Many of us have our favorite Florida beaches – the places we flocked to during childhood and spring break. We tend to go back to those spots, year after year, and there is nothing wrong with that.
But for those who want to make some new memories, we present some new options, Reader’s Digest-style. So take our abbreviated beach trip around Florida and add a few new beaches to your scrapbook. From Pensacola to Amelia Island to the Florida Keys, there is a new beach for you.
National Seashore and snow-white dunes
This region is home to the Gulf Islands National Seashore, which encompasses several beaches from Florida’s border to the eastern tip of Santa Rosa Island. While 80 percent of this protected area lies under water, the rest is snow-white beaches, coastal marshes and maritime forests. Perdido Key, part of this seashore, is a hidden island retreat with award-winning beaches and protected dunes. Nearby Pensacola Beach, which occupies part of Santa Rosa Island, has two lively beach parks – Casino Beach and Quietwater Beach. The Pensacola Beach Fishing Pier extends across emerald water and offers breathtaking views of the shoreline and sunsets.
Destin/Fort Walton Beach
Sea oats and see dolphins on the Emerald Coast
The Destin/Fort Walton Beach area, also known as the Emerald Coast, is a top destination. Its beaches offer snow-white, powdery sand and crystal-clear water great for swimming or snorkeling. Fun, family-friendly and amenity-packed beaches include John C. Beasley Park; Newman C. Brackin Wayside Park (the Boardwalk), situated on the Gulf side of Okaloosa Island; James Lee Park; and Ross Marler Memorial Park, located on the Okaloosa Island’s bayside Intracoastal Waterway. Henderson Beach State Park is characterized by gleaming stretches of pure white sand, dunes and sea oats, and you can often see dolphins swimming in the emerald waters offshore.
Clean, cute beach towns on the Gulf
Fifteen beach communities, four state parks and a state forest make up this area. Soft white sand, emerald water and tall dunes along the coast are complemented by charming beach towns including WaterColor, Grayton Beach and Rosemary Beach.Coastal lakes, which are unique to this part of the world, can be found here. See urban planning history in Seaside. Sandestin is a family-friendly beach resort alive with activity.
Panama City Beach
Family and barrier beach fun
This coastal area, with its powder-white sands and emerald-green waters, is popular with both families and divers, who call the area the “Wreck Capital of the South.” At Camp Helen State Park, two bodies of water (the Gulf of Mexico and Lake Powell) surround the park, providing superb wildlife viewing. St. Andrews State Park features pristine shoreline and lots of amenities. There is also Shell Island, a barrier island you can get to by water shuttle. At Panama City Beach and Pier, take advantage of all kinds of water sports as well as one of the area’s most popular beaches.
Apalachicola/Port St. Joe
Unspoiled, unharried beaches
Think of Apalachicola, and oysters come to mind. Here, at Indian Pass, there’s an oyster lagoon that’s known worldwide, as well as a broad beach that’s serene and uncrowded, as many in this region are. From here, you can boat to the St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge or one of the other pristine barrier islands off the Apalachicola coast. This region is also home to the Cape San Blas beach, located on St. Joseph Peninsula, which contains unspoiled beaches within several beach parks. For a secluded beach oasis, head to St. Joseph Peninsula State Park at the tip of the peninsula.
Apalachee Bay Region
Horseback riding and bird watching
The beachy area here – located about an hour’s drive south of Tallahassee and composed of several small islands – is well known for its scalloping and fishing. Two wildlife refuges protect most of this coastline. The area offers boating, fishing, scalloping, biking and even horseback riding along the water’s edge. Keaton Beach, a laid-back, small town, features a wild, natural public beach with a boat ramp and fishing pier. At Hagan’s Cove, shallow Gulf waters and grass flats provide wonderful bird watching.
Scalloping along secluded coastline
This coastal region may not have big stretches of sandy beach, but the undeveloped landscape here has a beauty and serenity all its own, plus a few pocket beaches. Cedar Key is home to a small, sandy beach at City Park, as well as to the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge, accessible only by boat and great for bird watching, wildlife viewing and fishing. From Steinhatchee’s pristine shoreline, set out for the shallow grass flats in the Gulf of Mexico for some of Florida’s best scalloping and fishing.
Freshwater springs meet the Gulf
The Crystal River area, which calls itself “Florida’s Nature Coast,” is known for its shallow, grassy flats in the Gulf of Mexico, which translates to superb fishing and scalloping in the summer. But there are also some beaches here. Best bets for sandy shores are at Fort Island Gulf Beach (Crystal River’s only saltwater beach), Rogers Park, Alfred McKethen/Pine Island Park and Linda Pedersen Park, which has all sorts of amenities including an observation tower overlooking the Gulf, as well asnatural, freshwater springs. Jenkins Creek Park features waterways leading to the Gulf, a boat launch and fishing pier.
