A day at the beach can bring a special kind of pleasure. It satisfies a nameless hunger, quiets worries and lifts the heart – much like shoe-shopping or a plate of Ahi tuna. But coastal living? That is a synnonym for paradise.
So, if you're looking for a beach where you can enjoy shopping, food and culture, check out these Sunshine State seashores. They deliver plentiful panache for the sophisticated beach bunny.
Daytona Beach on Florida's central Atlantic coast weaves a rich tapestry of arts, culture and heritage. One favorite for visitors and locals is the area's new e-Zone.
"This area is amazing in that it truly has it all – the Ocean Center convention complex, the Peabody Auditorium, world-famous Main Street, Daytona Lagoon waterpark, a historic oceanfront bandshell and boardwalk, a pier and some resort hotels," says Tangela, communications manager for the CVB. "And of course you can't miss the must-see area that's right in the e-Zone's epicenter: Ocean Walk Shoppes is full of movie theaters, lots of diverse eateries and even some really great shopping."
Further south on Florida's Atlantic coast, Delray Beach is a charming village where it seems natural to be outside, where murals adorn historic buildings. But it's also a village where you can savor all the amenities of a big city. As destination marketing manager Stephanie Immelman says, "We like to think Delray Beach is where Key West meets Manhattan. There are plenty of excellent restaurants where you can dine al fresco until midnight all year long, yet the vibe is very laid-back and friendly."
She recommends the area's bustling arts scene full of galleries, outdoor sculptures and murals, plus an Art Bar and performance venues from the Delray Beach Center for the Arts to the more avant garde Arts Garage. Boutiques offer everything from fine fashion and casual beachwear to antiques. And make sure to raise a toast – or dance the night away – at one of the lively nightclubs.
Across the peninsula on the southwest Gulf coast, Lido Key boasts some of the most luscious beaches in the world, but that's just the tip of the sandbar. Erin Duggan, communications director for the Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau and 20-year resident of the area, explains why she loves it. "Lido Key has an incredibly laid-back vibe and offers a variety of accommodations. Plus, it's an easy walk to St. Armands Circle where you'll find amazing boutiques and eateries."
When asked what her favorite is, she's quick to reply: "I can't resist grabbing a pitcher of sangria with a friend at Columbia and sitting and watching the world walk by. You always see the chic walking dogs, sporting their new outfits and fabulous accessories."
The circle is a strolling-shopper's paradise with more than 130 stores. Its flavor is distinctly continental, with courtyards and patios scattered among lush tropical growth and antique statues. You can feast by candlelight in a gourmet restaurant, eat outside or cuddle up in a cozy café.
Travel a little further south, and Sanibel Island immediately invites you to draw a deep breath and relax. Bicyclists pedal by and wave. Tangles of mangrove line the roads, where there are no traffic lights. And you can shop till you drop.
"Sanibel's beaches are known around the world for excellent shell collecting and wildlife viewing, but visitors also enjoy the island's barefoot elegance and sunsets," says Tamara Pigott, Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau executive director. "Accommodations range from quaint cottages to Gulf-front estates, with plenty of nearby shopping and dining options – no coat and tie required!"
One shopaholic must-see is the original Chico's, where the well-known women's clothing line began in 1983. After meandering through village-style centers to discover fashions torn from the pages of Elle and Vogue at intimate, charming boutiques, you can savor the flavor of culinary experiences – American, Italian, French and more – at relaxed restaurants that are anything but cookie-cutter. After dinner, immerse yourself in cultural offerings that include art, theater and music.
We'll end our tour of chic coastal towns near Florida beaches in northwest Florida's South Walton area. Seaside is simple, graceful and elegant – a neighborly, friendly village that feels as if it has been plucked from another decade. Its streets are brick-lined and its cottages, all unique from each other, are bordered by white-picket fences and meticulously crafted.
"Seaside has a way of causing you to lose track of time and to forget the larger world," said Jon Ervin, director of public relations and marketing. "The locals say it is more than a way of life; it is a way of living."
You can stroll everywhere you want to go – to boutiques offering designer duds and one-of-a-kind treasures like vintage records, handmade jewelry and wreaths fashioned of shells; to the cluster of art galleries and to the charming Modica Market for groceries and a bottle of your favorite wine. Nosh on fare that includes gourmet grilled-cheese sandwiches, Ahi tuna and steaming shrimp. Catch a show at the renowned Seaside Repertory Theatre – and make sure to sink your toes into Seaside's wide, sugar-sand beach.
If You Go