With the Gulf of Mexico on the west coast, the Atlantic Ocean on the east, and a wisp of the Caribbean in the south, Florida is a state virtually completely surrounded by water. As one would expect, it is also fully immersed in yachting culture. With so much coastline (one of the top states for percent of coastline in the continental U.S.), Florida has a cavalcade of must-see destinations for the avid yachter. Below, we touch on the top areas around the Sunshine state to explore aboard your yacht.
Pensacola / Fort Walton Beach / Destin
Boasting ever-present Gulf Coast breezes, Pensacola is the westernmost city of the Florida Panhandle. An area steeped in history – occupied by the Spanish since 1559 – and featuring mostly untouched white beaches, this destination is a must-see for those looking for a relaxing stop in north Florida. A short trip to the east and you’ll find yourself in the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village,” or, as non-boaters call it, Destin. Home to five saltwater world record titles, and famous for its fishing tournaments, Destin’s emerald green waters have held claim as the #1 Beach in America by USA Today Readers and one of the Top 10 harbors from Coastal Living.
St. Petersburg / Clearwater
Take the most direct line southeast from Destin across the gulf and in about 240 nautical miles you’ll arrive at St. Pete / Clearwater. Anclote Key, Caladesi Island, and Honeymoon Island are only a few of the innumerable barrier islands scattered throughout this area that make for perfect day long excursions. Bearing some of the nation’s most popular beaches such as Clearwater Beach and St. Petersburg Beach, this area provides endless activities. Browse the shops, hear some live music, catch a Rays game at Tropicana Field, or even hit up the night clubs. Whatever you’re craving, St. Pete / Clearwater can provide it.
Thirty nautical miles south of St. Petersburg / Clearwater lies the culture and history rich city of Sarasota. Featuring top-rated restaurants, miles of white sand beaches, and an array of museums, this town has a little of everything. A champion of the outdoor lifestyle, Sarasota offers many opportunities for outdoor excursions. Hiking, canoeing, and kayaking, are among the most popular ways to explore the various natural spaces that surround the city. And if the heat becomes a bit much, downtown Sarasota stands ready to entertain, amuse, and educate with its bevy of shops, museums, and cultural attractions. Of particular note is the Venetian Mansion constructed by John Ringling (of Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey). A pleasing mix of art, culture, and nature, Sarasota offers an exciting, multi-faceted destination for the vacationing yachter.
Fort Myers / Naples
Eighty nautical miles south of Sarasota will end you up in the next destination on our list: Fort Myers / Naples. A vacation hotspot, hosting 1.8 million tourist annually, the Ft. Myers area is reputably family friendly. Lack of undertow and an abundance of shallow water have led the Ft. Myers beach to be named one of the safest beaches in the nation. Continue south and you’ll find the “crown jewel” of Southwest Florida: Naples. Known for its world-class shopping and abundance of challenging golf courses, Naples is not a destination to miss for those looking to experience Florida culture. Continue a tad more south and you’ll leave civilization behind as you enter the untamed wilderness of the Everglades. Exotic species such as anacondas are spotted on occasion in the endless marshes, while natives like alligators are much more common. A varied, but much sought after destination, Fort Myers / Naples has a little of something for everyone.
The Florida Keys
Keep on heading south, but don’t worry, there’s no particular hurry, it’s always five o’clock in Margaritaville. Or so one of the Florida Keys most famous musicians, Jimmy Buffet, would say. Popularized in many of his songs, the Florida Keys are a unique destination and the southernmost landmass in the Sunshine state. Traditional Conch-style cottages and thatched roof-open air bars border fine dining and vacation homes in the tight, but delightfully quirky streets of the Keys. Perhaps the most popular of the islands, Key West is a world-renown destination for all things boating culture. Snorkeling, diving, fishing, and beach lounging abound in this tropical paradise. Rent a bike and follow your whims, it’s hard to go wrong when in Key West. Less notable, but just as much of a paradise, the other islands of the Florida Keys are nearby. Islamorada, the Sport Fishing Capital of the World, is one of them. 178 nautical square miles of coral reef and famous shipwrecks make this destination one of the premiere hotspots for fishermen and divers the world over.
