Hidden Gems

We go off the beaten path to give you relaxing Gulf of Mexico beach vacations.
Words by Brittany Perry. 
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There’s something for everyone on the white sand shores of Sarasota. Whether you’re looking for the No. 1 beach in the United States (Siesta Beach on Siesta Key), amazing art museums or the worlds’ best pancakes, you can fi nd it all in this quaint Gulf town. It’s the small crowds, welcoming community and laid-back vibe that will keep you coming back for more. Start your vacation with giant pancakes, stuffed French toast, fresh omelets and homemade biscuits from Yoder’s, a traditional family favorite (yodersrestaurant.com). Featured on Food Network for their amazing pies, Yoder’s also stands out for its seasonal breakfast options, like

cinnamon roll pancakes. The Amish market right next door sells handmade goods, local honey and fresh produce.
Siesta Key beaches rank No. 1 in the United States, trumping even Hawaii’s postcard-perfect beaches. The powder white sand is unbelievably soft, the walkways and restrooms are clean and the water is crystal clear. Arrive early to get good parking, which may be limited during peak season, or take a short walk from one of Siesta Key’s many hotels and condos. Rent a bike to explore, enjoy the incredible sand sculpting competition every November or just kick back and enjoy the beach.
Beat the heat wiScreen Shot 2016-06-21 at 12.42.36 PMth a visit to Mote Aquarium, a marine research facility, animal hospital and interactive aquarium in one. Shark lovers will enjoy the open-water Shark Zone and budding marine biologists will love the touch tanks and other interactive marine life exhibits. Finish the day with a meal at Owen’s Fish Camp, a quirky establishment with live music, a tire swing for the kids and colorful, delicious Florida eats. Or do some shopping, strolling and dining at St. Armand’s Circle, which offers superb exotic boutiques, art galleries, beach shops, sophisticated restaurants and nightlife.
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Known as the tarpon fishing capital of the world, Boca Grande is the ultimate old Florida
hidden getaway. From kayaking through mangroves with manatees and exploring lighthouses
to enjoying fresh-caught, mouth-watering seafood along the shore, this charming town at
the fringe of Gasparilla Island is the perfect fit for a relaxing, no-fuss, tourist-free weekend
on the Gulf.
The Outlet at the Inlet kicks off your day with some of the best Belgian waffles, home fries and custom-order omelets on the coast. Then, head to the miles of beaches along Gasparilla Island State Park for a unique, secluded experience. Tour the local Port Boca Grande Lighthouse and Museum or the historic Gasparilla Island Lighthouse, which has been used in both Delaware and Florida. Miles of bike paths wind through Boca Grande around historical streets and under shaded trees, making bike rental a fun and easy activity to enjoy.
Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 12.54.39 PMBook a fishing trip with a local charter service hailed for kid-friendly guides, such as Reel
Intense Inshore Charters, so you don’t miss out on the catches that make Boca Grande one of the most popular fi shing destinations in the world. Some charters will even clean and cook your fi sh for you. If DIY dinner is not on the menu and you’re looking for a hearty meal, stop by what many locals consider the best establishment in town, The Temptation Restaurant. The fresh seafood from this small, quiet eatery rivals the flavors of some of the fanciest restaurants on the Gulf but in an easygoing atmosphere.
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Nestled in Florida’s Panhandle, Destin is a definitive blend of upscale charm and southern
spirit. Not only does Destin boast some of the most secluded and well-kept beaches in
Florida, but it also has a thriving community and outstanding restaurants everywhere you
turn. Nightlife in Destin scales up in the summertime when in-the-know travelers escape to
Destin for resort-style relaxation and weekly fireworks lighting up the night sky over the Gulf.
No visit to Destin would be complete without a taste of its eclectic, award-winning restaurants. Kids will enjoy feeding gators at Fudpucker’s Beachside Bar and Grillright after a tempting meal of seafood and burgers. Don’t forget to add your name with Sharpie to the colorful walls as a reminder of your trip! If you’re looking for the best BBQ in Northwest Florida, look no further than the award-winning pulled pork, ribs and brisket at the Buck’s Smokehouse. 
Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 1.05.55 PMDestin’s Henderson Beach State Park lets you enjoy preserved Florida nature at its finest while still keeping close to world-class resorts and culture. Pay a small fee (per vehicle) to drive on the beach and enjoy the gentle waves and seashells of Henderson Beach State Park. Or, pack a picnic to enjoy on the sand. End the day at the Destin Harbor Boardwalk with a line-up of boutiques and side attractions. If you’re in Destin on a Thursday night in summer, you may be in luck. Starting June 2, fireworks will light up the sky when Emerald Grande at Harbor Walk Villageputs on a spectacular summer show you can catch from the docks or harbor.
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