The beaches on the Gulf Coast are infinitely nicer than those in South Florida, with soft sand, stunning sunsets, and a sense of calm that often evades the hustle and bustle of South Florida. A week on the Gulf is akin to spending a month in a city spa. Refreshing and calming, the Gulf Coast is an ideal spot for those looking to recharge their batteries.
Day 1: Arrive in Fort Myers Beach
Check into the Edison Beach House All Suites Hotel and take in the panoramic Gulf views. Waste no time making a dinner reservation at the Gulf Shore Grill and The Cottage, where you must try shrimp wrapped in bacon and coated with honey. After dinner, consider hitting the rooftop bar at Beached Whale, a locals' favorite, or Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille for some live music.
Day 2: Sanibel & Captiva Islands
Just 14 miles west of Fort Myers are two of Florida's most beautiful islands. Before heading to the wildly kitschy Bubble Room restaurant, be sure to stop at the J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, home to alligators, raccoons, otters, and a dazzling array of bird life. Take your car down the Wildlife Drive for a CliffsNotes version of the park. Then call Captiva Cruises and see if there's room for y'all on the next shuttle out to Boca Grande, sort of the Martha's Vineyard of Florida. After touring Boca Grande, return to Sanibel and check into the Casa Ybel Resort, if your budget allows; if not, we highly recommend the Tarpon Tale Inn on Sanibel, or the 'Tween Waters Inn on Captiva. Now you're ready for the Bubble Room, jazz at Ellington's, or our personal fave, live reggae at Jacaranda!
Day 3: To Naples
Wake up early and do not miss breakfast and the biscuits at the Sanibel Cafe. If the line's too long, try the delicious corn muffins at Island Cow. Drive south for 40 or so miles, and you'll be in swanky, sleepy Naples. Take the Naples Trolley to get a feel for the place and then, without hesitation, hit the beach before sunset. For a ritzy experience, we recommend the Ritz-Carlton, Naples, one of the best in the entire chain. For a flip-flops-and-T-shirt experience with a hopping bar scene at sunset, you'll love the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club. Both have fabulous beaches. After the beach, stroll down 5th Avenue, the city's main drag, where you'll find the only real semblance of nightlife, dining, and shopping. The next morning, head 70 miles north to Sarasota.
Days 4 & 5: Sarasota
Sarasota's Siesta Key Beach is one of Florida's best. But if culture is your thing, don't miss the Ringling Museum of Art. If you can't stay at the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota, consider the Captiva Beach Resort on Siesta Key. Do not miss dinner at Euphemia Haye on Longboat Key. Just don't. Also don't miss at least a stop in funky, arty Siesta Key, whose name is quite the antithesis of what it really is. For a fun diversion nearby in Bradenton, stop by the Gamble Plantation and the weird, wacky Solomon's Castle. Before heading to Tampa, have breakfast at the Blue Dolphin Cafe.
Days 6 & 7: Tampa Bay, St. Pete & Clearwater
Because this is the relaxing Gulf Coast itinerary, we won't recommend Busch Gardens Africa unless you're craving roller coasters. The same goes for Ybor City, the hub of Tampa's nightlife. It's rowdy, tacky, and fun, but hardly relaxing. Therefore, we'd like to send you directly to the Saddlebrook Resort-Tampa, where the likes of Jennifer Capriati play tennis, and aspiring Tiger Woods-types play golf. If you prefer to be on the beach, head over to St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, where we recommend the historic Don CeSar Beach Resort & Spa, the Clearwater Beach Marriott Suites on Sand Key, or the boutiquey new Postcard Inn on the Beach in St. Pete Beach. For arty types, the Salvador Dalí Museum in downtown St. Pete is highly recommended. Fly home from Tampa International Airport.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.