Florida is known for sunshine, oranges and miles of pure white sand beaches beckoning travelers from around the world. From the east coast to the west coast, and the panhandle to the Keys, the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the deep blue waters of the Atlantic promise endless hours of fun, exploration and discovery.
Many of Florida’s beaches continually make the “best of” lists and this year is no different with an impressive list making the Dr. Beach Top 10 Beaches, The Travel Channel’s Top Beach List and TripAdvisor’s Top 25 Beaches based on actual user reviews.
Here’s a small sampling of the winning shorelines.
15) Barefoot Beach Preserve County Park
Located in the southwest portion of the state in Bonita Springs, the beach is another example of why Florida beaches continue to make the list.
The sugar white sand that crunches beneath your feet is filled with interesting shells for collecting. The 342-acre beach park is one of the last barrier islands that remain undeveloped.
Enjoy the best of both worlds with the park’s natural surroundings providing warm waters for swimming and fishing, and the inland area with mangroves and creeks. The park is home to a variety of tropical trees and nesting areas for turtles including the gopher tortoise and Loggerhead sea turtle.
Park Rangers offer guided tours discussing the many facets of the habitat and wildlife in the preserve. Restroom and shower facilities are available along with concession stands, picnic area, and 356 parking spaces. Naples is less than 30 minutes away where you’ll find the sandy shores of Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, #10 on the Dr. Beach top beach list.
14) St George Island State Park
Listed as #3 on the top 10 beach list, St George Island State Park is for the adventurer at heart.
Situated on a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico, it’s like being on your own personal oasis with all the amenities.
Miles of open beach with nothing but sun, sea, and blue skies to keep you company. St. George offers a little something for everyone from fishing and kayaking to sunbathing and hiking.
The park offers ample opportunities for bird watching enthusiasts and campers have their choice of full facility campsites. Primitive camping is accessible only by canoe or traversing a 2.5-mile scenic trail. During the summer, swimming, fishing, and snorkeling provides plenty of water sports while landlubbers will be intrigued by the variety of shells for collecting.
In October, St. George is the setting for the annual Oyster Festival and 5k run. All in all, this stunning secluded beach in the panhandle is an example of what it is that draws visitors for a true Florida beach experience.
13) Cape Florida State Park
Another Dr. Beach favorite for 2014 and ranked #7 is Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park located on the east coast at the southern tip of Key Biscayne.
It isn’t the first time the beach has made the list and it probably won’t be the last.
Stretched along one mile of Atlantic shoreline, the area was once a prime destination for Black Caesar, a notorious pirate who terrorized unknowing boaters back in the day.
Today, sunbathers bask on the warm sand while fishermen cast a line from the Biscayne Bay seawall.
Picnics are part of a day’s activities at one of the pavilions or walk to Boater’s Grill or the Lighthouse Café for a tasty snack or full meal. Pack a backpack and rent a bicycle to tool around the area. Beach chairs and umbrellas are also available to create a refreshing respite on the soft sand.
A major point of interest at the park is the historic 1825 Cape Florida Lighthouse. Take a guided tour to the top and peer out over the ocean where once upon a time marauding pirates laid claim to the ocean.
12) Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park
Listed as #10 on the Dr. Beach list, Delnor-Wiggins encompasses the Florida atmosphere completely.
The park is alive with activity along the beachfront where shorebirds congregate making tiny tracks in the wet sand.
Peaceful, serene, and not overly crowded, sunbathers can savor the sun’s rays while snorkelers and scuba divers explore the underwater reefs.
Hiking through the park along the one mile trail supplies a look at some of Florida’s natural landscapes while bird watchers catch a glimpse of exciting species such as owls, eagles and ospreys.
Park rangers give tours during turtle season and fishing is allowed in designated areas in the northern portion of the park. A boat launch is available for those seeking to explore the waters at Turkey Bay, for fishing offshore, or for leisurely discovering the mysteries of the park’s natural estuaries.
