If you’re a Florida boating or fishing enthusiast than getting out on the water is your first priority come vacation time. But picking a spot that has enough action to keep everybody happy can be challenging, to say the least. Florida, with its miles of beaches and year-round sunshine, is a boat lover’s paradise.
A peninsula, it’s surrounded by ocean on three sides. It also contains over 30,000 lakes!
Florida is literally overflowing with fabulous boating and fishing spots. So pack your bags and lots of bathing suits. We’ve uncovered the best spots in the sunshine state for your boating and fishing vacation the whole crew will enjoy!
Jacksonville literally sits on the water. With seven bridges that expand across both the Intracoastal Waterway and the St. John’s River, there is water everywhere. Jacksonville has an awesome downtown area that’s alive with concerts, festivals, fireworks and first class dining. Conveniently you can dock downtown at the Metropolitan Park Marina. From there you can walk around downtown and over to Everbank field to see the Jacksonville Jaguars play.
Cruisers will love Jacksonville’s location as the gateway to the St. John’s River, the largest in the state at 310 miles long. Unusual because the current flows north, it’s an amazing place to spot wildlife, including gators, herons, eagles, and osprey. The river is slow moving and wide and provides optimal conditions for sailboat enthusiasts. Don’t miss the Annual Mug Race, the world’s longest sailboat race, takes place in the spring here every year.
Fishing is huge in Jacksonville. It hosts a variety of tournaments including the largest kingfish tournament in the state. The St. John’s River is legendary for it’s bass fishing and you can catch a variety of salt water sportfish along the coast including dolphin, bonito, tuna, sea bass, wahoo, cobia, barracuda, grouper, king mackerel, black sea bass, sheepshead, pompano, flounder, bluefish, cobia, and silver and speckled sea trout.
South of St. Augustine and east of Orlando, New Smyrna is known as one of the world’s best surf towns. Also with an historic feel it has a thriving arts community and is loaded with cafes and eclectic shops that you will want to explore. Art festivals are held throughout year and you can find incredibly unique pieces in the local galleries. For boaters it offers 13 miles of white sand beaches as well as secluded estuaries. It’s a great place to go fishing, birding and to get up close to manatees and dolphin. You can boat in or rent any type of watercraft from local marinas. Deep sea charters leave New Smyrna daily, so if you’re ready to tackle the big game fish of the Atlantic you can!
The Sinking Islands are an unique part of New Smyrna. Located just inside the Ponce Inlet this series of sandbars attracts boaters from far and wide. With white sand and blue water as far as the eye can see the sinking islands are idyllic and feel remote. Boaters regularly gather here and at low tide you can barbecue and play bocce ball. As the tide comes in sit in lawn chairs and enjoy the warm water.
Now if northeast Florida doesn’t float your boat don’t worry we’ve got more great southern and western destinations coming up!
Believe it or not, Orlando, the undisputed top destination for family dream vacations is an awesome area for boating too. It’s overflowing with lakes and fishing and boating opportunities. Disney itself sits right by Bay Lake, known for trophy largemouth bass, and the Seven Seas Lagoon. Fishing charters and guides are available at both. So you can hit one of the Disney parks to keep the kids happy and then kick back on one of the lakes.
Kissimmee lies just south of Orlando and is home to over 50 lakes. It’s hard to go far without bumping into water and the water is full of fish! The Kissimmee Chain of Lakes is one of the world’s best bass fisheries. Lake Tohopekaliga (called Lake Toho by locals) is where the pros fish. Bass fishermen from all over the world congregate here and compete in tournaments. You can catch bluegill, shellcracker, black crappie and catfish and more.
The Kissimmee Chain of Lakes connects to the Alligator Chain of Lakes and are easy to navigate. There are parks and marinas in locations throughout the lake areas and boat ramps and docks are easy to find. A nature lover’s paradise, you can camp lakeside and spot alligators, exotic birds and even bald eagles flying overhead.
South of Orlando and straddling five counties lies Lake Okeechobee, the largest lake in Florida. Waterways on either side run into Lake Okeechobee making it part of the 152-mile man made waterway way that crosses the entire state known as the Okeechobee Waterway.
Known as the Black Bass Capital of the World, Lake Okeechobee is rumored to have the best bass fishing in the world. With it’s more southernly location the fish keep biting even during the winter months.
