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Top Boating Destinations on the Gulf Coast

Top Boating Destinations on the Gulf Coast
Skyway Bridge
The Florida Keys

If you’re in search of an exciting boating adventure, looking for the perfect backdrop for your next Instagram post, or simply desiring to explore the wonders of Florida’s famous “West Coast, Best Coast” – this article is for you. Stretching across a quarter of the magnificent Gulf of Mexico, the West Coast of Florida presents a mesmerizing canvas of 528 miles, starting from the picturesque Emerald Coast in the upper Gulf, passing through the vibrant mid-Gulf region, and concluding in the lower Gulf and the Keys.

Get ready for an incredible journey filled with awe-inspiring sights, mouthwatering culinary delights, and unforgettable encounters. Don’t miss out on the absolute best boating destinations along the illustrious Gulf Coast – it’s an experience you won’t want to let slip away!


Top Gulf Coast Boating Destinations – Quick Links

Upper Gulf Coast  | Mid-Gulf Coast  | Lower Gulf Coast


Upper Gulf Coast – Top Boating Destinations on the Gulf Coast

 

1. Crab Island

Crab Island is one of the most popular attractions in all of Destin. Thanks to features on HGTV and Good Morning America, Crab Island’s popularity has continuously grown. Today, Crab Island is nothing more than a raised sandbar. At one point, it was an island, however, sands from the Gulf of Mexico have eroded it over the years. The general depth of the water encompassing the island is about 1-4 ft, depending on the tides. It’s the perfect place to anchor your boat down and have a good time out in the sun!

Boats are the most common mode of transportation when getting to and from Crab Island. There’s a Crab Island shuttle that will take people to and from the Island. People also enjoy taking jet skis and kayaks there while some people prefer renting private charters. If this is the route you want to take, the best place to find these excursions and watercraft rentals is at Destin Harbor. If planning to stay an entire day at Crab Island, renting a boat or having a DD is strongly recommended.
 

Activities on Crab Island

There are many activities, such as relaxing on your boat, jamming out to music, cooling off on a float, renting a paddleboard from a local vendor, or even fishing! Keep in mind you will have to pay for some of these specific activities though. Although most people would pack their food and drinks, Crab Island does have floating food vendors and restaurants occasionally. Most people love Crab Island for nothing more than the environment. If you want to be with everyone then go near the center and anchor down. Or you can feel free to anchor far away from crowds and do your own thing. Fishing, swimming, and tanning are all highly encouraged. The possibilities are limitless at Crab Island!

 

Best time of day to visit Crab Island

This family-friendly oasis is open 24 hours a day. However, the daytime is the best time to visit and we recommend going during high tide. High tide is when the crystal clear water from the Gulf of Mexico rolls in. The common time for the high tide is between 9-10 am or you can check the local weather station for more accurate times. Also, as you plan your trip, don’t forget some important necessities. Such as sunscreen, towels, cash, water, and food/snacks. Lastly, if you plan to drink alcohol, Crab Island visitors can bring their alcohol to the sandbar, but they can no longer purchase it there (so pack accordingly and designate a driver or join a captained tour– if you would like to enjoy alcoholic beverages at Crab Island.)


2. Norriego Point – Gulf Coast Boating Destination

Norriego Point is a sandy beach located near the end of Holiday Isle. One side of Norriego Point faces Destin Harbor while the other side faces the east pass that leads out to the Gulf of Mexico. On the East Pass, the inlets of water protected by the Destin Jetties create calm water that’s perfect for swimming. Norriego Point got its name from a Spanish family who named it when Florida was still owned by Spain. It was originally named Noriega Point, after Spanish nobleman Don Jose Noriega. Somewhere through the years, mapmakers got rid of the “a” with an “o” and also added an extra “r” to make the name Norriego Point.
 

Norriego Point Stabilization & Recreation Project

Recently completed this Spring, former Mayor of Destin Sam Seevers, introduced a $12 million Norriego Point stabilization and recreation project. This project is led by the City of Destin and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Their goal is to restore Norriego Point to its look pre-Hurricane Opal in 1995. Seevers’s main reason for funding this project was to protect not only Norriego Point but also Destin’s Harbor and HarborWalk Village. All in all, this project should harden the land and protect it from erosion. Another phase of this project involves dumping about 28000 square feet of sea oats. Doing this will make it a much more habitable area for wildlife. Lastly, they will add all the amenities like parks, parking lots, boardwalks, and restrooms.


