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Exploring Paradise: 30 Must-Visit Things To Do on the West Coast of Florida

things to see on the west coast of Florida - Tarpon Springs
There are so many unique things to do on the West Coast of Florida like visiting the Greek village of Tarpon Springs.

Welcome to the stunning West Coast of Florida, a true paradise waiting to be explored. From pristine beaches to vibrant cities, this region is a haven for nature enthusiasts, adventure seekers, and relaxation seekers alike. Whether you’re a thrill-seeker craving an adrenaline rush or a peace-seeker in search of tranquility, the West Coast of Florida has something for everyone.

Immerse yourself in the breathtaking beauty of the Gulf of Mexico as you indulge in a wide array of activities. Discover the vibrant marine life and dive into crystal-clear waters for a snorkeling adventure. Explore untouched natural wonders through hiking trails that lead to secluded beaches and hidden coves. Embark on a sunset cruise and let the gentle breeze carry your worries away.

Paradise Waiting on Florida’s West Coast

In this article, we have:

  • 11 Beaches and West Coast Florida Cities
  • 8 West Coast Water Sports and Where to Enjoy Them
  • 9 Cultural and Historical Attractions of Florida’s West Coast
  • 6 Places to Shop on the West Coast of Florida
  • 10 Places to Encounter Wildlife on the West Coast of Florida
  • 9 Places to Stay on the West Coast of Florida

Plus several suggestions and bonus ideas.

For those seeking urban excitement, cities like Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Sarasota offer a vibrant mix of culture, art, and entertainment. Visit world-class museums, catch a live performance at a theater, or explore the buzzing nightlife.

In this article, we have compiled a list of over 30 must-visit things to do on the West Coast of Florida, ensuring that your trip to this picturesque paradise is nothing short of extraordinary. So pack your bags, prepare for an unforgettable journey, and get ready to explore paradise on the West Coast of Florida.

things to do on the west coast of Florida - Bayport scene
Typical scenes like this on Florida’s West Coast. This is from Bayport, Florida a historical town.

Most Unique Beaches and Coastal Towns on the West Coast of Florida

The west coast of Florida boasts some of the most stunning beaches in the Sunshine State, with powdery white sand, turquoise waters, and a relaxed atmosphere. Choosing the “best” beach depends on your individual preferences, whether you’re seeking family-friendly amenities, serene escapes, or opportunities for watersports. 

Here are some of the top contenders for the best beach on Florida’s West Coast, each offering unique experiences: 

For Families:

  • Clearwater Beach: This iconic beach and town lives up to its name with crystal-clear waters, soft sand, and plenty of activities for everyone. Families love the calm waves, gentle slopes, and the iconic Pier 60, offering stunning sunsets and street performers.
  • Siesta Key Beach: Renowned for its sugar-fine sand, often hailed as the “finest in the world,” Siesta Key is perfect for sandcastles and barefoot walks. Calm waters and lifeguards make it ideal for families with young children.
  • Longboat Key Beach: This barrier island beach offers calm waters, ideal for swimming and kayaking. Families appreciate the laid-back vibe, public restrooms, and picnic areas.

For Thrill-Seekers:

  • St. Pete Beach: This lively beach attracts jet skiers, parasailers, and kayakers with its energetic atmosphere and beautiful setting. Nearby Pass-a-Grille Beach offers calmer waters for swimming and sunbathing.
  • Fort De Soto Park: Explore five interconnected beaches within this park, with opportunities for swimming, fishing, hiking, and kayaking. Fort De Soto is also known for its historical Civil War-era fort.
  • Honeymoon Island State Park: Hike, bike, or kayak through diverse ecosystems before reaching the uncrowded beach with calm waves and excellent shelling opportunities.
Things to do on Florida's west coast - Cayo Costa
If you want seclusion, try Cayo Costa Island on Florida’s West Coast.

For Seclusion:

  • Caladesi Island State Park: Accessible only by ferry, this unspoiled island offers a remote beach experience with ultra-white sand, clear waters, and abundant wildlife. Kayaking and shelling are popular activities.
  • Barefoot Beach State Preserve: Hike through a maritime hammock to reach this secluded beach with calm waters and abundant seashells. Be prepared for limited facilities and no lifeguards.
  • North Captiva Island: Accessible only by boat, this barrier island offers unspoiled beaches, untouched natural beauty, and a true escape from the crowds.

