The Hotel Zones of Tampa Bay, Florida

Tampa Bay beach resort

Tampa Bay beach resort

Tampa Bay’s airport is often filled with families and couples on a getaway trip to sun and fun in Florida. The area also gets a lot of overflow traffic from Orlando, with people heading to the beach after the overstimulation of theme parks and loud chain restaurants. Tampa Bay is a big, spread-out metro area though, so where should you stay?

The metro area includes a lot of different towns and neighborhoods, from some of the USA’s best white-sand beaches to urban locations filled with museums, cultural events, and conventions. Here’s a rundown on the options for when you’re feeling overwhelmed by 200+ lodging choices.

Clearwater Beach

Often voted one of America’s best beaches, this three-mile stretch of sand is pedestrian-friendly and kept in pristine condition. The water is warm and calm most of the year and the powdery white sand feels great between the toes. There are a lot of restaurants and bars to choose from here, with a family-friendly atmosphere.

Clearwater Beach hotel Opal Sands

Top Choices: Opal Sands (pictured above), Hyatt Clearwater Beach, Wyndham Grand Clearwater, Sandpearl Resort

St. Petersburg Beach Sirata Beach Resort hammock on St. Pete Beach, Florida in the Tampa Bay area

More spaced-out than Clearwater Beach, the white sands of St. Pete Beach never feel very crowded, even on holiday weekends. You could walk for an hour before having to turn around on this beach and smart zoning practices have meant that hotels are set well back from the tide lines when a hurricane blows through.

Top Choices: Don CeSar, Kimpton Hotel Zamora, Guy Harvey Outpost, Sirata Beach Resort (pictured here), Postcard Inn

Downtown St. Petersburg

With a wide, white-sand beach just a few miles away, why would you stay in downtown St. Pete? Ten years ago that would have been a hard question to answer, but now this is one of the most attractive urban areas in Florida, with lively nightlife and great cultural attractions. The Dali Museum is worth a visit by itself, but you also have a Chihuly Glass Works museum, a highly regarded fine arts museum, and multiple performance halls and music clubs.

Vinoy Hotel St. Petersburg, Florida

Top Choices: Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg (pictured above), The Birchwood, Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront

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Sand Key, Treasure Island, Indian Shores, and Redington Beaches

In between Clearwater Beach and St. Pete Beach are a slew of similar-looking stretches of sand making up the barrier island chain separated by bridges from the mainland. It’s hard to tell when you’ve left one and entered another unless you’re paying close attention to the street signs. So if you’re just looking for a beach with a nice sunset, you’ll do fine on any of them.

Top Choices: Sheraton Sand Key, Marriott Suites Sand Key, Treasure Island Resort, Sunset Vistas, Thunderbird Beach Resort

Tampa Downtown

The actual city of Tampa is on the bay, not the Gulf, so it was the first area to be settled as a port city. It really thrived as “Cigar City” in the early 1900s as Cuban cigar rollers shared the Ybor City port area with immigrants from Spain, Italy, and other parts of the world. There are a few hotels in Ybor City, but most of the best ones are concentrated downtown, near the convention center. The top boutique hotel is in South Tampa though: Epicurean.

Top choices: Le Meridien Tampa (pictured below), Marriott Waterside, Westin Harbour Island

Le Meridien Hotel Tampa downtown

Tampa Airport and Causeway

If your business is near the airport and local office complexes rather than downtown.  There are clusters of hotels by the airport, a few near Kennedy and Westshore, and on the causeway that leads out to the beach areas. There are also a few budget and mid-range options (plus an Embassy Suites) near the Busch Gardens amusement park.

Top choices: Tampa Airport Marriott, Westshore Grand, Renaissance Tampa Plaza, Westin Tampa Bay, Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay

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The 5 Best Florida Beaches Easily Reached From Orlando

Florida beach from Orlando

Florida beach from Orlando

People fly from all over the world to go to Orlando, home of Disney World, Sea World, Universal Studios amusement parks, and much more. This is a land-locked city though, so if you want a Florida beach vacation you need to drive east to meet the Atlantic Ocean or west to reach beaches on the Gulf of Mexico.

Both coasts are easy to reach in a rental car, however. Most of the way you will be on large highways and the roads are well-marked. The closest beach to Orlando is only one hour away from the gates of Walt Disney World, while the farthest one on this list is just two hours away.

Cocoa Beach, Florida – 1 hour

beach near Orlando
(photo courtesy Visit Space Coast Tourism)

Near the Cape Canaveral area where the United States launched most of its manned rockets into space, this is the closest beach to Orlando. Like all but one here, it’s on a narrow barrier island jutting out into the sea. Expect soft golden sand but big waves sometimes: this is one of the best surfing spots in Florida.

There are four public beach access areas with parking (for a fee), so it’s easy to come here on a day trip and return to your hotel in Orlando that night. For the kids there is also a public skate park and several playgrounds. The Kennedy Space Center has a visitors center open to the public.

Daytona Beach – 1 hour 15 minutes

Daytona Beach Florida

Best known as home of the Daytona 500 Speedway where NASCAR auto races take place, this is a beach where cars rule. You can drive right onto the hard-packed sand and park your car on the very wide beach. This makes any stretch of the beach easily accessible in your vehicle, in an area that stretches more than 15 miles from New Smyrna Beach through Ormond Beach.

Prices are reasonable at Daytona Beach for lodging, meals, drinks, and activities, so this is a good spot for a couple or family on a budget. The area has a surprisingly robust art scene, plus the region is frequently cited as one of the best beach values in the USA.

Clearwater Beach – 1 hour 45 minutes

Clearwater Beach Florida

Often voted as the prettiest beach in Florida, this is a compact white-sand beach area that is only 2.5 miles long. Much of it is connected by paved walkways and bike lanes and there are plenty of restaurants and beach bars with a view of the green and blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

The water stays much warmer here than on the Atlantic coast, with temperatures only dipping down below F20° for one month in February. The water is very calm here, making it a good choice for young children. Search on Bonwi for the best Clearwater Beach resort deals.

St. Petersburg Beach – 1 hour 45 minutes

St. Pete Beach Florida

The Tampa Bay area’s other main beach is St. Petersburg, a long stretch of sand dotted with a variety of hotels and condo complexes. There several similar barrier island beaches immediately to the north such as Treasure Island and Madeira. As with Clearwater the sea temperatures are pleasant most of the year and there are seldom waves large enough to knock down even the smallest child.

This is a beach area where you pick a spot and park or you explore by car-there’s no boardwalk or path along the sea. It’s worth heading to downtown St. Pete for restaurants and nightlife, catching a Tampa Bay Rays baseball game, or exploring the Sunken Gardens area filled with tropical plants. The Salvador Dali Museum faces the Bay. Several well-regarded breweries are located here too, including Green Bench and 3 Daughters.

Anna Maria Island – 2 hours

Anna Maria Island Florida

For a taste of Florida the way it used to be before the state got so developed, head to Anna Maria Island where no building can be more than three stories high. There are no huge sprawling resorts here and the main things to do are eat seafood and lounge on the beach.

Just seven miles long and a few blocks wide, this is an easy island to navigate and there’s a free trolley to get around on once you’ve found your parking spot. There is a playground on the most popular public beach access spot and there are shaded picnic tables.

Wherever you go in Florida, you’ll earn the most points back to use for a future vacation by booking your hotel and rental car with

All photos by Tim Leffel except Coco Beach.

5 Florida beaches that are 2 hours or less from Orlando