After a week-long vacation in Siesta Key, I'm enchanted with Florida's Gulf Coast. I can't believe I never ventured over to the opposite coast while living in Florida, but I plan to make up for lost time with many summer trips there from now on.
If Siesta Key is any indication, we're in for some amazing vacations. The first thing I noticed about the beach was the wonderful sand. From research, I knew that the sand was spectacular – it is 99 percent quartz and stays cool – but actually experiencing it is another thing entirely. The sand was always my least favorite part of spending the day at the beach – it is gritty, sticky, and uncomfortable. But the sand on Siesta Key is different. I couldn't wait to sink my feet into it – it is like being wrapped in cashmere. (My son said it was like walking through a cloud … both apply, I think.)
The next amazing thing was walking out into the water up to my neck and still being able to see my feet. Much to my surprise, the kids didn't miss the big waves. They were so impressed with seeing the fish, shells, and crabs as they walked through the water that they never even mentioned the lack of waves. We were very near an area called the "Point of Rocks," a 17,000-year-old rock formation. This amazing place is like an underwater aquarium, housing fish, crabs, and shells in the little pools between the rocks.
My kids are already planning our trip to the Gulf Coast for next year. Their only complaint was not having the dogs along. I tried to find a pet-friendly condo or hotel, but we wanted to be on the beach, we wanted a full kitchen, we wanted a place within our budget, and we waited a little too long so most places were booked. The place I chose had every requirement except being pet-friendly. And while my dogs really don't mind a week of being spoiled by Grandma and Grandpa, we missed them! So, maybe by planning a little more in advance, we can find a place that meets all of our requirements.
The big argument now is the location – my kids want to go back to Siesta Key. But there's nothing I enjoy more than discovering new places, so I'm trying to push a few other interesting locations. The first place on my list is Treasure Island. Located in the Tampa Bay region, this gorgeous area has a great little downtown filled with surf shops and restaurants, a beach trolley, and a Friday farmer's market.
Fort De Soto Park offers a vacation that is a little more nature-oriented. This great park has a campground with special sites for campers with pets. Since the camping area includes water, electricity, washers, dryers, and a camp store, this may be an ideal alternative to a hotel or condo. Fort De Soto State Park is the largest park in Pinellas County with seven miles of shoreline and three miles of white, sandy beaches. The park is 1,136 acres of interconnected keys (small islands). In addition, it has two fishing piers, two swim centers with concessions, a seven-mile trail, and a historic fort.
Marco Island is a gorgeous city just south of Naples. This is the complete opposite of Fort De Soto State Park – Marco Island is luxurious estates, great shopping, fine dining, tennis courts, and golf courses. Take a boat tour, visit a theater or a museum, peruse an art gallery or boutique, or just spend long afternoons on the beautiful beaches. Marco Island is an elegant beach town with plenty to see and do.
Caladesi Island State Park offers stunning beaches and solitude – it is only accessible by boat or ferry from Honeymoon Island State Park. This is a completely natural island – one of only a few that exist along the Gulf Coast. It is white, sandy beaches and afternoons of swimming, sunbathing, and beachcombing. The park also has a marina with floating docks, 30 amp electric service, and water hookups – perfect for boat campers. A snack bar and gift shop are also in the marina. But, while pets are permitted in the rest of the park, they are not allowed on the beach or on the ferry.
Fort Walton Beach is near Pensacola in the Florida Panhandle. This would be a much shorter trip from Atlanta, so it has a spot near the top of my list. The northwestern coast of Florida is called the Emerald Coast for a reason – it has beautiful emerald blue water. In addition to days spent enjoying the beautiful beaches, there's plenty to do – the Air Force Armament Museum and the Indian Temple Mounds Museum are both worth the trip. Fort Walton is also the location of the Billy Bowlegs Pirate Festival.
Sanibel Island, Longboat Key, Cedar Key, Venice, Destin, St. George Island – there are so many great locations along the Gulf Coast of Florida, I feel just like one of those early explorers – I can't wait to discover all of them. From remote islands to popular beach towns teeming with tourists, the possibilities are far-reaching. If you haven't found your quiet place in the sun yet this summer, consider heading to Florida's Gulf Coast – it is well worth the trip!