lapped by perfect turquoise waters and dotted with relaxed yet cultured seaside towns. Our villas on the Gulf Coast of Florida are within easy reach of the sophisticated, family-friendly towns of Sarasota, Venice and Naples which offer excellent museums and galleries, thriving arts scenes, high-end shopping and fine dining, while never being more than a short drive to the beach. A Gulf Coast holiday has something for everyone, whether enjoying the natural wonders of the Everglades, or the high-octane thrills of Tampa’s theme parks.
Sightseeing in the Gulf Coast
Tampa Bay has a whole host of attractions for a family-friendly trip to the Gulf Coast, including Busch Gardens where you can spend an adrenalin-fuelled day riding the rollercoasters, and the Adventure Island water park. Also in Tampa are Lowry Park Zoo and Florida Aquarium. Kids will love visiting the Clearwater Marine Aquarium – home to Winter the dolphin, star of Dolphin Tale. The botanical gardens in both Sarasota and Naples are worth a visit, while the J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is an excellent choice for spotting local wildlife, with some interesting exhibits in the visitor and education centre.
Towns and Cities on the Gulf Coast
Clearwater and St. Petersburg are close to Tampa’s attractions and are popular and sometimes crowded family destinations with attractive beaches, while Tampa itself offers the best nightlife on the Gulf Coast. Venice is a laidback coastal town with 14 miles of beaches including the stunning Manasota Key, and is close to cultural Englewood and the excellent galleries, museums and restaurants of sophisticated Sarasota. Exclusive Naples offers luxury spas and shopping alongside stylish resorts and restaurants. Fort Myers Beach has a party reputation, while Marco Island is well-placed for exploring the Everglades.
The Gulf Coast's nightlife and entertainment
Venice offers a relaxed, low-key evening vibe, with Sharky’s on the Pier offering the perfect spot to relax with a cocktail and watch the sun go down over the ocean, while Jack Dusty’s at the Ritz Carlton in Sarasota offers drinks with an equally spectacular view of the marina. If you’re looking for a more lively scene, Tampa’s Ybor City has some of south west Florida’s coolest bars and clubs, while Clearwater and St Petersburghave spring break reputations and the parties to match.
Active Pursuits on the Gulf Coast
The year-round warm temperatures make outdoor pursuits very appealing, and a variety of activities are on offer here, from beach yoga at Manasota Key to surfing at North Jetty Park, both easily reached from Venice. Numerous parks offer walking, jogging and rollerblading trails. There is excellent diving to be had, as well as the usual range of motorised and non-motorised water sports. Kayak tours and horseback riding both offer enjoyable ways to explore the natural surrounds of the Gulf Coast. Golfers are spoilt for choice, with a range of excellent courses.
Eating and drinking in the Gulf Coast
Venice and Manasota Key have a selection of lovely beachfront and waterfront restaurants, Sharky’s on the Pier is popular and casual, with a more upscale dining option, Fins, upstairs. There are many first-rate restaurants in Sarasota, particularly in St. Armand’s Circle, while Naples has a wide choice of fine dining, concentrated along 5th Avenue and the waterfront. As you’d expect from a coastal region the seafood is excellent and varied, while southern favourites, barbecue dishes and Cuban specialities are all readily available. Tarpon Springs has a large Greek population, the result being plenty of excellent Greek restaurants.
Arts and culture in the Gulf Coast
Beyond the beaches, the Gulf Coast has a surprising amount of cultural attractions. In Venice, free concerts are held in Centennial Park on the 2nd and 4th Friday of every month, while neighbouring Englewood has a thriving arts scene. Sarasota has excellent museums and galleries, including The Ringling, the State Art Museum of Florida, originally the home and art collection of John Ringling, founder of Ringling Brother’s Circus, known as ‘the greatest show on earth’. Sarasota also has a resident ballet company and its own opera house, as well as several quality theatres. The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg is excellent and well worth a visit.
Gulf Coast Beaches
Manasota Key is a barrier island with a stunning white sand beach close to Venice and our luxury villas to rent on the Gulf Coast. The beaches here are known for the shells and fossilised shark teeth that can be found in the sand, in fact Venice is known as the ‘shark tooth capital of the world’, and hunting for these will keep children occupied for hours. In Sarasota, Lido Key is home to three beaches, from Lido Beach, with all facilities and a pool for those who’d rather not swim in the sea, to undeveloped North Lido Beach. The beaches in Clearwater and St. Petersburg are deservedly popular with families, but can get very crowded.
Shopping in the Gulf Coast
Many shopping malls can be found in Sarasota, including worldwide name Westfield with the usual range of high street brands. Outlet malls offer discounts on big names, for bargains tryMiramar Outlet Mall in Sarasota or Ellenton PrimeOutlets in nearby Ellenton. Both Sarasota and Venice have a range of speciality shops and boutiques, while the Venice Farmer’s Market offers fresh produce and arts and crafts every Saturday from 8am to 12pm. Naples has a wealth of upscale boutiques, particularly on 5th Avenue, while International Plaza in Tampa is the place for high-end designer labels.
Nature in the Gulf Coast
The Gulf Coast is home to a number of bottlenose dolphins, and you can take a boat tour from Venice or Sarasota in the hope of spotting these playful creatures, as well as bald eagles, hawks, egrets, pelicans and manatees. If you have a car then a visit to the Everglades is a worthwhile if long day trip, where you can explore this unique wilderness by airboat as you hunt for alligators. Slightly closer to the towns of the Gulf Coast, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is home to alligators, herons and the rare Florida panther.
There are also plenty of wonderful restaurants, shopping, cafes and bars to be found in Sarasota, which is the major town along the Gulf Coast.