(BPT) - If you’re gearing up for a fall getaway or looking to use some of your remaining vacation days this year, Florida has plenty of family-friendly, affordable options for you to consider. These six Florida destinations should be at the top of your list, since they’re known for their amazing scenery, exhilarating atmosphere and excellent accommodations all year long.
The westernmost city in the Florida Panhandle, Pensacola offers mild temperatures year-round. The sugar-white beaches and turquoise waters that greet visitors in “the City of Five Flags” are fabulously pristine, and the local restaurant scene will tantalize your taste buds. History buffs will love exploring downtown Pensacola — historic sites like Fort Pickens or the Naval Air Station Pensacola are well worth checking out.
Consider staying at the Holiday Inn Resort Pensacola Beach, a kid-friendly beachfront hotel with multiple pools, a lazy river and stunning views of the Gulf of Mexico. Say “cheers” at the beachfront tiki bar, book a local excursion or get your seafood fix at the hotel’s restaurant.
Panama City Beach
Florida's Emerald Coast starts at Pensacola and stretches east along the Gulf to Panama City Beach, a destination that’s a treasure trove of family fun. Spend the day splashing in the water and building sandcastles along the shore. Or rent a Jet Ski for a shot of adrenaline. Or head out on a boat for some serious fishing. Then relax on one of the piers as you soak in the sunset. Don't leave the area without checking out Shell Island, a 7-mile-long, undeveloped barrier island perfect for shell collecting and spotting coastal creatures in their natural habitat.
For travelers seeking a beachfront hotel in a prime location, the recently opened SpringHill Suites Panama City Beach Beachfront is a great choice. Set right alongside the beach, this property features an outdoor pool with a lazy river and picturesque views of the Gulf.
On Florida’s Atlantic coast, head to Amelia Island, part of the Southeast’s Sea Islands chain of barrier islands. With postcard-worthy beaches and impressively tall sand dunes, Amelia Island is a dream escape for people of all ages. Besides basking along the beach, visitors can hit the links for some golf, visit the Palace Station Bar and have a chat with the bartender — or even the mayor, enjoy the fine dining options in town, and explore some American history at the Civil War-era Fort Clinch State Park.
The Seaside Amelia Inn is a hidden gem just steps away from a secluded beach. This delightful boutique hotel comes at an affordable rate during any season and offers complimentary beach chair and bike rentals.
An hour’s drive south of Tampa is Sarasota, with its own bounty of cultural offerings and lovely, sandy beaches that have earned their own renown. While here, you’ll want to make time to absorb the natural beauty of the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens.
For an upgraded experience, stay at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Sarasota, an all-suite hotel within walking distance of downtown’s lively Main Street corridor. Embassy Suites is also home to Bridges Restaurant, which has floor-to-ceiling windows that provide spectacular views of the Sarasota Bay and skyline in a comfortable and elegant dining room. In addition to taking in the views, you can enjoy a thoughtfully crafted meal with local ingredients prepared by a 5-star chef.
On the other side of the state is Florida’s Space Coast, which includes scenic Cocoa Beach, also known as the East Coast surfing capital of the U.S. Cocoa Beach has no shortage of activities, from Ron Jon Surf Shop to the Brevard Zoo. Adventure lovers can jam-pack their days with endeavors or beach bums can sit back and relax in the sand.
Beachside Hotel & Suites — a newly renovated boutique hotel — is the place to stay on Cocoa Beach. Its relaxed, retro vibe instantly puts you into vacation mode. Amenities include free beach toys, a lazy river and a poolside bar.
Fort Walton Beach
Back on the Florida Panhandle, Fort Walton Beach is a small town with big charm. The glittering waters and soft sand make this area idyllic, and there’s plenty more in store beyond the shore. When you visit, drop by the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park, where you can see dolphins, penguins and alligators.
When considering where to stay, check out the Hilton Garden Inn Fort Walton Beach. Nestled oceanside, this hotel features a pool, lazy river, tropical tiki bar and direct access to the beach. The enclosed courtyard and fire pits are perfect for getting cozy during cooler months.