Beaches and Outdoors

By SUSAN B. BARNES

West Central Florida’s stretches of sugar-white, powder-soft sandy beaches found along the Gulf of Mexico are perfect play-grounds for all ages.

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 2019 Travelers’ Choice list of “Top 25 Beaches in the U.S.”—Clearwater Beach (No. 1 for the second consecutive year) and St. Pete Beach (No. 4). And at the end of the day, there’s no better place than a beach in West Central Florida to watch spectacular sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico.

When water temperatures dip below 72ºF in Florida, West Central 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.