There’s never a dull moment at Delnor-Wiggins with canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards available for rent to add to your vacation adventure. Pack your favorite food and beverages and enjoy a picnic overlooking the water or visit the concession or restaurant. Delnor-Wiggins is an all-inclusive beach destination.
11) Pensacola Beach
TripAdvisor’s 25 Top Beaches for 2014 included this east coast beauty among its most highly rated beaches by reviewers.
Located on the barrier island of Santa Rosa, it is one of the longest island strips in the world.
Like all of the beaches in Florida, you can expect soft white sand crunching beneath your feet.
The natural landscape provides sanctuary to many bird species and nearby Gulf Island National Seashore is an excellent place for viewing wildlife along the protected seashore on foot or by bike.
Snorkeling and kayaking are favorite pastimes at the national seashore and additional activities in the emerald green waters include surfing, snorkeling, diving, paddle boarding and parasailing.
You can also take a tour of historic Fort Pickens built in 1829, fish from the Pensacola Beach Pier – the longest of its kind in the Gulf – and perusing the Portofino Boardwalk lined with an assortment of dining options, open-air bars, and specialty shops. During the summer, free music concerts blend with the sounds of Atlantic breezes adding to the tropical atmosphere.
10) Navarre Beach
Also on TripAdvisor’s Top Beaches list is Navarre Beach. It, too, is located on Santa Rosa Island.
This sparkling gem evokes the true spirit of old Florida. At Navarre, you won’t find every square inch of the beach packed with people.
There are no theme parks nearby or boardwalks with games and shopping.
What you will find is peace and tranquility where the only sounds of significance are the gulls cawing, waves splashing against the sand, and the breeze rustling through the sea oats on the dunes.
The 8-mile expanse of undeveloped coast is only one of ten National Seashores and the pier is the longest in the northwest region. The small family-friendly community is a paradise away from the hustle and bustle of crowded city life. Fishing is a favorite pastime from the pier while nature lovers enjoy the numerous birds that make the area home.
If you’re looking for something to do that’s off the beaten track, visit the Museum of Naval Aviation to watch, and meet, the famous Blue Angels team that practice their aerial stunts March through October.
9) St. Augustine Beach
Situated on Anastasia Island, the sugar white sand dunes topped with sea grass swaying in the breeze line the scenic Atlantic Ocean shoreline.
This sun-drenched location is a playground for swimming and fishing where the emerald waters blend with clear blue skies on the horizon.
St. Johns Pier, a fishing pier, restaurants, bait shops, and camping facilities are all located nearby.
Explore the area with charter boat and private fishing, a leisurely catamaran excursion, or sail into the wild blue yonder for the ultimate in relaxation, sunshine and gentle breezes.
Nearby, Anastasia State Park & Recreation Center has an impressive 1700 acres of rich landscape and is home to a protected bird sanctuary. The park contains five miles of beach, nature trails, boat ramp, hiking, and swimming. As an added bonus, lifeguards are on duty keeping an eye on the area. Include a day of history to your beach adventure with a visit to Castillo de San Marcos.
The fort was built from 1672-1756 by the Spanish. For inquiring minds that want to know, St Augustine was founded in 1565. It is the oldest city in the United States.
8) Panama City Beach
When visiting the Panhandle, be prepared for 1 ½ miles of beachfront at St. Andrews State Recreation Area.
A recipient of the “Number One Beach in America” title, you’ll dig your toes into the polished quartz crystals while exploring natural sand dunes and crystal clear water.
Stay busy from morning until night with activities including snorkeling, scuba diving, canoeing, kayaking, and fishing from two piers. Hike nature trails, go bird watching, or have a picnic at the pavilion.
Panama City Beach has a long history as a stopover for pirates who buried their ill-gotten treasure on Shell Island. Take a tour of the island and see if you can find any hidden pirate booty. The downtown area is a thriving art district with ample opportunities for dining, shopping, or savoring a tropical beverage while the sun sets.
