17 Florida Beach Destinations You Can't Miss
By Bonnie Gross
With 825 miles of beaches, there are Florida beach destinations for every need and desire – great snorkeling vs. good surfing; quiet and hidden vs. social and action-packed; sugar-like sand vs. dramatic craggy rocks.
Take some extra time in Florida and discover a beach waiting for you. Here are 17 beach destinations in Florida worth finding…
1. Key West
This beach qualifies as a hidden gem often overlooked by visitors because it’s tucked away on a less-visible part of the island. But those in the know consider the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park the best in Key West. Located where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Gulf of Mexico, Fort Zach, as locals call it, has clear water, a shaded picnic area, and very good snorkeling around rocks not far offshore. With a $6 admission and ample parking, it’s a Key West bargain. And here’s an insider’s tip: Keep your admission ticket and re-enter for free at sunset for one of the best places to watch the Key West sunset. (Also: the fort itself is very neat.)
2. Miami Beach
The beach at Lummus Park is what people think of when they say South Beach. Located across Ocean Drive from famous Art Deco hotels and restaurants, this wide beach is the best place in town for watching beautiful people at play. You’ll recognize it from countless commercials and TV shows; if you’re lucky you’ll see a shoot in progress. Between Ocean Drive and the wide swath of sand, Lummus has a grassy palm-tree-filled park. A promenade winds through the landscaping; it’s a favorite for bicycling skating and strolling. This is a beach for folks who like an urban beat and will take topless sunbathers (legal here) in stride.
3. Von D. Mizell-Eula Johnson State Park
You probably know that Fort Lauderdale has one of the great lively urban Florida beach destinations. But if you want a long wild beach lined with sea grass and sea grapes all to yourself then head 15 minutes south of Fort Lauderdale to Von D. Mizell-Eula Johnson State Park in Dania Beach. Walk south on this beach and you’ll soon find solitude – it’s 2.5 miles long and most people cluster around the large picnic area and lifeguarded swim zone. This beach also offers a thrill you won’t find at any other Florida beach: a long fishing jetty adjacent to the busy Port Everglades channel. From this jetty, you can watch 20-story-high cruise ships or tankers a block long come and go.
Many beach destinations in Florida in the south are lined with high-rise condos and hotels, but little Lauderdale-By-The-Sea is a throwback to another era. This is a beach where you can walk from one-story open-air cafes and storefronts directly onto the sand. Located on the barrier island between the Intracoastal and the Atlantic Ocean, Lauderdale-By-The-Sea limits buildings heights and thus maintains its charming old-time beach town atmosphere. The beach itself is about a mile long, and at several points you’ll find benches and showers. The beach and town radiate out from Anglin's Fishing Pier, open 24 hours a day, where fishermen catch snapper and snook, and others pay a small admission for a scenic stroll. The pier also has a small café which is popular for its stunning views.
5. Peanut Island
To explore the beach at Peanut Island you must arrive by boat. Fortunately, that’s easy and fun. You can take a shuttle from Sailfish Marina (98 Lake Drive Palm Beach Shores) or a water taxi from Riviera Beach Marina (Slip 522 200 E. 13th St. Riviera Beach.) This 80-acre county park, with guarded swimming and picnic shelters, is a man-made island in the middle of the Port of Palm Beach. With its rocky shoreline and its location directly in the mouth of the inlet, it has some of the best easy-access snorkeling in South Florida. Plenty of colorful fish are viewable in waist-deep water, making it particularly popular with families. Snorkeling is best at high tide.
6. Blowing Rocks Preserve
In a region with miles of sandy beach destinations in Florida, Blowing Rocks Preserve is unique: Its craggy limestone shore looks like it belongs in Maine or Hawaii. Owned and managed by the Nature Conservancy, Blowing Rocks Preserve on Jupiter Island is as wild and natural as a beach can get. The conservancy doesn’t even let you bring food or beverages. It gets its name from what the waves and rocks do during rough seas at high tide — water spurts out of holes in the Anastasia limestone, at times spouting 50 feet into the air. These conditions are most common in winter. If the seas are calm, Blowing Rocks is a good place to snorkel, because fish gather around the submerged rocks. Most of the time, however, Blowing Rocks is a beach for wading, sunbathing, and admiring the unique rock formations.
7. Clam Pass Park
Naples has plenty of great Florida beach destinations, but Clam Pass Park has a special twist. First just reaching it is an adventure: You can walk or take a free tram from the parking lot down a three-quarters-mile long boardwalk through a mangrove forest. Then from the shady mangrove tunnel you emerge to a beach with blindingly white sand and turquoise water. It’s a lovely beach, but what’s special is the pass itself, a narrow river-like opening in the mangroves, shallow enough that an adult can stand at the center except at the highest tide. If you hop into the waters of the pass you are gently swept by the tides. If the tide is coming in, you float into a shallow mangrove-fringed lagoon. If the tide is going out you float out into the Gulf which remains shallow for a great distance. It’s a natural “lazy river” adventure where the pull and depth of the water is safe but still fun.
8. Barefoot Beach
Barefoot Beach, a Collier County park just north of Naples, was named the sixth-best beach in America in 2013 by “Dr. Beach, ” a Florida university professor who does an annual beach ranking. Though it’s easy to reach, Barefoot Beach makes you feel miles away from highways and high-rises. It’s one of the last undeveloped barrier islands on Florida’s southwest coast. You may find sand-dollars or shells, or spot a bottle-nosed dolphin in the water in the distance. Gopher tortoises and their burrows are plentiful along the nature trail that runs between the sand dunes and the hammock.