Bonus:

things you need when flying
  • Sanibel Island: Renowned for its shelling treasures, Sanibel Island offers beaches with calm waters and opportunities for nature walks and wildlife observation.
  • Naples Beach: This wide, soft-sand beach boasts calm waters, ideal for swimming and relaxing. Nearby attractions like the Naples Pier and Third Street Shopping District add to the appeal.

Remember, this is just a starting point! Consider factors like proximity to your accommodation, desired amenities, and preferred atmosphere when making your choice. With so many amazing options, you’re sure to find the perfect beach paradise on Florida’s west coast.

things to do in the west coast of florida - kayaking
Kayak fishing is one of the many water sports of Florida’s West Coast.

Water Sports and Boating Adventures

The West Coast of Florida is a playground for water sports enthusiasts. From kayaking and paddleboarding to jet skiing and parasailing, there are endless opportunities to get your adrenaline pumping.

Here are a few of our favorite water sports destinations:

  • Boating: Explore the scenic waterways of Florida’s West Coast by boat, whether you’re cruising along the Intracoastal Waterway, navigating through mangrove-lined estuaries, or venturing offshore into the Gulf of Mexico. Rent a boat or charter a yacht for a day of sightseeing, fishing, or simply enjoying the sunshine and sea breeze. Our recommendation would be the waters of Fort Myers Beach.
  • Fishing: Cast a line and reel in the big catch while fishing in the abundant waters of the Gulf Coast. Whether you’re into offshore fishing for grouper and snapper, flats fishing for redfish and trout, or freshwater fishing in the region’s rivers and lakes, Florida’s West Coast offers diverse fishing opportunities for anglers of all skill levels. Our recommendation would be John’s Pass at Madeira Beach Hubbard’s Marina is the place to go fishing on the West Coast of Florida.
  • Kayaking and Canoeing: Explore the coastal mangrove tunnels, tranquil bays, and spring fed rivers of Florida’s West Coast by kayak or canoe. Paddle through scenic waterways, observe wildlife such as dolphins and manatees, and enjoy the serenity of nature up close. In Hernando County on the Nature Coast is the Chassahowitzka River. This uncrowded and gorgeous river is perfect for Kayaking and canoeing.
  • Stand-Up Paddleboarding (SUP): Test your balance and core strength while stand-up paddleboarding along the calm waters of the Gulf Coast. SUP enthusiasts can paddle along the shoreline, navigate through mangrove forests, and even try SUP yoga for a unique on-the-water workout experience. We suggest the Clearwater Sailing Center at Clearwater Beach.
  • Jet Skiing: Feel the thrill of speed and adrenaline while jet skiing on the open waters of the Gulf Coast. Rent a jet ski and zip across the waves, performing tricks and jumps, or simply cruising along the coastline and exploring hidden coves and islands. Jet Skiing is more fun on calm large waters like Sarasota Bay.
  • Parasailing: Soar high above the sparkling waters of the Gulf of Mexico while parasailing along Florida’s West Coast. Enjoy breathtaking aerial views of the coastline, beaches, and marine life below as you glide through the sky with the wind in your hair. Our recommendation would be Clearwater Beach. There are numerous parasailing operators in Clearwater Beach Marina.
things to do florida west coast
If you like Eco-tours, try one out of the Ten Thousand Islands near Naples or Marco Island.
  • Dolphin Watching and Eco Tours: Join a guided dolphin-watching tour or eco-tour to learn about the unique marine ecosystems and wildlife of Florida’s West Coast. Get up close and personal with dolphins, manatees, seabirds, and other native species while exploring the region’s coastal waters. We suggest the beautiful waters of Marco Island and the Ten Thousand Islands.
  • Sailing: Set sail and experience the joy of sailing on Florida’s West Coast, whether you’re racing in regattas, chartering a sailboat for a sunset cruise, or embarking on a multi-day sailing adventure along the coast and islands. We doubt you will find any more sailing-oriented community than Punta Gorda on Florida’s West Coast. The waters of Charlotte Harbor lead to the Gulf of Mexico.

These are just a few of the many water sports and boating activities you can enjoy on Florida’s West Coast. Whether you’re seeking adventure, relaxation, or simply a day on the water, the Gulf Coast offers endless opportunities for aquatic fun and exploration.

