Sun soaked: The best beaches on Florida’s Gulf Coast

It’s not all tar balls in Florida. Along Florida’s Gulf Coast you’ll find some of the most beautiful beaches in the south, and some so private you’d think you were on your own private island. Where are these pristine paradises? Read on, and don’t forget your sunscreen!

Indian Rocks Beach (12th Street), Florida: Grab breakfast at Crabby Bills followed by a day at this beach, where egrets strut behind the fisherman and dolphins minuet between the markers. Outdoor showers dot each public beach access and ample parking across the street means anyone can enjoy this beach. When you’re done with floating around on your noodle, dine at IRB Sushi, Guppy’s or Villa Gallaci, or catch the bands at J.D.’s and My Place.

Caladesi Island, Florida: This unspoiled sanctuary was raked America’s #1 Beach 2008. Nature trails and a family-oriented nature center grace the area, and that’s about all –well, except for the beach, of course. Caladesi Island Ferry departs from Honeymoon Island State Park to Caladesi, where you can surf, fish, shell, kayak, dock your boat at the marina and cruise the snack and gift shop.

Anna Marie Island, Florida: North of Bradenton and Sarasota, locals know to head over to the talcum powder sands outside the SandBar. By noon, yachts are moored, boat drinks are hoisted and mahi and burgers are served on the patio. Anna Marie Cottages is a stone’s throw from the pristine Gulf beaches, where savvy vacations know to book a room for the night. Head to dinner at the Waterfront or Rotten Ralphs, or down Longboat Key to the top Zagat’s pick, Euphemia Hayes. No lifeguards on duty, so these benign beaches are best for adults.

Turtle Beach, Florida
: Siesta Key is a barhopper’s haven, especially Daiquiri Deck, but this haven on Turtle Beach is for locals only. No lifeguard in sight, but free parking, picnic tables, playground, shower and restrooms, plus a nearby boat launch make it a handy weekend retreat for those who prefer reading under a beach umbrella with a cooler full of sandwiches and chips.

Nanette Wiser is a contributer.

Hilton joins Florida hotels in offering “Beach Satisfaction Guarantee”

As the oil spill crisis continues to spark concern in the Gulf, travelers are becoming increasingly worried about their vacation plans. However, Florida hotels are working to offer guests ‘guaranteed satisfaction’ deals that help alleviate some of the worry. Just in from Hilton Hotels: Beach Satisfaction Guarantee.

Here’s how it works:

The “Beach Satisfaction Guarantee,” ensures that guests with reservations at any of Hilton Worldwide’s hotels from the Gulf Coast to South Florida that are beachfront or within a 20 minute drive to the beach will not be charged if the stay is in any way affected by the Gulf oil spill.

The guarantee is in effect through July 31, 2010. If you change or cancel a reservation at Hilton hotel because your stay will be negatively impacted by the Gulf oil spill, cancellation fees will be waived and Hilton will help you make new hotel arrangements at the same hotel or at any hotel within the Hilton Worldwide portfolio of brands for another date. These brands include: Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts, Conrad Hotels & Resorts, Hilton Hotels, Doubletree, Embassy Suites Hotels, Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton Hotels, Hilton Grand Vacations and Homewood Suites by Hilton.

For more information on Hilton Worldwide’s “Beach Satisfaction Guarantee” and applicable hotels, you can check out more details at

Will the oil spill change Gulf Coast tourism?

With the massive BP Transocean Halliburton Deep Water Horizon oil slick slowly heading for the Louisiana Gulf Coast, many are starting to wonder what the impact will be on the tourism industry. In a region already heavily reliant on Caribbean waters to sustain much of the economy, many worry that any negative effect on tourism dollars could spell disaster. And that’s why many operators are doing whatever they can to encourage visitors to come. As the All Things Considered story below details, some resorts are even offering “oil spill guarantees” to promise visitors that their vacations won’t be ruined by the disaster.

Has the oil spill affected your vacation? Will it prevent you from visiting any of the Gulf Coast region? Let us know in the comments below!

Meantime, keep up with the the spill map and beached oil locations over at the NOAA.

[Photo: Flickr | di_the_huntress]

Free amenities and break on rates at Sandestin this spring

The list just seems to go on and on – there is no shortage of activities and amenities waiting for you at Sandestin Golf & Beach Resort. If you’re into biking, kayaking, tennis or sweating it out in the fitness center, you’ll have plenty of choices available to you. And there’s even a Wednesday concert series. Simply put: you won’t get bored at this destination on Florida‘s northwest Gulf Coast. Fleeing cold weather? The seven miles of beaches are the cure or the cold that’s been hounding you for months. Well, if you book a three-night stay by May 26, 2010, you’ll get free access to Sandestin’s many amenities – which is reason enough to plan the trip you’ve been putting off.

The resort offers accommodations from studio condos to villas and cottages of up to five bedrooms. They come with fully equipped kitchens, whirlpool spa baths, laundry facilities and views of the beach, bay or golf course – with 1,500 units in all, spanning 30 neighborhoods.

A month at WaterColor is cheaper than ever

A week away is nice, but nothing beats a month. New rates from Watercolor Inn & Resort and WaterSound Beach put you comfortably on Northwest Florida‘s Gulf Coast for incredibly reasonable rates, and the amenities available are fantastic. Let the migration begin!

The digs you can reserve at Watercolor range from one bedroom to seven, all fully furnished and with upscale, cutting-edge kitchens and laundry facilities. And, for the workaholics, there’s complementary high-speed internet access. So, you’ll never have to be far from the folks who are ultimately paying for your getaway. Free bike, kayak and canoe use is available as well. But, that’s nothing compared to what happens at the spa. Book a month-long retreat, and you’ll be able take advantage of discounted treatments.

Golfers will be thrilled with their stays at these resorts. For only an extra $395 per month, you’ll get unlimited access to Greg Norman-designed Shark’s Tooth Golf Club, Camp Greek Golf Club by Tom Fazio and Love III, which was designed by Origins. That’s a hell of a lot of golf at some outstanding courses.

Here’s the best part: WaterColor vacation homes start at a mere $1,700 a month, with WaterSound Beach rentals available for as little as $1,200 a month. There’s no reason to take off for only a week — not with rates like these.