Tampa Bay Area
Miles of beaches near big city lights
Mention Tampa, and most people think of such big-city luxuries as shopping, hip restaurants and nightlife. However, Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico provide miles and miles of shoreline for this area – in particular, the family-friendly beach parks ofAnclote River Park and Robert J. Strickland Memorial Park. Catch a stunning sunset at Robert K. Rees Memorial Park, located on an island west of New Port Richey. At E.G. Simmons Park on Tampa Bay, the beach is surrounded by mangroves and nearby swamps, which provide plenty of opportunities to check out local flora and fauna.
Pristine islands and top-rated beaches
Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman (a.k.a. Dr. Beach) ranked this region’s Fort DeSoto Park the top beach in the continental U.S. in 2005, and it was ranked the top beach in the country by TripAdvisor in both 2008 and 2009. Besides unspoiled sandy beaches, the park has multi-use trails, camping areas, a historic fort, fishing piers and kayak rentals.
St. Petersburg/Clearwater is also where you’ll find Caladesi Island State Park, Egmont Key State Park and Shell Key Preserve – islands with pristine, gorgeous beaches accessible only by boat. On the other end of the beach spectrum is the wildly popular and lively Clearwater Beach/Pier 60. Note: The pier is a fantastic place to watch famous Gulf of Mexico sunsets.
Quartz sand and sharks’ teeth
Clear, cerulean and calm best describe the beaches of Sarasota and Bradenton. Family-friendly fun can be found at the amenity-packed (north to south) Manatee Public Beach, Lido Beach andSiesta Beach, known the world over for its blindingly white, velvety soft quartz sand. In the south end of the barrier island chain that is strung along this beachy region is a not-to-be-missed beach spot – Casey Key’s North Jetty Park. Venice-area beaches are treasure troves of prehistoric, fossilized sharks’ teeth and shells. If it’s seclusion you seek, consider the very picturesque (north to south)Anna Maria Island, North Lido Beach and Blind Pass Beach.
Isolated beaches on quiet islands
This area is also known for its breathtaking beaches bordering the Gulf of Mexico. The shoreline is perfect for shelling and wandering the nature trails that wind through subtropical vegetation. Manasota Key has great beaches, and lots of locals’ restaurants. At Stump Pass Beach State Park, undeveloped, secluded shores await. Family-friendly Englewood Beach/Chadwick Park features a wide, sandy beach. Keep an eye out for the iguanas on Gasparilla Island, which overlooks one of the world’s best tarpon-fishing locales. And don’t forget the quiet un-busy beaches of Don Pedro Island State Park, Little Gasparilla Island and Palm Island. Experience Charlotte Harbor itself at the well-equipped Port Charlotte Beach Park.
Shells and stunning sunsets
Picture the perfect beach – soft, white sand strewn with dozens of exquisite shells. Clear, aquamarine water and gentle waves. Dazzling sunsets and dolphins frolicking offshore. Such perfection exists on the beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel, loved by families and romantics alike. Sanibel and Captivaislands, both barrier islands, are famous for shells and striking beaches. Fun Fort Myers Beach offers beach-goers jet skiing, parasailing, windsurfing, sailing and water skiing. This region is home to Lovers Key State Park, which boasts white-sand beaches, world-class shelling, fishing, bird watching and waterways to explore by canoe or kayak.
Naples and Marco Island
Stylish towns near sparkling water
This area is known as the “Paradise Coast” for its breathtaking beaches featuring powdery white sand, gently swaying palm trees and inviting blue waters. Naples Municipal Beach, a vibrant, bustling beach with a fishing pier great for watching the sunset, is one example. But what some don’t realize is that many of the area’s beaches are also wonderful places to spot wildlife, including manatees and bald eagles. Both Barefoot Beach Preserve County Park and Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park feature terrific nature trails, but Delnor-Wiggins Pass' major draw is its beach; at Tigertail Public Beach, there are boardwalks, butterfly gardens and tidal pools filled with sea life.
Florida Keys/Key West
Beaches near snorkeling heaven
This string of islands is perhaps best known for fantastic snorkeling, scuba diving and fishing. Since it boasts the only living coral barrier reef in the continental U.S., there aren’t as many wide, sandy beaches here as in the rest of southern Florida. But what the Keys lack in quantity, they make up for in quality. The sandy shores at Bahia Honda State Park, for example, are stunning and long. And the southernmost island, Key West, is home to several beaches, including the gorgeous Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park. There’s a white-sand/rock/shell beach, clear, turquoise water, lush vegetation and great views of breathtaking Key West sunsets.
Miami is home to the world-renowned South Beach, but the celebrities and models aren’t all that’s beautiful. South Beach has white sands, swaying palm trees and whimsically painted lifeguard stands, all just steps away from hip shopping, restaurants and nightclubs. However, Miami also boasts a number of amenity-packed, family-friendly beaches. Key Biscayne’s Crandon Park Beach,Matheson Hammock Park and Marina andHomestead Bayfront Park are but a few. In theMiami region, the Atlantic Ocean merges with the Caribbean Sea. The sand is soft and white and the water nearly clear aqua. For awe-inspiring beauty, head to Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, ranked one of the country’s best beaches.
