With places like Clearwater, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota, Bradenton, Port Charlotte, Fort Myers and Naples (just to name a few) the West Coast of Florida, the Gulf Coast, continues to grow in popularity with British visitors and homebuyers in Florida.
If you are visiting the west coast here are 10 great spots to check out…
1. Weeki Wachee (just north of Spring Hill)
Long before Disney filmed The Little Mermaid, real swimming women with costumed tails were entertaining in the crystal-clear waters here. It can’t be beat for Old Florida fun.
*Phone: 352-596-2062; Web: weekiwachee .com. Address: 6131 Commercial Way, Weeki Wachee.
2. Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa — Built in 1897 by a railroad tycoon and situated in a private waterside enclave in the Bellair community of Clearwater, it’s one of the last of the great American Victorian "Grand Dame" resorts. The 246-room resort includes a golf club with an 18-hole PGA Donald Ross-designed course, tennis club, a spa and a beach club on Sand Key. Historical tours take place daily.
*Phone: 727-373-3000; Web: belleview biltmore.com. Address: 25 Belleview Blvd., Clearwater.
Authors Note: I have personally stayed at this hotel with my family and we had a wonderful time. The hotel is full of character and history (the little museum is a must visit) and they have a shuttle to a private beach area on the Gulf.
3. Warm Mineral Springs — Halfway between Sarasota and Fort Myers, Warm Mineral Springs is believed to be the "Original Fountain of Youth" sought by the Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon and is Florida’s only truly warm spring open to the public.
People come here believing that the high mineral content will help with muscular problems, arthritis and rheumatism. The water has five times more mineral content than other famous spas in the world, including Hot Springs, Ark., and Baden Baden, Germany.
*Phone: 941-426-1692; Web: warm mineral springs.com. Address: 12200 San Servando Ave., North Port.
4. Euphemia Haye — On Longboat Key, this beauty is always mentioned when romantic restaurants are spoken of. A terrific wine list and a classically trained chef/owner send this one toward the top of our best bets for sweet talk over supper. Hummus, fried green tomatoes and snails are fitted together on the menu, giving it an eclectic flair. Pricey, but the Hayloft upstairs accommodates guests with things such as pizza, salads and small plates at a smaller price.
*Phone: 941-383-3633; Web: euphemiahaye.com. Address: 5540 Gulf of Mexico Drive, Longboat Key.
5. Gasparilla Inn — One of the longest-surviving resort hotels in Florida, the Gasparilla Inn was constructed in 1913 for wealthy Northerners such as John D. Rockefeller. The inn and cottages are a favorite hangout for the Bush family, former President Bush, wife Barbara, and sons George W. and Jeb.
*Phone: 941-964-2201; Web: the-gasparilla-inn.com. Address: 500 Palm Ave., Boca Grande.
6. Sponge docks and markets in Tarpon Springs — Greek immigrants came to Tarpon Springs in the early 1900s to continue their trade of sponge diving. St. Nicholas Boat Line (727-942-6425) takes visitors out to watch a sponge diver submerge and return with a sponge. Shops sell a variety of sponges, and the streets are lined with Greek tavernas.
*Phone: 727-943-2164; Web: spongedocks.net. Address: Dodecanese Boulevard, Tarpon Springs.
7. The Don CeSar Beach Resort — Known as the Pink Palace or The Don, the historic 1928 landmark on St. Pete Beach has its own royal shade of pink paint, and when it’s time for a spruce-up, it takes 12,000 gallons and nine months to apply it over the face of its 10 stories. Once a playground for celebrities such as Clarence Darrow and F. Scott Fitzgerald, the Loews Don CeSar Beach Resort continues to woo guests with gracious service.
*Phone: 1-800-282-1116; Web: doncesar.com. Address: 3400 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach.
8. Bern’s Steak House — Bern Laxer’s 52-year-old pantheon dedicated to carnivores and oenophiles remains one of the top tickets on the west coast. "We do things differently here" is their motto, and yes, they do — from hand-cut steaks to salad sprouts grown in the kitchen.
A new addition is a cheese cave where they age, on the premises, fine cheeses to go with their phone-book-sized list of fine wines. Fresh fish is on the menu, and it’s swimming in tanks in the back before you order.
Book the upstairs room for dessert and cognacs (a separate dessert wine list, house-roasted coffee and exotic teas are here) after your meal. Diners are offered a kitchen tour if they ask.
*Phone: 813-251-2421; Web: bernssteakhouse.com. Address: 1208 S. Howard Ave., Tampa.
9. Marie Selby Botanical Gardens — The 8 1/2 -acre gardens are known for their living collection of more than 6,000 orchids.
*Phone: 941-366-5731; Web: sel by.org. Address: 811 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota.
10. The Seminole Gulf Railway’s Dinner Train in Fort Myers, where a murder mystery is performed during the ride, is sheer camp. The food’s not bad, either. Reservations are required. All aboard!
*Phone: 239-275-8487; Web: Semgulf.com. Address: 2805 Colonial Blvd., Fort Myers.
If you have visited the Gulf Coast and can recommend any other great places to visit while here on holiday, please post them in the comments section for others to read about.