Florida

8 Florida Gulf Coast Resorts: Sunsets, Sand, and Fresh Seafood

Local writer Terry Ward shares some of the top Florida Gulf Coast resorts to help you plan your next family vacation or romantic getaway.

When you stay along the beaches of Florida’s glorious Gulf Coast, catching the sun as it sinks over the Gulf of Mexico is a nightly ritual at any hotel, watering hole or restaurant with a sea view. And when you spend the night at one of Florida’s best Gulf Coast beach resorts, you’re positioned to catch the serene, golden mornings here, too.

Read on for some of the best Gulf Coast beach resorts in Florida where you can bask in the state’s nature, swim in clear waters, and perhaps indulge in a wellness treatment or some fresh seafood.

A Brand New Luxury Resort on Florida's Gulf Coast

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Just north of Sarasota, Longboat Key is one of those blink-and-you’ll-miss-it beach towns that locals like to keep secret. The 12 miles of spun-sugar beaches are among the best-looking in all of Florida, with natural dunes backing the shoreline and gentle waves most of the year.

The island’s newest luxury hotel is Zota Beach Resort, where your mellow beach vacation comes with a cool, contemporary vibe. Zota opened its doors in 2017 with 187 guest rooms and suites. Those directly facing the Gulf of Mexico give the feeling of being aboard a cruise ship, with 180-degree views of the water from the spacious balconies.

Zota has one onsite restaurant, Viento, with a bar and patio overlooking the Gulf. And there’s another more casual bar just steps from the sea, located alongside the infinity pool. More than anything, however, the experience here is really about enjoying the beach and nature, with cabanas and lounge chairs for guests on the beach and poolside bungalows complete with couches and TVs that you can hire for the day.

A stroll on the beach is the most relaxing way to end a day here. Follow up with a sunset cocktail and dinner at Viento, where local Gulf grouper and hearty steaks are on the menu.

Zota Beach Resort

Top rated
8.8 Excellent (451 reviews)
Excellent Cleanliness 9.1 / 10
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An Unassuming Elegance That Will Steal Your Heart

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It’s the unassuming elegance that will steal your heart at this Naples hotel where the lovely Gulf of Mexico beaches are mere steps away.

Wake up in the morning and push back the curtains to let the sunlight stream into your room. Prepare a coffee or tea with the Keurig machine in your room for a convenient start to your day.

All 125 rooms at Edgewater Beach Hotel are suites with kitchenettes or full kitchens to make the most of casual meals in with your family. And you’ll love that all rooms and suites have private balconies, so you can step outside to take in the Gulf of Mexico and enjoy views of the surrounding tropical landscaping.

You can settle in to read a book or relax on the beach, but chances are you’ll be distracted by the sight of passing dolphins. These graceful animals are regularly seen passing close to shore on this stretch of coastline.

There’s a gulf-front swimming pool and the beach to enjoy during the day. Come evening, gather around the beachfront fire pit to watch the setting sun. The resort can arrange candlelit dinners from the restaurant’s nightly menu at tables set right on the sand. And make time for a meal at the resort’s restaurant, Coast, where dishes inspired by Floridian and Mediterranean coastal cuisines star and the salmon is smoked in-house.

Edgewater Beach Hotel

Top rated
Naples, 1.4 km to Coastland Center
8.7 Excellent (2170 reviews)
Excellent Location 9.3 / 10
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Relax in a Balinese-inspired Spa on Florida's Gulf Coast

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If one southwest Florida beach hotel can be all things to all travelers, then it’s this exquisite JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort just south of Naples.

Is wellness your thing? The Balinese-inspired Spa by JW—a veritable temple to physical pampering that sprawls across 24,000 square feet—is one of the best in the entire country. After a decadent body treatment, relax in the exclusive spa soaking pool with views of the Gulf of Mexico where you can even have a bento box delivered for lunch.

Families can pick a layout that works best for them from the hotel’s varied rooms and suites, some with multiple bedrooms that let you really spread out. The recently opened Paradise by Sirene wing is a 94-room hotel-within-a-hotel for adults only (21 and up) that offers a true escape complete with a serene rooftop pool.

The main resort has a sprawling pool and a kids’ pool, too, complete with a waterslide they’ll love. And if you’re looking to explore the surrounding area, you can head out with the resort’s activity centre on guided wave runner tours into the Everglades, rent a sea kayak or sign up for a shelling excursion on the resort’s catamaran.

The dining options at the property are all-encompassing, with 10 restaurants and bars featuring everything on their menus from sushi and pizza to a wagyu ribeye.

JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort

Top rated
9.0 Excellent (1587 reviews)
Excellent Location 9.3 / 10
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A Pink Palace on Florida's Gulf Coast

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Floridians simply refer to this historic grande dame hotel in St. Pete Beach as “The Don” or “The Pink Palace.” And as you approach this Florida coastal icon from the east, you’ll see The Don CeSar rising fantastically along the horizon in all its cotton candy-colored glory.

Gangsters, writers, and U.S. presidents have all checked in here since the hotel opened in 1928. Today, the guests are a good mix of vacationing families, couples, and groups of women on a girlfriends’ getaway.

The 277 guestrooms include 37 suites, worthy of a splurge if you want to spread out. The building is historic, so while many of the rooms have Gulf of Mexico views, very few of them have balconies. That said, the beach is never far from wherever you are on the property, with chairs and umbrellas at the ready for guests who want to relax on the sand. The hotel’s centrepiece pool and hot tubs are a hot spot, too, and a bar right next to the pool stays hopping from midday until sunset.

Come evening, The Don’s atmosphere gets more gussied up as guests emerge in their resort casual finery to dine in the al fresco surrounds of the relaxed Sea Porch Cafe. Go even more elegant with a meal at the Maritana Grill, the resort’s fine dining restaurant, where many of the offerings are sustainably sourced from local farms and fishermen.

