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With over 8,000 miles of coastline, it’s no wonder Florida is a go-to destination for beautiful beaches in the US. But with so much shoreline to choose from (calm, clear, Gulf of Mexico waters; surf-friendly Atlantic Ocean waves) how do you choose the beach that’s perfect for you? Here’s a an insider’s look at the best beaches in the Sunshine State.
Gulf Coast Beaches
The Beaches of Caladesi and Honeymoon Islands
You’ve got to hop a ferry for a short, scenic ride from the beaches of one island state park to reach the other, making this is more of a two-for-one deal. Spend the morning walking along the secluded shores of aptly named Honeymoon Island, then ride the ferry over to Caladesi Island for the afternoon. Chances are you’ll see dolphins playing in the boat’s waves, so prep your phone for the photo op. Once on Caladesi Island, rent a kayak and paddle around the mangroves surrounding this secluded barrier isle, or simply lounge on the beach, where you’ll have an unobstructed view of the Gulf of Mexico.
New Nearby: Across the bridge on the main island, the Fenway Hotel in the seaside village of Dunedin is a 1920s Jazz Age gem that was recently restored and welcomed into Marriott’s Autograph Collection.
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 premiere 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.
New Nearby: TradeWinds Island Resorts’ Guy Harvey Outpost is debuting a new look (and more balconies!) in February 2019 following a multimillion-dollar room redo.
Lovers Key State Park
Part of the charm of this beauty is that it’s hidden away on a barrier island near Naples and Marco Island. It’s also 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.
New Nearby: The Gulf-front Ritz-Carlton, Naples recently unveiled a renovation of its expansive spa and its longtime beachfront restaurant, Gumbo Limbo. Tee off on its championship golf course before spending an evening strolling Fifth Avenue South, the main street flanked with shops, restaurants and art galleries.
Siesta Key Beach
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 carved. Visit on Sunday evenings for the weekly drum circle that gathers on the beach.
New Nearby: Midwesterners now have daily nonstop service between Chicago and Sarasota on American Airlines, while Allegiant Air will add nine new direct routes in 2019. Nashville, Tennessee; Columbus, Ohio; Grand Rapids, Michigan and Baltimore, Maryland, are among those included. If the hotels and condos on Siesta Key prove too pricey or hard to find, try the new Sarasota Modern, A Tribute Portfolio Hotel that recently debuted in downtown Sarasota just a short drive away.
South Florida Beaches
The southeast region known as the Palm Beaches have miles of gorgeous shoreline, but urban sprawl tends to make some of them feel cramped. Escape the crowds at Gulfstream Beach Park, a quiet and serene expanse of Atlantic Ocean coastline that gets its name from the nearby current. It’s home to a natural reef teeming with nurse sharks, stingrays and colorful reef fish, making this an excellent snorkeling spot.
New Nearby: The Four Seasons Palm Beach recently reopened after a head-toe-toe renovation. In the charming, historic town of Delray Beach, the Ray — a new boutique hotel with a rooftop pool and lounge — is scheduled to open in the winter of 2019. Virgin Trains USA (formerly Brightline) also recently unveiled service between Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, making it easier and faster than ever to avoid traffic en route to your beach vacation.
A quiet setup at Crandon Park Beach. (Photo via Shutterstock)
Crandon Park Beach
The two-mile beach in Crandon Park sits on Biscayne Bay, a haven for windsurfers on Key Biscayne (an island connected to Miami by an equally gorgeous causeway). The large expanse of palm-studded shoreline attracts families and outdoor enthusiasts, but while the swimming is great, Crandon has been a longtime local favorite because of the sheer volume of things to do here. Work on your serve at the Crandon Park Tennis Center, which for years was home to the Miami Open, tee off on the golf course, rent a kayak or take the kids to the Amusement Center for a spin on a historic carousel (or around an outdoor roller rink), all with views of the beach.
New Nearby: Across the bridge in the historic neighborhood known as Coconut Grove, the new Mr. C Coconut Grove from the family behind the famed Cipriani restaurants is the latest to open. Inspired by a sleek luxury yacht, the boutique hotel boasts a rooftop restaurant fittingly named Bellini.
Florida Keys Beaches
Fort Jefferson Beach
It’s remote, it’s isolated and you’ll need to take a short ride by ferry or 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.
New Nearby: No one really needs a reason to visit the festive Conch Republic, but new nonstop flights between New York City and Key West on Delta Air Lines, and between Dallas-Fort Worth and Key West on American Airlines, are as good as any. Stay at the year-old Perry Key West, close to the bridge that connects the island to the mainland near one of the area’s most popular fishing piers.
North Florida Beaches
They don’t call this the Emerald Coast for nothing. The star of the show here is the warm, Gulf of Mexico, where the waters shift from jade to aquamarine as the sun makes its way across the sky each day. For the first 50 yards or so, the water is so clear you can see right through to your toes, making this another perfect spot for families with young kids. Beyond the beach there are four miles of trails through coastal forest filled with scrub oaks and magnolia trees, and nearby is the eponymous beach town, one of the oldest in the Southeast, with its charming shops and iconic Red Bar (a favorite of country crooners like Kenny Chesney and Luke Bryan, both of whom have filmed videos nearby).
New Nearby: Earlier this year Allegiant Airlines added six nonstop flights to the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport. New destinations include Charlotte and Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina; Lexington, Kentucky; and Bentonville, Arkansas.
On the other side of the state, on the Atlantic Ocean, is ethereal Boneyard Beach. Walk the shoreline here and your only companions are likely to be remnants of oak and cedar trees that once stood along this stretch of coastline. Dusted with sea salt, the large tree trunks tipped on their sides are hauntingly beautiful. Just behind them, a maritime forest filled with trails pulls you away from the gentle waves. This is an idyllic spot for those whose idea of the perfect beach day involves nothing more than a good book and nature as the soundtrack.
New Nearby: Check out the new private villas at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort, the largest resort community in this corner of the state. Also, Spirit Airlines recently added new service to Jacksonville International Airport, the area’s closest, with daily, nonstop flights to and from Chicago and Detroit.
Featured image by Lance Asper via Unsplash.
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