East Coast Beaches
There are a seemingly endless beaches up and down Florida's east coast. Beaches on this coast are quite varied and many are among the most popular in the state.
- Northeast beaches – The beautiful barrier island of Amelia boasts 13 miles of lovely beaches including beautiful Victorian Fernandina Beach and rugged Fort Clinch State Park. Below Amelia Island, the city of Jacksonville has four family-friendly beach areas. Below that, St. Augustine – a very charming and historic town – also boasts a handful of beaches, including pretty Anastasia State Park, a lovely natural area with lots of dunes, nature trails, and campsites for visitors, especially those who enjoy deep-sea fishing. Finally, Daytona Beach – a destination for racing enthusiasts – is home to 24 miles of beach and a famous boardwalk that's almost always crowded. For a quieter option, try Ponce Inlet at the southern end of town. Yes, you can drive on certain portions of Dayton Beach for a fee, but you'll need to watch out for tides! Note: Many of the northeastern beaches are too cold for swimming during the winter months and are most popular between April and November.
- Southeast beaches – The beaches of South Florida are among the most famous in the state and remain quite popular with visitors and locals. Vero Beach boasts an affluent population and surfers are attracted to the area due to the excellent waves. Fort Pierce and Port Saint Lucie provide pristine beaches in a quiet setting. Below that, Florida's so-called Gold Coast – Boca Raton, Jupiter, Fort Lauderdale, and Palm Beach – offers 60 miles of shoreline. The beaches are lovely and clean, but can get very crowded and raucous in a hurry during Spring Break time. Finally, southernmost Miami is home to a ton of beaches of different shapes and sizes. The most well-known is probably glitzy, trendy South Beach, the place to see and be seen. As a matter of fact, that's the case with many Miami area beaches. For something more low-key, head to nearby Key Biscayne and the Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park and enjoy a dose of nature. In addition, these beaches are popular with surfers. Haulover Beach is the best for traditional surfing and windsurfing is king at Hobie Beach.
If you prefer less crowded beaches than what you might find on Florida's peninsula, the Panhandle is the place for you. Certainly, some of the beaches here are fairly crowded and continue to grow in popularity, but overall – with the possible exception of Panama City – you'll find that these beaches are much more peaceful than many others on the east and west coasts. Many of these towns are favorites with Canadian snowbirds as well as visitors from the Midwest, since driving distance is less from the centrally-located states.
- Destin and Ft. Walton Beach area – These two beaches make up what tourism officials are touting "The Emerald Coast." It's not unusual to find smaller sea cottages here rather than large opulent homes. Visitors especially love "Seaside", a Victorian-style community that's actually only about 25 years old but looks quaint and old fashioned. Also check out lovely Grayton Beach State Park, popular with those who enjoy a natural setting.
- Pensacola – As far as beaches go, this is one of the Panhandle's prime vacation locations. A small beach situated on narrow Santa Rosa Island, Pensacola Beach has a vibrant "downtown" area with lots of shops, restaurants, and nightclubs. Or if you prefer quiet, visit Gulf Islands National Seashore for a chance to enjoy just a portion of the 150 miles of protected seashore that makes up Gulf Islands NS, complete with white sands and hundreds of species of birds.
- Panama City – An area that many view as up-and-coming, some are calling Panama City the "new Miami". The beaches are lovely, there's a variety of accommodations, and it has been dubbed one of the best diving locations in the U.S. But it does get rather loud during Spring Break!
West Coast Beaches
The west coast of Florida is extremely popular with retirees, but Tampa one of the fastest growing cities in the state - is also home to a younger population that frequents the beach on weekends. The waters of the Gulf of Mexico are warm and welcoming and many of the west coast beaches boast powdery white sand that's soft to the touch and never gets hot.
- Tampa Bay area – The beaches that stretch from Clearwater down to Sarasota are some of the best in the state, a number of them receiving top awards from well-known travel publications and The Travel Channel. Along this stretch of the Gulf of Mexico, you'll find pretty Clearwater Beach; elegant St. Pete Beach; the beaches of 3.5-mile-long Treasure Island such as Madeira Beach, Redington Shores, and Indian Shores; the award-winning natural beaches of Fort De Soto and Caladesi Island State Park; and the white beaches of the Sarasota region, including Longboat Key, Siesta Key, Lido Key.
- Southwest Florida – The bottom half of the Gulf Coast boasts a number of excellent beaches as well. Sanibel and the Captiva Islands are calm and pristine, sans the trappings of many beach towns. Trees are abundant, shops and restaurants are less so, and half of Sanibel is a protected nature preserve. Further south, Fort Myers Beach sits on Estero Island and is less expensive that its neighbors to the north. The island is a mix of bustling and peaceful; head to the south end for a quiet vacation. Even further south is Naples, a popular retirement enclave. A swanky, upscale area with plenty of large homes, Naples offers quiet beaches amidst an old-fashioned setting. Marco Island, south of Naples, is also full of quiet retirees, mostly from the Northeast. Many beaches on Marco are private but guests not staying there can check out family-friendly Tigertail Public Beach.
There aren't a lot of really impressive beaches in The Keys, mostly because of wear and tear from hurricanes and other natural forces. However, visitors to the region can check out the beaches in Key West, the southernmost island; those of Bahia Honda State Park in Big Pine Key; and Sombrero Beach on Marathon Key.