Best Small Beach Towns on Florida's Gulf Coast
Our list of Small Beach Towns on Florida’s Gulf coast may be a little different than other lists. We include islands. An island may not be considered a town, but it is just as big in some cases and many times the beaches are better!
We must also note that towns on many Florida travel blogs written by non-residents list small beach towns that are nowhere near a decent beach (Cedar Key, Tarpon Springs, and Crystal River are examples). Check our list out.
Best Small Beach Towns on Florida’s Gulf Coast
Anna Maria Island – is one of the great small beach towns on Florida’s Gulf Coast to start our list. You won’t find tall highrises, massive condominiums, and uncontrolled commercial activity in this small community. White sandy beaches at the mouth of Tampa Bay and colorful quaint homes stretch along the beach. Anna Maria Island is south of Tampa about 25 miles over the Skyway bridge.
Boca Grande – At the mouth of Charlotte Harbor, Boca Grande Island is known for some of the best tarpon fishing in the world. The somewhat exclusive island has a hundred-plus-year-old Gasparilla Inn, a restaurant called the Pink Elephant and an expansive beach along its Gulf coast. Quiet and remote – this is a perfect hidden romantic beach getaway.
Bonita Beach – Surrounded by the upscale community of Bonita Springs, Bonita Beach is on the county line between Collier County (Naples) and Lee County (Ft. Myers Beach). This is a long beach with limited access, but well worth the sparse beachgoers as compared to large public beaches. Don’t expect large hotels and an active nightlife. Just a restaurant or two and some gorgeous sunsets. Bonita Beach is just over the bridge from Ft. Myers Beach which was decimated by Hurricane Ian in September 2022.
Cayo Costa – If you want privacy, primitive and limited accessibility, that is Cayo Costa State Park island. Located between Boca Grande Island and Sanibel/Captiva Island, Cayo Costa in only reachable by boat. The park has a few rustic cabins and some primitive campsites. The beach is as untouched as you will find in Florida. You can take a ferry to Cayo Costa from Pine Island just north of Ft. Myers.
Lido Key Beach – Just across the bridge from downtown Sarasota is Lido Key. This island is home to two main attractions – Lido Key Beach and St. Armand’s Circle. Lido Beach is a huge beach along the Gulf. The white sand is wide and supports lots of people when busy. If you get tired of the beach action, St. Armand’s circle is a couple blocks away. St. Armand’s has over 140 shops to keep you and your wallet busy.
Marco Island – One of our personal favorites, Marco Island has all of the elements of a great Florida road trip. This island is one of the small beach towns on Florida’s gulf coast that has it all – wide sandy beaches, big resorts, excellent restaurants, safe surroundings, beautiful views, and great fishing. So what else could you want? The biggest issue is the cost of all these features. Marco is most likely the most expensive of the small Florida beach towns we highlight here.
Santa Rosa Beach – The panhandle has many small beach cities on Florida’s Gulf coast. Santa Rosa Beach is one of the lucky communities that has several beaches within a mile or two. On the west is Miramar Beach and east of Santa Rosa Beach is Grayton Beach. This is an amazing stretch of road along Rt. 30A in Florida’s panhandle. Each of the beaches are long wide stretches of while shell-covered sand with small resorts, fish camps, and retail strips in between. Plenty of opportunities to visit more than one beach.
St. George Island – Again in the panhandle, there is an island just over a 4-mile bridge from Apalachicola, Florida called St. George Island. There is a state park there and miles of blinding white sand with the remoteness that an island can offer. Camping is available and the small village on the island has restaurants and a few stores. Don’t miss this small beach town on Florida’s Gulf Coast. You may want to visit the town of Apalachicola just a few miles away for more shopping and dining opportunities.
Venice Beach – Southwest Florida has a lot of small beach towns on Florida’s Gulf coast. One special beach in that area is Venice Beach. Know as the “Shark Tooth Capital of the World”, Venice has a couple different beaches that offer chances to find shark teeth that seem to wash up here more frequently than in other areas. The Venice Pier protrudes out into the Gulf with beach parking and sandy shores both north and south of the pier. Venice also has a quaint downtown area for shopping and dining.
That is our 10 best small beach towns on Florida’s Gulf Coast. However, there is one we added as a definite bonus. How could you forget the small beach town in Florida that is exactly where the waters of the Gulf mix with the waters of the Atlantic Ocean in the Florida straits?
The small beach town we are referring to has a beach right on the tip of the southwest portion of the island where the waters mix. There is also a fort this beach is named after. Have you guessed?
Key West Florida is our favorite of all the small beach towns on Florida’s Gulf coast (under 25,000 people) and it has a park named after a fort called Fort Zachary Taylor and an excellent beach. Key West has several beaches to choose from. This is our bonus beach town.
Honorable Mention Small Beach Towns on Florida’s Gulf Coast
Sanibel/Captiva – Sanibel would most likely be on our list of best small cities on the Gulf Coast if it weren’t for Hurricane Ian which destroyed many homes, businesses, and fauna on the island.
Panama City Beach – Panama City Beach has miles of pure white sand that extends into the Gulf. This is a great small beach town.
Caladesi Island – Caladesi Island is just a half mile north of Clearwater Beach. The island is another one that requires a boat to get there. There is a ferry service that runs daily from Honeymoon Island a couple miles north.
Our list is surely not exhaustive. We know readers may have their favorites. To suggest an addition to our 10 Best Small Beach Towns on Florida’s Gulf Coast, send us a note.