If you’re looking for some unusual and unique activities around Florida’s beaches, we have some suggestions. From an educational marine tour to a surfing pooch in Key West, the Sunshine State’s got some of the most entertaining beaches around.
School in the Gulf
Kids take to water like, well, fish.
On Sanibel Island, Sanibel Sea School introduces kids to their fellow water-lovers – bivalves and gastropods, shorebirds, sea turtles, mangroves and seaweed as well as fish – during half-day or full-day programs and summer and holiday camps.
Operated by a conservation biologist with a mission to educate kids and adults alike about marine conservation, Sanibel Sea School takes participants to the islands’ wildest spots to observe, touch and be touched by nature.
Young adults and grown-ups can sign up for the program, which delves more in-depth into the island’s biology, natural history, geology and human visitors. This “feet-on” experience involves rolling up your pant legs, donning water shoes and submerging yourself in the wonders of Florida’s wet world.
Information at sanibelseaschool.org or 239-472-8585
“I catched a tiny crab!”
“I caught three jellyfishes!”
“We saw a puffer fish blow up! I always wanted to see a puffer fish! Remember the puffer fish in Finding Nemo? It was like that!”
The kids talk in exclamations as they describe their experiences aboard Adventures in Paradise’s Sealife Encounter Excursion off the shores of Sanibel Island. On the tours, guests learn about small beach creatures and larger sea mammals.
This Southwest Florida nature tour includes Picnic Island, an uninhabited Gulf Coast spit of sand. There, guests are armed with personal nets attached to handles. On the trip, marine biologists show how to drag the nets to capture living creatures.
After the catch, everyone climbs back aboard the boat the Sun Princess. Guides divide the day’s catch into small containers, which get passed around with “fun facts” about each creature before returning them to the sea.
A tidbit: Spider crabs secrete glue, which they use to fasten seaweed to the top of their shells as camouflage.
Information online at adventuresinparadise.com.
Thinking about a Florida beach wedding or renewal of vows?
Your first step should be to check in with the clerk of court in the county of the beach destination you hope to visit. There, you can find out who can perform ceremonies. The process is easy: Floridians need to take a marriage course or wait three days, but visitors do not. Click here for a list of clerks of court as well as requirements.
Across the state, there are Florida wedding planning companies and chapels; check out our weddings page for ideas. In addition, resorts often can refer couples to someone who can perform ceremonies.
A few ideas: In Northwest Florida, Panama City's Emerald Coast Beach Weddings,850-248-4577. In Clearwater Beach, Weddings On a Whim, 727-581-3446. In Sarasota, Weddings on Water, which bills itself as the nation’s first floating wedding chapel, 941-379-7327.
Visit the Barefoot Mailman of Hillsboro Beach
Every beach has its story. In Hillsboro Beach, just below the Hillsboro Beach Lighthouse, is a statue of the Barefoot Mailman. The statue sits under the Fort Lauderdale-area lighthouse and immortalizes the “barefoot mailmen” who walked the mail down Florida’s beaches from 1885 to 1892. The statue is of Ed Hamilton, who died while crossing Hillsboro Inlet. The Hillsboro Lighthouse Preservation Society gives special tours of the grounds and lighthouse several times a year from nearby Pompano Beach.
Florida State Parks with Beaches
Florida has some of the most popular beaches in the nation, including more than 100 miles of state-owned beachfront. Florida’s system of state parks is the largest in the nation, with 161 parks covering 700,000 acres. Here are the top Florida State Parks with beaches, ranked by the number of visitors in fiscal year 2006, according to the most recent department statistics:
- Honeymoon Island State Park in Dunedin, 975,000 visitors
- St. Andrews State Park in Panama City, 890,000 visitors
- John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo, 860,000 visitors
- Lovers Key State Park, Fort Myers Beach, 850,000 visitors
- Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, Key Biscayne, Miami, 780,000 visitors
Information at FloridaStateParks.org