We went for four day trip to the Gulf Coast region in Florida on our anniversary weekend in January 2021. The Gulf of Mexico coast is famous for its pristine white sand beaches, shelling, delicious seafood options, gorgeous seaside stays, countless wildlife sightseeings, and more.We found winter is a beautiful time to explore as it is a dry season (fewer bugs), and the weather is cool, unlike hot summer.
Here we are listing down all the places we visited during our trip, followed by a brief itinerary.
Everglades National Park
We have been to Florida before, but this was our first time visiting Everglades. During this visit, we covered Shark Valley and the Gulf coast side of the park. The best way to explore Everglades would be either by airboat, renting bicycles, or taking tram tours. You can find all the details about timing & pricing on the NPS website.
We did a guided airboat tour with Everglades Safari park. It is an activity not to miss if you are visiting Shark Valley, Everglades National Park. It was fun cruising around marshy land and spotting alligators in their natural habitat.
We also did a Ten Thousand Island tour with Eco endeavors which covered the Cape Romano area with a stop at one of the islands for shelling, a popular activity around this area. We saw lots of dolphins searching for their afternoon food, learned about Domes of Cape Romano (Interesting story!), and saw lots of different kinds of shells on the island we halt. If you are a shell collector, you can call this place a paradise.
You can check Everglades Florida Adventures’s 90 mins tour of the Island in case you are looking for short trip.
Marco Island is a short drive from Everglades, so we decided to explore the place before heading to our next destination. While driving, you will notice so many beautiful houses around the area. We stopped at Tigertail beach state park and took a stroll on the lovely beach.
Sanibel Island is an hour and a half drive from Marco Island. The Island has white beaches famous for shelling, 25 miles of scenic biking path, and pretty cottages hotels on the beachfront. We stayed in this lovely beach resort called Island Inn, where we booked a studio room for a night with a gulf view. It is one of the best places to watch the dawn and dusk over the Gulf of Mexico.
Honeymoon Island State Park
Honeymoon Island state park is just half an hour from Tampa, a beautiful white beach island to spend some time with no crowd around. From the state park, you can catch a ferry to Caladesi Island. It is the sister island that got separated in the 1921 hurricane. We had a plan to visit Caladesi Island, but the ferry tickets got sold out. I would recommend buying the tickets in advance if you know the dates you are planning to visit.
If you wanted to visit one beach near Tampa, I would recommend Clearwater Beach. One of the best white sand beaches we have ever seen, no doubt! We booked the Hilton resort mainly because of its location on the beach near pier 60. We had a perfect beach time sipping cocktails while watching the sun going down the horizon. Also, there are lots of restaurants to enjoy meals any time of the day.
Spotting Manatees in Crystal river
An hour and a half drive from Tampa, Crystal River is one of the best places to see Manatees in their natural habitat during winters. You can visit Hunter spring park or King’s bay or book a tour if you are looking for kayaking or snorkeling with Manatees. However, finding Manatees during kayaking/snorkeling will all depend on the weather. We strongly suggest checking with the tour guys about the details in advance.
Three sister springs National wildlife refuge is another place to find Manatees. Walkthrough the boardwalk and find them having fun in clear blue water. If you are in the Tampa area, this place is a must-visit.
Took a flight to Fort Lauderdale (early morning) — picked up the Rental car from Airport — Drove to Airboat tour Everglades Safari park (about 1.30 hours drive) — Visited Shark Valley Visitor center — A tram tour or rent a bike & explored the park (Note : the last tour is at 4.00 pm) — had dinner at Camellia Street Grill (Everglades City) — stayed in Everglades city Inn (you can choose to stay in Naples)
Breakfast at Havana Cafe of Everglades (Chokoloskee) — Took the Ten Thousand Island tour (3 hours tour) — Explored Marco Island (Tigertail beach state park) — Drove to Sanibel Island beach — Watched sunset on the beach — Stayed at Island inn (Sanibel Island) — Dinner at Traditions On the Beach.
Watched Sunrise on the beach — Had breakfast at Lighthouse cafe — Visited Lighthouse beach state park — Explore the rest of the Island — Drove to Clearwater Beach — Checked in the beachfront hotel (we booked Hilton) — Enjoyed Sunset at Tommy’s Tiki bar — Had dinner at Badfins Food + Brew (If you have time add Sarasota, Siesta beach or Honeymoon State park).
A morning walk on Clearwater beach and pier 60 — Had breakfast in Clear sky cafe — Drove to Crystal River – did a kayak tour (Manatee season) — Visited Three sister Spring State Park (to see manatees)– Drove to Tampa — Flight back home.
Best time to visit
Florida has two seasons called wet season (April – November) and dry season (December – March). We chose to visit in January (a) Hello! It was our anniversary (b) It’s pretty cool, unlike hot summer (c) Dry season is comparatively less buggy (d) We wanted to see manatees in Florida’s famous spring waters.
With that said, anytime is good to visit Florida.
Where we ate
In Everglades City, we had dinner at this outdoor place called Camellia Street Grill. We ordered Mahi Mahi fish tacos and chicken taco with beer and watched the sky turned into orange at sunset. Magical evening! The next morning, we had breakfast at Havana Cafe in Everglades City – delicious Cuban coffee and sandwiches.
In Clearwater beach, we had cocktails in Tommy’s Tiki bar and enjoyed the sunset over the beach. Then we headed for dinner at Badfins brew – ordered beer & Chicken bowl + Fish tacos. The next day, for breakfast we went to Clear sky cafe. There are a lot of seafood options around the beach area in case you love them.
Whether it’s spending a day on the beach or cruising in the swamps, there are many things to do. Hope this blog motivates you to take a trip to the Gulf Coast of Florida and explore more. Pin it or bookmark the page for future travel!