Closest MarineMax Locations: MarineMax Ocean Reef
Wrapping around the tip of the state and heading northeast, you’ll come to Miami. Flooded with the amenities of a big city and all the upsides of Florida, Miami is a world-famous vacation spot. Shopping, five-star restaurants, and night life abound. Lincoln Road, in the heart of the city, is reserved only for pedestrians as a large outdoor mall. Featuring some of the finest food in the state, this area is unlike any other. Known for a strong sense of cultural identity, Miami is a great destination for those looking to broaden their horizons. If you want to see an authentic slice of South Florida culture, the area south of Fifth Street at South Beach’s southernmost tip is a great place to start.
Closest MarineMax Locations: MarineMax Miami
Continuing northeast past Miami will bring you to the Yachting Capitol of the World: Fort Lauderdale. One of Florida’s most beautified cities, and a prime sport for sophisticated yachters, Ft. Lauderdale’s marinas are some of the best equipped and cleanest in the world. Hundreds of miles of shining sand beaches provide for the traditional “Florida” experience, while over 300 miles of canals, make this “Venice of America” the perfect destination to explore with the whole family. And with thousands of restaurants all throughout Broward county, this area provides for everyone’s taste.
Closest MarineMax Locations: MarineMax Yacht Center
The “Gold Coast” of America, Palm Beach is home to some of the richest individuals in the country. Largely a playground for the wealthy, the atmosphere throughout Palm Beach encourages fun times and easy days. Art galleries abound in the area, providing insight into the culture of such a unique destination. With plenty of museums, many of them former homes of famous people, Palm Beach provides both a fun and historical look into the past. Most notably, Henry Flagler’s former residence is now a museum showcasing the height of the Gilded Age in America.
Thirty nautical miles north lies the town of Stuart. With a slower paced atmosphere than the counties to the south, Stuart especially fosters a family friendly atmosphere. Hosting frequent music festivals, and Green Markets, the quaint downtown is historically restored and known for its great museums and restaurants. Notably, the Stuart Heritage Museum and Military Victory Museum draw crowds of interested visitors each year.
Closest MarineMax Locations: MarineMax Stuart
Jacksonville / St. Augustine
And to round out the long haul, 190 nautical miles north from Stuart is the Jacksonville / St. Augustine area; a bustling hub representing the best of north Florida. (On the way, it’s worth noting, you’ll pass the famous Kennedy Space Center located at Port Canaveral.) Founded in 1565 by Spanish settles, St. Augustine is the oldest city in America and sports multitudes of historic destinations. Museums, art galleries, and historic tours fill the city, and don’t forget to visit Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth! To the north lies the much newer, much larger town known as the “River City by the Sea”, Jacksonville. Built at the intersection of two large interstates, Jacksonville is the gateway to explore beaches, natural landscapes, and a thriving nightlife. With an equal mix of city and natural adventures, these two north Florida cities are a perfect way to end your trip around the Sunshine state.
Closest MarineMax Locations: MarineMax Jacksonville
From the white sand beaches of Pensacola, to the historical museums and residences of Sarasota, and the near-endless wilderness of the Everglades, Florida has a lot to offer for today’s avid yachter. The state is renowned for great weather, awe-inspiring nature encounters, wild night life, great shopping and dining, family friendly environments, and a rich history. Whether you’re just passing through, or on an extended vacation, you’re sure to find exactly what you’re looking for along the coastal waterways of the Sunshine state!
Photo Credits: Emerald Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau, St. Petersburg / Clearwater Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, www.sarasota.com, Naples Chamber of Commerce, Key West Visitors Guide, Greater Miami CVB, Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, www.worth-avenue.com, www.discovermartin.com, Visit Florida