Photography by Daniel Barceló
Aerial Photography by Jajuan Lyons and Justin Brooks
Summer’s calling, and we’re answering. While Lakeland may not have a shoreline to call its own, we’ve got the next best thing: the Florida Gulf. Together, we believe that these beautiful beaches, island-style restaurants, and resort destinations make up the Lakelander Coast.
Florida’s Gulf Coast is famous for its perfect shore with spectacular, white sandy beaches and calm, blue-green waters. With resident numbers doubling during the winter, Floridians know that our beaches and the sunny weather are gold, and it’s no secret that Florida residents, including Lakelanders, enjoy venturing out to disconnect and enjoy beach life.
After all, that’s what Florida summers are all about.
From a secluded island to the classic funky beach town, we’ve pinned down the Lakelander Coast. These beaches are the ones that many Lakelanders call home away from home. You may prefer the beach view from your resort pool instead of diving into the ocean — either way, island life does something to all of us, something good, and most of us look forward to this feeling every summer.
We hope this guide inspires you to venture out to the coast and/or discover new activities during your sun-filled days by the beach. Pack your sunscreen (Rafa Natural has a great one) and choose your island; summer is waiting.
Located on Gasparilla Island, Boca Grande is slow, quiet, and overall just ideal. Pristine white sand beaches stretch the entire Gulf side of the Island. Tourism and fishing are the economic base on this serene, seven-mile-long island. This tropical paradise is a way of life that combines uncluttered beaches, fishing, wildlife, and a lush tropical landscape.
In the late 1880s, the town was a deep-water port for ships that transported phosphate all over the world. With a year-round population of roughly 1,700 people, this charming island boasts plenty of history and Old Florida culture. Here, there are no traffic lights and few cars. In a town this size, all you need is a golf cart to get around.
Book your stay at the Grande Flats, located in the heart of Boca Grande’s historic village. Choose from a studio-like apartment or two-bedroom suites. The Grande Flats offer unique accommodations complete with a full kitchen.
Pro Tip: Grande Flats guests receive a 10% discount on all golf cart and bike rentals at Gasparilla Adventures located steps away from Grande Flats. Whether it’s a guided adventure or gear rental to kayak the mangroves and try stand-up paddleboarding, Gasparilla Adventures has you covered.
In need of a golf course or tennis court? Make your way to the Gasparilla Inn for luxurious accommodations and a one-of-a-kind, Old Florida experience on the island.
If you enjoy Scarpa’s Italian in Lakeland, you will also love Scarpa’s Coastal in Boca Grande. Owned by Lakelanders Ashley and Glenn Scarpa, Scarpa’s Coastal features housemade pasta and “fresh Florida seafood with an Italian flair,” complete with a full liquor bar and an extensive Napa Valley and imported Italian wine selection.
While on the topic of food and drink, The Hummer is one of Boca Grande’s signature cocktails found at The Pink Elephant. Lunch, dinner, or dessert, this cocktail is refreshing and perfectly balanced to enjoy any time of day.
For a history lesson on the island and perhaps some old tales, Boca Grande ‘s historic 125-plus-year-old lighthouse and museum are worth the visit. The whole island is beautifully kept with scenic views of Gulf Coast beaches, but a walk or golf cart drive down Banyan Street is a must. These trees were planted over 100 years ago by the railroad executives and homeowners that line the street.
As the screen door slaps shut behind you, nightlife begins. Bar hop through the town, and don’t miss having a drink at The Temptation Bar for a little nostalgia. Rumor is the bar opened its doors in 1947. Enjoy the laid-back, beach-town feel and quirky decor with signs that read “Please, no profanity” and “Plan ahead, buy two cases.”
Think Caribbean-style beaches, white sand, and calm waters. Longboat Key is a 10-mile-long barrier island, home to some of the most impressive beaches and sunsets in the country. Secluded colonies of live oak trees mix with lush mangroves. Longboat Key has been a tourist destination for hundreds — if not thousands — of years. Its earliest tourists were Calusa and Timucua Native Americans who lived on the mainland east of the island and traveled to the island to enjoy many of the same attractions that visitors treasure today.
Stay at the Zota Beach Resort on Longboat Key for a beachfront, luxury experience. Enjoy private, poolside Zen lounges with your own poolside attendant. Watch the sunset from the beach, located only steps away from your room.
Robinson Preserve is a great way to jump into historic Florida culture. Get a glimpse of what coastal Florida looked like before the development boom in the 1950s by paddling down the 700 acres of stunningly restored coastal wetlands, mangrove forests, and tidal salt-marsh habitats.
Dine like a local, and head over to Whitney’s for breakfast. Whitney’s offers classic beach fare including breakfast menu items starting at $7, including a bagel and lox, banana French toast, avocado toast, Buddy Brew coffee, and more.
In need of a midday cocktail? After all, you’re on vacation. For coffee lovers, we recommend the Cold Brew Colada, a perfectly blended cocktail with reposado tequila and cold-brew coffee to cool you down.
Looking for lunch with a view? Enjoy Mar Vista Dockside and Pub’s private beach-dining experience. Order your favorite cocktails or take advantage of convenient package service with beer and wine.
It’s a dinner date. Enjoy the view of the bay for dinner at Shore. Its mid-century design and al-fresco coastal menu are the perfect ways to enjoy the sunset. We recommend starting with the spicy and sweet notes from their Kung-Pao Calamari, paired with the restaurant’s classic cocktail “Shore.” The menu offers an array of seafood based dishes. Our choice? The Miso Marinated Black Grouper served with a crystallized ginger basil sticky rice cake and sake-braised shiitake mushrooms.
Anna Maria Island
Funky boutiques, fun local eateries, no chain restaurants, no high-rise hotels or party beaches — that’s Anna Maria Island. A laid-back, family-friendly, or romantic-getaway type of place with few tourists and many Florida residents visiting the beautiful turquoise ocean.
From private estates to quaint and cozy beach cottages, Anna Maria Island Vacation Rentals offer a variety of places to stay. Choose from a selection of vacation home or condo rentals and get settled into your home away from home.
Anna Maria’s culture is so much fun, filled with local restaurants, from an eclectic donut shop to the best local seafood joints. The Donut Experiment is Anna Maria Island’s only shop where you can customize any donut to your liking. From sweet and salty to savory, the possibilities are endless.
An island classic, Ginny’s & Jane E’s has been serving breakfast and lunch since 1946. Enjoy a glass of fresh Florida orange juice and order their best-selling crème brûlée French toast drenched in pure maple syrup.
Take in the serene views from the Anna Maria City Pier. This picturesque historic site where visitors have been sightseeing for decades is a must when visiting the island. Admission to the pier is free, so grab an ice cream cone or your fishing pole and watch the ocean wildlife. Need a spa day? Book a beachfront massage in a private tiki hut with Sea-renity Beach Spa & Eco Boutique.
Have dinner at Anna Maria’s iconic restaurant, The Sandbar, known for its beach bar experience where you can take a break from the water and fuel up. Order a pina colada or two, and sink your feet in the sand for a relaxing afternoon. The menu features locally caught seafood and side dishes from the nearby Gamble Creek Farm.
Having trouble sleeping? Head over to The Doctor’s Office for a nightcap. The island’s speakeasy with craft cocktails carries this theme as a nod to the building’s previous actual doctor’s office in the 1950s.