Sunshine State beaches along the Gulf of Mexico feature peaceful waters, white quartz sands, and off-the-beaten path destinations for lovers of natural landscapes.

While each of the hundreds of beaches around the state carries its own beauty and intrigue, there’s just something special about those along the Gulf of Mexico.

Aside from the stunningly gorgeous sunsets, the best Gulf Coast beaches are said to have the softest sand, the clearest waters, the most fun nature trails and the best fishing.

Plus, Gulf Coast beaches have some of the most comfortable year-round water temperatures. The average water temperature in the summer months will range from about 82 degrees in Destin in June to almost 87 degrees in Tampa in August.

From the crook of Northwest Florida to the Dry Tortugas, the calm west coast seas attract everyone from sunbathers to shell hunters to spring breakers to scuba divers and everything in between. Even manatees and other finicky forms of sea life are drawn to Gulf Coast beaches and their warm, silky waters and quiet shorelines.

North Florida’s Fort Walton Beach often gets overlooked for the more well-known Gulf Coast beaches further south, but its pristine sands, emerald waters and nearby golf courses and family-friendly attractions are a favorite for regular visitors in the know. Pensacola’s Gulf Islands National Seashore is an understated treasure, beloved by those looking to get away from the crowds and see some fascinating historic forts and preserved wetlands. Navarre, a compact beach community just east of Pensacola, beckons with 12 miles of pristine white shoreline, where visitors compare crossing Navarre Bridge to transcending paradise time and time again. A lively scene can be found on Clearwater Beach, popular for its vast stretches of powdery sand, tons of nearby shops and restaurants, nice hotels and a nearby aquarium, pier and downtown hub.

Couples love Anna Maria Island, a sweet beach cottage town that’s ideal for a B&B weekend and a beachfront candlelight dinner.

Sarasota County is home to beaches that include award-winning Siesta Key, renowned for its soft white sands, Venice Beach, perfect for finding sharks’ teeth, and Manasota Key, where you can escape to find some quiet time.

The 1,600-acre Lovers Key State Park in Fort Myers Beach, a cluster of four barrier islands, is an outdoor lover’s paradise with miles of trails filled with wildlife, kayak and paddleboard rentals and plenty of spots to picnic, swim and fish in peace.

The secret is out on Barefoot Beach in Bonita Springs near Naples, often ranked among the nation’s best beaches, yet somehow it remains largely unspoiled, great for seashell hunting, birdwatching and taking long walks along the shallow, warm waters. And sitting on the edge of the Everglades, Marco Island has an Old Florida feel with its colorful, pretty resorts, laid back vibe and palm tree-dotted coastline.

While the east coast of Florida has bigger ocean waves, cool attractions and mesmerizing sunrises, the west sits on a unique and rich body of water that lends itself to a variety of interests and activities all along the coast. The best Gulf Coast beaches are the ones that suit your particular idea of paradise. It’s there, waiting for you to explore it.

Video tour of Southwest Florida beaches