3. The Gulf Restaurant

The Gulf is a seaside hideaway that exemplifies the casual chic atmosphere that draws people from around the globe each year. They offer fresh seafood fare throughout the year at two beachside locations. The beautiful waterfront setting makes The Gulf more than a restaurant – it’s an experience that you’ll want to revisit time and time again.

Their menu changes daily to reflect the freshest seasonal choices available in Orange Beach and Okaloosa Island, allowing guests to enjoy something new with each visit. The chefs take the latest catch and produce harvests to create delectable dishes. Along with flavorful desserts, they offer familiar specials for the children in your party. From local oysters to seasonal fish, they serve a wide range of delicious seawater appetizers, side dishes, and main meals throughout the year. They utilize farm-to-table and fresh seafood to support their commitment to sustainability, as well as sourcing local produce from regional farmers.


4. Cobalt in Orange Beach – Gulf Coast Boating Destination

Come experience contemporary coastal cuisine at its best. Cobalt, the Restaurant, located in Orange Beach, features authentic dishes crafted by renowned chefs in three distinct kitchens. Nestled under the Perdido Bay Bridge, next to Caribe Resort, patrons can enjoy a spectacular view of the bay from every table. Brian and Jodi Harsany’s interpretation of this unique restaurant allows locals and visitors to experience coastal cuisine at its finest. For over ten years, Cobalt has provided the ultimate in waterfront dining with its unparalleled views, first-rate service, and exceptional catering.

For those who wish to approach by water, there are numerous boat slips available for small boats as well as medium-sized yachts. However, you choose to arrive, Cobalt offers a casual and relaxing atmosphere with waterfront dining, live music, and superior service.


5. Apalachicola Downtown – Gulf Coast Boating Destination

This beautiful location, where the Apalachicola River meets the Gulf of Mexico, has long been a place where people have gathered to enjoy the bounty of Mother Nature. Before the Spanish settlers, native Indians flourished. The name “Apalachicola” comes from the Apalachicoli Tribe and is a combination of Hitchoti Indian words “apalahchi,” meaning “on the other side,” and “okli,” meaning “people”. In the original reference to the settlement, it most likely meant “people on the other side of the river.” Locals today deduce the meaning to “land of the friendly people” and often refer to their home affectionately as “Apalach.”

Before the development of railways in the Gulf states, Apalachicola was the third busiest port in the Gulf of Mexico (behind New Orleans and Mobile). After the turn of the 20th century, Apalachicola reinvented itself as the home to wealthy lumber barons. Seafood has always been a staple of life, and still today, the city boasts a working waterfront for a variety of seafood workers, including oyster harvesters and shrimpers.

It does not take long for you to know that you are not in another typical Florida town. It is a non-pretentious sensibility that is blended with strong New England roots, charming southern traditions, and an authentic “Old Florida” laid-back attitude. The maritime influence is apparent throughout the community and the ties to the river, bay, and Gulf are evident. It is a seafood town, for more than 90% of Florida’s oyster production is harvested from Apalachicola Bay. Many refer to Apalachicola as “Oystertown.”

 

Fishing Town

Apalachicola Bay has been a fishing favorite for many years. The rich nutrients from the Apalachicola river that feed our famous oysters bring in a large variety of sportsman’s favorites — redfish, trout, tarpon, and many, many more. Downtown Apalachicola has a wealth of historic sites, museums, and antebellum homes. Explore the rich history and architecture of our antebellum port city.


6. Sandestin Resort – Baytowne Wharf Marina 

For decades, Florida’s spectacular Emerald Coast has drawn visitors to its beautiful white sand beaches, made from quartz carried from the Appalachian Mountains 20,000 years ago. With the beach on one side and towering oak trees and pines on the other, Sandestin feels like a forest by the sea. Guests and residents don’t have to leave the lush 2,400 acres Sandestin resort to have an incredible, adventurous, and activity-packed day.

 

The Village of Baytowne Wharf

Located along the shores of the Choctawhatchee Bay in Sandestin, The Village of Baytowne Wharf features an array of boutiques, eateries, galleries, and nightlife fun for the entire family. Located adjacent to the Village is the colorful Baytowne Marina, where guests, residents, and locals come together to enjoy the picturesque Choctawhatchee Bay.

