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Tampa and the Gulf Coastholidays

Front row seats on Florida’s best beaches

Spot wild dolphins

In the Gulf of Mexico

Number of shell species in Sanibel

250

Holidays in Tampa and the Gulf Coast

Introducing Tampa: an up-and-coming-city set on the waterside. A few days here will reveal its historic centre, newly-invigorated Riverwalk and growing gastronomic scene. If you’re looking for that authentic Florida beach holiday, head out of Tampa to discover the Gulf Coast, where you can get down on the sand for front-row seats to the area’s phenomenal sunsets.

The Gulf Coast is calmer than Florida’s Atlantic coast, with safe, family-friendly water. The beaches are stand-out beauties, with their trademark white quartz sand, and troves of shells sprinkled on the shore.

Before you set off on the hunt for Florida’s fastest thrills and biggest beaches, stop and appreciate Tampa. Florida’s third largest city has a lot going on. Visit the historic district of Ybor City. It’s famous for former cigar manufacturers and is now fit to bursting with local breweries. In fact, the whole Tampa Bay area is becoming more foodie than ever – a walk, Segway or cycle down the Riverwalk will reveal some lovely places to stop, eat, and drink in the scenery.

Then hire a car and be free to explore more of Florida’s warmth on a fly-drive holiday. Soar down south from Tampa and you’ll reach the shell-strewn islands at Sarasota and the charming waterside restaurants in Naples. This coast might be well-trodden, but you’ll still tread on virgin sands and feel as though every sunset has been personally painted for you. Plus, you can reach Orlando’s famous parks in under three hours. However, if you’re strapped for time and prefer to stay local, kids will love the rides at Busch Gardens, Tampa’s own thrilling theme park.

Enjoy the relaxing side of Florida. Book flights to Tampa for a Gulf Coast holiday – they’ve made the water just the way you like it.

Our recommended holidays in Tampa

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Great Tampa holidays

There are several distinct areas of the Gulf Coast around Tampa, each with fantastic hotels. You can stay in the Tampa Bay area, in Tampa, Clearwater or St Petersburg. Travel a little further south and you’ll wash up on the arty, beautiful shores of Sarasota and then arrive in upmarket Naples. Wherever you roam, British Airways has the Gulf Coast covered: our carefully-selected hotels suit every traveller. Aloft Tampa Downtown is a great place to stay on a budget in central Tampa. It has an attractive, fresh design and a small pool on the waterfront. For a mid-range beach hotel, stay at Sheraton Sand Key. If you’re looking for a glamorous spa hotel, you’ll adore Don Cesar in St Pete’s.

Check out our Tampa packages for the best prices.

 

3 star Tampa holidays

For an overnight stop on a fly-drive holiday, or an inexpensive base if most of your days will be spent on the beach, pick one of our carefully selected three-star hotels. You can keep costs down and still enjoy a sunny Floridian holiday.

4 star Tampa holidays

Want a holiday that has everything, but can’t stretch to five star? Choose a resort that’s got all your family needs – plus fun extras, whether it’s a beachfront setting or water sports and sundowners at a four-star hotel.

5 star Tampa holidays

Pick a fancy hotel in Naples for a romantic stay with a touch of Old Florida charm, or pull out all the stops at a beachside resort on its own island. There are plenty of luxury hotels to choose on the Gulf Coast.

How to visit Tampa and the Gulf Coast on a budget

It’s easy to explore Florida on a budget. The perfect sunshine lends itself to outdoor life – no expensive museum entries needed, plus the state caters to all types of tourists.

Use our budget planner to find out how to make the most of your Tampa trip – no matter how much cash you have available to spend. Whether you want an exclusive beach club or just fancy a club sandwich on the beach, our selection of holidays has something for everyone. Discover the best places to stay, what to eat and what to do around the Gulf Coast.

Stay

For Florida’s many returning visitors, Clearwater Beach is the obvious place to stay. It’s simply beautiful: a long white beach clings to the west side of a barrier island. Every day you can celebrate the sunset on the pier with local performers and a rum runner. Just a few steps back from the sand are a host of fantastic hotels. Keep costs down whilst you tan with a stay at Holiday Inn & Suites Harbourside.

Book a stay

Eat

Set back from the seafront, Pearly’s Beach Eats is a hidden gem in Clearwater Beach. It serves your typical Floridian fare: fresh fish, tasty tacos and big, crunchy salads. Order and sit outside at this sunny spot on Papaya Street. Everything's good value, and good for the soul.

Do

Shelling is one of the most accessible activities in Florida. All you need are some shoes, a bucket, and a good pair of eyes. Shellers and birdwatchers flock to the wilder beaches around Sanibel and Captiva looking for nature’s small marvels. It’s possible to find up to 250 species of shell on every beach on Sanibel Island. The birdlife looks on: herons, ibis and snow-white egrets.

Things to do in Tampa

Stay

Captivating Captiva is a little island paradise off the coast of Fort Myers. It’s beautiful and quiet, famous for its beaches and its natural wonder. South Seas Resort, Fort Myers is set on the island. It has a fantastic nine-hole golf course and lots of activities to get you out on the water, whether you fancy paddling or surfing.

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Eat

You can tell by the massive holiday homes that both Sanibel and Captiva have their share of well-heeled residents. Check out Blue Coyote Supper Club to see if you can spot a few of them. This well-known restaurant is named for its jazzy murals and new American cuisine. Order the sautéed escargot if you’re feeling fancy.

