The Best of Gulf Coast Florida

The stretch of Florida that runs roughly from Tampa to Naples is home to sophisticated towns and more of those powdery beaches lapped by calm, shallow waters. Explore the Cuban history of Ybor City in Tampa, have a grouper sandwich with your feet in the sand on Anna Maria Island, or go looking for ghost orchids in the incredible nature preserves around Naples.

2117 East 7th Avenue
Ybor City can boast that it is home to the oldest continuously operating restaurant in Florida. The Columbia Restaurant opened in 1905 as a café serving coffee and Cuban sandwiches to local cigar workers. Today, the original family continues to run the eatery, and while it now has a much larger menu, the Cuban sandwiches remain a favorite.

101 1st Street Southeast, St. Petersburg, FL 33701, USA
From 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday morning throughout the year, a wonderful market takes over a parking lot right in downtown St. Petersburg’s pretty marina district. Locals and visitors descend in droves to listen to live bands while browsing upwards of 40 stalls selling everything from artisan popsicles and made-in-Tampa cigars to farm-fresh produce, Cuban coffee, and authentic French crepes. Bring your appetite—don’t forget the hat and sunscreen, as there’s not a lot of shade here—and settle in for some fun.
5401 Bay Shore Rd, Sarasota, FL 34243, USA
Circus magnate John Ringling and his wife, Mable, built their ostentatious winter home just south of Tampa, and today the lavish estate houses a series of galleries and gardens. Ca’ d’Zan was the Ringlings’ Prohibition-era, Venetian-style mansion, with ceiling frescoes and no shortage of marble; the Museum of Art includes classic Asian and European works as well as more contemporary pieces, many purchased by the Ringlings themselves. Not surprisingly, the Ringling is also home to an impressive collection of memorabilia related to American circuses, which can be viewed in the Circus Museum.
1208 S Howard Ave, Tampa, FL 33606, USA
Simply put, Bern’s is a Tampa institution and probably the one place you should plan to eat if you only have one night in town. The stark, rather dull facade of the building in the heart of South Tampa doesn’t prepare you for the warren of lavishly decorated (and mostly windowless) rooms inside, where tables are full every night from early until late. People come for the delicious steaks (all cut to order), incredible wine list (the cellar has over half a million bottles), and indescribable ambiance of a place that really has to be experienced to be understood. Make sure you request a table in the dessert room for after your meal, and you’ll be whisked off to a moody upstairs lounge where decadent ice creams and other treats are served inside capsule-like rooms meant to resemble wine barrels.
1 Dali Blvd, St. Petersburg, FL 33701, USA
Fans of the surrealist artist Salvador Dalí need not travel to Spain‘s Costa Brava to explore an exceptional display of his work. St. Petersburg’s Dalí Museum houses the private collection of Reynolds and Eleanor Morse, the largest assembly of pieces by the artist outside Europe. Among the museum’s 2,100 items by Dalí are paintings, drawings, sculptures, photos and much more, including many of the artist’s most important works.
2909 22nd Ave N, St. Petersburg, FL 33713, USA
Mazzarro Italian Market is, hands down, one of THE BEST things about living in St. Pete, FL. First, there are the smells: freshly roasted coffee, bread baking in the ovens, wheels and wheels of parmesan cheese, meatballs cooking in the kitchen, and marinating olives. Then, there are the tastes: breads of all kinds, cannoli, biscotti, cookies, cakes, and pies—all freshly made daily on the premises. There are all kinds of pasta, freshly made right there behind the glass window, plus homemade pasta sauces, a vast array of cheeses and fresh cut meats, wine, and the coffee—oh, the coffee—freshly roasted, again, right here. Then there is the spirit of the place. A rambling, colorful, busy spot, it is where we all go to rub elbows with other lovers of all things Mazzarro. We cram around the coffee bar, eating a cannoli and having a cappuccino, or we sit at one of many tables in the covered patio and eat a meatball sandwich served on a freshly made roll. Oh gosh, and how can I forget the gelato?!
Seagate Dr &, Crayton Rd, Naples, FL 34108, USA
Naples brims with beautiful beaches where dolphins frolic and the sun melts like molasses into the Gulf of Mexico. But the best one is this local, lesser-known park accessed by a long boardwalk winding through wetlands and mangroves. Pay to park your car in the on-site lot and use the park’s free golf cart shuttle service if you don’t feel like making the half-mile walk along the boardwalk from the parking lot to the beach. There’s a cute Greek restaurant at the the end of the boardwalk, overlooking the Gulf, and you can also rent kayaks and paddleboards here or toss out a fishing line in the pass itself.
More from AFAR
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
AFAR Journeys
Journeys: Europe
Journeys: Europe
Journeys: Europe
Journeys: Europe
Journeys: United States
Journeys: Sports + Adventure