The restaurant Ara, named for the constellation, is more than a leisurely day in the sun, where poolside DJs sample chill music by day and up-tempo beats by night. Located atop Hotel Effie, the menu tempts you with high-end wines, hand-crafted cocktails, and thoughtfully curated food whilst being able to enjoy the fresh air the rooftop bar and pool has to offer. Add fun games and private cabanas, and you’ve got the place to see and be seen in Sandestin.


Mid-Gulf Coast – Gulf Coast Boating Destinations

 

7. Egmont Key State Park – Gulf Coast Boating Destination

Egmont Key is located at the mouth of Tampa Bay, southwest of Fort De Soto Beach. Accessible only by boat, Egmont Key has a unique natural and cultural history, including a lighthouse that has stood since 1858. During the 19th century, the island served as a camp for captured Seminoles at the end of the Third Seminole War and was later occupied by the Union Navy during the Civil War. In 1898, as the Spanish-American War threatened, Fort Dade was built on the island and remained active until 1923.

Egmont Key has had Spanish conquistadors and nuclear submarines pass its shores as they entered Tampa Bay. Fort Dade was established on Egmont Key in 1898 to safeguard the Tampa Bay area from the imminent Spanish American-War. The city had more than 300 residents and featured brick roads, electricity, telephones, hospital, jail, movie theater, bowling alley, and tennis courts. The Coast Guard took over operations of the lighthouse in 1939 and today the island is once again inhabited only by its caretakers.

 

Egmont Key Activities

In addition to touring the historic sites and trails, visitors can enjoy swimming, fishing, wildlife viewing, and picnicking. The Summer months, three-day weekends, and the Holidays (such as the 4th of July, Labor Day, and Memorial Day) are all extremely busy times on and surrounding the Key. Additionally, Tarpon fishing is in its prime season during the summer months, and the waters surrounding Egmont happen to be the waters in which they reside. Other traffic to be aware of during peak times are people jet skiing, paddle boarding, tubing, wakeboarding, and snorkeling. Nonetheless, its beaches, lighthouse, vibrant turquoise water, and ruins of long-gone Fort Dade welcome visitors to walk* the grounds and discover the past.

(*Pro tip: the roads of Fort Dade are paved with brick that is uncomfortably hot to walk on during the summer – so be sure to wear or bring shoes if you plan to explore the Fort by foot! Also, it should be known that Egmont is considered a National Wildlife Refuge, so no animals or alcoholic beverages are permitted on the beach, and certain areas may not be accessible by foot.) 


8. Skyway Bridge

Standing 430 ft tall, the Bob Graham Sunshine Skyway Bridge, often referred to as the Sunshine Skyway Bridge or simply the Skyway consists of a pair of long beam bridges with a central cable-stayed bridge that spans Lower Tampa Bay to connect St. Petersburg, Florida to Terra Ceia. The Skyway’s clearance below is 180 ft, making it accessible for large cruise and cargo ships to pass safely underneath.

Seeing the bridge by boat is a great photo-op, however, getting into the water is not recommended. The bridge sits over Tampa’s shipping channel, so there’s always boat traffic. Additionally, there is also a plethora of fish teeming under and around the bridge, so that means larger predators such as sharks are also very much present. Fish species typically targeted at the Skyway are snook, tarpon, sheepshead, grouper, cobia, pompano, and mackerel.

Located at the North end of the bridge are a marina, kayak charters, and jet ski rentals, as well as Maximo Park, which has a free boat ramp, playground, boat rentals, fishing charters, and sea tours. Moving downwards is a rest area with bathrooms, picnic areas, beach access, and a kiteboarding shop for rentals, gear, and lessons. Lastly, the South end of the bridge is where you can find the Skyway Bait shop and a designated fishing pier.


9. Pine Key (Beer Can Island)

Pine Key Tampa Bay, formerly known as Beer Can Island, is a privately owned, 11-acre plot of paradise located just offshore in Tampa Bay. In 2017, it was purchased by a team who have been working hard to improve the island and add facilities. The Island now consists of an inflatable water slide, beach volleyball court, tiki hut, and an Instagram-worthy wooden swing over the water.

The Island is conveniently close to Circles, a waterfront restaurant with boat slips in Apollo Beach, as well as Hula Bay, a Marina in Tampa off the Gandy Bridge. Because of this, the Island attracts people from Tampa and the surrounding areas. The water’s visibility can vary depending on recent weather, tide, and boat traffic patterns; however, you can typically see the bottom around 2-4ft, or so. You can walk around the entire island within about 10-20 minutes. The middle of the island consists of densely clustered pine trees, so many visitors either remain on their anchored boat, float or swim in the water, or walk the perimeter of the Island. This is a good stop for boaters leaving out of Tampa looking for something close and casual with a lively atmosphere.


