Spot wild dolphins
In the Gulf of Mexico
Front row seats on Florida’s best beaches
Spot wild dolphins
In the Gulf of Mexico
Number of shell species in Sanibel
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.Book a stay
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.
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
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.Book a stay
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.
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.
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.
• Visit Busch Gardens
• Party during sunset at Pier 60
• Go shelling on Sanibel beaches
• Kayak in the mangroves
• Croc-spot in the Everglades
With so many beaches nearby, you can afford to be choosy. From north to south, try out these blonde beauties:
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
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