Coastal Vote: a Beach-Lover's Guide to Florida's Gulf Coast

Head to beachy Sanibel Island for sunny days on the sand
Head to beachy Sanibel Island for sunny days on the sand | © Maridav / Depositphotos.com
Photo of Doug ONeill
23 November 2021
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Join us as we cruise down the Sunshine State’s calmest coast, ticking off Italian restaurants in Naples, shoreside spas in Sarasota and marine-rich islands near St Pete.

The Florida Gulf Coast, known for its clear Caribbean-like waters skimming the Gulf of Mexico, differs from the deeper, darker Atlantic side of the Sunshine State. On the Gulf Coast, there are stretches of coastline where turtles outnumber humans and where calm waters are best suited to swimmers, snorkelers and novice surfers, rather than those hoping to catch big waves. But who cares about riding the barrel when you’ve got thousands of miles of beaches to kick back on?

Postcard Inn on the Beach

The green gardens and sun lounger-lined swimming pool at Postcard Inn on the Beach
Courtesy of Postcard Inn On The Beach / Expedia.com
The artwork and photography adorning the rooms of this St Pete beach hotel pay homage to surfing and sun-worshipping – perfect for anyone who’s chosen the Florida Gulf Coast for their winter vacation. What’s more, Postcard Inn on the Beach claims the largest swimming pool in all of St Pete. As if that wasn’t fancy enough, there’s also a garland-strung beach bar serving up fish sandwiches, a watersports hut on the sand and boat tours to tick off local marine life.

Shell Key Preserve

Natural Feature
A brown pelican stands on a wooden post at Shell Key Preserve
© Iryna Klyuchnikova / Depositphotos.com
The Shell Key Preserve, at the mouth of Tampa Bay, includes the 200-acre (80ha) barrier island known as Shell Key. The sanctuary, which became a preserve in the year 2000, attracts cormorants, pelicans, osprey and other seabird species that rely on the small barrier island to nest or winter, while other migrating birds pass through at different times of year. It’s a popular fishing and boating area and is accessible by the Shell Key Shuttle.

The Sarasota Modern

Three dipping pools as seen from above at the Sarasota Modern boutique hotel
Courtesy of The Sarasota Modern / Expedia.com
Minimalism rules at this 89-room boutique hotel, where beach-ready good looks include whitewashed walls, pared-back textiles and mid-century furniture that nods to the hotel’s modernist vibe. Set back from Sarasota Bay, it’s part art gallery, part hotel – the pool resembles a 1960s Hockney print – blended with all the extras millennials expect today, including a 24-hour gym with Peloton bikes and a yoga deck. Off-the-property diversions include the sandy beaches of barrier islands, Lido and Siesta Key, under a 15-minute drive away.

Shore Rejuvenation Spa

Spa
A dimly lit Finnish sauna
© Gravityimaging / Depositphotos.com
While some spas pay only lip service to men’s treatments, Shore Rejuvenation has an extensive menu specially curated for gents. Options include organic marine eye treatments, gentleman’s express facials and waxing of all kinds. Plus, you can book the 40-minute detoxification session in the sauna. Naturally, there are treatments for the ladies too, including all manner of massages and facials.

Island Inn

A traditional room at Island Inn with wooden floors, a double bed and wood-beamed ceilings
Courtesy of Island Inn / Expedia.com
The south shore of Sanibel is best known for having white sandy beaches and languorous coconut palms. That’s part of the experience at the 49-room Island Inn which is spread over 10 acres (4ha) on the Gulf of Mexico. For anyone who’s leaving the cold behind, the heated swimming pool is kept at a toasty 86F (30C) thanks to advanced geothermal technology. There’s a cool-water pool as well, if you want to create a circuit.

Traditions on the Beach

Restaurant, Seafood, $$$
The all-white front of Traditions on the Beach, with wooden steps leading to the entrance
Courtesy of Island Inn / Expedia.com
When did you last enjoy a sit-down dinner on vacation before hitting the dancefloor until midnight? While oysters, prawns and shrimp dominate the menu, it’s a mix of jazz, Motown and R&B that steals the live-music show at Traditions on the Beach, a Sanibel nightlife landmark. Grab yourself a French Kiss (vodka, lime juice, ginger and club soda), treat yourself to the chocolate lava dessert (with a hefty dollop of bourbon-vanilla ice cream), but make sure you aren’t too full to throw some shapes.

Edgewater Beach Hotel

A mirror-like pool at Edgewater Beach Hotel with palm trees reflected in the water
Courtesy of Edgewater Beach Hotel / Expedia.com
What winter traveler could resist a hotel that serves cocktails named Heatwave (rum, coconut water, pineapple juice and jalapeños) and Liquid Sunshine (more rum, with fruit juices and a dash of grenadine)? The 125-suite Edgewater Beach Hotel has long wooed guests to Naples with its oceanside address on the sands. Food in the Coast Restaurant (shrimp ravioli, grilled grouper and lobster risotto) is equally enticing.

Bar Tulia

Bar, Italian
The inside of Bar Tulia Mercato, which has a bar, lots of seating and a bare-brick wall
Courtesy of Bar Tulia Mercato
When in Naples, it would be rude not to feast on Italian fare, and at Bar Tulia – with a sister restaurant on Fifth Avenue in New York – that means comfort food. From the raw menu, there’s beef carpaccio and halibut crudo. For pizzas, there’s chicken with gorgonzola, apples, pine nuts and chives. There are some sharing dishes, but you’ll definitely want to keep the tiramisu all to yourself: made up of sugared ladyfingers, espresso-whipped mascarpone and a dusting of cocoa.

Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park

Park
Sun sets over the coastline of Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park
© Wirestock / Depositphotos.com
Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, on a barrier island on the southwest coast, is home to one of the most pristine stretches of beach in Florida. Swimming, paddleboarding, hiking, fishing, snorkeling and kayaking are popular activities – as is watching for wildlife. Among the resident species are bald eagles, ospreys, loggerhead turtles, rare West Indian manatees and the endangered gopher tortoise. There are boardwalks, observation decks, grills and picnic areas, so arrive ready to make a day of it.

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