Add to your itinerary dolphin tours, sunset cruises, and night fishing. Scheduled events are also on the agenda like the 1st Annual Panama City Beach Beer Festival in June, the 4th of July fireworks event, The Great American Blues Festival in August, and Chasin’ the Sun Music Festival and Schooner’s 25th Annual Lobster Festival and Tournament in September.
7) Siesta Key Beach
Near Sarasota and snugly situated on Florida’s Sun Coast, this top 10 beach from 2011 is the ideal destination for anyone that enjoys a traditional beach environment with all the amenities.
To start, Siesta Key Beach has the signature quartz crystal sand Florida is known for that reaches to the shoreline like a soft-gloved hand.
The beach is busy with sunbathers and volleyball players while the crystal clear water at the shoreline gradually slopes into the deep turquoise regions of the Gulf where you can swim, float, or sail away the day.
Siesta Key is pristine in its cleanliness and is environmentally friendly with no smoking allowed. Everything you need is onsite including restroom facilities and showers. Picnic tables and grills are available in shady areas and snack bars provide a variety of food and beverages.
Siesta Key is the gateway to the Gulf’s sparkling waters and features a choice in accommodations from hotels and beach clubs to luxury resorts and vacation rentals along with annual events like the Siesta Beach Amateur Sand Sculpture Contest and Dig the Beach Volleyball Open.
6) Sanibel Island
The Sun Coast shines once again with one of the top destination locations chosen by The Travel Channel that features endless blue skies, white sand, and turquoise water that goes on and on creating a tropical paradise for beachcombers.
The island smacks of Florida tradition with endless stretches of beach for shell collecting, spectacular sunsets, fresh seafood when dining, and the never-ending aroma of suntan lotion.
Brightly colored umbrellas dot the white sand where sunbathers take a break from the sun and kids play happily building the next great “sand scraper.”
On the island, charter boats are for hire for fishing excursions or dolphin sightings, or go on your own with a rental canoe or kayak for exploring the inner recesses of the island. Nearby, 6000-acre J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge and the Point Ybel Lighthouse offer additional attractions for tours, hiking, and wildlife observation.
Shopping, restaurants, bars, and cafes are abundant and conveniently sprinkled throughout Sanibel Island. For a day away from the beach, there’s golf, tennis, or bike riding along miles of scenic paths. Accommodations cover the spectrum from cottages and small inns to resorts and pet friendly hotels.
5) Lido Beach
Another Sarasota favorite and little sister to Siesta Key Beach, Lido brings the tropical atmosphere in a much smaller way.
Not as large as Siesta key, you’ll find less crowding allowing more room to experience the inviting waters of the Gulf.
Use the afternoon to collect an assortment of colorful shells and delicate sand dollars then walk along the beach at sunset for a picture any artist would love to recreate.
The beach itself has a relaxed and quiet vibe where waves gently make their way to shore while birds bob along enjoying the ride.
The public beach provides a concession stand for light snacks, restrooms, playground for young children and cabana rentals. Just a few blocks from the beach is upscale St. Armand’s Circle where shopping in specialty stores and boutiques is the thing to do.
There are numerous restaurants, bistros, and cafes for satisfying hunger pangs and any type of cocktail you desire to quench your thirst. Accommodations range from inexpensive hotels and private condos to home rentals and 5-star luxury resorts available for singles, couples or family vacations.
4) St. Petersburg Beach
St. Petersburg Beach, aka St. Pete Beach, has a long history as not only one of the most pristine beaches with miles of shoreline, but also as a destination for spring break on the west coast.
St. Pete is lined with hotels, motels, condos, rental homes, restaurants, shopping, and more. It is the beach of all beaches for everything Florida has to offer all in one easy to access location.