10. Passage Key

Passage Key is located between Anna Maria Island and Egmont Key in the mouth of Tampa Bay. The island is a busy place on the weekends due to its natural beauty and crystal-clear, turquoise water. The Key is a built-up sandbar that’s existed in varying forms since the 50s. Nowadays, the sandbar has been designated a bird sanctuary, so you can expect gulls, pelicans, and sandpipers to be present here. Consequently, you’re not allowed on the beach (although people break the rule all the time). Passage Key’s proximity to Tampa, St. Pete, and Anna Maria Island make it a popular destination during weekends, holidays, and summer.

One thing that you need to be prepared for is the fact that about 40% of all the boaters visiting Passage Key are naked and they’re not shy about it. As a result, it’s not the place to take the kids. If you do happen to have kids, then know that the biggest concentration of nudists tends to be at the northwest corner of the island. That aside, the sandbar is beautiful, the people are great and it’s an awesome place to bare-all if that’s your thing.

The water at this sandbar is some of the best on the entire west coast of Florida. It’s beautiful year-round but it’s epic during the spring. The water surrounding Passage Key gets fairly shallow pretty quickly, therefore you’ll have plenty of space to anchor and swim in the privacy of your own company if desired. Most visitors anchor their boats and socialize in knee-to-waste-deep water, accompanied by rafts, music, and a beverage. On any given weekend you can find 100+ boats around Passage Key.


11. Greater Tampa Bay – St. Pete & Harbour Island 

If you find yourself straying eastward from the Gulf into Tampa Bay, you’ll find yourself near St. Petersburg, home to renowned white sand beaches, the Tampa Bay Rays, and a vibrant mix of art, culture, shopping, and dining. Downtown St. Pete is situated on the inner East side of the Bay and comprises a pier, marina, parks, restaurants, markets, bars, and museums. It’s also adjacent to Tropicana Field, Jannus Live, the U.S. Coast Guard, USF’s St. Pete Campus, and the Albert Whitted Airport.

 

Harbor Island

Heading inside the bay and past St. Pete is where you’ll find one of Tampa’s hidden gems – Harbour Island. Harbour Island is a community across the Garrison Channel, neighboring Downtown Tampa. The history surrounding this area is plentiful – during the majority of its early years, the Island was used as a railroad yard and phosphate-loading terminal. Today, Harbour Island is buzzing with life. Homes range from single-family to large estates, and apartments to high-rises. Additionally, Harbour Island has an Island Yacht Club, hotel, coffee shop, restaurants, nightclubs, and retail spaces.
 

Jackson’s Bistro, Bar, & Sushi

Jackson’s Bistro, Bar, & Sushi is a must-go-to if you ever find yourself on or around Harbour Island. Jackson’s is conveniently perched at the entrance of the Island, facing unparalleled, sweeping views of Tampa’s sparkling waterfront and dynamic skyline. Its central location places you within proximity to the Tampa Convention Center, Amalie Arena, leading hotels, and celebrated cultural venues. Jackson’s is the ideal place for any occasion, really – dining before a concert, taking a break from a trade show, coming in from a day of fishing, entertaining business clients, grabbing a bite to eat by boat, or gathering with loved ones, Jackson’s allows you to enjoy the moment while enjoying a memorable meal.


Lower Gulf Coast – Top Boating Destinations on the Gulf Coast

 

12. Useppa Island

Useppa Island is an island located near the northern end of Pine Island Sound in Lee County. It has been known for luxury resorts since the late 19th century. Useppa Island is a 100-acre bridgeless private island club located within the waterways of Pine Island Sound. Our island is the premier destination for Floridian boaters, seasonal out-of-state residents, and international travelers. The island’s history is vast and begins thousands of years ago with the Calusa Indians. In the late 1800s, business magnates, industry leaders, fishing enthusiasts, and renowned travelers frequented the island and began the island’s metamorphosis into what it is today.

An exclusive, luxurious, Old Florida destination for those who have a desire for private security and solitude upon a true Florida island, Useppa Island is the premier private home port and fabulous destination for the cruising yachtsman on the west coast of Florida. Useppa Island’s goal is to maintain an environment rich with historic flavor by upholding the traditions of Old Florida with southern charm, gracious hospitality, and an unrivaled desire to entertain and please homeowners and guests.

