Where to Stay in Style Near Florida's Best Beaches

By: Terry Ward

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Best places to stay near Dr. Beach's favorite sands

It’s that time of year again. Stephen P. Leatherman – aka “Dr. Beach” – a coastal scientist based in Florida, will announce his 2013 picks for America’s Top 10 Beaches over Memorial Day weekend. As in years past, Florida beaches are very likely to get recognized. I recently spoke to Dr. Beach about what makes our sandy places so special.

“Florida is officially the Sunshine State, but I think it ought to be called the beach state,” Leatherman told me. “We have so many great beaches here in Florida and such a great variety.”

“We have the Atlantic Coast if you like waves - which I kind of like - and if you don’t want waves you go to the southwest, the peaceful getaway coast,” he said. “It has the finest, whitest stretch of sand in the world. It’s spectacular. A lot of people don’t realize how big Florida is!”

Leatherman’s praise of Florida’s beaches included everything from the “very white sand and emerald green water” of places like Perdido Key to the “gold coast” of Palm Beach.

“We’ve had a lot of national winners in Florida,” he said. “Florida’s been very well represented in my survey – and I started this when I lived in Maryland.”

As for what the Memorial Day Weekend announcement will bring, Dr. Beach is keeping mum, while allowing for plenty of optimism. “Things are good for Florida, in terms of my survey,” he said.

Read on for Florida beaches that were Dr. Beach’s past national winners (once a beach is crowned #1 it’s permanently retired from future lists), his past picks for America’s Top 10 Beaches, along with my suggestions for where to stay near all that natural beauty:

Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park (#8 in 2012, #10 in 2011, #8 in 2009, #9 in 2008)
Resort Pick: The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne is a gorgeous oceanfront property near the park. For the ultimate splurge – however – stay at the newly opened Villa By Barton G. This former Versace Mansion is Miami’s hottest new address. And, ask your suite’s private butler to arrange a chauffeured ride to Cape Florida (about 25 minutes away).

Siesta Key Beach (2011 National Winner) is one of the prettiest on the gulf coast, with quartz crystal sand as soft as powder and shallow water as clear as a looking glass. 
Resort Pick: The new Inn at Turtle Beach with Tommy Bahama-style studios and one-bedroom suites with private hot tubs, is located on the lagoon in Siesta Key.

Caladesi Island State Park (2008 National Winner) is a completely natural barrier island off Florida’s west coast, reached by boat or ferry from Honeymoon Island State Park. Stay the day and you’ll never want to leave!
Resort Pick: You can’t stay on Caladesi Island itself, but the new Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort & Spa (about 25 minutes from Dunedin, where you catch the ferry) is a heavenly gulf-front destination the whole family will love.

Lighthouse Point Park (#9 in 2007) is where you’ll find some of the Daytona area’s most pristine beaches, located on the north side of Ponce de Leon Inlet.
Resort Pick: The Shores Resort & Spa in Daytona Beach Shores is the area’s only AAA Four Diamond property, and appeals to couples looking for a romantic getaway. There’s a even a fire pit fronting the beach. It's also great for families with kids, as the suites have king beds and sleeper sofas.

Fort De Soto Park (2005 National Winner) consists of five interconnected islands skirted with stunning sandy beaches and shallow, clear waters for swimming.
Resort Pick: The campground at this state park is one of Florida’s best, but for more creature comforts, consider the Inn on the Beach in Pass-a-Grille Beach, which has rooms and cottages for rent. Farther afield (but well worth the drive), Pineapplefish Villas on Anna Maria Island offers a collection of stunning rental properties, several of which front canals (with boat access) and one property on the Gulf of Mexico.

Grayton Beach (1994 National Winner) is home to Grayton Beach State Park and one of the most natural and untouched beaches in Northwest Florida.
Resort Pick: Plan a family reunion here and book a spacious vacation rental at the nearby Rosemary Beach.

Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys (1992 National Winner) is home to amazingly beautiful beaches with water that shimmers between sapphire and turquoise.
Resort Pick: At Parmer’s Resort, the one- and two-bedroom suites (many with fully equipped kitchens) are a great place for families to stay (and you can bring your boat, as there’s water access here, too). You can easily day trip to Bahia Honda’s beaches for the day (about 15 minutes away).

St. Andrews State Park in Panama City Beach (1995 National Winner) is another Northwest Florida beauty of a beach with emerald green water and sand as white as snow.
Resort Pick:  Another wonderful destination for a family reunion or get together with a group of friends, browse for your perfect vacation rental in Alys Beach. 

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