Gulf Coast Beaches
Anna Maria Island (107 miles:- 1 hour 51 minutes)
Anna Maria Island is a 7 mile stretch of white sandy shores and crystal clear water and is a vacation favourite among local, national and international travellers with its pristine beaches along with award-winning restaurants and specialty shops.
A great favourite with diners is the Sandbar Restaurant where you can enjoy good food with the sea just yards from your table and with your table and toes in the sand! A perfect spot to unwind and take in perfect views of the sea and the sunset.
At the southern end of the island there is Coquina Beach which has great easy access to the public and has wide expanses of white sandy beach whilst Longboats Pass is a popular place for watching all manner of sailboats.
In the north is Bean Point, known as the local's favourite beach. It is tucked away and something of a hidden gem but one worth discovering with its sand dunes and white sands.
The town of Anna Maria is located in the north of the island and has a great range of beach cafes, inns, eateries and funky shops.
Being less than 2 hours' drive from our villa, Florida Delight, a trip to Anna Maria Island is a place to add to your holiday itinerary so that you can make the most of the attractions of Orlando and the restfulness that the coast has to offer too.
We had a drive up to Anna Maria Island yesterday as we are having a few days down in Sarasota before heading up to our villa tomorrow. Have to say we loved it there. From our hotel in Sarasota the drive was 45 minutes to a cafe at the end of the island. We had breakfast at a wonderfully eclectic cafe cum gift shop called Ginny and Jane E's . It was a really popular place for breakfast but we got a seat straightaway, Loads of choice to eat and we went for the Ginny Special followed by the most delicious and huge cinnamon bun we have ever tasted. Would definitely have breakfast here again if we come back to Anna Maria.
We then crossed the road from the cafe and walked about 2 minutes to access an amazing white sandy beach. Very quiet and we walked along the shore about a mile to an old pier from which we sat and watched some dolphin. From there we carried on walking to Bean Point which has various small shops and cafes. All really nice and the houses on the island are beautiful too. Finally we got into our car and drove round to have a look at the marina with its multi million pound boats. One can always dream!
St Pete's Beach (95.7 miles:-1 hour 38 minutes)
The nearest major beach from Watersong at just over an hour and a half drive away, St Pete's Beach was voted the number 1 beach in the US and number 5 in the world in 2012 by Trip Adviser based on millions of reviews by travellers from across the world.
St Pete's is a beautiful peninsula just off Florida's west coast, made up of 8 major barrier islands.
The beach is a wide crescent shaped expanse of soft white sand, perfect for walking on and taking in the spectacular sunsets. St Pete's was even voted in the top 5 beaches for most beautiful sunsets, which can be enjoyed all year round. A wide range of water sports are available including windsurfing, parasailing and kiteboarding. Dolphins are often seen frolicking in the waves. Being on the Gulf Coast (West Coast) St Pete's has fantastic sunsets.
As well as the beach St Pete's has many other attractions to offer with some great restaurants, cafes, shops and galleries. The art museum holds the largest collection of Salvador Dali paintings outside Spain.
We went over to St Pete's for a two night stay when we were in Florida in May. Our first visit there and we loved it. Once we had checked in at our hotel we strolled 10 minutes down the road for lunch at the well-known and recommended Crabby Bills. It was a lovely hot day and we eat on the upstairs terrace with amazing views straight across the beach. The location is excellent, but not so keen on the food which tends to be mostly fried.
The beach itself was wonderful and as good if not better than any we have been on anywhere including places such as Thailand and Goa. The sea was so warm that it was like a bath and the waves were pleasant but don't knock you off your feet like some we have experienced. We hired a cabana which was $25 for the day.
On our first evening we strolled down to the beach again to watch the sunset then followed the twinkling lights of Bongos Beach Bar and Grille. This was the perfect place to sit and enjoy the balmy evening, sipping a glass of wine eating good food at a table where our feet were actually in the sand of the beach and generally loving the ambience created by the live music, fire pits and lanterns.
On our second day we drove 10 minutes down the road to Pass-a-Grille. What a fantastic place that is! Wonderful white sandy beaches, which were practically empty and a lovely place to have a walk around. The water inlet is breath-taking lined with luxury homes and amazing yachts. We watched a group of manta rays swimming under the bridge as well as loads of big fish. The pelicans were a great sight too.
We spent two days in St Pete's in November, 2015 with 5 friends. We took them to Pass-a-Grille and we had lunch at Sea Critters Cafe. We all enjoyed our meals and thought it was one of the best of our holiday. The location is lovely overlooking the water and fantastic outside on their jetty looking at all of the fish and various birds such as pelicans.