Cultural and Historical Attractions – Things To Do on the West Coast of Florida

Florida’s West Coast is rich in cultural and historical attractions, offering visitors a glimpse into the region’s vibrant past and diverse heritage. Here are some notable cultural and historical attractions you can explore on Florida’s West Coast:

  • The Ringling: Located in Sarasota, The Ringling is a renowned cultural complex encompassing the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, the Circus Museum, Ca’ d’Zan Mansion, and the historic Asolo Theater. Visitors can explore the museum’s extensive art collection, learn about the history of the circus, and tour the opulent former residence of John and Mable Ringling.
    things to do florida west coast - The Florida Aquarium
    The Florida Aquarium in Tampa is a great learning experience for children – of all ages!
  • Salvador Dali Museum: Situated in St. Petersburg, the Salvador Dali Museum houses the largest collection of works by the Spanish surrealist artist outside of Spain. The museum’s striking building, designed by architect Yann Weymouth, features a vast array of Dali’s paintings, sculptures, and other surrealistic masterpieces.
  • Tampa Bay History Center: Located in downtown Tampa, the Tampa Bay History Center offers immersive exhibits and interactive displays showcasing the rich history and cultural heritage of the Tampa Bay region. Visitors can learn about Native American tribes, Spanish explorers, early settlers, and key events that shaped the area’s development.
  • Fort De Soto Park: Situated near St. Petersburg, Fort De Soto Park is home to a historic fort dating back to the Spanish-American War era. Visitors can explore the fort’s ruins, walk along scenic nature trails, relax on uncluttered beaches, and learn about the park’s natural and cultural history at the visitor center.
  • Henry B. Plant Museum: Housed in the former Tampa Bay Hotel, a National Historic Landmark, the Henry B. Plant Museum offers a glimpse into the luxurious Gilded Age era of the late 19th century. Visitors can tour the opulent rooms of the hotel, view period furnishings and artifacts, and learn about the life of railroad magnate Henry B. Plant.
  • Bishop Museum of Science and Nature: Located in Bradenton, the South Florida Museum was renamed the Bishop Science and Nature. It is the largest natural and cultural history museum on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Highlights include exhibits on prehistoric Florida, the fossilized remains of a mastodon named “Snooty,” and the Parker Manatee Rehabilitation Habitat.
    west coast Florida attractions - Ybor City
    Ybor City is a great place to visit and learn about the cigar making district in Tampa and this cultural segment of town.
  • Manatee Village Historical Park: Situated in Bradenton, Manatee Village Historical Park is a living history museum preserving the heritage of Manatee County. Visitors can explore historical buildings, including a 1908 one-room schoolhouse, a general store, a farmhouse, and a church, and learn about pioneer life in southwest Florida.
  • Ybor City Historic District: Located in Tampa, Ybor City is a historic district known for its rich cultural heritage and vibrant Latin influence. Visitors can stroll along brick-lined streets, admire colorful architecture, and explore landmarks such as the Ybor City State Museum, the Columbia Restaurant, and the historic cigar factories.
  • Anna Maria Island Historical Society Museum: Situated on Anna Maria Island, this museum showcases the island’s history, from its Native American inhabitants to its early settlers and modern-day developments. Visitors can view exhibits on local maritime history, pioneer life, and environmental conservation efforts.

These are just a few examples of the many cultural and historical attractions you can explore on Florida’s West Coast. Whether you’re interested in art, history, or natural heritage, the region offers something for every cultural enthusiast to discover and enjoy.

unique things to do on west coast of florida - shopping
If shopping is on your list of things to do on the West Coast of Florida, try the more than 100 shops at John’s Pass Madeira Beach.

Shopping On Florida’s West Coast

The west coast of Florida offers a diverse range of shopping experiences, from bustling outlet malls and vibrant local markets to unique boutiques and art galleries. Choosing the “best” shopping destination depends on your individual preferences and budget. Here are some top contenders across different categories to help you plan your shopping spree:

High-End Shopping:

  • International Plaza & Bay Street in Tampa: Indulge in luxury brands like Gucci, Chanel, and Prada at International Plaza, while Bay Street charms with its waterfront views and upscale boutiques.
  • The Mall at University Town Center in Sarasota: Featuring Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, and Anthropologie, this open-air mall offers a sophisticated shopping experience with a vibrant atmosphere.
  • Fifth Avenue South in Naples: Immerse yourself in the world of designer fashion with renowned brands like Cartier, Bulgari, and Hermes lining this prestigious avenue.

