Florida’s West Coast has some of the state’s most popular attractions and a road trip down the coast is a great way to soak up some of Florida’s sunshine vibe. Car hire in Florida can be arranged at several destinations, but if you’re flying into Orlando or Tampa those are both great points to start out from. From Orlando simply take the Interstate 4 (I-4) down to Tampa. You could return the car to the same place, taking a loop back along the east coast, or opt to return it in Miami.
Tampa itself epitomises Florida completely, from the sunshine and crystal clear waters to the outdoor activities and amusement parks. Take a stroll along the bay and have lunch overlooking the water while you watch the world go by, always at a leisurely pace. Explore the area’s wonderful boutiques and bars, or visit the Tampa Bar History Center, the Tampa Museum of Art or the renowned Tampa Theatre. The Florida Aquarium has numerous themed exhibits, including Wetlands, Bays and Beaches and Coral Reef, or for a little more excitement check out the Busch Gardens amusement park. Ybor City is an historic area founded by cigar manufacturers – look out for old cigar factories as you stroll along the old-fashioned walkways. Today the area is an entertainment district, with a number of shops and restaurants.
Over on the beautiful peninsula of Clearwater, you can step down a gear. Pick your spot on the gorgeous beach and soak up the sun. Swim a little. There are 35 miles of pristine beach to choose from. You can shop and play golf if you like. And there are plenty of museums and parks if you want to explore those too. One place that shouldn’t be missed in Clearwater is the Moccasin Lake Natural Park – it’s a great place to learn about the native flora and fauna. Clearwater Marine Aquarium is also a popular draw.
Just down from Clearwater is St. Petersburg. If you thought Tampa and other destinations in Florida were sunny, then this place will rock your socks off. It holds the world record for the highest number of sunny days in a row – anywhere. Not hard to imagine when the annual average is 360 days of sunshine a year. St. Petersburg also has a fantastic range of museums and art galleries, including the Salvador Dali Museum. The St. Petersburg Pier is a great place to have lunch and browse for souvenirs, while BayWalk is an open-air hub for shopping and entertainment.
Further down the coast, Bradenton features the South Florida Museum (including an aquarium and planetarium), along with the Manatee Village Historical Park, which tells the story of the region’s early inhabitants. Highlights of the park include a restored train engine and old courthouse.
Nearby, Sarasota is an interesting place to explore if you love the arts. Compared to some of its neighbours, it has a relaxed and elegant ambience. Visit the opera, theatre or ballet or watch a boat race. Upmarket St. Armand’s Key and Longboat Key are the places to go for swanky shopping and dining, while bohemian Siesta Village is an artists’ hangout and Lido Key is great for families.
Further down the coast are more great places to discover, such as Englewood, with its old town vibe, upscale Rotonda, idyllic Port Charlotte and Cape Coral, with its many water-based activities. Down in the south, Naples is renowned for its golfing, great shopping and beautiful beaches, and Marco Island is a magical, alluring destination fringed by desert islands, creeks and wilderness.