The Don CeSar

Top rated
St. Petersburg, 7.5 km to Fort de Soto Park
8.5 Excellent (3117 reviews)
Excellent Location 9.1 / 10
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Sugary Sands and Nightly Sunset Celebrations

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Clearwater Beach is famous for its sugary sands and nightly sunset celebrations at the town’s municipal pier, Pier 60, where street performers do acrobatics and dance routines. The action starts about an hour before sunset, just a short stroll away from the luxurious Sandpearl Resort. And when you stay at this elegant gulf-front property in the Opal Collection, you have the benefit of being close to outside activities and Clearwater Beach’s fun vibe, yet ensconced in the private world of a luxury hotel.

Your days can be spent reading a book in the plush chaise lounge chairs lining the hotel’s huge lagoon-style pool with a zero entry area that has a beach-like feel. If you prefer the real deal, Clearwater Beach’s white sands are never more than a few steps away.

Seasonal poolside activities include dive-in movies that families love, and come sunset, guests gather for s’mores at fire pits near the beach. The Sandpearl is popular with vacationing couples, too, thanks to its romantic oceanfront restaurant, cozy beach and poolside cabanas, and an excellent onsite spa.

To cap off your Florida Gulf Coast beach day, towel off and step out in style at the Sandpearl’s excellent restaurant, Caretta’s on the Gulf, considered among the best seafood spots in all of Florida. The restaurant’s Sunday brunch is a lavish spread of made-to-order omelettes and waffles, egg dishes, meats and all manner of seafood –oysters, shrimp, smoked salmon, ceviche, and sushi — accompanied with mimosas or a little bubbly.

Sandpearl Resort

Top rated
9.4 Excellent (5099 reviews)
Excellent Location 9.4 / 10
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A Family Resort on Florida's Gulf Coast

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Get ready to do the “Sanibel Stoop,” even though you’re officially on Captiva Island at this wonderful family resort. The Sanibel Stoop refers to the hunched-over position many beachgoers assume while looking for seashells on the islands of Sanibel and neighboring Captiva. The beaches here are known for being among the best shell-hunting grounds in the world.

The South Seas Island Resort sprawls across a 330-acre nature preserve and puts over two miles of some of Florida’s best beaches at your (bare) feet. The property feels like several hotels within a resort. Vacation cottages with up to three bedrooms and more traditional guest rooms and suites at the property’s Harbourside Hotel are among the many options for accommodating your entourage.

Kids ages 3 to 11 have a ball at Camp Skullywags, where indoor and outdoor activities tie in a beachy sense of place. You can go kayaking and try to spot sea turtles and manatees at the resort’s protected wildlife sanctuary, and there are miles of scenic trails to bike or stroll along, too.

The property has restaurants that range from casual to something a bit fancier. Sunset is a great time to gather at the tiki-bar overlooking the ocean for a cocktail, and if you’re a seafood fan or happen to have hooked your own fish, let the chefs at the elegant Harbourside Bar & Grill prep and serve it for you with a slew of sides.

South Seas Island Resort

8.2 Very good (2801 reviews)
Excellent Location 8.8 / 10
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Coastal Sophistication at this Gulf Coast Resort

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Couples in particular flock to the sexy curving tower of Opal Sands resort, which stands like a beacon of coastal sophistication on the south end of Clearwater Beach.

Rooms have floor-to-ceiling glass doors that open to shimmering views of the vast Gulf of Mexico. When you step onto your private balcony, you can gaze north to the buildings lining Clearwater Beach’s long sweep of sand.

The hotel centers around a sleek, zero-entry pool deck perched above the Gulf of Mexico. Walk down several steps to a crescent of beach bookended with a breakwater that lends real seclusion to the property.

There’s a great little pool bar for sourcing a frozen cocktail. But even more fun is the hotel’s Sandbar—a tiki hut perched at the water’s edge where you can settle in to catch the sunset, sip a margarita, and snack on Florida seafood favorites, like peel and eat shrimp and smoked fish dip. Should you fancy heading to the nightly sunset celebration at Pier 60 or checking out Clearwater Beach’s restaurant scene, it’s all within a short stroll of Opal Sands.

Opal Sands

Clearwater Beach, 1.2 km to Sand Key Park
9.5 Excellent (1962 reviews)
Excellent Cleanliness 9.4 / 10
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Luxury You Can Rely On

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The five-star luxury that’s given Ritz-Carlton its name around the world is par for the course at this world-class beach resort in Naples. You can count on standard touches such as high-thread-count sheets and gourmet dining. But the glorious beach that the Ritz-Carlton Naples sits directly atop and the nightly sunsets enjoyed by guests are the true show-stealers here. The hotel fits so organically into the surrounding dunes and tropical beach flora that it would be easy to imagine you’re staying in a nature reserve.

During a seafood feast at the hotel’s alfresco restaurant, Gumbo Limbo, you’ll gaze out over tangles of sea grapes across the dunes to the sparkling Gulf of Mexico. Don’t be surprised to see frolicking dolphins any time you’re down at the beach.

The focus on Florida’s raw nature continues at the hotel’s kids’ programming, where a resort conservationist heads up the Nature’s Wonders program, introducing guests between the ages of 5 and 12 to Florida’s unique ecosystems during regular sessions. And after a few days basking in the Sunshine State’s streaming Vitamin D, treat your body to some relaxation and rejuvenation at the hotel’s spa where steam rooms, saunas, and an outdoor mineral pool will have you feeling like you had a proper vacation.

The Ritz-Carlton Naples

Top rated
Naples, 9.4 km to Coastland Center
9.1 Excellent (736 reviews)
Excellent Service 9.3 / 10
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