While Key West gets the most clout for its turquoise waters and coral cay archipelago, Florida’s west coast is not a bad place to be. Not at all. You have the refreshing waters of the Gulf of Mexico and quaint destinations like Naples to explore.
You also have Florida’s Gulf Coast barrier islands for you to make the most of your island-hopping expedition. We’ve skimmed the coastline and created a guide including 14 Florida Gulf Coast Islands just for you:
- Fort Island Beach
- Caladesi Island
- Clearwater Beach & Sand Key
- Egmont Key
- Anna Maria Island
- Lido Key
- Siesta Key
- Gasparilla Island
- Cayo Costa & Cabbage Key
- Pine Island
- Fort Myers Beach
- Marco Island
- Key West
Read up on these must-see destinations and start planning your boat trip on Florida’s West Coast soon.
North of Tampa
1. Fort Island Beach
Fort Island Beach is a secluded island at the end of W Fort Island Trail, with picnic tables, a fishing pier, and restrooms. Perfect for boaters looking to anchor away from frills and fuss.
2. Caladesi Island
Caladesi Island is a beautiful state park a few miles north of Clearwater Beach, with wildlife trails, bustling mangroves, and a quaint café: Café Caladesi. While there isn’t much in terms of accommodations, this is a great spot to cruise out to if you want to see some Florida wildlife and lush greenery.
3. Clearwater Beach & Sand Key
Clearwater Beach and Sand Key are active, tourist-friendly Gulf Coast islands off the edge of Tampa. That would be the modest description of Clearwater Beach, and it does this novel destination no justice.
Listed as #5 in US News & World Report 27 Best US Beaches, Clearwater is known for its unmatched white sands and crisp crystal waters.
There are plenty of restaurants to dock and dine in and plenty of room on the water for kayaking and snorkeling.
A short way south, across the Sand Key Bridge, you can step away from the crowds without leaving the Florida beach experience behind!
South of Tampa
4. Egmont Key
Exclusively accessible by boat, Egmont Key is rich with history and natural charm and is home to one of Florida’s famous lighthouses (built in 1858). This is the perfect spot for an afternoon picnic overlooking the Gulf Coast.
5. Anna Maria Island
Anna Maria Island is a great spot for a fun family getaway. The area is primarily residential, with a few resorts and an assortment of restaurants. Without the tourist crowds, the strips of public beaches are perfect for a calm island escape.
6. Lido Key
Lido Key is a beach island in Sarasota Bay. Between the beach, the bayou, and the mangrove tunnels, Lido Key is a great place to make the most of your time outdoors. The island is prominently known for eco-tourism, deep-sea fishing, and dolphin watching.
7. Siesta Key
Siesta Key is one of the best Gulf Coast island experiences. Similar to Clearwater, Siesta Key beaches face away from the river runoffs draining from the mainland, meaning the water is clean and crystal clear, perfect for swimming, snorkeling, and memory-making photos. Be sure to hit the boardwalk during your visit!
8. Gasparilla Island
Gasparilla Island is one of the last bridgeless barrier islands, known as a place of quaint culture and tranquil peace. The island is webbed with unpaved roads, and groceries are bring-your-own.
This is the perfect place to unplug: enjoy serene seaside sunbathing, cast your line for a quiet afternoon of fishing, or rent a paddleboard and try to find some manatees!
South of Fort Myers
9. Cayo Costa & Cabbage Key
Cayo Costa and Cabbage Key are small, slow-vibe barrier islands only accessible by boat or kayak. Cayo Costa specifically is great for anyone interested in paddling their way through wildlife, as the island is a protected preserve.
Cabbage Key is a 100-acre slice of old Florida. The island features a family-owned inn, restaurant, and marina and is best known for the Dollar Bill Bar, which is papered with more than $70K in dollar bills signed by patrons.
10. Pine Island
Pine Island is sandwiched between Cabbage Key and the mainland. The waters around Pine Island are some of the best for fishing. Among the aquatic preserves and mangroves, there’s a bustling population of snook, sea trout, redfish, tarpon, and more.
Sanibel has a horizontal (east-west) orientation, unlike the other Florida Gulf Coast islands. The water hits the shore in a unique way, leaving abundant, beautiful shells (which is what Sanibel is best known for).
Pro Tip: Stop at Sanibel if you want a one-of-a-kind shell souvenir.
12. Fort Myers Beach
Fort Myers Beach is one of the best Florida Gulf Coast islands for anyone chasing fun under the sun. The island offers a variety of activities, ranging from jet skiing to kayaking, bar hopping, and a thriving nightlife.
Beachfront dining is a must when you stay at Fort Myers Beach: the way the waves mix with live music is truly an unmatched vibe!
13. Marco Island
Marco Island is the upscale barrier island to Naples, best known for its world-class golf courses, proximity to the Everglades, and dense mangroves. This is the perfect place to vacation if you’re interested in staying active and engaging with nature without leaving comfort and luxury behind.
14. Key West
Key West is the southernmost point of the United States, known for its accepting culture, colorful architecture, and festive energy. Visit Ernest Hemingway’s house, snorkel around the U.S.’s only living barrier reef, party on Duval Street, or sit back for a classic sun-kissed day on the beach!
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