By Lauren Tjaden
Yearning for a seaside destination with a retro feel? These laid-back Old Florida beach options lack crowds and high-rises and are rich in old-time charm.
1. Anna Maria Island
Forget crowds, high-rises and traffic delays, but remember your sunscreen and your smile when you splash over to Anna Maria Island. Nestled at the southern mouth of Tampa Bay, this laid-back, old time Florida family-friendly destination is home to the tiny towns of Bradenton Beach, Anna Maria and Holmes Beach. The barrier island -- a whopping seven miles long from north to south -- features white-sand beaches, emerald-tinted and clear waters, award-winning restaurants and specialty shops galore. Explore via the free trolley service, or rent a bike, canoe, kayak or boat. Parasail, bird watch, fish, stroll the beach, shell or scuba dive the old sugar barge.
2. Cape San Blas
If you’re longing for a nature-lovers’ paradise that features a secluded, award-winning, white-sand Old Florida beach with clear, emerald-colored water, an abundance of wildlife and delightful dunes, Cape San Blas has your name on it. This affordable getaway is located on St. Joseph Peninsula in Gulf County in northwest Florida, just a few waves southwest of Port St. Joe. I said it’s quiet, not boring! Fish, scallop, horseback ride on the beach, explore pristine St. Joseph Bay via kayak or canoe, and make sure to feast at Provisions, a hidden gem in Port St. Joe that will leave your tummy smiling.
3. Fernandina Beach
Yearning for a stretch of sand to call your own? You can’t do better than Fernandina Beach, a once-bustling seaport nestled on the shores of the Atlantic in Florida’s northeast corner. This quaint, small town – a mere 30-minute drive from Jacksonville International Airport – is famed for its unpretentious old time Florida mood, miles of beautiful, pristine beaches and charming, historic downtown. Area adventures include horseback riding on the beach, surfing, fishing and even skydiving. Adults can enjoy a mug-of-suds at the Palace Saloon, Florida’s oldest continuously operating bar.
4. Jensen Beach
A trip to Jensen Beach should prove fruitful! Snuggled against the shores of the Atlantic in Martin County, the Treasure Coast town was dubbed the “Pineapple Capital of the World” in 1895, shipping more than one million boxes of pineapples during June and July each year. You’ll spot nary a parking meter or a high-rise there, but a boatload of beautiful, wide beaches, charming cottages in Caribbean colors, picket fences, art galleries, quirky locally-owned shops and quaint sidewalk cafes. Outdoor activities such as surfing, sailing, fishing, kayaking, hiking, biking and stand-up paddle-boarding command center stage in this nature-lover’s paradise. Remember to explore the Indian River Lagoon, teeming with dolphins, manatees, and other wildlife.
5. Melbourne Beach
Brevard County's oldest beach community and a quintessential Old Florida beach is Melbourne Beach, located on a barrier island just a splash south of busier Cocoa Beach. When the first European set foot in Florida in 1513 – Ponce de Leon – he landed near this Space Coast gem. Today, it is the largest sea turtle nesting area in the Western Hemisphere. Visitors can take a turtle-walk with the Sea Turtle Preservation Society. It is also a favored getaway for folks who like nature, water sports and outdoor recreation of all kinds, as well as a relaxed atmosphere and an abundance of affordable accommodations, shops and restaurants. Make sure to surf over to nearby Indialantic for more down-home flavor – and don’t miss a visit to historic downtown Melbourne.