University of West Florida Dunes Preserve
For 3.7 miles, the Florida Trail – the only National Scenic Trail to reach a beach – winds through mounds of sand, which sparkles white as sugar, in this unique 150-acre preserve along CR 399 and at the eastern edge of Pensacola Beach. Enjoy quiet contemplation amid dune grasses, coastal marshes and wind-sculpted pines that meet between the calm waters of Santa Rosa Sound and the emerald hues of the Gulf of Mexico.
CR 399 (3000 block of Via De Luna Drive), www.floridatrail.org/hikes/floridapanhandle/seashore.html
Check in at the ranger station of Little Talbot Island State Park for this 3.8-mile loop, which starts in a shady maritime forest of windswept red bay and gnarled oaks. As the roar of the waves draws closer, the trail skirts spectacular dunes that shimmer in the sun and emerges at a bench overlooking the sea. For the next hour, it’s just you and the beach – starfish-studded and remote – as you walk south to the parking area.
12157 Heckscher Drive, 904-251-2320, www.floridastateparks.org/littletalbotisland
Escape to solitude with a soundtrack of surf as you leave the crowd at Anastasia State Park to walk to the north end of the island. At low tide, the hard-packed sands offer an easy strolling surface where flocks of pelicans and seagulls gather. As the shoreline curves to meet Matanzas Inlet, stones and a well-worn track guide you to the end of the road for your reward: a panorama of downtown St. Augustine. It’s an eight-mile round-trip if you make it this far.
Well-known for its botanical bounty and stunning beaches, Bahia Honda State Park also is home to one of the largest native stands of silver palms in the United States. Lucky for you, they’re oceanfront. So learn a little botany on this interpretive 0.6-mile loop past the diminutive palms – the tallest is 29 feet. A walk on the sandy strand completes the loop.
At the southern tip of Venice, Caspersen Beach Park beckons with more than a mile of wild shoreline and a nature trail with a view of mangrove islands and the Gulf. Walk up to 3.8 miles round-trip along the hard-packed tidal line as pelicans play in the surf. Or join the stoop-and-scoop crowd: The park attracts fossil collectors who sift the sands for mega-sized sharks’ teeth from the prehistoric megalodon.
4100 Harbor Drive South, 941-861-5000, www.scgov.net/parksandrecreation/beaches/beachvenice.asp
Hike 1/3-mile through a shady tunnel of sea grapes to discover Anastasia Limestone rock formations, which are along a slice of beachfront preserved by The Nature Conservancy. On the return walk along the beach shoreline, these rock formations can be viewed anytime from above, but only at low tide from below. When the surf pulls back across soft, cinder-like sand to reveal the well-worn rock formations, explore the wave-sculpted benches and tidal pools, an ever-changing landscape carved by waves and wind.
574 South Beach Road, 561-744-6668, www.nature.org/wherewework/northamerica/states/florida/preserves/art5522.html