After a day of sunning and swimming, take a break and plan a trip to downtown for a look at the interesting artwork at The Salvador Dali Museum. Stroll through the extraordinary 4-acre Sunken Gardens or walk along the historic downtown streets.
Rent a Segway and see the sights on land, or rent a boat and sample the waters of the Gulf. For more beach experiences, just a short drive from St. Pete Beach is Fort DeSoto Park, the 2005 recipient of the #1 beach rating.
With its more than 1100 acres that includes 7 miles of scenic beach, mangroves, camping and picnic areas, fishing, over 300 bird species, nesting for Loggerhead sea turtles, swim centers, pier and the historical fort, it adds another element of pure Florida fun in the sun.
3) Caladesi Island State Park
Located in Dunedin on Florida’s west coast, visitors are in the “heart” of things when visiting the island.
Accessible only by private boat or the convenient ferry available through Caladesi Island Ferry, once you arrive, you’re surrounded by the shimmering waters of the Gulf of Mexico that line the white sand beach.
Water activities abound with swimming, snorkeling, skiing, and fishing from boats or casting a line from shore for intense surf fishing.
Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy at one of the shelters or picnic tables or visit the park’s fully equipped marina for a snack.
After lounging, take a stroll, collect shells, build castles in the sand, or observe the park’s wildlife while hiking the interior 3-mile nature trail. If kayaking is your favorite water sport, delve into the recesses of the mangroves for a taste of Florida in the wild. The Caladesi Island Ferry runs two ferries daily, except Christmas and Thanksgiving.
The first departure is at 10am from Honeymoon Island and takes approximately 20 minutes. Departures are every half hour from mid-February through mid-September and hourly the remainder of the year. Caladesi Island State Park was rated as America’s Best Beach in 2008.
2) Clearwater Beach
Long expanses of white sand, palm trees waving in the breeze, and Pier 60 make Clearwater Beach a one-stop destination for all ages.
Within walking distance of the beach, a variety of casual restaurants provide every type of food and refreshment.
One long-standing favorite since 1981 is Frenchy’s Café serving the tastiest grouper sandwiches in town.
In the early evening, The Pier offers its own brand of entertainment with the Sunsets at Pier 60 daily festival. Entertainment begins 2 hours before sundown with street performers, music, and local artisans displaying handmade crafts.
Other activities you won’t want to miss include enjoying the best of Clearwater Beach in the morning then riding the Jolley Trolley to downtown Clearwater in the afternoon. Visit famous dolphin turned actress, Winter, who is always eager to greet new friends at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
Soar with the seagulls over Clearwater Beach at heights from 400 feet to 800 feet with a parasailing adventure. Put the pedal to the medal at the Simulator Center Tampa Bay where you can fly a combat jet or passenger plane, or rev your engine in a Formula 1 Race Car. Set your course and become Captain Jack Sparrow on Captain Memo’s Pirate Cruise.
1) Bahia Honda State Park
What list would be complete without an example of one of the finest in Florida beaches located at the southern most region of the Keys.
Bahia Honda State Park is over 500 acres of protected landscape and seascape and remains nearly uninhabited except for the wildlife residing within the park and its surrounding channel waters.
The 2.5-mile beach was the first Florida beach rated as #1 by Dr. Beach in 1992. It is still a preferred spot for swimming, sunbathing and relaxing.
Snorkeling and scuba diving are two of the top activities and water enthusiasts will rejoice at having access to the clearest water making ideal conditions for spotting barracuda, nurse sharks and stingrays.
Rental equipment is available for those seeking a dip in the deep blue sea or bring your inline skates or bike and ride the 3.5-mile stretch of paved road along a scenic nature trail. Stop for a picnic then visit the Sand and Sea Nature Center to learn about the park’s inhabitants such as sea turtles, sea sponges and sea urchins.
Rental boats and snorkeling gear is available for a trip to the reef, or arrive in your own watercraft and dock at the park’s marina.