9. Lowdermilk Park
The most popular and family-friendly beach in Naples is Lowdermilk Park. It wins points with families for its ample parking, a concession stand serving hot dogs and hamburgers, sand volleyball courts, two children's playgrounds, picnic tables, benches plus restroom and showers. It has a broad hard-packed beach made of the sort of fine white sand you see in an hourglass. You’re likely to find a good assortment of seashells. A bonus for families: A large pond that attracts ducks and turtles. This is a great beach to visit to enjoy the sunset; there’s usually a mellow crowd.
10. Lovers Key State Park
If you like spotting wildlife, the beach at Lovers Key State Park is a good choice. The 2.5 mile beach is lined with trees and natural vegetation that is full of bird life, including two bald eagle nests and many more osprey nests. Canals in the park also attract manatees in winter. The hard-packed white powder sand is perfect for beachcombing, with lots of shells and picturesque driftwood. The park is on the barrier island immediately south of charming Fort Myers Beach. It got is name because for years it was reachable only by boat, and only lovers seeking seclusion went to the trouble to go here.
11. Caladesi Island State Park
You won’t find many who disagree: Caladesi Island State Park is paradise. The isolated beach, located off the urban coast of Clearwater Beach and Dunedin was named the No. 1 beach in America by Dr. Beach in 2008. You must reach it by boat. The Caladesi Island Ferry (727) 734-1501 departs from Honeymoon Island, and the trip often includes spotting dolphins along the way. In addition to dolphins, the park attracts all sorts of birds – pink roseate spoonbills, magnificent frigates overhead, and ospreys. In the clear water you can spot horseshoe crabs, live shells, and stingrays. This is a natural beach where seagrass is allowed to stay on the sand.
12. Honeymoon Island
Honeymoon Island has a spectacular beach that can draw crowds. But even when the parking lot is full you can find solitude and nature. It’s an unusual combination of an accessible beach with lots of parking, first-rate concessions, and facilities and a natural beach with extensive wildlife. The 385-acre park has three distinct beaches – one that’s close to parking and concessions, a dog beach, and the northern sand-spit beach. This northern beach won’t win awards for its sand -- it’s studded with rocks and seashells -- but it goes on for three miles. The sand spit extends into the Gulf of Mexico and the farther you walk the more stunning the scenery and solitude.
13. Fort De Soto
Named America’s top beach in 2009, Fort De Soto Beach deserves all sorts of superlatives. It’s not just a beach on an island; it offers two Florida beach destinations on five islands. Its three miles of beach aren’t even the most popular thing here – there are seven miles of bike trails, two fishing piers, camping, picnic pavilions, playgrounds and a historic fort. You can rent kayaks and bikes or take a boat trip to explore a more remote island, Egmont Key National Wildlife Refuge. Fort DeSoto has two main beaches. North Beach faces the Gulf of Mexico and is popular for shelling strolling and sunset views. East Beach is more popular for swimming and has a spectacular view of the Skyway Bridge.
14. Huguenot Memorial Park
There’s no shortage of great beaches near Jacksonville, but there’s one out-of-the-way beach known mostly to locals that’s worth finding – Huguenot Memorial Park on Fort George Island. Huguenot is the last beach in Jacksonville where you can drive your car onto the hard-packed sand. Even without that convenient novelty, Huguenot has much to offer. It has big sand dunes and is full of wildlife – gopher tortoises, sea shells and shore birds. The surfing is good and fishermen have luck casting from shore or from the fishing jetty. At low tide the beach expands dramatically. You can swim in the more protected inlet side of the island vs. the rougher Atlantic side. Tips: The park gets busy on weekends – and think about the high-tide line before you park your car!
15. Little Talbot Island State Park
Surrounded by busy Jacksonville, Little Talbot Island State Park is a rarity -- one of the last undeveloped barrier islands in Northeast Florida. It has five miles of pristine white sand beach that is perfect for those who savor beachcombing solitude and nature. The price of that seclusion? It's a long walk to the beach along a well-maintained boardwalk over the dunes. It’s easy to spend the whole day here. There are hiking trails plus shelling, surfing and fishing are all good. You can rent bikes and ride them on the hard-packed sand beach. There’s usually a shallow tidal pool for kids to enjoy, and in winter people watch for right whales off the shore.
16. Fort Pickens
Fort Pickens, in the Gulf Islands National Seashore attracts lots of folks for the Civil War-era fort’s self-guided or ranger-led tours. But for others, the fort is just a sidelight to the seven miles of beach perfection that wraps around it. Called Langdon Beach, this beach on the Santa Rosa barrier island has sand as white as snow, composed of fine quartz eroded from granite in the Appalachian Mountains. The magic starts on the beautiful drive to the fort. The beach is so big it can’t get crowded and it offers the necessities: lifeguards, showers, bike, chair and umbrella rentals. If you need a break from the sun, the fort provides shade and cool.
17. St. Andrews State Park
St. Andrews State Park, named the best beach in America in 1995 by Dr. Beach, is known for its clear, blue-green water and dazzling white sand. Combine those qualities with the park’s two jetties and you also get excellent snorkeling. Even small kids can snorkel here, as the western jetty creates a calm protected area where snorkelers spot sting rays, fish, sea urchins and starfish. The beach is lined with tall dunes, and the park also offers hiking trails to a lake where gators are often seen. Across the inlet lies a second part of St. Andrews wild and undeveloped Shell Island. A shuttle service connects the two.