Central West Florida’s stretches of sugar-white, powder-soft sandy beaches found along the Gulf of Mexico each have their own personalities and are perfect playgrounds for all ages. Whatever type of beach experience you’re looking for—quiet, action-packed, or anything in between—Central West Florida has you covered.
Fort De Soto
A few of the region’s best beaches are actually state parks. For a quiet, more natural beach day without high rises towering behind you, consider Fort De Soto Park, south of St. Pete Beach, or Anclote Key Preserve State Park to the north. Caladesi Island State Park is a perfect destination not only for beaches, but also for its four-mile kayaking trail and its three-mile nature trail. Nearby Honeymoon Island State Park was connected to Caladesi Island until a hurricane separated them in 1921. Once a popular honeymoon destination in the 1940s and 1950s, it is now a favorite among birdwatchers and welcomes more than one million visitors annually.
Not only Floridians think the beaches here are fantastic. Two local beaches made it onto TripAdvisor’s 2016 list of “Top 25 Beaches–United States”—Clearwater Beach (No. 1) and St. Pete Beach (No. 4). And at the end of the day, there’s no better place than a beach in Central West Florida to watch spectacular sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico.
When water temperatures dip below 72°F in Florida, Central West Florida’s natural springs are terrific spots to see manatees, thought to be mermaids by sailors too long at sea. Popular manatee viewing spots include Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River and the TECO Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach, just south of Tampa.
Don’t forget Central Florida’s water parks. There are many from which to choose and many have their own beaches. From Walt Disney World and SeaWorld to Wet ’n Wild and LEGOLAND Florida, wet thrills abound.
Once the baseball season officially begins, the Tampa Bay Rays take on the teams in their schedule at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.
Baseball isn’t the only game in town, though. The Tampa Bay Rowdies take to the field to battle rival soccer teams from summer into fall, and once fall and the football season roll around, cheer on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. During winter, the Tampa Bay Lightning defend their home ice.
If you’d rather play yourself, myriad public and semi-private golf courses for all skill sets abound throughout the region. Two outstanding local courses are Saddlebrook Resort and Innisbrook Golf Resort.
If you just want to walk, jog or rollerblade, head to Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa—the world’s longest continuous sidewalk at 4.5 miles.
The Central West Region has endless opportunities for outdoor activities both on land and on water. Among them, the Pinellas Trail is one of the best biking trails in the area (pinellascounty.org/trailgd). Extending for 37 miles from Tarpon Springs to St. Petersburg along an abandoned railroad line, the route passes through the charming communities of Dunedin and Largo and certain sections provide stunning views of the Gulf Coast.
For a nature-based outing, hike the Brooker Creek Preserve (brookercreekpreserve.org). Located just east of Tarpon Springs, the preserve has 8,700 acres of swamps and forest and a first-rate education center.
For a more natural setting, Wekiwa Springs State Park, north of Orlando, boasts a pristine spring-fed swimming hole. Or relax on a canoe or kayak and join the otters as they float down the river.
Go deep-sea fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. Captain Barry of Gulf to Bay Charters will navigate the waters and find the perfect spots for you to cast a line for redfish, snook, trout, flounder and more. Get more involved and sign up to crew on board Capt. Gus’s Crabby Adventures. If fishing’s not your game, explore the tranquil Hillsborough River in a kayak or canoe or try stand-up paddleboarding.
Weedon Island Preserve has miles of mangrove-lined waterways ideal for canoeing where paddlers can choose from two well-marked trails within the 3,700-acre preserve (weedonislandpreserve.org).
Outdoor enthusiasts and sunbathers alike will thrive in Central West Florida.
Now it’s your turn! Which places have you been? Where do you want to go? Please share your thoughts and experiences with us all!