Planning a day at the beach? Find out which one is right for you.
Famous for its bounty of seashells this Southwest Florida beach on the Gulf of Mexico is the state’s best spot for gathering nature’s gems. A visit to Sanibel Island always starts with an early morning walk (make sure you bring a bag) to find what the tide left behind—hopefully the perfect shell. After scouring the shoreline, visit the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum where a shell-classification wheel can help you identify Florida shells. Collectors should inquire about the museum’s monthly guided beach walks. And if you didn’t find what you want on the sand, visit the store She Sells Sea Shells for both loose shells and shell crafts.
A perfectly shaped crescent beach, Marco Island has one of the best Gulf shorelines for sunset walks. It’s also the departure point for jet-ski tours into the northernmost edge of the Everglades Ten Thousand Islands. Dolphin viewing guaranteed.
Known for its sugary white sands, Siesta Key near Sarasota provides sculptors with some of the best material compliments of Mother Nature. Stroll the beach and you’ll most likely come upon sand sculptures from huge dinosaurs to castles with moats. Better yet, build your own work of art. Sunday’s drum circle draws crowds an hour before sunset. Bring your bongos and party spirit for a rousing sunset celebration.
Go ahead, strut your stuff on South Beach. If you’re not basking in the sun on the Atlantic shore, you could be jogging the coast or working out on the local beach equipment. How many pull-ups can you do? Volleyball games are plentiful here as are rental bicycles from the ubiquitous DecoBike stations on Miami Beach (A credit card allows you to access a bicycle from the rack for hourly rentals).
The Broadwalk is the main attraction at Hollywood Beach, where a retro atmosphere draws folks to this pedestrian promenade skirting the Atlantic Ocean. Walk with friends, pedal a bicycle, stop for pizza and beer or catch a concert at the band shell. It’s all about having a laid-back, fun time down by the Broadwalk.
The undisturbed nature setting at Honeymoon Island State Park, just north of Clearwater Beach, attracts those in search of R&R. Take a hike around the island then chill out in an A-frame bench swing designed for lovers (thus the name) as the Gulf breeze soothes. A stop at the park’s Rotary Centennial Nature Center enlightens visitors about the horned owls, gopher tortoises and other wildlife that reside here. You can also take a pontoon-boat ride to neighboring Caladesi Island. Insider tip: If you are a dog owner, there’s a designated stretch for canines.
For those who want to get far, far away from the maddening crowd, Playalinda Beach, tucked in the Canaveral National Seashore on the Atlantic coast, is one of the most tranquil spots in the state. Pack a picnic lunch, bring a book or IPod and set up your lounge chair and umbrella. The ambitious can cast a line and surf fish here. The barrier island has 24 miles of undeveloped public beach. Aah!
Scenic Highway 30-A
The placid, translucent Gulf waters along Scenic Highway 30-A make stand-up paddle boarding a choice pastime here. Spread your blanket in Seaside, a lovely beach town where polished silver Streamline trailers dish out everything from barbecue to shaved ice. The rooftop bar at Bud and Alley’s is the place for a sunset cocktail.
Pensacola Beach is that quintessential beach town you’ve been searching for. It scores high points for its diamond-lit waters and sparkling sands. Explore the fishing pier, which provides great views of Santa Rosa Island, then rent bicycles and zigzag your way through the cozy streets lined with pastel beach houses. No one leaves Pensacola Beach without sampling the local Bushwacker cocktail (a frozen Kahlua drink topped with rum created and served at the Sandshaker bar).
The farthest northeast barrier island, Amelia Island, has a long golden beach with puffy sand dunes studded with sea oats. It’s anchored on the north end by Fort Clinch State Park, where beach-goers can hike the island’s northern tip or opt for nature trails inside the park and the opportunity to explore a 19th-century fort. A short drive south of Amelia is Big Talbot Island State Park where bluffs and a shoreline scattered with sun-bleached branches of fallen oaks and cedars make up the secret Boneyard Beach.