13 of the best beaches in Florida
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The peninsula of Florida offers thousands of miles of coastline and beaches, from the Atlantic on the East, the state’s “panhandle” in the northwest and the Gulf Coast with postcard-perfect sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico. It’s impossible to distill all of the beach options down to a short “best of” list but TPG does have some favorites to share. These are some of the most beautiful places in Florida, and each one is worth taking the time to explore.
(If you want to consider additional beach options, check out Visit Florida’s Beach Finder that lets you pick from various regions of the state and types of experiences to find the beach that’s perfect for you.)
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Atlantic Coast beaches
Before planning your Florida beach getaway, you should acquaint yourself with the various regions of the state. There are three sections of the Atlantic coast: the Northeast, Central East and Southeast. Each of those regions are further divided into “coasts.” The First Coast is found at the northeastern end of Florida, the Space Coast is in the central region while the Treasure Coast, Gold Coast and Florida Keys are all located in the southeastern portion of the state. Let’s begin our in-depth look at fav Florida beaches on the Atlantic Coast.
Ponte Vedra Beach, St. Johns County — First Coast
The St. Augustine area, home to Ponte Vedra Beach, is an excellent place to decamp for a sunshine-filled vacation. The coast is just a 35-mile drive southeast from Jacksonville International Airport (JAX). While you might know this area due to its affiliation with the PGA golf tour, Floridians vacation here for the wide beaches made from coquina shells and Appalachian quartz. The sand dunes — at about 40 feet — are some of the highest on any Florida beach and while there are plenty of palm trees in sight, visitors are also treated to stately live oaks draped with Spanish moss and maritime hammocks. Dogs are allowed on this beach and there are picnic tables and grills at the South Ponte Vedra Beach recreation area.
Cocoa Beach, Brevard County — Space Coast
People from across the U.S. have probably heard about famed Cocoa Beach, but might not understand that it isn’t just one beach but a group of them that span 72 miles along the Atlantic Ocean. Fly into Orlando International Airport (MCO) and then drive to some of the most popular beaches in Cocoa Beach. On a barrier island, the secluded stretch of sand at Playalinda Beach within Canaveral National Seashore is a can’t-miss destination. If you’re cruising out of Port Canaveral, a visit to the three-acre beach at Jetty Park is in order. There’s a 1,500-foot fishing pier on site along with covered picnic pavilions, showers and restrooms. You can rent chairs and umbrellas, kayaks and boogie boards from vendors on the each. Surfers congregate around Cocoa Beach Pier where there are also some good restaurants and shopping. The five-acre Alan Shepard Park with its oceanfront picnic areas is also popular, as is the 10-acre Sidney Fischer Park with picnic pavilions, showers and restrooms.
Vero Beach, Indian River County — Treasure Coast
Four recreation areas comprise Vero Beach. If you’re a Disney fan, you may already be familiar with Wabasso Beach Park, since it’s right next door to Disney’s Vero Beach Resort. It’s a wonderful wide stretch of golden sand with calm waters that are great for swimming. North of Wabasso is Golden Sands Beach Park, where you can swim and snorkel (lifeguards are on duty) and enjoy a picnic lunch. Seating and grills are on site. Jaycee Park is on the southern end of Vero Beach; it’s a massive eight-acre oceanfront park with an on-site restaurant, playground, boardwalk and picnic area. There’s also a buoyed swimming area. Finally, just about a mile south of Jaycee Park is Humiston Beach Park, which is closest to Vero Beach’s shopping district and is the host of many festivals throughout the year.
John D. Macarthur Beach State Park, Palm Beach County — Gold Coast
If you want to know what Southeast Florida looked like before industrialization and commercialization, look no further than Singer Island in Palm Beach County. It’s a barrier island along the Atlantic coast and home to John D. Macarthur Beach State Park. Visitors come for the swimming, snorkeling and fishing opportunities, but there are also nature trails, a playground, picnic areas and a place to rent kayaks. There’s a 1,600-foot boardwalk leading to the beach that stretches two miles along the coast. If you’ve got kids and beach toys in tow, take the complimentary tram and save that walk. Just be aware that there is no lifeguard on duty at this beach.
South Beach, Miami-Dade County — Gold Coast
OK. So maybe you’ve already heard everything you need to know about South Beach, Miami’s hot spot. But we have to include it on the list because it’s not just the place to visit in Miami — it’s also one of the most famous beaches in America. The 2.2-mile white-sand beach stretches from 23rd Street south to the tip of the barrier island. Ocean Drive runs parallel to the beach, and the area between 5th and 15th streets is probably the most touristy and certainly the busiest. Storied Art Deco hotels line the beach and even if you’re not staying nearby, you must visit and spend some time walking along the water’s edge here to see all the glamourous locals and visitors.
Fort Jefferson Beach, Monroe County — Florida Keys
It’s remote, it’s isolated and you’ll need to take a long ride by ferry or short ride by seaplane to get here, but the shores of Fort Jefferson Beach in Dry Tortugas National Park are arguably the best in the Florida Keys. Just 70 miles from Key West, the historic 19th-century fort atop a remote island housed soldiers throughout the Civil War before being designated a national monument. Today, it sits empty, save for the few tourists who visit each day to walk its halls and snorkel its sandy shores, where tropical fish and living coral are easily seen in the shallow, clear waters.