Outlet Shopping:

  • Ellenton Premium Outlets: Discover incredible deals on over 130 brands, including Calvin Klein, Michael Kors, and Nike, at this expansive outlet mall near Sarasota.

Local Boutiques & Unique Finds:

  • St. Armands Circle in Sarasota: Explore a charming circle lined with independent shops, art galleries, and cafes, each offering a unique selection of gifts, apparel, and home décor.
  • Downtown Venice Florida: Discover locally owned boutiques, art studios, and antique stores showcasing the artistic spirit of Venice, Florida.
  • John’s Pass Village & Boardwalk – Madeira Beach – Over 100 stores, restaurants, and attractions highlight this Florida West Coast attraction. Known for water sports, fun, and quaint shops along the Boardwalk.

Bonus: Don’t forget to explore the charming downtown areas of various coastal towns like Anna Maria IslandTarpon Springs, and Dunedin, each offering unique shops and local finds.

Remember, this is just a starting point! Consider your interests, budget, and desired atmosphere when choosing your shopping destinations. With so many options available, you’re sure to find the perfect shopping experience on Florida’s West Coast.

Wildlife Encounters and Nature Reserves

west florida attractions - blue heron
We caught this Blue Heron feeding at Myakka River State Park.

Florida’s West Coast is renowned for its diverse wildlife and natural beauty, offering visitors numerous opportunities for wildlife encounters and outdoor adventures. Here are some notable wildlife encounters and nature reserves you can explore on Florida’s West Coast:

  • Everglades National Park: While not directly on the West Coast, Everglades National Park is easily accessible from the region and offers unparalleled opportunities for wildlife viewing. Visitors can take airboat tours, guided tram rides, or hike along nature trails to observe alligators, wading birds, manatees, and other native species in their natural habitat.
  • JN. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge: Located on Sanibel Island near Fort Myers, this wildlife refuge encompasses mangrove forests, marshes, and estuaries teeming with birdlife. Visitors can explore the refuge by car, bike, or foot along the Wildlife Drive, or join guided tram tours and nature programs to learn about the area’s diverse ecosystems and resident wildlife.
  • Myakka River State Park: Situated near Sarasota, Myakka River State Park is one of Florida’s oldest and largest state parks, known for its wetlands, oak hammocks, and diverse wildlife. Visitors can embark on boat tours, kayak or canoe tours along the Myakka River, hike nature trails, and observe alligators, deer, birds, and other wildlife in their natural habitat.
  • Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary: Located near Naples, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is a 13,000-acre protected area home to the largest remaining stand of old-growth bald cypress forest in North America. Visitors can walk along a 2.25-mile boardwalk through the swamp, observing wildlife such as alligators, wading birds, and elusive Florida panthers.
  • Caladesi Island State Park
    Things To Do on the West Coast of Florida - Caladesi Island
    Caladesi Island can only be reached with a fun ferry ride from Honeymoon Island State Park. Your family will love the boat ride and beach.
    : Accessible by boat or ferry from Dunedin, Caladesi Island State Park is a remote barrier island known for its unspoiled beaches, clear waters, and abundant birdlife. Visitors can swim, snorkel, kayak, or hike nature trails to explore the island’s natural beauty and observe shorebirds, dolphins, and sea turtles.
  • Seahorse Key Marine Laboratory: Located in Cedar Key, Seahorse Key Marine Laboratory offers educational boat tours to Seahorse Key, an uninhabited island known for its diverse marine and bird life. Visitors can explore the island’s beaches, tidal pools, and historic lighthouse while learning about its ecological significance and conservation efforts.
  • Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge: Located in Crystal River, this wildlife refuge is known for its population of endangered West Indian manatees, which gather in the warm waters of the Crystal River during the winter months. Visitors can take guided boat tours or swim with manatees in designated areas, observing these gentle giants up close in their natural habitat.
  • Egmont Key State Park: Accessible by ferry from Fort De Soto Park, Egmont Key State Park is a barrier island known for its historic lighthouse, island beaches, and abundant wildlife. Visitors can explore the island’s ruins, snorkel along the shore, and observe nesting shorebirds, sea turtles, and dolphins.
  • Lovers Key State Park: Located near Fort Myers Beach, Lovers Key State Park is a barrier island known for its secluded beaches, mangrove forests, and diverse wildlife. Visitors can kayak or paddleboard along the estuary, hike nature trails, and observe manatees, dolphins, and migratory birds in their natural habitat.
  • Clearwater Marine Aquarium: home to Winter the Dolphin, star of the movie “Dolphin Tale.” Learn about marine conservation efforts and witness the incredible bond between humans and marine animals.

