SD › Best Beaches in Florida
Updated: July 21, 2021
Florida Beaches – Where to Go
With 825 miles of beaches (and well over 8,000 miles of coastline), Florida boasts some of the most beautiful stretches of sand in the world. We’ve narrowed it down to our top 30, everything from hip city beaches likes those in Miami and Tampa Bay to lesser-known, wilder strands like the beaches on St George Island. We’ve also included some surf beaches, but the best breaks – at Sebastian Inlet State Park and Cocoa Beach, home of Ron Jon Surf Shop and Kelly Slater – didn’t quite make the cut, nor did the generally smaller beaches in the Florida Keys.
• When to Visit Florida beaches: The beaches in Florida are a year-round destination. Having said that, there’s quite a lot of differences between north and south as well as the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico sides of the state. Miami and the Keys can be pleasantly warm in the winter, while the beaches of North Florida are far cooler at this time. Hurricane season lasts from July through November, and in the summer, beaches (especially in the south), can be uncomfortably hot and very humid. Sandflies and mosquitoes can also be a problem in the summer. For most of the state, peak season tends to be in the winter: late November to April, with another surge in mid-summer for the northern beaches. The water tends to be calmer (and warmer) on the Gulf side.
• The best “off-the-beaten path” beaches in Florida are Johnson Beach National Seashore, Caladesi Island State Park, Dry Tortugas (Garden Key), and St. Joseph Peninsula State Park. The best city beaches are South Beach (Miami Beach), Panama City Beach, Clearwater Beach, and Fort Lauderdale Beach.
• The best beaches for families are the South Walton beaches, Siesta Key, Panama City Beach, and Hollywood Beach. The best beaches for partying are South Beach, Clearwater Beach, Fort Lauderdale Beach, Jacksonville Beach and Daytona Beach.
• The best beaches for surfing are the Jacksonville Beaches.
• The best beach hotel in Florida: The Don CeSar (St. Pete)
The 30 Best Beaches in Florida
One of our all-time favorite beaches is on Perdido Key, in the far western corner of Florida’s Panhandle – the island is shared with Alabama. The Johnson Beach National Seashore encompasses the eastern part of the island, a stunning strand of bone-white beach that goes on for miles. Protected as part of Gulf Islands National Seashore, there are restrooms, outdoor showers, and picnic pavilions but little else here, and no shade. Lifeguards are typically on duty from Memorial Day through Labor Day, and it’s an excellent place to swim.
Another Gulf coast favorite, the chalky-white beach at Caladesi Island State Park is another blissfully wild strand, only accessible by boat (the 15-minute ferry departs Dunedin’s Honeymoon Island State Park, which also has fabulous beaches). The whole barrier island remains undeveloped, much of it smothered in mangrove, old-growth slash pines, and live oaks. The soft white sands of the 3-mile Caladesi beach are rarely crowded, though there are restrooms, picnic tables, and snacks at Café Caladesi, which rents beach chairs and umbrellas.
We had to include Miami’s most famous beach near the top of our list – for many visitors, South Beach is Miami. The legendary stretch of sand runs from the southern tip of Miami Beach – a chain of man-made barrier islands connected to Miami proper via causeways – to 23rd Street. It’s best known for its lively nightlife and waterside promenade (Ocean Drive), culinary scene, the biggest cache of Art Deco architecture in the world, and the white-sand beach itself, one of Florida’s best, dotted with its iconic, candy-colored lifeguard towers.
4. Delray Beach
Our favorite smalltown beach community on Florida’s Atlantic coast, Delray Beach (20 miles south of West Palm Beach) is often skipped by visitors, despite its gorgeous one-and-one-half miles of golden sand. Shoreline Atlantic Avenue is lined with bars, restaurants, and stores. Though it does see a steady stream of local day-trippers, the beach rarely feels crowded, and lifeguards are on duty mid-March to early November. Most municipal beach entrances feature showers, bicycle and towel racks, and drinking fountains with bottle fillers.
Much of Northwest Florida’s famed Emerald Coast is contained within Walton County, with the pristine white-sand beaches of South Walton lining the coast in a continuous strip some 26 miles long. It’s a safe and popular destination for families, with less crowds than the neighboring resorts of Panama City Beach and Destin. Highlights include Santa Rosa Beach, with its upscale dining and Gulf Place artist colony, and nearby Topsail Hill Preserve State Park, a completely undeveloped stretch of 25-foot high dunes and coastal lakes. We also love Blue Mountain Beach (named after the local blue lupine flowers), which has the added attraction of Big Redfish Lake, the ice cream at Blue Mountain Creamery, and Blue Mabel Smokehouse barbecue restaurant. Finally, Grayton Beach State Park is another unspoiled strand backed by a coastal forest of scrub oaks and magnolias.