Many visitors to Florida skip the Panhandle, but it’s a gorgeous part of the state, with the type of sugar-soft sand beaches that most people dream about. Accommodations here won’t drain your pocket as quickly as a stay in Miami or Naples. The Panhandle stretches from the Florida–Alabama border near Pensacola east to the state capital of Tallahassee. In between those two points are plenty of beach towns like Fort Walton, Destin, Panama City and Port St. Joe. There are also standout nature reserves such as Apalachicola National Forest, Tate’s Hell State Forest and Wakulla Springs.
Panama City Beach, Bay County — Emerald Coast
The thing to remember when planning a Florida beach vacation is that there is a lot of coastline. So, when we say “Panama City Beach,” you may think of a mile or two of sand on the state’s Emerald Coast — but it’s actually 27 miles of sand along the Panhandle with nearly 100 public access points. If you’re looking for no crowds, solitude and sunshine, check out the eastern edge of Panama City Beach. Look to Shell Island, a seven-mile-long barrier island — it’s only accessible by boat but it’s worth the extra effort. If you want undeveloped beach without the boat ride, check out nearby St. Andrews State Park, where you can also book a campsite. Families (and anyone looking for a more energetic vibe) prefer Pier Park, which offers thousands of square feet of shopping right alongside the beach and a variety of oceanfront restaurants.
Gulf Coast beaches
What is the lure of Florida’s Gulf Coast? Cities like Tampa, Clearwater, Sarasota, Fort Myers and Naples populate the area and are home to excellent hotels, restaurants and shopping. Those vibrant destinations are paired with barrier islands and miles upon miles of beachfront — all with incredible sunset views over the Gulf of Mexico. Whether you’re looking for a nightclub offering salsa dancing or a hidden cove where you can spy manatees, you’ll find it on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Here are six of our favorite beaches in this part of the state:
St. Pete Beach, Pinellas County — The Suncoast
St. Pete Beach has been a major tourism destination since the Don CeSar Hotel was first built in 1928, a pink palace as an homage to a Moorish-style estate. The beach, along a barrier island just west of St. Petersburg, is a draw because it offers both undeveloped stretches of sand along with places where you can indulge in watersports like kiteboarding, windsurfing, parasailing and stand-up paddleboarding. New in May is the revitalized 26-acre St. Pete Pier overlooking Tampa Bay that promises a place to walk, cycle, swim, shop and more. Concerts will be staged here and restaurants like Doc Ford’s Rum Bar, Fresco’s Waterfront Bistro and Driftwood Cafe line the pier.
Clearwater Beach, Pinellas County — The Suncoast
With its soft, sugar-white beaches and shallow waters, Clearwater Beach is a top spot for families. One of the widest beaches in the state, it’s perfect for everything from kite flying to sandcastle building. Wind down at the beach’s iconic Pier 60, which has been hosting nightly sunset events complete with live music, entertainers and arts and crafts vendors for decades. The 1,080-foot fishing pier is the premier spot to try to catch the “green flash” as the sun takes its last dip into the Gulf. Visit in April for the annual Sugar Sand Festival, when artists from around the world create jaw-dropping sculptures made entirely of sand.
Siesta Key Beach, Sarasota County — Cultural Coast
It’s wide enough to accommodate beach volleyball games, sandcastle building and its fair share of sunbathers. The sand is fine, fluffy and bright white, and the water is calm and clear. If that isn’t the recipe for a perfect Florida beach, what is? It’s no secret the eight-mile-long island known as Siesta Key is among the Sunshine State’s finest. But few wander down to the small stretch known as Crescent Beach, where you can climb over a seawall to Point of Rocks, a collection of boulders that give way to serene tidal pools. Visit on Sunday evenings for the weekly drum circle that gathers on the beach.
Blind Pass Beach, Lee County — Lee Island Coast
While the current is sometimes too swift for swimming at Blind Pass Beach, located on both the Sanibel and Captiva sides of Blind Pass Bridge between the islands, this is the place for shelling. If you’re on the hunt for the region’s elusive junonia, you could find one here — along with conch, whelk, murex, tulip, olive and coquina shells. There are parking spots on both sides of the bridge, but the restrooms and shower are on the Captiva side. You’ll see locals fishing here and most are willing to offer tips to visitors casting a line, too. If you go in the morning, go early and then walk across the street to enjoy some Key lime French toast at the Sunset Grill. Or, arrive as evening falls to see one of the most spectacular sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico.
Naples Municipal Beach, Collier County — Lee Island Coast
There is something special about the Naples area. Travelers visit to enjoy those white sand beaches with emerald green water lapping at the shore. If you’re looking for luxury accommodations, such as The Ritz-Carlton, Naples or Inn at Pelican Bay, you’ll find them here. But if you gravitate to beach cottages and bungalows, there are plenty to choose from here as well. Naples is home to nature reserves, trendy shopping thoroughfares and incredible restaurants. If you’re looking to spend a day out in the sunshine, head to Naples Municipal Beach and Fishing Pier. If you’re lucky, you’ll see dolphins swimming right off the shoreline.
Lovers Key State Park, Lee County — Lee Island Coast
Part of the charm of this beauty is that it’s hidden away on a barrier island between Naples and Fort Myers. It’s a haven for wildlife, including bald eagles and bottlenose dolphins. Hop in a kayak to explore the island’s canals and you’ll likely spot manatees, turtles and plenty of shorebirds. Truth be told, Lover’s Key is more often near-empty than not, overshadowed by the glitzier options in the nearby beach towns, but it’s hands-down one of the most romantic beaches as a result, more than earning its moniker.
With additional reporting by Ana Connery.
Featured photo by Luciano Lejtman/Getty Images.
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