Editor's note: Beaches and parks are listed geographically from north to south.
The coastal areas in this corner of Northwest Florida are a rare treasure. You'll find nothing but tranquility here. Quaint towns dot the landscape here, and the pristine waters and undeveloped landscape will give you a glimpse into what this area was like 1,000 years ago. Don't be fooled, however: This secluded coastline still features fresh- and saltwater fishing, boating, birding and plenty of places to get wet. Although this area doesn't offer long stretches of sand like many other Florida coastal communities, beaches here have their own unique beauty.
Secluded island beaches are yours to enjoy on the shores of Horseshoe Beach, an isolated fishing community that has fewer than 200 permanent residents. The town center features a waterfront park with restrooms and one marina.
Shired Island Park (Dixie County)
The campground and picnic area is right on the Gulf. You can paddle from the beach to explore nearby creeks and the estuary. Smooth, calms waters are prevalent, and you're likely to spot plenty of wildlife, such as sea turtles, ospreys, jumping mullet and more.
Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge
Flanking the last 20 miles of the historic Suwannee River, this 53,000-acre refuge offers two fishing piers, boat launches, two nature drives, observation decks, as well as biking and hiking trails. This diverse mixture of uplands, freshwater, saltwater and associated wetlands creates a great variety of wildlife habitat and scenic vistas.
Cedar Key City Park
This small, sandy beach sits at the end of the local historic district of Cedar Key. It was once a prominent fishing village, but today it is known more as an artists' community. The unspoiled environment may inspire you, too. Be sure to walk the historic streets, browse the shops and galleries, explore the back bayous and enjoy some local seafood. Enjoy fishing, bird watching, hiking and more.
Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge
These 13 fragile coastal islands consist of 800 acres. Accessible only by boat, you may visit only the beaches of the Refuge islands, except Atsena Otie Key where you can walk through the original village of Cedar Key. You'll see a wide variety of birds, such as bald eagles, osprey and egrets, and marine mammals such as manatees and dolphins. The lighthouse on Seahorse Key is open annually on the third weekend of October from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Waccasassa Bay Preserve State Park
The 32,128-acre preserve borders Florida's Gulf coast between Cedar Key and Yankeetown. Most of the area consists of salt marsh dotted with picturesque, wooded islands interlaced with numerous tidal creeks. You'll find the park an excellent spot for fishing, canoeing and bird watching.
This quaint fishing village is a treat for your entire family. The pristine shoreline will dazzle you, and the shallow grass flats of the Gulf of Mexico provide a great place for scalloping and fishing.