These are just a few examples of the many wildlife encounters and nature reserves you can explore on Florida’s West Coast. Whether you’re interested in birdwatching, kayaking, or simply enjoying the beauty of nature, the region offers endless opportunities for outdoor adventure and wildlife appreciation.

west florida attractions - JW Marriott Marco Island
The JW Marriott Beach Resort in Marco Island is a great place for a luxurious stay on the west coast of Florida.

Best Places To Stay on the West Coast of Florida

When it comes to accommodation, the West Coast of Florida offers a wide range of options to suit every budget and preference. From luxury resorts and beachfront condos to cozy bed and breakfasts and family-friendly hotels, there is something for everyone.

Here are hotels and resorts that fit all budgets:

Luxurious Resorts on Florida’s West Coast

Sand Pearl Resort – Clearwater Beachrooms steps from the beach, one of the best restaurants on the West Coast of Florida and one of the top beaches in the state of Florida.

Margaritaville Resort – Fort Myers Beach – this newly opened resort highlights the life portrayed by Jimmy Buffet songs. Gorgeous views, a beautiful pool and exceptional service.

Ritz-Carlton – Naples – this resort exudes luxury and service right on the Gulf of Mexico. One of southwest Florida’s most highly regarded resorts.

JW Marriott Beach Resort – Marco Island – this island resort has a separate section for adults, a game room for kids, and a large wide beach for the whole family. Several restaurants complete the package.

things to do in west coast florida - Plantation Inn
The Plantation Inn will fit your family’s budget and offer many things to do from swimming with manatees to sightseeing boat trip on King’s Bay.
Budget Friendly Hotels on the West Coast of Florida

Plantation Inn – Crystal Riverthis is a place for water sports and swimming with manatees. Family-oriented on King’s Bay and near the springs that feed Crystal River.

Pier 60 Hotel – Clearwater Beachhotel is next to the Clearwater Marina full of boating activities. Just step to Pier 60 and the famous beach. Great rooftop bar also.

Holiday Inn – Lido KeyGreat hotel for beachgoers. Lido Key Beach is one of the best on Florida’s West Coast. It is right across the street from the expansive beach and two blocks from St. Armand Square, a famous shopping area.

Bayfront Inn – Naplesbasic hotel with waterfront amenities. Has a direct route to Tin City, a Naples attraction with several fine restaurants. Just a few miles from the heart of the Everglades.

Hilton Beach Resort – Marco Island – family-oriented beach resort just steps from the beach. Programs for children and a large family pool.

things to see on the west coast of florida - west coast resorts
Staying at a memorable resort on Florida’s West Coast is one way for the whole family to share a great vacation.

Ways to Make Your Things To Do in Florida’s West Coast Memorable

Check out our guide for traveling Florida beaches. We explain what to expect, what to pack and things you need to know.

We also look for ways to keep growing costs in line for our readers. We offer money-saving tips in this article.

Florida is a huge state. Traveling throughout the state taught us that you cannot always get where you want to go in the timeframe you think. Read our guide to Florida travel.

When traveling the state of Florida, we suggest:

  • Compare prices on hotels, rental cars, flights and excursions.
  • Make reservations. From dining to car rentals, it is important to plan ahead. In season Florida can get busy and crowded in popular destinations.
  • Check reviews for places you visit before going. The number of stars or ratings may be fudged, but the reviewer’s comments are more important.

Florida is a very safe state, but like all states, there are some areas less safe than others. Always check safety information.

west coast of Florida resorts - Sunseeker Resort
Newest resort on Florida’s west coast – the Sunseeker Resort

Final Thoughts on Things to Do on Florida’s West Coast

The West Coast of Florida is a true gem, offering a blend of natural beauty, cultural attractions, and thrilling adventures. Whether you’re a beach lover, a history enthusiast, or an outdoor adventurer, this region has something for everyone. From the stunning beaches and vibrant cities to the rich cultural heritage and abundant wildlife, there are endless opportunities to create lasting memories.

So pack your bags, prepare for an unforgettable journey, and get ready to explore the beautiful gems of the West Coast of Florida. Whether you’re seeking relaxation, adventure, or a mix of both, this picturesque paradise will exceed your expectations and leave you yearning for more.

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