The enticing sugary sands of Pensacola Beach lie some 5 miles from Downtown Pensacola, on Santa Rosa Island (connected to the mainland by a couple of bridges). The central built-up area near the 1,471ft-long Pensacola Beach Gulf Pier features 2 beaches; the wide, Gulf-facing Casino Beach and the calmer, narrower bay-side strip along the Pensacola Beach Boardwalk. On the Gulf side, undeveloped stretches line the coast for miles either side of the pier – Santa Rosa Island is 40 miles long. Because it is composed of tiny quartz granules, the sand always stays cool in spite of the sun, and the emerald-hued water tends to be warm and shallow – perfect for swimming. Some 20 miles east lies Navarre Beach, a less developed beach community with its own brilliant white shoreline.
Some 70 miles west of Key West, Dry Tortugas National Park comprises 7 small islets which are only accessible by high-speed catamaran or seaplane. It’s the state’s most exotic location and it’s main feature is the giant red-brick Fort Jefferson looming out of the ocean like a fantasy castle. The fort stands on Garden Key, surrounded by small but pristine beaches and crystalline waters rich in marine life. It is best known for exceptional snorkeling and the flocks of nesting Sooty Terns and Brown Noddys on neighboring Bush Key.
One of the country’s best beaches lies in St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, another Gulf coast favorite (though the park suffered significant damage from Hurricane Michael in October 2018). Because there’s little development here, the 20 miles of pristine, white sand beaches and dunes are often empty, with stretches encompassing the whole peninsula – beyond the park boundaries and all the way down to the Cape San Blas lighthouse. Sea turtles nest here from May to October.
9. Siesta Key
One of our favorite family-friendly beaches lies on Siesta Key, some 7 miles south of Downtown Sarasota. The main Gulf-facing strands here – Siesta Beach, Crescent Beach, and Turtle Beach – offer calm, clear, and warm water perfect for swimming, as well as that fine, white quartz sand that stays cool in the hot sun. It’s also known for its mesmerizing sunsets. There’s plenty of accommodation near the beach (Siesta Key Village) as well as eating options, restrooms, showers, rental umbrellas and beach chairs, beach volleyball, and picnic tables. Kids love the Siesta Key Drum Circle (with music and dancers) held at sunset every Sunday. Another bonus is the Siesta Key trolley bus which shuttles up and down the island for free (there’s also Johnny’s Original Free Ride and Siesta Key Frog Hop).
Another popular destination for families, Panama City Beach combines a gorgeous, wide, white-sand beach with theme-park like attractions, everything from WonderWorks and Shipwreck Island Waterpark to the Gulf World aquarium and SkyWheel Panama City Beach. The beach strip runs for almost 17 miles, with our absolute favorite being the far southern section. Here, St. Andrews State Park is completely undeveloped, with boats shuttling across to the wild, bone-white beaches of Shell Island.
Tucked away on the northwest shore of Florida, this under-visited gem is one of the most dramatically scenic in the state. A short walk from Hwy-A1A, the beach is littered with ghostly, salt-bleached tree trunks of live oak and cedar trees that have fallen over the years thanks to an eroding shoreline. They cover the sands like vast, spiky sculptures, making for some incredible images (and climbing frames for kids).
12. Hollywood Beach
Hollywood Beach is another laid-back family-friendly beach community, just over 10 miles southeast of Downtown Fort Lauderdale, on the Atlantic coast. Its wide swathe of sand (a designated Blue Wave Clean Beach) is backed by the 2.5-mile-long, pedestrian-only “Broadwalk” and Ocean Drive lined with restaurants, street performers, and stores. The restaurant scene is especially good here, with everything from seafood specialist Billy’s Stone Crab Restaurant to no-frills burger joint Le Tub.
This is another hidden gem, set just off the Panhandle coast but connected to the mainland by 4-mile long St. George Island Bridge. The island is 28 miles long, but mostly under a mile wide, and blessed with undeveloped white-sand beaches for its entire length. It’s also a nesting site for loggerhead turtles in the summer and features 17 miles of paved bike path. Pristine St George Island State Park covers the eastern end of the island (with the best beaches), while the main settlement lies in the center, just off the bridge, with restaurants, hotels, a convenience store, and a gas station – there are no high-rises, resorts, or chain stores.
