Ah yes, Florida. That peninsula that stretches down into the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean and saves freezing northerners suffering in the heart of winter with its palm trees, warm breezes, and sandy beaches. As far as “escapes” go in the lower 48, Florida is about as good as it gets. And where better to escape than to a beach? Whether it’s for spring break with your buddies, a family vacation to escape the cold, or a private beach getaway just to break the routine, Florida caters to all types. So what are the best spots along all that coastline? We’re here with the top 5 beaches in Florida to help you plan your getaway.
Lighthouse Beach Park, Sanibel Island
This is our favorite “get away from it all” beach in the state. The island of Sanibel is located just off Ft. Myers’s coastline and although it’s well-known, visitors don’t have to deal with the crowds and hassles that plague other popular Florida beaches. The island has no stoplights and little commercial buildup, but plenty of great restaurants, accommodations options, and breathtaking beaches. Lighthouse Beach stands out for a number of reasons. Its location on the island’s easternmost point gives excellent views out over the water and the currents that pass by the point bring plenty of interesting shells and other products of the sea to the beaches for those looking to collect. The pier offers an excellent fishing spot and an even better view of the sunset (although located on the easternmost point, the park just in a way that allows visitors to catch the sun as it sets over the water). Be on the lookout for bottlenose dolphins as well as they’ve been known to come extremely close to the shore.
Siesta Beach, Siesta Key
“White sands” is thrown around a little too frequently when describing beautiful beaches. Well, Siesta Key has the real thing. The sand is made up quartz crystals that wash away from beaches in North Florida and then get deposited in Siesta Key. Many first-timers are blown away at how light and soft the sand is and soon come to understand why the beach wins so much recognition. There’s just something about the turquoise water meeting the bright white sand of the coast that fascinates us. We recommend Siesta Key for families looking to unwind and spend some quality time. There are plenty of volleyballs courts, changing rooms and playgrounds along the water that make the family logistics a breeze. Accommodations in Siesta Key and nearby Sarasota are excellent and many put you right on the beach.
Caladesi Island State Park
We already picked Sanibel as our go-to for a more relaxed getaway, but Caladesi takes it to another level of remote relaxation. Accessible only by boat, this island might just leave you walking an empty pristine beach, exploring the mangroves in a kayak, or paddle boarding with no one but a group of bottlenose dolphins as your escort. We recommend hopping on the ferry from Honeymoon Island State Park and packing a picnic to pass the day on the quiet island in peace. As for accommodations, we recommend staying in nearby Dunedin, or further south in Fort Myers if you want the city to quiet island contrast.
South Beach, Miami
While we’re on the subject of contrast, let’s send you to the exact opposite of Caladesi. South Beach is much more about turquoise water, light sand, fancy hotels and some of the best nightlife the U.S. has to offer. While some people regard it as a little too much, we think South Beach is a blast. Spend the day catching rays and cooling off in the blue waves and spend the night bar and club hopping. This is for the Florida vacationers looking to mix the beach with the partying. The food options are excellent as is the shopping if you feel like taking a little break from the water. Accommodations in South Beach can be a big part of the fun. Landing the perfect party house, Airbnb or hotel room can make all the difference.
Fort Lauderdale Beach, Fort Lauderdale
Many of us still think of spring break when this beach comes to mind, and while that wouldn’t be wrong (it’s still a great spring break destination), Fort Lauderdale Beach has developed a cooler, much more mellow side that appeals to more than just the party-seeking college kid. Grab a bike or some roller blades and get some exercise on the bike path or find a shady spot under a palm tree and spread out on the soft sand. The water is, of course, perfect and it’s that tropical blue color that makes all beaches up north look well, not quite as nice. Fort Lauderdale checks all the boxes, but our favorite part might be the waterfront accommodations. Many hotels have pools with views of the water and lounge areas that make a for a great sunbathing alternative if you want a little break from the sand. And finally, for the early birds out there, getting up in the morning to see the sunrise over the beach is something else. Maybe it’s the palm trees against the orange sky, maybe it’s the tranquility. Either way, it’s more than worth getting out of bed for.
Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, Key West
What about Key West? A list of Florida’s best beaches wouldn’t be complete with a spit of sand from the southernmost point in the continental U.S. Fort Zachary Taylor is our choice because not only does it check the basic boxes (clean beaches, crystal clear water, palm trees and that general “break from it all” feel) but it offers 54 acres of protected land and a fascinating history. Being the southernmost point, the keys are a natural place for a fort for protecting against threats coming from the south. The fort was constructed on the modern day park’s grounds and is open for tours. It was of extreme importance in the Spanish-American War, so for all those looking to alternate their beach relaxation with a little historical exploration, Fort Zachary Taylor is perfect.
Dry Tortugas, Florida Keys
We may have saved the coolest for last. Dry Tortugas National Park is a group of seven islands located at the very end of the Lower Keys. The main attraction on land is Fort Jefferson, a massive yet unfinished U.S. Navy fort originally built with the purpose of supporting U.S. ships on anti-piracy missions. But the true attractions are the beaches and protected coral reefs awaiting exploration. We recommend taking a seaplane to the islands so you can check out the incredible aerial views (you can see the reef formations through the clear water) before you explore the islands up close. Camp on the islands by night and snorkel with nurse sharks and sea turtles during the day.