Head south—all the way south—and you’ll reach the boating community of Tierra Verde. The highlight of Tierra Verde is Fort De Soto Park—1,136 acres of award-winning Gulf Coast beaches set on five islands. In 2011, Parents magazine named it America's best family beach, and it was proclaimed the nation's best beach by TripAdvisor in 2009, among other accolades throughout the years. The list of activities here is long: a historic fort, three miles of beach, two fishing piers (one on the bay, one on the Gulf), a dog beach, a 6.8-mile-long paved recreational trail, a large camping area, and bike, kayak and canoe rentals.
From Fort De Soto, take a ferry to Egmont Key State Park, an uninhabited (unless you count the scores of gopher tortoises and seabirds) barrier island at the mouth of Tampa Bay. Accessible only by boat, Egmont serves primarily as a wildlife refuge. A lighthouse that has stood since 1858 still guides ships past this island. Wander among building ruins and weed-strewn red brick roads. Then head to the water for swimming, fishing, shelling and snorkeling.