Although we had booked to stay 2 nights at St Pete's we decided to have dinner in the evening at Pass -a-Grille then head home to Florida Delight as it is only an hour and 30 minutes away and we had to be back in Davenport early the next day (as we had workmen coming to our villa to install solar panels for heating our pool). This also showed us that it would be easy to have a full day there and drive back rather than having to pay for a hotel if we don't want to next time.
Being so close to Davenport, St Pete's is a great destination for a day out to the beach and a trip we will hope to do many times.
Sarasota (119 miles:- 1 hour 58 minutes)
We first visited Sarasota just for a day in 2016 on our way up the coast from Naples and had a wonderful day at the Moot Aquarium followed by a trip out on the bay with the Sarasota Bay Explorers. This boat trip was great fun on so many levels. Just being out on the boat gazing at the spectacular mansions lining the bay was an experience in itself but the amount of wildlife we got to see was fabulous. With many chances to see dolphins, pelicans and a variety of fish as we sailed along in the sunshine we found ourselves loving every minute of the trip.
After enjoying being out on the water we headed into the town of Sarasota. Very impressed by the marina packed with million dollar boats which were a real sight.
We were very happy with the dinner that we had in a very pretty little restaurant called Indigenous which was tucked away in the charming streets of the arts district of Sarasota.
This area is a real treat and well worth a visit if you can tear yourselves away from the fun and excitement of Orlando for a day or two.
It is now 4th February, 2018 and we have had a 5 day stay in Sarasota before we head up to our villa in Watersong tomorrow. Having now visited St. Pete's, Naples, Clearwater and Sarasota I can say that Sarasota is way and above our favourite place to stay on this coast and we will hopefully make it a regular place to visit when we are in Florida.
The hotel we are staying at is The Hyatt Regency and we have been really pleased with it. Having seen its location compared to others in Sarasota we feel the Hyatt is the best as our room with a balcony gets the sun all day and overlooks water with boats on it and the beautiful hotel pools. You have to pay a resort fee but you do get free use of bikes and kayaks.
On our first night here we eat at Owen's Fish Camp. The wait for a table was well over an hour and whilst Richard enjoyed his dinner I was a bit disappointed in my fish tacos. However, this restaurant is well worth going to just to see and experience the amazing garden area where you can sit and enjoy a drink while waiting for your table. We have honestly never experienced a restaurant like it before. It was like being at a large, private gathering with live music, old swing seats, all sorts of tables and chairs and lots of pretty coloured lights in the trees.
Last night we went to St Armands Circle which is a collection of boutique shops and restaurants. It is quite a big place and really nice to stroll around and get something to eat.
A real must do in Sarasota is the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. We cycled from our hotel along past the beautiful marina to the botanical gardens. The cycle ride itself was lovely (the hotel has bikes available). We spent a couple of hours strolling round the gardens and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Siesta Key has been voted number 1 beach in the US. Situated just to the south of Sarasota it has an array of beach cafe's and restaurants and is a really popular place. We were not so keen on Siesta Key although the beach itself is lovely. What we did really like though was the viewing spot just before you leave Siesta Key (before the bridge over the water). Here there are fabulous views across the bay.
Dolphin Boat Trip (95.5 miles:- 1 hour 41 minutes)
We have visited St Pete's three times now and on the last two occasions been on one of their public dolphin watch boat trips, each time with a group of friends. We have been on the 12pm booking time on each trip and saw dolphin both times. We would recommend booking in advance.
This really is a fabulous way to spend two hours and at $35 per adult for a two hour trip on a beautiful sailing boat, seeing dolphins swimming in their natural habitat it is great value and we all thoroughly enjoy every minute of it. You even get a free water or soda on the trip which is very welcome as it can get hot out on the water.
We have not yet done the Sunset Sail but would very much like to in the future.
To drive to St Pete's from the villa it takes around 1 hour 45 minutes and is motorway nearly all the way. We have come down and stayed overnight to make the most of being at the coast but on our last trip we drove from the villa and back in one day and it wasn't hard at all and if anything it was nice to not pay out for additional accommodation by paying for a hotel when we could get home to the villa easily enough.
We parked in the large free car park next to the mooring at Dolphin Landings Charter Boat Center 4737 Gulf Blvd,St Pete Beach Florida 33706 and walked round to the IHOP for breakfast about 5 minutes walk away. There is also a nice french bakery called Cafe Soleil right next to Dolphin Landings where we have also had breakfast before or even good just for a coffee.