Gulf Coast Florida Vacation Spots – Check out the Gulf of Mexico for ultra-soft sand, crystal-clear waters, and budget-friendly beach vacations. These Gulf Coast beach destinations are still underdeveloped, with opportunities for adventure, culture, great food, and, yes, even low prices. Whether you’re looking for a cheap beach vacation in Florida or in other states that are less known for tourism, this list of hidden and affordable beach destinations on the Gulf Coast will have your fill.
Find 4 Hidden Gulf Coast Florida Vacation Spots
1. Anna Maria, Florida
The first Gulf Coast Florida Vacation Spots is Anna Maria. A hidden beach destination for Florida residents, Anna Maria Island has somehow managed to keep condominium towers, fast food chains, theme parks, and luxury mega-resorts off its shores. In fact, no construction on this seven-mile barrier island on Florida’s Gulf Coast is more than three stories high, and 60 percent of its land is the open beach. And the price is affordable, especially in summer. You can rent a vacation home with water and pool views for under $1,000 per week and get seafood entrees at a beachfront restaurant for less than $20.
You can snorkel, kayak or fish in the clear waters of the Bay, or explore the island’s three small communities, namely, Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach, and the town of Anna Maria. A free trolley runs up and down the length of the island, making it easy to visit the island’s boutique shops or restaurants. For dining, you can try affordable local favorites such as the Anna Maria Island Beach Cafe, known for its $5.99 all-you-can-eat pancakes, and the StarFish Company, whose pier-side restaurant serves surprisingly cheap local catch.
Where to stay: Most accommodations at Anna Maria are holiday accommodations or small condominium resorts.
How to get there: A pair of bridges connecting the island to the mainland. Anna Maria is about an hour’s drive from Tampa airport and 45 minutes from St. Petersburg.
2. Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tour (Gulf Coast Florida Vacation Spots)
The next Gulf Coast Florida Vacation Spots are Orange Beach and Gulf Shores. When most Americans think of Alabama, sandy beaches and palm trees aren’t the first things that come to mind. Many forget that Alabama pushes into the Gulf of Mexico, its coastline a natural extension of the Florida Panhandle. In fact, this region, Gulf Shores, has miles of enviable waterfront real estate. The area has tried to establish itself as a relaxing beach destination for families and outdoor enthusiasts.
Most visitors come to spend a week relaxing on the beach with the occasional exit to visit tourist attractions. Nature lovers can explore protected forest areas at Gulf Shores including Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge and Gulf State Park. Those interested in learning about Alabama’s history can visit Fort Morgan State Historic Site, a Civil War-era stronghold. Playing golf at one of the Gulf Shores championship golf courses and fishing are also popular activities.
Where to stay: Most accommodation in Gulf Shores is rental homes and condos.
Getting there: Gulf Shores is about an hour’s drive from the airport in Pensacola, Florida, and about 90 minutes from the airport in Mobile, Alabama.
3. Ocean Springs, Mississippi
The other Gulf Coast Florida Vacation Spots is Ocean Springs. Just five miles east of Biloxi is the quiet beach community of Ocean Springs, where small-town charm meets gorgeous white-sand beaches for an affordable Gulf Coast getaway. Outdoor activity options include paddleboarding, fishing, kayaking, and canoeing. The city is also popular with art lovers, thanks to its many shops and galleries, as well as the downtown Walter Anderson Museum of Art.
The town is close to the Davis Bayou section of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, where visitors can go fishing, hiking, or birdwatching in the protected swamp area.
Where to stay: Most accommodations are, such as the Holiday Inn Express Biloxi-Ocean Springs, but you can also stay at independent properties such as the Gulf Hills Hotel & Conference Center.
Getting there: Ocean Springs is only a 10-minute drive from Biloxi and about 90 minutes from New Orleans.
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4. Santa Rosa Beach, Florida
The next Gulf Coast Florida Vacation Spots are Santa Rosa Beach. Tucked away in the Florida Panhandle between Pensacola and Tallahassee is a beach town where the water is perfectly turquoise and the sand feels like fine flour. Head to Topsail Hill Preserve State Park to try freshwater fishing, hike through well-maintained wetlands or relax on a quiet white sand beach. You can hike or bike trails in the Point Washington State Forest, which protects various coastal ecosystems.
You’ll find many shops and restaurants in the historic downtown area, including lots of cheap eats. One local favorite is The Meltdown on 30A, a food truck specializing in grilled cheese.
Where to stay: Hotels on Santa Rosa Beach are relatively limited, with most visitors opting for vacation rentals. For budget hotels, your best bet is to stay in nearby Destin, which has a variety of affordable properties like Home2 Suites by Hilton Destin.
Getting there: The closest airports to Santa Rosa Beach are Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport and Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport in Panama City, each about an hour away.