Best Florida Beaches Locals Want to Keep Secret
While many of Florida's beaches are packed with tourists, if you want sugar-sand shores, warm water perfect for swimming, and Instagram-worthy views without the crowds, follow the locals to these best Florida beaches off-the-beaten-path.
Pass-a-Grille Beach, St. Pete Beach
When the elbowroom at its more famous neighbor, Clearwater Beach, becomes scarce, take advantage of the free Suncoast Beach Trolley and move right over to Pass-a-Grille. This laid-back island is more fishing village than luxury hideaway, which means plenty of mom-and-pop fish camps, adorable beach bungalows, and a handful of quaint inns with killer water views. While the water is as calm and translucent as Clearwater Beach, the beach is wider here, allowing you even more room to spread out and let the kids run wild. In fact, you’ll have four miles of windswept, undeveloped beaches to explore. Stroll quaint Eighth Avenue, with its coast-inspired galleries, shops, and restaurants. For amazing sunset views, visit the Hurricane Seafood Restaurant. You’ll also want to check out these 10 beaches with the clearest water in the world.
Santa Rosa Beach
One look at the kelly green water here and it’s clear how Florida’s Emerald Coast earned its moniker. But the gorgeous Gulf of Mexico is not all that makes this one of the best Florida beaches. The sugar-soft sand is not really sand; it’s a fine quartz that filters its way down from the Appalachian Mountains—this being its final stop before being swept out to sea. Another bonus: The warm, calm water is perfect for paddle boarding as well as swimming with younger kids. The area is packed with vacation rentals, boutique shops, and restaurants in charming seaside villages, each with their own distinct architecture and vibe. Visit in the spring during the Digital Graffiti Festival, when artists project their work on the stark white walls of the Bermuda-inspired Alys Beach community. These are the best family beaches to visit with your brood.
The Beaches at Caladesi Island State Park
You’ll feel like you’ve fallen off the grid when you reach Caladesi Island, a barrier island reachable only by boat. Take the scenic 20-minute ferry ride from Dunedin, a fishing village less than hour’s drive north of Tampa, to explore Caladesi’s three miles of natural, picture-perfect Florida beaches. Upon arrival, pick up picnic supplies and beach chairs at the snack shack. From there walk your choice of nature trails to the beach, where you’ll be rewarded with views of an endless horizon and the only sound is of the occasional boater whizzing past. Collect seashells, hike the three-mile nature trail that winds through tropical mangrove forests or rent a kayak at the snack shack and explore three miles of paddling trails. It’s a slice of Old Florida that’s harder to find these days. If you’re looking to travel further, check out the best beaches in Hawaii.
Sometimes the best thing about a beach is what you won’t find there: On 24-mile-long Playalinda Beach in Titusville on Florida’s East Central coast, there are no buildings nor motorized watersports. What you will find, however, is a picturesque sanctuary. A visit to this quiet stretch of Cape Canaveral National Seashore requires a drive through the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge, home to bald eagles, manatees, and loggerhead turtles hiding in wetlands. This long swath of undeveloped shoreline is rarely crowded, but what sets this beach apart is its proximity to the refuge, so you can explore trails in the morning and bodysurf in the afternoon.
Boca Grande Beach
Nestled between Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf of Mexico sits lush, no-rush Gasparilla Island. It only takes an hour from Fort Myers and two from Tampa to reach it, but once here, you won’t need your car. Bicycles and golf carts are just fine for zipping around this seven-mile-long paradise in southwest Florida. Visit the southern end of the beach here, where driftwood is strewn about like nature’s artwork and a unique two-story lighthouse built in 1890 is open for visits. Offshore you’re as likely to see fishermen as dolphins playing in the surf. The Boca Grande Pass has been referred to as one of the world’s top spots for tarpon fishing. Visit in the spring during the World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament, a catch-and-release, traditional drift-fishing tarpon tournament that represents Boca Grande’s fishing culture. Here are 12 more of the best island vacations you can take in the United States.
The Beaches of Amelia Island
Just off the northeast Florida coast, this barrier island offers 13 miles of ocean beaches, calm waters, and Southern hospitality. Fine, soft sand, the lull of the Atlantic Ocean’s waves and a cooler winter climate makes this the only one of the best Florida beaches where you’re likely to see bonfires, and one of the only places where you can go horseback riding along the shore (the family-owned Kelly Seahorse Ranch offers guided tours). Reserve a private bonfire for you and your fam complete with a s’mores kit with all the fixings when you stay at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation, a massive resort complex complete with a spa, golf course, and restaurants.
Siesta Key Beach
Nestled on a barrier island in southwest Florida’s Gulf Coast, this family favorite has smooth, bright white sand that’s as soft as talcum powder on your feet. Part of a county park, the beach itself is wide, with plenty of room for building sandcastles or kicking back with a good beach read without bumping into your neighbor. It’s common to see dolphins playing just offshore. Book a sunset sail with a local guide or visit on a Sunday when the Siesta Key Drum Circle kicks off one hour before sunset. Be sure to check out these 50 best beaches around the world.
The Beaches at Bahia Honda State Park
Named by Spanish explorers for its “Deep Bay,” Bahia Honda State Park in Marathon is actually an island and home to three beaches nestled inside a 500-acre tropical sanctuary. Loggerhead Beach on the south side is home to a sandbar just offshore that’s perfect for families. Rent a rustic waterside bungalow (read: no air conditioning) or book a campsite and unplug for a few days. Explore the park’s shelly trails or slip on a mask and fin and snorkel just offshore. The calm water here is also perfect for both kayaking and paddle boarding. Read on for 12 of the best beaches in America.