Florida is the boating capital of the world. The Sunshine State has over 1,350 miles of coastline, not to mention 7,700 lakes and 10,550 miles of rivers. There are more registered boats in Florida than any other U.S. state. From anglers fishing the Keys for bonefish and tarpon to Miami businessmen turning their Princess yachts into weekend party cruises, boats are a way of life in Florida – and “Life is Good.” Florida’s Gulf Coast has a pick of great boating destinations. Here are the best places to cruise, fish, explore, or simply anchor down in the sun.
Tampa / St. Petersburg
Tampa Bay is Florida’s largest estuary, which means it’s one of the top boating destinations in the state. The numerous inlets and hidden waterways surrounding the metropolitan area are perfect for that boater who fancies himself a modern day Spanish explorer - a Ponce de Leon with GPS. Shell Key, Egmont Key, and Anclote Key are all popular boating destinations, and the islands are just a short run from the Tampa / St. Petersburg area. Cruise south out of the mouth of Tampa Bay and it’s just a short hop to Sarasota. Instead of anchoring in Sarasota, however, head over to Siesta Key. The barrier island has one of the top rated beaches in America.
Pensacola / Destin
Pensacola and Destin are located in northwest Florida and part of a region known as the Emerald Coast. This sliver of the Sunshine State is often referred to as "Old Florida", as it has a more laid-back vibe than the bustling Atlantic side of the state. Boaters come to the Emerald Coast for sugar white beaches, picturesque harbors, and deep-sea fishing.
Pensacola has a long sailing tradition, and many sailing magazines have named it as the top rated port in the Gulf for cruising. Destin, on the other hand, has been called the World's Luckiest Fishing Village. Of course, how Destin really earned this title is anyone’s case, but it certainly has the ring of a classic fishing story. Still, cruise 10 miles beyond Destin’s East Pass and the red snapper always seem to be biting. With 27-miles of sun-kissed shoreline – which, in turn, is packed with 27-miles of Coppertone-kissed bodies during Spring Break – Panama City Beach is a must stop boating destination, especially if you want to flaunt that new Viking yacht.
The Florida Keys and Key West
There's no better place to cruise and island hop than the Florida Keys. It’s 125 miles from Biscayne National Park to Key West, and whether you enjoy snorkeling reefs and shipwrecks, fishing for tarpon, or simply relaxing with a run-runner in a beautiful port, each island and cay has something unique to offer. But don’t kill the engine or take down the sails once you reach the marina at Key West. From the southernmost tip of the United States, it’s just a 70-mile run to the Dry Tortugas – a small group of islands where Ernest Hemingway liked to fish. It's also home to Fort Jefferson and a national park.