The primary anchor of Florida’s Emerald Coast, Destin combines the region’s famously sugary sands with plenty of amenities and family-friendly activities. The water is clean, calm, and warm, perfect for younger kids. Parasailing, paddleboarding, and jet-skiing facilities are easily available, along with water parks and numerous restaurants. The most protected stretch of beach is Henderson Beach State Park, which encompasses 30-foot white sand dunes, plus green and loggerhead turtle nesting sites – dolphins often play offshore.
15. Clearwater Beach
Clearwater Beach, some 25 miles west of Downtown Tampa, is the Tampa Bay region’s most lively seaside community, and another justly popular choice with families. In addition to a wide range of accommodations, there’s volleyball, parasailing, and jet-skiing, as well as the nightly Pier 60 sunset celebration. For all-round entertainment – and a beautiful white-sand beach – it’s hard to beat. Just to the south, Sand Key Park offers a less developed seaside experience, while Clearwater Marine Aquarium is noted especially for its dolphin program (featuring Winter, star of a Dolphin’s Tale).
Around 20 miles south of Fort Myers, Lovers Key State Park boasts a 2.5-mile sugar-sand beach on its Gulf coast, one of the best in the region (free trolley buses shuttle between the parking lot and the southern end of the beach). The park itself encompasses several barrier islands and mangrove forests and is connected to the mainland by Hwy-865. The bayside estuaries attract bottlenose dolphins, West Indian manatees, and over 40 different bird species. Bike and kayak rentals are available.
17. Flagler Beach
One of the most unspoiled beaches on Florida’s east coast, halfway between Daytona and St Augustine, this one gets a fraction of the visitors of its neighbors. The golden sands either side of the Flagler Beach Fishing Pier rarely get busy, even in summer, when it’s possible to swim here. The 6-mile seafront is easy to access, with showers available near the pier. The town itself has heaps of old-school charm, with no high-rises and little in the way of commercial development. Another favorite beach spot lies 11 miles north from the pier – Washington Oaks Gardens State Park encompasses 425-acres between the Atlantic and the Matanzas River. The beach here is gorgeous, but it’s also known for the patches of exposed coquina rock and boulders that create tide pools.
This fascinating county park lies 13 miles southwest of Downtown St Petersburg, encompassing the arrow-head like Mullet Key at the mouth of Tampa Bay. The park features 7 miles of waterfront, including 3 miles of beautiful white-sand beaches (Gulf-facing North Beach is the best), as well as historic Fort de Soto itself. At North Beach, a large sandbar creates a warm lagoon at certain times of year, and there’s lots of marine life (and lots of shells and sand dollars), while East Beach tends to be shallower, more sheltered, and better for little kids. It’s also possible to take ferries to the pristine island reserves of Egmont Key and Shell Key.
Some 15 miles north of central Naples, this beach gets almost as much attention as its bigger neighbor, and for good reason. It remains completely unspoiled, with the sand made up of crushed shells, and the sunsets are spectacular. No surprise it’s great for shell collecting, and there’s plenty of wildlife, including gopher turtles and dolphins.
20. Sanibel Island
Sanibel Island, 20 miles southwest of Fort Myers, is best known for the beach-combing and shelling opportunities along its 15-mile Gulf coast. Connected to the mainland by a causeway, the island (and neighboring Captiva Island), boasts incredible sunsets, an historic lighthouse, and a huge range of accommodations, from luxurious resorts to cheap rentals. Some 250 types of shells have been recorded on the island’s beaches, which are protected from overdevelopment by local ordinance.
This gorgeous hideaway in the Charlotte Harbor Estuary is one of our all-time favorites, though it’s not as accessible as other beaches on this list. Set on an untouched barrier island known for spectacular shelling, it can be reached by boat, kayak, or ferry service (30min–1hr) from Captiva Island. Cayo Costa features 9 miles of undeveloped beach along the Gulf.
One of Southern Florida’s most affluent cities also boasts a beautiful 10-mile strand of white sand, lined with palms and anchored by the 19th-century Naples Municipal Beach & Fishing Pier. Beach amenities include restrooms, showers, concession stands, a beach supplies store, and volleyball nets. The real highlights here are the sunsets, some of the most spectacular in the state. It’s busy on weekends, when parking can be an issue.
