Five Secret Beach Escapes
By Lauren Tjaden
They’re out there, in every corner of the Sunshine State. Florida has beach towns that offer empty sweeps of sand, mouth-watering food, and mom-and-pop stores — towns that somehow have remained largely undiscovered. Read on to learn about five of the best beach getaways you’ve never heard of.
Low Key Luxury
Boca Grande’s name is Spanish for "Big Mouth”— but its inhabitants are anything but vocal when it comes to spilling the beans about their historic town, devoid of traffic lights and high rises. Located on Gasparilla Island, about an hour 1/2 west of Fort Myers, this upscale, yet laid-back retreat boasts a charming, authentic downtown, seven miles of sugar- sand beaches and world class fishing. Make sure to explore its state park and lighthouse. While you’re at it, take time to hunt for seashells on the beach. Afterward, indulge in a mouth-watering meal at the Pink Elephant.
Sugar Sand Escape
Mexico Beach, located east of Panama City Beach, has beaches that are different from the vast majority of beaches in the world. The sand on most beaches contains 20 or so different materials, but the pure-white, soft sand found in Mexico Beach contains only one: quartz crystals. This tiny village has no traffic lights, high rises or chains. It offers spectacular scuba diving and snorkeling, waters teeming with game fish, and five miles of beach, with easy, abundant public access. Don’t miss lunch at Killer Seafood, heralded for its fish tacos, and stop by the Shell Shack, a family-owned store that sells everything from knick-knacks to sandals to fresh fish from the Gulf.
If you want to get away from it all, you can’t do better than Casey Key. This sliver-of-an- island, located by Nokomis in Sarasota, is mostly residential, with lavish homes that have their back yards on the bay and their front yards on the Gulf. Rent a private beach house or stay in one of a few locally owned motels near the Key’s southern end. Favorite activities include sunning, splashing in the surf, and searching for shells and sharks’ teeth. Hook into serious fishing at Venice Inlet on the Casey Key side, and enjoy waterside dining at Casey Key Fish House, a colorful establishment that embraces the “no shirts, no shoes, no problem” philosophy. For shopping, nightlife and more action, drive to nearby Sarasota.
The Way it Used to Be
Discover old-Florida charm on the cinnamon colored sands of Flagler Beach, snuggled against the Atlantic between Daytona Beach and St. Augustine. This seaside community offers unique shops and one-of-a kind eateries, never mind six miles of glorious beaches. The area is an ideal spot for outdoor activities of all sorts: it offers birding, kayaking, surfing, fishing, hiking and more. Your to-do-list should include raising a glass at Flagler Beachfront Winery, as well as browsing the Farmer’s Market every Friday and Saturday for local produce, homemade soaps, and handcrafted art. Watching dolphins play or dropping a line off of Flagler Beach Municipal Pier is another favorite. For a truly unique experience, camp at an oceanfront site at Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area. And bring your dog; Flagler beaches are pet-friendly. That should cause some tails to wag!
Reconnect with Nature
Just a few waves south of Cocoa Beach, you’ll find the unassuming, unaffected town of Melbourne Beach, situated on a barrier island. It boasts an abundance of affordable accommodations, shops and restaurants, and you can always find a place to spread out your towel on its generous golden-sand beaches. This getaway is brimming with nature, water sports and outdoor recreation of all kinds. The area is the largest sea turtle nesting area in the Western Hemisphere, which makes an after-dark turtle-walk with the Sea Turtle Preservation Society a memorable treat. And nothing’s sweeter than watching dolphins frolic while you learn stand-up-paddleboarding with SUP Eco Adventures. Make sure to grab your best pair of flip-flops for an oceanfront meal at Sand on the Beach bar and grill.