Beware, locals can be stingy about sharing the best fishing spots. Hiring a fishing guide is suggested to insure your success. There are many marinas, ramps and camp sites along the lake but due to the vastness of it they are not always easy to find. Three of the best known are: Okee-Tantie Marina, located on the northside of the lake. It offers a campground, ramps, picnic area and a fuel dock. Located right on Lake Okeechobee is the Taylor Creek Resort which has boat ramps, private docks and RV stations. The Indiantown Marina is located in Indiantown about 25 miles away from Okeechobee. It has affordable fuel and docking rates, marine supplies and camping sites.
For landlubbers, Clewiston is the town with the most to offer in the area. Located on the southern shore of Lake Okeechobee, Clewiston is known as “America’s Sweetest Town,) due to the presence and history of the sugar industry here. Jump aboard the Sugarland Express for a tour of a local farm and mill. There’s also a three hour boat cruise that explains the lake’s history and heritage. Bike, hike and camp along the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail. Known as LOST, it’s a 110 mile trail that circles around the lake atop the 35 foot dike and offering elevated views of the lake. There are campgrounds and resorts in Pahokee, Belle Glade, Moore Haven, and other towns for resting and sleeping along the trail. Ideal for nature lovers, look for manatees, alligators, wild turkeys, bobcats, deer, wild hogs, egrets, osprey, kites as well as a variety of other birds.
Miami is one of the world’s favorite vacation destinations and for good reason. There is a ton to see and do in this bustling tropical city. For shoppers there are many large malls with top retailers (the Ventura Mall is one of the best) as well as unique family owned stores in areas such as Coconut Grove. Lincoln Road, an outdoor, pedestrian-only mall, is lined with restaurants and stores and is a great place to go day or night. The Art Deco District located in South Beach has over 800 structures of historical significance; a must-see for history and architecture buffs.
Despite it’s reputation for glitz and glamour Miami also offers a variety low-key, family friendly boating opportunities for you to enjoy. Miami Beach is actually a barrier island that protects mainland Miami from the Atlantic Ocean creating numerous bays and protected coves that are fun to explore.
The Miami Beach Marina, offers 400 slips accommodating vessels up to 250 feet and has a dive shop, provisioning, and a fuel dock. The city of Miami operates three marinas and the Miami-Dade Parks & Recreation operates six marinas in the Miami area. The options and opportunities for boaters are limitless in Miami.
With the Gulf Stream just a few miles offshore, Miami is a haven for blue-water anglers. Blue marlin, white marlin, yellowfin Tuna, sailfish, cobia, dolphin, kingfish, amberjack, snapper, tilefish and grouper can all be caught. The nearby coral reefs offer an exotic underwater theatre for scuba divers.
Both Fort Lauderdale and Miami are good launch points if you want to head over to the Bahamas. Many Miami boaters run the 50 miles out to Bimini and back in the same day.
Known as the Venice of America, Greater Fort Lauderdale boasts over 300 miles of waterways and 40,000 resident yachts. It is crisscrossed by the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), rivers, hundreds of canals and several lakes and borders the Atlantic Ocean. It’s tropical weather, boat building history and ease of access to the Caribbean make it a boat lovers paradise. It’s one of the few areas in the world where salt and freshwater fishing are available just minutes apart. In addition, the largest megayacht boat show in the world, The Ft. Lauderdale International Boat Show, is held here annually. In Fort Lauderdale you can access nearly everything by water and marinas and boat ramps are plentiful and easy to find.
Fishermen will enjoy the variety of catch the area offers. In addition to more than 200 fresh water species found in the county’s lakes, there are deep water fishing fleets located in Deerfield, Pompano, Lauderdale-By-The-Sea and Dania Beach; and, each of the six cities that line the Atlantic coast plus four municipal piers.
Off the water, Ft. Lauderdale is loaded with sites and activities that everyone will enjoy. For fabulous shopping visit Las Olas Boulevard. With over thirty outdoor dining options, ten museums and 65 shops, Las Olas is first class shopping experience. Ft. Lauderdale also has beautiful beaches, luxury hotels and historic districts, all worth exploring. The Riverwalk Arts & Entertainment District is also worth a visit. It stretches 21 blocks along the New River in Downtown Fort Lauderdale and has world-class cultural venues, upscale restaurants and cool shops.
The Florida Keys span 158 miles from the Biscayne National Park in the north to Key West in the south and offer more fishing and boating opportunities than anywhere else in the world. Due to the warm climate you can enjoy the water all year round. The Keys draw boating enthusiasts from far and wide and you can rent a boat from one of the 36 boat-rental shops. It encompasses 2,900 square miles of Atlantic and Gulf waters, and contains 6,000 reefs and 800 islands to explore.
