When you’re craving a little sand and surf, there’s no shortage of Gulf Coast shoreline within a few hours’ drive of the Tampa Bay area. Indulge your inner beach bum at one of these best beach towns near Tampa.
Traveling with kids or teens? These towns pack in family-friendly attractions by the boatload (sometimes literally).
The beach: Manatee Beach. Come for the all-you-can-eat pancakes at AMI Beach Cafe, stay for the sugar-white sand and low-traffic shoreline.
Spotlight: Loggerhead turtles visit the beaches May through October to lay their eggs—you can join the local Turtle Patrol for free informational talks and a survey of the nests. Keep your eyes peeled on the horizon for dolphins while you lounge, or book a MV Minnow boat tour with Captain Frank to get a closer look at the local marine life.
The beach: Coquina Beach. Famous for its “old Florida” vibe, remnants of old piers, and shady picnic spots under the pine trees, Coquina Beach was rated number five on Conde Nast Traveler’s list for best sand.
Spotlight: Leave your car in the driveway—ride the trolley instead! Take a day to wander around the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium for close encounters with sharks, sea turtles, and even a manatee or two, not to mention scientists hard at work in viewable labs. Make a pit stop at The Donut Experiment for a customizable sweet treat.
The beach: Barefoot Beach Preserve Park. Covering 342 acres of land, this is a picturesque spot to explore with nature lovers (keep an eye out for the gopher tortoise and Loggerhead sea turtles).
Spotlight: Enjoy a thriving arts culture supported by the Center of Arts Bonita Springs, offering plays, musical or dance performances, films, and art exhibitions. The kids (and the young at heart) will love a day on the greens at the Congo River Golf mini-golf course, where you can take a break to feed the live gators or beat the heat in the arcade.
If you get bored after an hour sitting on the sand, these towns offer a bit more excitement.
The beach: Lovers Key State Park. Grab your hiking shoes, your trail runners, or your bike: There are five miles of trails just for you on Black Island, one of Lovers Key’s smaller barrier islands. Try kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, or canoeing. You can even take a kayak or canoe tour to Mound Key, a Calusa tribe site. Wind down with a stroll on the beach with your sweetheart, hunting for shells.
Spotlight: Fishermen rejoice. This is one of the best beach towns near Tampa for catching big, feisty fish like grouper. If you’re looking for a more laid-back day, Lovers Key State Park has several natural estuaries with trout and snook.
The beach: Tigertail Beach. This is a beach especially known for its birding, so be sure to bring your binoculars. If you’d like to see something a little stranger, hike to Sand Dollar Spit to spot horseshoe crabs and fighting conchs. You can also rent equipment like stand-up paddleboards, water trikes, and kayaks for a few hours of aquatic recreation.
Spotlight: The northwest entrance to the Everglades National Park is just 36 miles from Marco Island. Go for a day-long kayaking trip or an airboat tour.
If a glass of wine in your hand is just as important as sand between your toes, head to these towns for a more cosmopolitan getaway.
The Beach: Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park. A perfect midday picnic spot.
Spotlight: Reserve tee time at Eagles Lake Golf Course and golf alongside its namesake pair of bald eagles at the par 71 championship golf course. Afterward, spend a sunny evening wining and dining along Fifth Avenue South.
The beach: Lido Key Beach. One of the best west coast Florida beaches, offering sunset cruises and a long shoreline for strolling.
Spotlight: Shop 'til you drop in St. Armands Circle, known for its collection of boutiques, art galleries, and high-end dining options that offer plenty of fresh seafood.