Best Beaches in Florida
What are the best beaches in Florida? That's a tough question and the only real answer is -- "it depends". You knew I'd say something like that, but read on and find out why!
For starters, everyone has their own ides of what "best" means. Here are some examples; do you want to stay at one of the many beach front resorts that range from nice to wow? Do you want to go to a Florida beach where you can see and be seen? Do you want plenty of concessions and things to do? Perhaps you crave solitude -- or at least not a crowded stretch of sand and sea. Maybe you like snorkeling and/or diving. And for some of you it's "surf's up"!
Now you can see that it's kind of hard to pick the best beaches in Florida. We have over 1,100 miles of shoreline, of which around 600 miles (more or less) are actual beaches. So, you could walk a mile a day for almost two years before you ran out of Florida beaches -- how's that for variety!
So we're back to the question of what are the best Florida beaches? Which should you pick for yourvacation? Decisions, decisions!
Would it help if I give you the top Florida beaches for each of the following categories:
Now some of these beaches fall into multiple categories, but I'll try not to repeat them too much. After all, you want plenty of options when it comes to the best beaches in Florida, since they are some of the best Florida vacation spots!
(You can also check out some pictures of Florida beaches, too.)
Best Beaches in Florida for Finding a Hotel/Resort
Desite popular belief, not all Florida beaches come equipped with oceanside accommodations. Since the top four beaches to find lots and lots of resorts are also mentioned in other categories, I'll describe them more there.
But for now, if you are wanting to find the best beaches in Florida where you can stroll out the door and onto the beach, try Daytona Beach, Destin, Cocoa Beach and Ft. Lauderdale Beach. Another possibility is Key West; I stayed at a resort there where it was literally open the sliding glass door and out onto the beach -- nice!
You can also check out reader reviews of the best Florida beach resorts / hotels.
Best Beaches for Activities
The best beaches in Florida for activities have all kinds of things going on. For example, maybe you want to parasail? Rent a jet ski? Paddle a kayak? You get the idea; there's more to beaches than just sunbathing or swimming!
Hmm, I have a hard time picking a top spot for this one, but I'll have to go with Daytona Beach as the best beach in Florida for activities. Daytona has a boardwalk, lots of concessions where you can rent just about anything, and a big, wide beach for playing on. You can plop yourself on a beach towel and do nothing, or you can get moving on a banana boat ride or personal watercraft. Parasailing is available, too, as well as surfing lessons. You can also drive on the beach, sunrise to sunset, as long as the tides aren't too high. And before I forget, there is lots (and I do mean lots) of beach side hotels, motels, timeshares, condos...you get the picture. However, New Smyrna Beach (directly south of Daytona) isn't far behind, either in resorts or activities!
Next in the list of best beaches in Florida for activities are the Key West beaches . You name it, you can do it here (except maybe surf). Lots of snorkeling and diving tours. Parasailing, personal watercraft rentals. Swimming is fantastic in the crystal-clear, warm tropical waters. I'd make Key West number one, except the beaches aren't all that big, especially compared to Daytona Beach, and parking is at a premium (i.e. hard to find and somewhat pricey).
Another beach with lots to see and do is Ft. Lauderdale Beach. It's also relatively small, compared to Daytona, but still there's plenty to keep you busy. Let's see, you can rent: kayaks, Seadoos, kites, beach chairs and catamarans. There's a sand volleyball court, a children's playground, concessions, restrooms and showers. Parking can be a little problematic at times, though.
Check out some reader reviews of best Florida beaches for activities.
Best Beaches in Florida for Snorkeling and Diving
If you want to know where the best beaches in Florida for snorkeling and diving are, I have two words for you -- Florida Keys. Hands down, they are the absolute best in the state.
Bahia Honda State Park tops the list. Located on Bahia Honda Key, there is a wonderful lagoon with crystal clear water. If you really want some out-of-sight reef activity, take a short boat ride over to Looe Key. Don't have your own boat? Check out the regularly scheduled tours. Bahia Honda State Park has a large natural beach -- something extremely rare in the Keys (where imported sand for beaches is more the norm).
I had a struggle with this next one -- John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. There really isn't much of a beach to speak of, but the snorkeling and diving are out of this world. And for those of you who would prefer to not get wet, how about a glass-bottom boat tour? There is a lagoon area, though, for those who would like to do a little swimming.
Biscayne National Park in South Florida is a watery wonderland; in fact, 95% of the park is underwater! Snorkeling and diving is the big draw, as are glass-bottom boats and canoe/kayak rentals. Tent camping also allowed, but since you have to get to the campsites via boat...no RVs.
If you like sealife like starfish and rays, you might want to consider snorkeling on the beaches of Sanibel Island. Everytime I go there, I see all kinds of cool animals under the water (which also happens to be very clear).
Best Beaches for Surfing
If you plan to surf (or just like playing in big waves), you will want to stay on the Atlantic coast. The best beaches in Florida for surfing are primarily in Central and North Florida, although there is some surfing to be had in South Florida.
Sebastian Inlet State Park is my top pick for best beaches in Florida for surfing. Why? First, it's the most consistent for wave action. Monster Hole, offshore of the south beach, is great if you want a nice, long ride. And by the way, February through April sees a lot of surfing competitions here!