Each island has its own personality and offers unique sites and experiences. Bahia Honda State Park, on Bahia Honda Key, is one of the nicest beaches in the Keys and the US. For a bit of history visit Dry Tortugas National Park. An archipelago of seven islands, it’s home to Fort Jefferson, one of the largest coastal forts ever built, and is only accessible by boat or seaplane. Try camping out here for a truly back to nature experience. There are many of camp sites throughout the Keys (just book far in advance because they fill up fast). Islamorada, the Sportfishing Capital of the World, is a mecca for sports fishermen from around the globe. Key West is the southernmost key and is rumored to have the best sunsets in the US.
Fishing around the keys is first rate. Bayside explore the flats and fish for bonefish. Offshore you will find sharks, tarpon, tuna, sailfish,marlin, snapper and dolphin. There’s always something biting no matter what time of year you go. Caution, between the other boaters and reefs navigating can be tricky here and you may want some help. There are plenty of guides and ship captains for hire that can help you find whatever species you want.
Key West has lots of entertainment and nightlife. There are festivals, museums, music, and more. One of it’s most famous attractions is the Ernest Hemingway House. Located in the heart of Old Town Key West, the house was built in 1851 and still contains the furniture the famous author and his family used. 40-50 cats inhabit the property; they are direct descendants of the cats Hemingway kept as pets.
Fort Myers, also known as the City of Palms, is most visited for it’s golf courses, white sand beaches and deep sea fishing. A sun-soaked metropolis, Ft. Myers offers plenty to do and will keep everybody in your party entertained. The city is overflowing with restaurants, shops, clubs, museums, galleries, live music and nightlife. Two of the best known attractions are the Henry Ford and Thomas Edison estates. What served as winter retreats for Ford and Edison are now museums. For shoppers Ft. Myers is a Shangri-la boasting several large outlet malls and many shopping areas. Stop by Coconut Point, home to over 100 stores, over 25 restaurants and a movie theatre. Art enthusiasts must visit the galleries on Sanibel, Captiva, Pine Island and Matlacha, for island-style artistic inspiration.
West of Ft. Myers along the coast you will find a series of islands. Captiva and Sanibel are two of the most popular. Sanibel Island is a seashell collectors paradise and has stunning white-sand beaches, and a huge variety of wildlife. There are cultural events all year round and great restaurants and places to stay.
Captiva has a totally different feel and has been described as “upscale, quirky and exclusive”. Every service you could imagine is available here. The island is loved for its walkability, fantastic restaurants and luxury accommodations. Swanky!
The best way to enjoy the beaches of Ft. Myers and it’s outlying islands is definitely by boat, especially since that’s the only way to reach many of the most beautiful locations. Sanibel and Captiva are great launch points for island hoppers. You can spend the day hopping between islands like Cayo Costa, Cabbage Key and Boca Grande.
Fishing is BIG throughout the Ft. Myers area, but if you want to hook a tarpon head north of Captiva to the Boca Grande Pass, located at the south end of Gasparilla Island. The giant pass connects the Charlotte Harbor with the Gulf of Mexico and is a famous tarpon hangout. Tarpon, some in the 150 pound range, congregate here in May prior to spawning, and just a warning so do sharks. Fishermen regularly hook hammerheads and bull sharks in the pass. Woops!
St. Petersburg, which lies right across the bay, is another city with lots to offer. Its waterfront parks line the bay and provide visitors with dining opportunities galore and quaint boutiques. Cultural attractions abound including the Dali Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, and Mahaffey Theater, home of the Florida Orchestra.
Life in St. Petersburg and Tampa revolves around the water. Tampa Bay is Florida’s largest open-water estuary stretching 398 square miles. There is boating to suit everyone. Inshore, offshore, spear, backcountry, wade, kayak, bridge, family-friendly or party boat – it’s all here.
There’s fish to be had just about everywhere and all year round. Snook, redfish, spotted sea trout, grouper and mackerel are just some of the varieties you can catch. Canoe along the Hillsborough River through a 16,000-acre wilderness park and get a peek of Florida in it’s natural state. You can fish along the grass flats or participate in a sailing regatta. A blend of salt and fresh water, the bay is brimming with fishing opportunities. Summertime brings hot weather and a chance to hook a 100-pound plus tarpon!
Along the shoreline you will find some of the world’s top rated beaches. Explore the barrier islands, draped in pristine white sand. Some, including Caladesi Island, remain undeveloped. Reachable only by boat Caldesi is a shell hunters dream and great for nature lovers. You can camp on the beach in Fort De Soto Park which consists of over 1,000 acres of preserved land and covers five interconnected islands. Numerous forms of wildlife live in the Park’s beach grasses, mangroves, wetlands, and palm hammocks. The beaches are spectacular and there is a lagoon protected by sand bars that prothat’s a safe spot for little ones to frolick. Looking for exercise? A 7-mile paved trail is perfect for biking and walking.