The Useppa Entry Channel marker is between Intra-coastal Waterway markers 64 and 65 and is fully capable of accommodating boats which draft 6 feet or less (at low tide) and up to 110 feet in length. Freshwater, shore power (30, 50 & 100 amp), and wireless high-speed internet are services available and included for overnight stays of all visiting powerboaters and sailors. Just off the marina docks you’ll find propane grills ready for marina overnighters as well as private showers, accessible 24 hours a day.


13. Marco Island

Marco Island, the largest of the Ten Thousand Islands, is located at the southern tip of Florida’s Paradise Coast. A beachfront paradise located north of the Gulf Coast entrance to Everglades National Park and 15 miles south of Naples, the island is surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico on one side and pristine mangrove estuaries on the other. Boating is a way of life here – many homes and rentals are on the water. Backcountry fishing is very popular around Marco Island and fishing enthusiasts reel in plenty of snook, tarpon, redfish, trout, pompano, and many other species. Experienced guides are readily available for fishing excursions from Marco Island, Chokoloskee, Everglades City, Goodland, and other nearby areas and include backcountry flats fishing and offshore excursions into the Gulf of Mexico for grouper, kingfish, and snapper.

Indulge in authentic tastes of Italy with gourmet flair to Sale E Pepe at Marco Beach Ocean Resort with spectacular Gulf of Mexico views. Popular area restaurants such as Fin Bistro, Snook Inn, and Cafe de Marco specialize in fresh Gulf seafood. For hidden gems, seek out the picturesque waterfront restaurants in the communities of Goodland and Isles of Capri. Marco Island’s accommodations range from luxurious waterfront resorts to villa resorts, small motels, and a historic inn, as well as private condominiums and elegant homes available for short- and long-term vacation rental. The Boat House Motel offers old-Florida ambiance and slips for your boat with direct Gulf of Mexico access.


14. The Florida Keys – Gulf Coast Boating Destination

The Florida Keys are a string of tropical islands stretching off the southern tip of Florida, dividing the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. They’re known as a destination for fishing, boating, snorkeling, and scuba diving. The 125-mile-long arc of islands that comprises the Florida Keys creates a truly one-of-a-kind fishing environment and experience.

 

Fishing in the Florida Keys

Florida Bay, edged by the “inner” curve of the Keys and the Florida mainland, is referred to locally as the backcountry, home to five of the most sought-after game fish among recreational anglers: bonefish, tarpon, permit, redfish, and snook. Off the Keys’ “outer” curve and nearby Gulf Stream lies the Atlantic Ocean. In these deep-sea areas are some of the greatest sport fish in the world: marlin, sailfish, swordfish, tuna, and Mahi. In between these inner and outer areas also lies mid-depth reefs and wrecks that create an incredibly diverse ecosystem of different fish: snapper, grouper, amberjack, hogfish, triggerfish, and king mackerel.

 

Islamorada

Known as the “Sport-Fishing Capital of the World”, Islamorada is where backcountry sport fishing and saltwater fly fishing were pioneered. Perhaps the world’s highest density of professional offshore charter boats with tournament-grade captains can be found in Islamorada. Islamorada’s unique location, lying between Florida Bay (the “backcountry”) and the Atlantic Ocean (the “front side”), provides an unrivaled diversity of fishing opportunities. The Gulf Stream flows past the islands from 10 to 20 miles offshore, bringing seasonal visitors like sailfish and marlin, kingfish and wahoo, dolphin (mahi-mahi), and tuna close enough to shore to be targeted by small-boat anglers. Tarpon and bonefish are among inshore species coveted by light tackle anglers.

Islamorada is also home to Robbie’s Marina, voted the #1 place in the Keys that every tourist should visit. Robbie’s is where the famous tarpon feeding takes place, along with open-air shops and a restaurant, as well as a wide range of outdoor activity options: boat rentals, fishing charters, jet-ski tours, parasailing, sunset cruises, snorkeling/scuba diving, and kayak/paddle board rentals.


Galati’s Gulf Coast Locations

Are you located on the Gulf Coast of Florida and currently in the market for a new boat, or perhaps looking to sell? Find one of our many Gulf Coast offices below:

  • Destin
  • St.Pete/Tampa
  • Anna Maria
  • Sarasota
  • Naples
  • Houston
  • Clear Lake
  • Port Aransas