aerial of beach

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    Beaches 101

    By VISIT FLORIDA staff

    From sunbathing to beachfront camping, here's an introduction to some of Florida's best beaches.

    Awash with colorful creatures, warm water and sunshine, the beach is undeniably Florida's siren song. It's the reason many Floridians live here and, of course, the perfect place for you to get to know the Sunshine State. Once you're here, you'll discover all that's fun and fascinating beyond that captivating first impression.

    Florida's beaches are as diverse as they are beautiful. From the jewel-green waters of northwest Florida to the coral-dotted lagoons of the Keys, our shoreline offers visitors soft sands, sparkling waters and sun-kissed skies. It's no wonder that Florida's beaches are consistently rated among the best in the country, capturing votes from Southern Living Magazine, Condé Nast Traveler and The Travel Channel along with famous "Dr. Beach" and the Clean Beaches Council.


    In the great Florida Northwest, the water is compared to emeralds and the sand is as snow-white as sand can get, and so clean it even squeaks! The sun shines bright, too, even though these beaches can get cool in winter and are most popular in spring and summer. This awesome stretch begins in the west at Perdido Key and Pensacola Beach, extending along the Gulf of Mexico to Navarre Beach/Destin/Fort Walton Beach, South Walton, Panama City Beach, Cape San Blas and St. George Island.

    In north central Florida, coastline at the aptly named Big Bend is characterized by marsh, with a few secluded beach areas frequented mostly by locals. Scenic spots include Lighthouse Point, Alligator Point, Shell Point and Keaton Beach (famous for scalloping). A bit further south, a few pristine beaches, accessible only by boat, are found within the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge.

    Into Northeast territory, St. Augustine's Anastasia Island typifies the splashy surf and wide, firm beaches of the upper Atlantic, loved by sailboarders and surfers. Around Amelia Island, rolling dunes and sugar-white sand define the sometimes wild, sometimes family-friendly shoreline. Flagler Beach is a lovely, quiet, family beach spot.

    Once you reach the central east coast, you'll find a surfer (or two) on every wave around Sebastian Inlet and Cocoa Beach. To the north, Canaveral National Seashore protects pristine beachfront for miles. Seclusion-lovers and sea turtles are the greatest fans of these dune-covered sands. New Smyrna Beach is quaint and old fashioned, while the hard-packed sands of famous Daytona Beach are full of fun and activity, welcoming you and your car.

    Florida's string of Gulf Coast barrier islands begins in central west Florida, an area known for its happy-go-lucky attitude, wide and fluffy sands, watersports fun and calm waters. Clearwater Beach and St. Pete Beach draw a youthful crowd looking for active beaches, fun and excitement. Seekers of relaxation and tranquility go to Dunedin's state-protected Honeymoon Island and Caladesi Island for a serene visit with nature.

    The string of island gems continues along the Southwest coast, where the bleached blonde sands shimmer, beckoning couples and families with their quiet demeanor and natural beauty. Shell collectors and sandcastle builders find these beaches heavenly, from lovely Anna Maria Island, down through powder-soft Siesta Key to golden Venice Beach, energetic Fort Myers Beach, and the idyllic sands of Sanibel Island, Naples and Marco Island.

    Southeast Florida is home to the lagoon-like beaches of the Keys and the see-and-be-seen city beaches of Miami and Fort Lauderdale. Coral-reefed water glitters clear as diamonds and waves attract boogie boarders. As you move up the coast, the Atlantic Ocean swells and dunes sequester beach from metropolis, particularly north of Palm Beach.


    You spend your days at the beach - why not your nights, too? Ask the sandman to bring you a dream at any one of the following beachfront camping facilities.

    With its rolling dunes covered in sea oats, Grayton Beach State Park in South Walton is undoubtedly one of the state's last great, unspoiled beaches. The park has 30 furnished two-bedroom cabins, as well as a 59-site campground, complete with water and electrical hookups and a centrally located restroom facility. The cabins and campsites are all within easy walking distance of the beach.

    In Navarre, the newly renovated, waterfront Emerald Beach RV Park has 76 paved sites on beautiful Santa Rosa Sound. Each site has full hook-ups and even free cable, for the few moments not spent strolling the powder-white sand or splashing in the waves.

    Destin's Camp Gulf RV Park allows visitors a direct view of the emerald-green Gulf of Mexico. The campground has more than 200 sites on the water, as well as nearby cycling trails and a family-friendly playground.

    On the opposite coast, North Beach Camp Resort in St. Augustine is located in a wooded setting on a pristine barrier island between the Atlantic Ocean and North River. More than 100 sites with full hookups; tenters welcome.

    Cayo Costa State Park on Florida's southwest coast is accessible by private boat or public ferry. With both Gulf-front campsites and cabins on the bay, Cayo Costa is a favorite retreat for fishermen and shell collectors. But be aware that campers should only take what they can carry. There is no phone service to the island, but you can call the ranger station in Boca Grande. If you're not into "roughing it," Red Coconut RV Park, LLP has sites right on Fort Myers Beach.

    The Florida Keys has its own share of beachfront camping. Sugarloaf Key/Key West Resort KOA on Sugarloaf Key is the southernmost KOA with a private sand beach you can snorkel and fish from, along with a waterfront pub and grill (this is the Keys, after all).