Tampa has an international airport and a port which help make it a popular destination. The area is rich with history and has attractions to delight every visitor. Busch Gardens is located here, the Florida Aquarium and the Big Cat Rescue are just a few of the highlights. Tampa also has a NFL football team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With fine dining, art galleries and champion golf courses, Tampa has it all.
A must-see destination for art lovers Sarasota is best known best for it’s love of the arts, and is abundant with cultural activities. The Ringling Museum of Art is located here featuring works by Rubens, van Dyck, Velázquez, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese, El Greco, Gainsborough and more. There are numerous theatres, a ballet, opera, an orchestra, loads of musical venues and events year round. About one fourth the size of the Tampa, Sarasota is appreciated for its more laid back vibe.
Shoppers should aim for St. Armands Circle, which is actually its own island, for an experience that is truly a feast for the senses. With over 150 stores and shops, an art gallery, and indoor/outdoor gourmet restaurants, cafes and bistros, “The Circle” is landmark gathering place for locals, visitors and snowbirds.
Sarasota is the gateway to miles of beaches with fine sand and shallow waters. With six keys, or barrier islands, there are 35 miles of beaches in Sarasota County. It includes some of the most beautiful beaches in the country, Siesta Key Beach, Turtle Beach, Lido Beach, Venice Beach and Caspersen Beach all have been nationally recognized for their cleanliness and environmental conservation. Longboat Key is eleven miles long and is home to the Longboat Key Club and Resort, one of the country’s finest upscale retreats. Siesta Key has eight miles of beach and bay front and excellent shopping.
Boating and fishing locations are limitless in Sarasota. The Gulf of Mexico waters are generally placid near the shore and the keys provide easy navigation, but beware many of these areas are shallow. Boaters can tie up at Marina Jacks, in the heart of downtown. The region has one of the world’s largest manatee populations. Certain times of year there are sea cows everywhere. The Gulf offers excellent deep sea fishing. If you dream of reeling in a dolphin, tarpon, grouper or kingfish, this is the place do it!
The Pensacola Bay Area is an activity-packed destination. Where else can you scuba dive the world’s largest artifical reef and fly a simulated jet at one of the world’s most famous aviation museums? The area is rich with culture, outdoor adventure, museums, attractions and boasts 52 miles of stunning beaches. Whether you’re an art enthusiast, nature lover, golfer, foodie or a super shopper, you’ll never run out of things to do in the Pensacola Bay Area.
One of the earliest European settlements in the U.S., Pensacola is awash in history. Visit Historic Pensacola Village and take a guided walking tour through the city’s past. The downtown area offers restaurants, galaries and cultural venues. Palafox Street was named one of the “10 Great Streets in America,” and is worth a visit.
The city has a proud military heritage, which is on display at attractions like the National Museum of Naval Aviation and the Pensacola Naval Air Station.
With so much of the area covered in water, whether bays, sounds, bayous, rivers or the Gulf of Mexico, it is obvious why boating is a favorite pastime here. Lauded as an ideal sailing destination, sailors benefit from the constant breezes, and picturesque mooring spots.
Novice sailors can attend the Lanier Sailing Academy, which offers sailing lessons, cruises and charters. Kayaks, motor boats and jet skis are available for rent on Pensacola Beach. Santa Rosa sound is rumored to be a great spot for novice boaters to safely get their sea legs. The start of the Florida Paddling Trail can be found at Perdido Key, which links the waterways of the Pensacola Bay area to the entire state and is perfect for those wanting to meander along in a canoe.
Fishing is big here. From the Gulf of Mexico and Pensacola Bay to inland creeks, springs, and rare dune lakes, good spots to fish are plentiful. Shallow water flats and back-country estuaries are ideal for catching trout or redfish. Out on the bay or pass can you can reel in grouper, snapper, Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, Jack Crevalle, or sheepshead, depending on what’s in season. Offshore and inshore excursions are offered by local fishing charters most of which include all necessary equipment, bait, and fishing licenses, etc. Whatever you’re looking to catch, you’ll most likely find it here.
That concludes our round up of the best vacation destinations for boating and fishing in Florida. Pack your cooler and get your boat prepped. With so many great places to boat, fish, shop, dine, explore and more, there’s no time to waste!”