Tampa Bay, Sarasota and St. Petersburg anchor Florida’s western Gulf Coast, and these sun-dappled cities offer its highest concentration of cultural attractions. Circus magnate John Ringling’s Sarasota estate, for example, houses a splendid museum with a considerable collection of Old Masters. Fort Myers is the hub of southwest Florida and the seat of its most populous county, but offshore, the atmosphere becomes more rarified: The 100-plus islands that dot the coast include Captiva, whose stately homes were once visited by the likes of Teddy Roosevelt and Charles Lindbergh. Navigate north to the Panhandle, avoiding the raucous spring-breakers of Panama City, and you’ll find pockets of serenity.

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