Follow the shores of the Gulf of Mexico south to vibrant communities, white-sand beaches and secluded wetlands as you make your way to the Florida Everglades. Bike paths, canoe trails and sightseeing charters will keep visitors active, and ethnic restaurants and dinner cruises serve up world-class cuisine. Don’t forget to take time for flamenco dancing and lots of fishing.
Bicyclists and walkers will applaud upon discovering the Pinellas Trail in Dunedin. This 38-mile paved path stretches from Tarpon Springs to St. Petersburg, running through several towns along the way. A true rails-to-trails project, Pinellas skirts beaches, giving users a convenient route to restaurants, entertainment and shops. Of course, when “Batter up!” is yelled downtown, you may want to put away the bike and head to Dunedin Stadium to cheer on the Toronto Blue Jays during Spring Training season.
Drive 25 miles • 37 minutes
You’ll feel as though you’ve been transported to old Cuba when you visit the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City, a popular enclave. The 114-year-old eatery only serves authentic Cuban fare like red snapper “Alicante” and shrimp salteado. Things get even spicier when Flamenco dancers entertain diners six days a week. The neighborhood grew around the cigar industry, so explore the streets of Ybor, stepping into Jose Marti Park, a postage-stamp-size patch of greenery honoring a Cuban hero. Head over to the Florida Aquarium to get schooled on fishy habitats, then embark on a Dolphin Cruise in the bay to see swimming mammal in their habitats.
Drive 60 miles • 1 hour, 1 minute
Run your toes through the powdery white sand of Siesta Key Beach and you will swear you’re walking through powdered sugar. This family-friendly stretch of shoreline lies walking distance to lodging and restaurants, has lifeguard towers scattered throughout and pristine water laps at your feet. But as that big ball of fire sets, head to Sarasota Bay for an evening dinner cruise on the Marina Jack II, a luxury yacht that cruises the Gulf of Mexico. Passengers are treated to tasty cuisine and an evening of stargazing.
Sun N Shade RV Resort • PUNTA GORDA, FL – (941) 639-5388
4) Fort Myers
Drive 83 Miles • 1 hour, 22 minutes
Anglers, choose your spots. With plenty of mangrove-covered shorelines, accommodating bridges and long piers, Fort Myers’ gives inshore fishermen ample places for hooking everything from red fish to snapper. Fishing enthusiasts also can hire a Gulf-bound charter to snag shark, black fin tuna or mackerel offshore. But the most sought-after catch here is the tarpon, and many an angler has fought heroically to land one of these massive fish in the Gulf waters. Slow things down a bit with a visit to the Henry Ford and Thomas Edison winter estates for a peek into the lives of two of the world’s most prolific titans of the industry. The BFFs purchased homes next to each other, and both residences are open to the public. Tour Edison’s Botanical Research Library and see some of the dazzling plants cultivated by the inventor.
Tamiami RV Park • FORT MYERS, FL – (866) 573-2041
Imperial Bonita Estates RV Resort • BONITA SPRINGS, FL – (239) 992-0511
5) Everglades City
Drive 83 miles • 1 HOUR, 22 minutes
Before exploring the Everglades, stop in at the Gulf Coast Visitor Center for Everglades National Park to get an overview of this fantastic wilderness area. Then launch a canoe or kayak to paddle your way through the land of Ten Thousand Islands in this northern section of the park. You’ll encounter mangrove tunnels, lush island forests and abundant wildlife. If you prefer someone else doing the driving, an airboat tour will cover more ground in less time, as it whisks passengers through the swamps and grasslands of the Florida Everglades. Look out for gators and hunt for frogs.
Everglades Isle Motorcoach Resort & Marina • Everglades City, FL – (239) 695-2600