23. Juno Beach
Sleepy Juno Beach, 12 miles north of Downtown West Palm Beach, is best known for its long stretch of (usually empty) sand, protected dunes, and family-friendly attractions. Juno Beach Park (which has plenty of free parking) features the 990-foot Juno Beach Pier, a popular spot for strolls, sunrise viewing, and fishing. The pier is managed by the nearby Loggerhead Marinelife Center, a sea turtle conservation center and sea life hospital open to the public.
24. St. Pete Beach
About 9 miles west of Downtown St. Petersburg, St. Pete Beach boasts a fabulous stretch of white sand on the Gulf coast, plus a blend of mom-and-pop businesses with more upscale resorts; the all-pink The Don CeSar is one of the most iconic hotels in the region. Corey Avenue is at the heart of the neighborhood, lined with indie stores, galleries, and seafood restaurants. There’s not much in the way of sights – the beach and the laid-back small town atmosphere is the main allure here. The far southern end of St. Pete Beach is known as Pass-a-Grille Beach, a sleepy, colorful Old Florida neighborhood known for its historic Cracker cottages, dune-lined beachfront, and laid-back restaurant and bar scene.
Las Olas Boulevard ends at Fort Lauderdale Beach Boulevard, which runs north-south along the Atlantic Coast. The main stretch of Fort Lauderdale Beach is 2 miles long, its fine swathe of sand lined with posh resorts, restaurants, bars (the Elbo Room has been open since 1938), paddleboard rentals, T-shirt and swimwear shops, coconut palms, rollerbladers, and cyclists. Around 4 miles north of Fort Lauderdale Beach, Lauderdale-By-The-Sea is smaller and more relaxed than its southern neighbor, with a larger range of cheap guesthouses and motels. It’s also a popular spot for snorkelers and scuba divers, with a reef and several wrecks just offshore (including the SS Copenhagen, a British cargo steamer that sank in 1900).
This Nature Conservancy preserve on tranquil Jupiter Island features a coastal trail that leads to a usually deserted section of beach, backed by low-lying grassy dunes. The stretch near the visitor center edges onto a rocky shelf of exposed limestone – it’s a beautiful place for a stroll, but not so great for swimming. When the surf is up, waves surge through cracks in the rock, creating the blowhole effect that gives the beach its name.
The long stretch of barrier-island beaches than runs between St. Pete Beach and Clearwater encompass an almost unbroken strip of resort communities, linked by Hwy-699. Two of our favorites are Treasure Island and neighboring Madeira Beach, just to the north across John’s Pass. Treasure Island is an old-fashioned seaside community best known for its independent mom-and-pop motels right on the shore – a very wide, fantastic chalk-white beach. The section known as “Sunshine Beach” offers the additional attraction of grassy dunes and beach walkovers. “Mad Beach” is also low-key and relaxed, the beach enhanced by Johns Pass Village and Boardwalk at the southern end, a family-friendly collection of shops and restaurants overlooking the water. From here, fishing charters depart from the “Grouper Capital of the World”.
Though it’s best known for surfing, Jacksonville Beach boasts 22 miles of superb, wide beaches, stretching north and south from Jacksonville Beach Pier (a top surf spot). Other consistent breaks include “The Poles”, named for old pilings on the edge of the nearby naval base, Atlantic Beach, and Neptune Beach. Jacksonville Beach itself, near the pier, is the best place to have fun, eat, drink, and enjoy water sports. The long, wide strips of sand in the north and south are quieter and less developed.
29. Daytona Beach
Daytona Beach is one of our favorite family-friendly beaches, with a huge strand, plenty of accommodations, beach activities, and lots to do inland. There are sections of the beach open to cars (meaning you can drive right up to your own spot), and most local vendors are easy to find right on the shore – everything from snacks and surf lessons to bike, scooter, boogie board, and ATV rentals. The best attractions off the beach include Daytona Lagoon waterpark, Daytona Boardwalk Amusements, the Marine Science Center, Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse & Museum, and Daytona International Speedway.
The other main section of Northeast Florida beaches lies near St. Augustine, primarily on 18-mile long Anastasia Island. Located just 1.5 miles from the historic downtown of St. Augustine, Anastasia State Park boasts the most unspoiled strip, four miles of wide beach backed by sand dunes and a saltwater lagoon. Kayak and wind surf rentals are available. Just to the south lies the community of St. Augustine Beach, anchored by St. Johns County Ocean & Fishing Pier and several restaurants. It’s also possible to drive along the sand here, from A Street south to laid-back Crescent Beach. Half way along this section is Butler Beach, a gorgeous swathe of wide sand that was once reserved for African-Americans during segregation.
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