Out in the Sun: Florida’s Top 10 Gay Beaches

    By Jodi Mailander Farrell

    From gay Florida party destinations such as Miami, Key West and Fort Lauderdale to mellow, secluded spots in St. Pete Beach and Sarasota, here are some of best gay beaches in Florida.

    1. South Beach’s 12th Street Beach, Miami Beach

    Just look for the rainbow flags flying amid the rental chairs and lifeguard stations. The most popular gay beach in Miami is mostly a hangout for men, but you’ll also find lesbians and straights soaking up the sun with locals. It’s across the street from the Palace Restaurant & Bar, a gay hangout that has been welcoming sunbathers for the past 25 years. It's located at 12th Street and Ocean Drive.

    Best time to visit: In March, when the Winter Party, the biggest gay beach party in North America, takes place.
    Info: Miami Beach LGBTQ Visitor Center

    2. Smathers Beach, Key West

    At 2½ miles long, Smathers is big compared to other beaches on this tiny island of Key West, one of the nation’s top destinations for gay travelers. The beach’s shallow waters are only a short distance from the bars, restaurants and shops of Duval Street. Along South Roosevelt Boulevard.

    Best times to visit: In March for the Winter Party Festival; September for Womenfest; October for Bear Fest or June for Key West Pride.
    Info: Gay Key West Visitor Center

    3. Sebastian Street Beach, Fort Lauderdale

    The most popular gay beach in Fort Lauderdale is across the street from the Ritz-Carlton and within blocks of some of the city’s gay resorts and guesthouses. Fort Lauderdale is home to the Stonewall National Museum & Archives, which houses the largest circulating LGBTQ book and film program in the U.S. At Sebastian Street and North Fort Lauderdale Beach Drive (A1A).

    Best times to visit: In March for PrideFest Week; in October, when the OUTShine Film Festival takes place; in June for Stonewall Summer Pride.
    Info: Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau

    4. St. Petersburg’s Sunset Beach

    One of the west coast’s premiere gay beaches, bohemian Sunset Beach is on the southern tip of St. Pete’s Treasure Island, among the string of barrier islands that extends along the Gulf of Mexico to the west of St. Petersburg. 9000 W. Gulf Blvd., Treasure Island.

    Best times to visit: In October for the  Tampa Bay International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, or June for St. Pete Pride.
    Info: Tampa Bay International Gay and Lesbian Films Festival, St. Pete Pride.

    5. Pass-a-Grille Beach, St. Pete Beach

    On the southern end of St. Pete Beach, south of the historic Don Cesar Hotel, Pass-a-Grille stretches for about 22 blocks. Quiet and narrow – it’s only one-block wide – the island is charming, with white sand and pink shells. Along Gulf Way, from 22nd Avenue to the end of the island.

    Best times to visit: In October for the Tampa Bay International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival,; in June for St. Pete Pride.
    Info: Tampa Bay International Gay and Lesbian Films Festival, St. Pete Pride.

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    There’s a sense of freedom to the beaches, the warm weather and the tropical landscape of Florida, a draw for people of all orientations, but especially appealing to a LGBT community looking for a sense of belonging and acceptance.

    - Courtesy of Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau

    gay beach Florida Keys

    Smathers Beach in Key West, one of the nation’s top destinations for gay travelers.

    - Courtesy of The Monroe County Tourist Development Council

    6. Fort De Soto Park, Tierra Verde

    At the southern tip of Pinellas County near St. Pete Beach, the breathtaking, rustic North Beach area of this county park has a northern expanse near the end of the island where gays and lesbians congregate. Stick to sunbathing with a suit on! North Beach claimed the No. 1 spot on Dr. Beach’s “America’s Best Beaches” in 2005. 3500 Pinellas Bayway.

    Best time to visit: In June for St. Pete Pride.

    7. North Lido Beach, Sarasota

    The quiet northern reaches of this white sand key is popular with gay sunbathers in Sarasota. It’s secluded – think dunes and sea oats – and 22-acre north Lido Park looms like a forest above. 400 Ben Franklin Dr., within a 10-minute walk of St. Armand’s Circle, with its posh shops and restaurants.

    Best time to visit: In October for Sarasota Pride.

    8. Guana Tolomato Reserve, Ponte Vedra Beach

    With more than 73,000 acres, this aquatic preserve – officially known as the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve – is between Jacksonville and St. Augustine. Ponte Vedra Beach includes Old Florida beaches, sand dunes, salt marches, tidal wetland and estuarine lagoons. There’s an unofficial gay meet-up at Guana’s first beach access point, reached by a boardwalk that winds down a 40-foot-tall dune system to a pristine stretch of secluded sand. Along A1A.

    Best time to visit: In October for River City Pride in Jacksonville.
     

    9. Pensacola Beach

    Pensacola Beach city near the Alabama border may not seem like the most gay-friendly spot, but it’s been a beach getaway for LGBTQ folks from the South for a long time, particularly for Gay Memorial Day Weekend, which started informally in the 1980s and has grown into a huge gathering, drawing thousands to late-night circuit parties with well-known professional DJs and informal tent parties on the beach. The friendliest beach is on County Road 399, two miles past the Gulf Islands National Seashore sign.

    Best time to visit: May for the Pensacola Gay Memorial Day Weekend.

    10. Haulover Park Beach, Sunny Isles

    If you really want to sun your buns, this nude beach in northern Miami-Dade County is your choice. About 20 minutes north of South Beach, Haulover Park Beach is one of the best-known clothing-optional beaches in Florida and it’s gay-friendly. Only the north part of the 1½-mile pristine, white stretch of sand at this gay beach in the Miami area is delegated for urban nude sunbathers. LGBTQ beachgoers tend to set up just north of the lifeguard tower. 10800 Collins Ave.

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