The second part of our winter sojourn was a camping trip to the southern gulf coast of Florida. I’m now calling this our Florida Gulf Beaches Tour because of all the beaches we’re visiting. Our destinations were Fort Myers Beach and Fort Desoto Park in St. Petersburg. We got everything repacked into the RT. Balancing what we needed for a 12 week trip along with the bare minimum needed for some extended camping in the RT was a challenge. Every cabinet and storage space was full.
I decided to split up the drive down to Fort Myers Beach with an overnight stop in Siesta Key south of Sarasota. I had never been to this area and wanted to see what it was like. We stayed overnight at the Turtle Beach Campground at the southern end of Siesta Key. This is a small municipal campground located right on the water at Turtle Beach. It’s basically a small wooded alley with about 40 camping spots on each side. Our RT fit easily into our spot but big 40 ft rigs and long fifth wheels would have a problem. It was very windy when we arrived and we had a cool night with temperatures getting down into the low 40’s.
Turtle Beach is narrow and steep with very soft coral based sand. It was tough to walk on. We drove up through the upper part of Siesta Key. It’s very densely developed with many upscale residences. The highlight of Siesta Key in the beach. Siesta Beach is lovely. It‘s wide flat white sand with the emerald green waters of the gulf. Its rated as one of the best beaches in the US and I can understand why. The beach sand is made up of 90 quartz which gives its the bright white color. I would return to this area and campground in a future trip to spend more time.
Fort Myers Beach
After two days, we packed up and headed further south. We got to Fort Myers Beach and checked into San Carlos RV Park. The park is small and with the sites packed in close together. But it’s about 1 mile from the beach on the bay side of the mainland, which makes it a popular venue. Our small class B van was an anomaly among all the large class A’s and big trailers. It was full of snow birds from all over – many friendly retirees enjoying the good life. I called it a “snow bird” rookery.
Staying in an RV park like this was a new experience. Fort Myers appears to be a popular destination for snow birds with RV’s. There are five large RV parks within 2 miles on the beach. The consistent warm tropical weather, proximity to the ocean, and lots of retail businesses are the big draws. The people in our park were very friendly. Being so close together made it easy to meet people. There was an informal social hour every day beginning at 4 pm at one of the open campsites. I can see why its popular with snowbirds. It cost $3500 for three months and only $3800 to stay four months.
Fort Myers Beach is nice. Its has a few mid rise condo buildings but it has a very casual feeling to it. There are lots of eateries and small hotels/motels that border the beach. The traffic is heavy and constant. From the campground, it was much easier to walk or bike over the bridge to the island. It reminded me of Old Orchard Beach Maine with a little bit of a Key West flavor. Its definitely a snow bird magnet with lots of people strolling on the beach and along the main road (Estero Blvd).
We took a day to drive over to Sanibel and Captiva Islands. Anne was anxious to go beach combing for shells on the beaches on Sanibel. This was about a 12 mile drive from our campground. We went to Bowman’s Beach which has restrooms and one of the larger parking lots. Sanibel is pretty quaint and has limited development to preserve the islands quality. There’s also only one main road so the traffic easily gets backed up. The beaches look like they get picked over pretty well by the tourists so the shelling was just ok. But Anne had a good time. From Bowman’s, we drove up to Blind Pass Beach near Captiva but the small parking lots there were all full.
For me, the best place to hang out on Sanibel is the Causeway Park right after you come off the big bridge from the mainland. There are nice picnic facilities there with bathrooms and you can park for free right on the water. I spent a day parked there while Anne biked over to Lighthouse beach. It was very relaxing. I didn’t have to walk any where and got to sit on the beach with a million dollar view.
After a week it was time to pack up and move on to our next destination. I enjoyed Ft. Myers Beach and enjoyed staying in an RV park. I would consider returning to spend more time.
Fort Desoto Park
We made it to our next destination, which was about 150 miles north – Fort Desoto Park outside of St. Petersburg. Fort Desoto Park sits on a island located out in the mouth of Tampa Bay. It is a former military installation that has been turned into a beautiful municipal park. The park has 3 lovely beaches, a historic fort and museum, two fishing piers and a large campground. The campground is gorgeous. The sites are large and private with many sitting on the water front. Its a popular destination and is booked well in advance. I had booked our site 6 mos in advance and when we checked in the place was full.
It was lovely just staying in the park. We had a beautiful water front view from our campsite. The park is full of wild life with many birds in the bays and estuaries. It is a popular kayaking spot with calm waters. The park is very well maintained with large bathroom facilities, laundry facilities, and a camp store. It was an easy bike ride down to one of the beaches. North Beach is was once rated as the top beach in the US. The weather was perfect with temperatures in the high 70’s. We will definitely plan a return to this spot.
While staying at Ft. Desoto, we took a ride up to St. Pete’s Beach to get our mail, resupply, and to grab a meal at one of the restaurants. We stopped at Blue Wave Beach which is part of St. Pete’s Beach. Its a nice flat beach which is great for walking.
So far on this part of our trip, we visited eight beaches. Three of these (Siesta, Bowman’s, and North Beach) have been rated top beaches in the US. Siesta was by far the best.
Up next will be our stay at New Smyrna Beach and followed by a trip to the Florida Panhandle.