Stylish beaches for couples and families
Fort Lauderdale, which provides the ultimate in beach vacations, draws visitors from all over the world seeking sandy shores and warm, sparkling Atlantic waters. There are beaches for families, for couples seeking romantic getaways and for active, adventurous types looking for water sports or beachfront promenades on which to inline skate, bike or jog. Snorkelers and divers should head toLauderdale-By-The-Sea, where it’s possible to swim out to a reef from the beach. Less-bustling beaches can be found in Deerfield Beach. At John U. Lloyd Beach State Park, hike along nature trails and canoe among the mangroves during breaks from swimming, snorkeling and sunning.
The Palm Beaches
Social networking at quiet parks
Its name says it all: Palm-lined, expansive beaches with warm, shimmering blue waters are the main draw to this area, which is also famous for high-end shopping, trendy restaurants and striking waterfront mansions. In North Palm Beach County, you’ll find several unspoiled, sea-oat-dappled beaches, including the Juno Beach Park and Pier, a great spot to fish and swim. Singer Island claims some of the area’s nicest beach parks, and in Palm Beachitself, you’ll find Palm Beach Municipal Beach as well as R.G. Kreusler Park, where a manicured lawn with palm trees adjoins the beach, providing shade for sunbathers.
Fort Pierce/Vero Beach
Geography makes the beach
This region possesses outstanding golden-shored beaches – some lively and packed with families and others pristine, with nature trails leading to secluded shores. The area is known for its offshore shipwrecks, which present spectacular diving opportunities, as well as for Sebastian Inlet State Park, where some of the best surfing in Florida can be found. Don’t miss Bathtub Reef Beach, beloved by families for the offshore reef that helps to create a warm, shallow lagoon free of ocean currents. And during high tide and with an easterly wind at Blowing Rocks Preserve, waves hit rock outcroppings at the shoreline, sending water up through holes in the rock.
Surfing and beach blasts
This area’s beaches are famous for having great waves and the awesome, huge Ron Jon Surf Shop, which can outfit visitors to ride said waves. Those who don’t wish to experience surfing firsthand can watch the pros from a beach chair at the Cocoa Beach Pier, a historic landmark with a beach famous for surfing, sunning, swimming and people-watching. However, this area is also chock-full of undeveloped shores that are striking in their natural beauty. Check out the peaceful Canaveral National Seashore and Lori Wilson Park, which features a boardwalk that winds through hardwood forest.
Daytona Beach/New Smyrna Beach
A typical beach day in this area could include biking on the sand, riding first-rate waves or surf-fishing. Find secluded shores in quiet beach towns includingOrmond-by-the-Sea. Or hit Daytona Beach – the center of this region’s action – where you can sun, surf, swim and then stroll along the old-fashioned boardwalk and fishing pier. Ponce Inlet’sbeach features Lighthouse Point Park, which has nature trails and an observation tower. And New Smyrna Beach, with its beautiful and hard-packed white-sand shores, is notable as being one of the few places where beach driving is still allowed (check times at www.volusia.org/beach).
Flagler Beach/Palm Coast
Quiet on the East Coast
You’ll find fewer crowds here than in neighboring coastal regions, but the beaches are just as amazing. At Washington Oaks Gardens State Park, waves have washed away the sand, exposing coquina rock and creating a picturesque, boulder-strewn beach in one section, which is perfect for exploring tidal pools. Flagler Beach has a peaceful, car-free shoreline, and its Flagler Beach Municipal Pierand Boardwalk is a great place for fishing and surfing. At Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area, dune walkovers provide access to the warm golden sand and sea while protecting the fragile dunes.
Strong links to history
St. Augustine area beaches are characterized by towering sand dunes (often with boardwalk walkovers to protect them) and unspoiled, golden, shell-strewn Atlantic shores. Head to the gorgeous coquina sand beach at the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve, or to Anastasia State Park, Crescent Beach orFort Matanzas National Monument to experience all that this coastal region has to offer. Choose from some of the most outstanding beachfront resorts in the country in Ponte Vedra, or check out the quiet beach town of Vilano Beach. Experience St. Augustine Beach from its main entrance point at the St. Johns County Ocean Pier, home to a beachfront park. Or climb St. Augustine Lighthouse for a better view.
“First Coast” beaches
A favorite of beach and nature lovers, not to mention surfers, this region is home to undeveloped beaches, great waves, mellow beach towns and the vibrant Jacksonville Beach, which encompasses some 60 blocks along the Atlantic Ocean. There you’ll find a pier, boardwalk and concert pavilion.Amelia Island features miles of seashore lined with soaring, sea-oat-speckled sand dunes and sprinkled with prehistoric shark teeth and shells. Here you can visit Fort Clinch State Park, the northernmost beach park on Florida’s Atlantic coast, andAmerican Beach, a historic site on Florida’s Black Heritage Trail.