Hidden beaches are the stuff of fantasies. They combine the joy of discovery with the appeal of having something special all to yourself.
Some of these secret South Florida beaches are an adventure to reach, while others are unknown outside the region. All are that rare thing in South Florida: a wild place that hasn’t been spoiled.
To reach the remote island of Cayo Costa you’ll have to take an hour-long boat ride—but it’s well worth the trip.
The Park, located just south of Boca Grande and west of Pine Island, is more than nine miles long. Forget the snack bars and the T-shirt shops; it’s just the beach, nature and you. The sand is laden with shells and dotted with bleached driftwood. It’s peaceful and unforgettably gorgeous.
You can explore it on a day trip, or stay overnight if you like roughing it. Besides tent camping, the Park offers tiny rustic cabins without electricity or running water. Evenings on the heavily wooded island are magical; although in summer, that magic is likely to include lots of mosquitoes and no-see-ums, so be sure to bring insect repellent. November to April nights are sought after, so book well ahead.
Captiva Cruises offers ferry service to the park for locations in Punta Gorda, Pine Island, Fort Myers, Sanibel Island and Captiva Island. Reservations are suggested.
St. Lucie Inlet Preserve State Park
If you don’t like sharing, this is the beach for you! Located a barrier island in Stuart, you’ll need to paddle a kayak or arrive by boat. But it’s only a third of a mile across the Intracoastal.
The beach, though, is the reward. A shaded boardwalk crosses the island from the Intracoastal and opens to a wide, wild and pristine beach that goes on and on. The state park’s beach stretches across 2.7 miles. But the southern boundary is the Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge, so the beach actually continues uninterrupted for a total of five miles.
Once you arrive, rangers will zip you across the island on a golf cart if you have beach gear. The Park offers a covered picnic pavilion and restrooms.
Clam Pass Park
Snuggled against the Gulf of Mexico in Naples, this Park boasts 175 public parking spaces and a tram that crosses a boardwalk through a mangrove swamp.
Clam Pass offers fine sugary sand like all Naples beaches, but what makes it especially fun is that Clam Pass is the smallest, shallowest pass on the Gulf Coast. The pass offers a narrow, river-like opening in the mangroves, shallow enough an adult can stand at the center, except at the highest tide. As you float in the waters of the pass, the tide gently sweeps you away. If the tide flows in, you float into a shallow, mangrove-fringed lagoon. If the tide goes out, you float into the Gulf, which remains shallow for a great distance.
It’s like a natural "lazy river" adventure, where the pull and depth of the water is safe but still fun. If you swim or wade across Clam Pass, the beach extends north for miles, lined with sea grape trees and foliage.
Barefoot Beach Preserve County Park
Stephen Leatherman, aka Dr. Beach, has tried to spill the beans about this spectacular Collier County Park, naming it to his top 10 list numerous times, but fortunately, it remains relatively unknown.
On the way to the Park, you wind through a lush residential neighborhood of million-dollar homes in North Naples. And when you arrive, it feels like a private enclave.
Barefoot Beach encompasses 342 acres of natural land, which includes a sugar-sand beach, a nature trail, showers, a picnic area and a concession. Parks Rangers offer numerous lectures and interpretive programs.
Marco Island’s Tigertail Beach is popular with locals for its split personality. On one side of the lagoon, you park at a clean, well-kept park with changing rooms, a first-rate snack bar, picnic tables, a playground and a concession stand that rents kayaks, stand-up paddleboards and other beach gear.
On the other side of the lagoon, you leave development behind. A wild sand spit extends three miles north, offering a beach with soft, white sand, scads of shells, dolphins swimming off-shore, ospreys squealing overhead and so many shore birds that it’s a stop on the Great Florida Birding Trail.
But the adventure comes when crossing the lagoon itself.
It stretches about 50 yards across, and a buoy marks the crossover point. At high tide, the water comes up to about your waist or chest. Squishy, grassy sand covers the bottom of the lagoon. You don’t sink, but you do have to overcome the "yuck" factor. People hold their belongings over their heads as they cross the lagoon, laughing as they feel the ooze between their toes.
If that’s not your idea of fun, you can walk about 20 minutes around the lagoon to the south to reach the beach. If you bring small children, consider pulling them on a beach float, or renting a kayak or paddleboard.
Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge
The beachfront road on ritzy Jupiter Island dead ends into the Refuge, but no one’s broadcasting that fact. Nothing on the signage indicates there’s a public beach at the end of the road, so if you don’t know about it, odds are you won’t discover it.
The Hobe Sound beach extends north more than two miles to where the equally pristine St. Lucie Preserve beach begins, totaling more than five miles of wild, broad and unspoiled sandy shoreline.
The only amenities it offers are portable restrooms.
Lovers Key State Park
Lovers Key State Park, located just south of Fort Myers Beach, got its name because it was once so remote only lovers went to the trouble to seek its privacy.
Today, this island’s beach is easy to reach, but it’s still not well-known. The 2.5-mile beach is lined with natural vegetation and is perfect for beachcombing and birding.
There are even two bald eagle nests in the park. The Park’s mangrove-lined waterways are also major draws for both manatees and kayakers.