Cocoa Beach, just up the coast, is next on the list of best beaches in Florida or surfing. Although not quite as consistent as the number one pick, it still has plenty of wave action. The most famous surf shop in Florida, Ron Jon's, is headquartered here. There is also a summer surf camp, if you'd like to either learn or sharpen some skills. The beach is really nice, and the beach access (as well as parking) is decent. While sometimes crowded on Summer weekends, it's a relatively quiet beach.
New Smyrna Beach, just up the coast a little more, also deserves to be in the list for best Florida beaches for surfing. Because New Smyrna Beach is well-known for its swimming and other activities, the surf zones are a little broken up during the summer (in other words, you can't surf on just any part of the beach). And remember, surfing is not allowed within 300 feet of the pier. However, all other times of the year, surfing is allowed just about anywhere (except of course near the pier).
Best Uncrowded Beaches
Yes, there are still some relatively uncrowded beaches in Florida. The best beaches in Florida for having a quiet time are sprinkled all around the state. They are the little gems that we Florida natives tend to keep quiet about.
I have to give Cape San Blas in the Florida Panhandle the top pick for best beaches in Florida that are uncrowded. Cape San Blas has 20 miles (yes, I did say miles) of white sugar sand beaches on the Gulf of Mexico. It's absolutely gorgeous! Now, as to why it's uncrowded -- it's a fair bit away from anything. Apalachicola is 25 miles away, but Apalachicola isn't exactly a big city. Small town is more like it. Cape San Blas is located on the part of Florida called "The Forgotten Coast". Really, it deserves to be remembered! If you are prepared to do some driving, think about Cape San Blas.
Jensen Beach is my next pick for a quiet beach. All the times I've been there, I've seen just a few people here and there -- even in Summer! So, I'm not sure why this South Florida beach isn't more popular. True, there isn't much in the way of concessions, and there are some bigger beaches just north and south. Maybe that's why Jensen Beach tends to be overlooked.
I also like Crescent Beach, in North Florida, for a quiet beach...except on some Summer weekends. Crescent Beach is the closest one to the University of Florida, so Summer weekends can get a little busy. But after the middle of August, the beach is quieter. You can do some surf fishing, walk along the shore, or just watch the pelicans glide by. I've been there plenty of times where it was just me and two or three other people on the beach.
Athough this one is a state park, John D. MacArthur Beach is wonderfully quiet. It's another one of those Southeast Florida beaches where few tend to tread. Part of it is the long boardwalk to get to the beach (although a tram is available for a small donation). But the beach is worth the walk -- I've rarely seen more than a handful of people on a streatch of beach that is 2 miles long.
I'm going to give one more beach a thumbs up for being relatively quiet -- Mexico Beach in the Florida Panhandle. Located east of Panama City, it's more subdued (everyone seems to want to go to Panama City instead). Yes, it can get busy at times, but for the most part, you can relax and enjoy.
Want more beaches? For some neat ones, check out reader reviews of some great Florida beaches that are quiet. You can also see a video I shot of some quiet Florida beaches -- enjoy!
Best Beaches for Families
Beaches on the Gulf of Mexico tend to be the best for families with little ones. The waters are calmer and a bit more shallow. The beaches tend to be great for relaxing...and for building sand castles! Clearwater Beach is one example on the Gulf.
On the other hand, the older kids tend to like more wave action, so think about the beaches on the Florida Atlantic coast (Daytona is a good one), or perhaps the Florida Panhandle (Ft. Walton Beach is nice).
The beach you choose for your family vacation depends on the children's ages, what your family likes to do and your price ranges.
Here are what I think are the best places for a Florida family beach vacation.
Also check out reader reviews of some other great Florida family beaches.
Best Beaches for Camping
There are a few beaches that still allow almost-beach camping. So what are these best public beaches in Florida that let you pitch a tent close to the water? FYI, these beaches have camping, but it's not directly on the sand. But you are close enough to hear the surf (and in some cases, roll over and look at it).
Number one is Gamble Rogers State Recreation Area. What, you've never heard of it? It is one of those "best kept secrets" that we have here in Florida. The camping is just back from the beach, but a (very) short walk gets you to the ocean. Although I've never camped there, word has it that the sounds of the wind and waves make you feel like you're practically in the ocean. Tent camping and RVs up to 40 feet are welcome.
Next in the list of best beaches in Florida for camping is Grayton Beach State Park. Grayton Beach is up in the Florida Panhandle, about halfway between Destin and Panama City. It's easily accessible, but in an out-of-the-way part of the state. The beach is a short walk from the campsites, and what a beautiful beach it is! One nice thing about being in the Florida Panhandle is that you almost get 4 seasons, so the spring and fall have lovely warm days and cool nights that are great for sleeping. Tent camping as well as RVs up to 40 feet are welcome.
I also have to include Long Key State Park in the list, even though it doesn't have much of a beach, per se (seeing as it's in the Florida Keys). What it does have is 60 extraordinary sites along the Atlantic Ocean, each with its own gorgeous view. Canoes and kayaks are available for rent, and there are nature trails throughout the park. Tent camping and RVs up to 45 feet are welcome.
So take a look inside these pages; you'll find the best beaches in Florida and some that are just perfect for you!
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