Do

Busch Gardens is one of Tampa’s main attractions. This park will have the whole family discovering their wild side. Its rollercoasters, named after the park’s zoo animals, have a fearsome reputation. Take a thrilling ride on Cobra’s Curse or Cheetah Hunt. Little ones can scramble on the Treetop Trails, a three-storey play area with nets, bridges and crawl tubes.

Tickets to Busch Gardens

Stay

Luxury doesn’t come better than this. The Ritz-Carlton Sarasota has it all: a spa, a beach and a luxurious cabana-lined pool. The Ritz-Carlton Members Beach Club is a real highlight; it’s set on Lido Key and looks over a private beach from the jacuzzi. Children will delight in looking out for resident sea turtles.

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Eat

The Selva Grill is widely regarded as one of the best restaurants in Sarasota. The cuisine? Modern Latin American dishes – including carefully-constructed towers of seafood and lime-spiked plates of ceviche. The house has several special versions of the classic raw fish dish: pick your favourite.

Do

Rev up your jet ski and head out to the open water. In safe, calm Sarasota Bay, there’s no more thrilling way to travel. You can even go dolphin-watching. Take a tour to Cayo Costa State Park and you might spot mild-mannered manatees and blushing flamingos, too.

Make the most of your Tampa and Gulf Coast holiday

Where are the best places to stay in Tampa?

If you’re staying in Tampa city to explore the local sights, Downtown Tampa and the Channel District are popular places to stay. From here it’s just a short bus to Ybor City, Tampa’s most historic area, and one of the most characterful parts of town. If you’re looking to visit Busch Gardens, there are handy hotels nearby in the North Tampa area.

In the wider Tampa Bay area, check out Gulfport for a touch of Florida Keys weirdness on the mainland.

If you stay in nearby Clearwater, you can also visit Caladesi Island State Park, a beautiful barrier island only accessible by boat. St Pete’s Beach and St Petersburg are also popular areas to visit, thanks to a Dali Museum, a Chihuly museum, and yet more fantastic beaches.

Sarasota and Bradenton are a short hop across the bay from St Petersburg. Stay near Bradenton Beach and Anna Maria Island for the most stupendous sunsets from City Pier. Sarasota’s history is filled with colourful characters, not least the Ringling family and their famous circus. Today the circus lives on, as does the area’s artistic leanings. Stay near St Armand’s Circle for charming restaurants.

Further out, the city of Fort Myers is known for its water sports. Stay on Fort Myers Beach to try them out. Nearby, Sanibel and Captiva are synonymous with shelling. On the white sand stretches, assume the ‘Sanibel Stoop’ position as you hunch over, intently combing the shoreline for the area’s famous shells.

Naples is a small and elegant city with an abundance of beautiful, but challenging, golf courses. Look for Naples hotels near Fifth Avenue South if you’re planning to spend time sampling the city’s famous shopping district. Below Naples, Marco Island is considered the gateway to the Everglades. Luxury resorts have sprouted all along the fantastically long beach on the west coast of the barrier island. With the nearby nature reserves, it’s a great place to watch and photograph wildlife.

Siesta Beach, Sarasota. ©Julen Garces Carro/EyeEm.

Top five things to see in Tampa and the Gulf Coast

• Visit Busch Gardens

• Party during sunset at Pier 60

• Go shelling on Sanibel beaches

• Kayak in the mangroves

• Croc-spot in the Everglades

More things to do in Tampa and the Gulf Coast

Best beaches to visit from Tampa

With so many beaches nearby, you can afford to be choosy. From north to south, try out these blonde beauties:

  1. Caladesi Island State Park in Dunedin – accessible by ferry – or even by kayak rental, this quiet beach is very beautiful.
  2. Clearwater Beach – right in front of the town, this lively beach hosts daily sunset celebrations at Pier 60.
  3. Fort De Soto Park, Tierra Verde – set in a county park, this beach has a safe tidal pool that’s perfect for kids.
  4. Siesta Key Beach – one of the whitest beaches around, thanks to the high quartz content in the sand. This quartz also helps keep the sand cool even in hot weather. 
  5. Sanibel Island – famous, alongside its sister island, Captiva, for being the best place in Florida for shelling.
  6. Fort Myers Beach – a popular area with a set of great hotels, Fort Myers Beach is famous for water sports and presents an annual sand sculpture competition.
  7. Naples Beach – this seven-mile beach in Naples resort is absolutely beautiful. Take a fantastic sunset photograph of Naples Pier at the southern end of the beach.
Kayaking in the Everglades. ©RHZ

Tampa fly-drive holidays

Tampa, and the twin cities of Clearwater and St Petersburg sit on the northern end of Florida’s popular Gulf Coast region. Drive south from here, crossing the Sunshine Skyway Bridge to reach Bradenton and Sarasota next, then Fort Myers, and finally the so-called ‘Paradise Coast’ around Naples. Don’t forget to look inland from the beaches when you travel. You can find plenty of Florida’s signature wildlife, from gators to egrets, just off the back roads. Why not drive to Cape Coral, near Fort Myers, to look out for Florida’s unique Burrowing Owls?

Customise your trip

Tampa fly-drive holidays

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The Florida Gulf coast is burstingwith charm and energy.Soak up every sensational moment.

Amy Rosoman,  British Airways Holidays

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