Living in Florida certainly has its perks. For starters, weekend getaways are routine, with so many beaches and vacation spots to choose from. But what makes it even better for locals is knowing all about the amazing Florida islands that out-of-state travelers might not be aware of. They are unique hidden gems and close to home—but still deliver a true tropical experience, and they make for the perfect easy family getaway.
Perhaps you’ve heard of these islands off the coast of Florida, but unless you’ve actually visited during previous getaways, you don’t fully understand how amazing they can be and the quality of experiences they provide. The Sunshine State is famous for its beautiful beaches, but the best beach vacations take place on these under-the-radar islands that will make visitors want to leave their home states behind for good.
Take a look at these unexpected coastlines, private-island resorts, and secret beaches in Florida and see if you can find a spot for your towel—just try not to let the word get out too much.
Located north of Jacksonville, Amelia Island edges coastal Georgia and is truly one of the best beach vacations in Florida. Take the Amelia River Cruise for a scenic tour of the barrier island—beachgoers will love the surf, sea oats and sand dunes. Find sharks’ teeth along the shore and at the pier at Fort Clinch State Park, and sample true southern hospitality with a stay at one of Amelia Island Plantation‘s tranquil villas.
The island beckons with 13 miles of beaches and well-preserved historic district of Victorian architecture steeped in Old Southern charm. June through August is peak beach season with warm temperatures and a temperate ocean; the shoulder or “secret” season of late fall and early winter is a favorite for those seeking fewer crowds and better bargains. Heading into December, temps can drop into the 30s at night, so pack that jacket—but if you’re in search of a deal, it’s the absolute best time to go.
This rural beach community in the Big Bend is shaped like an alligator, hence the name. Not exactly an island, but Alligator Point’s skinny peninsula does measure about 1,000 feet wide at one point. Its unpopulated shoreline, low-rise beach houses (many rentals), and more than 100 part-time residents make this island the perfect place for Florida getaways.
Follow I-395 till you reach Terminal Isle—your destination is the auto-ferry headed for the historic island set on Biscayne Bay off a busy Miami Beach causeway. Just seven minutes from the mainland, this enclave is where big rollers reside and vacay. At the Fisher Island Club & Resort, stay at luxe circa-1925 cottages of the Vanderbilt estate and tee off at a seaside golf course.
Cross an unassuming toll bridge onto this charming Gulf coast barrier island—home to the classic 1913 Gasparilla Inn & Club. This Boca Grande hideaway screams Old Florida, and the Inn’s adorable cottages are ideal for families seeking an unforgettable time on Florida islands. Don’t miss a visit to Banyan Street for its namesake trees, and stop by funky Temptation for lunch. (Be sure to traverse the island via golf cart—it’s how the locals do it.)
Ginormous private homes with names like “T. Woods” and “C. Dion” on their mailboxes occupy the lion’s share of this private barrier island’s 3.6 miles. However, there’s plenty here to entice mere mortals beyond the gilded gates: miles of secluded white-sand beaches and the Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge, a breeding site for the Atlantic loggerhead sea turtle.
On Marco Island, you’re on the edge of the Everglades, but with a vibe this tropical, you’d never know it. The six-mile island boasts canal-lined streets and a usually-empty crescent-shaped sandy beach that faces the Gulf of Mexico. Keep the Florida islands theme going, and head into the Ten Thousand Islands with Marco Islands Water Sports, which sends a small caravan of WaveRunners through the Everglades’ mangrove maze.
Come here to feel the ground rumble during a shuttle launch at Kennedy Space Center on the north end of this barrier island. On the other end of the spectrum, the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is home to some of the most impressive wildlife in Florida—featuring the state’s best birding sights and appearances by elusive Florida panthers.
A three-minute ferryboat ride across the Intracoastal Waterway drops you and your car on Palm Island. (It’s the only access to this very narrow, seven-mile-long isle nestled in the Charlotte Harbor area of Southwest Florida.) The Palm Island Resort‘s villas are just steps from the Gulf of Mexico. You’ll find plenty of seashells and birds of all sorts—like terns, pelicans, egrets, and more—to watch.
St. Vincent Island
Undeveloped St. Vincent Island on the northwest Gulf of Mexico invites you to its sand ridges, tidal marshes, and pine forests, where native white-tailed deer and endangered red wolves enjoy a life unfettered. It’s offshore from the mouth of the Apalachicola River, famous for Florida oysters. Stay at The Gibson Inn in Apalach—as the locals call it—for a weekend outdoors and one of the more unique weekend getaways in Florida.
Just 500 yards off Key West, this man-made island is home to Sunset Key‘s 40 guest cottages. Ferry over for a sunset dinner on the sands at Latitudes for Florida lobster and locally caught yellowtail snapper or go ahead and rent a cottage for the experience of living on a private island. Boats to and from Key West run 24 hours a day for late mainland fun.
Big Talbot Island
Big Talbot Island will wow you with its dramatic 20-foot bluffs that define its jagged Atlantic shoreline. Paired with a sandy stretch nicknamed Boneyard Beach for the skeletons of cedar and oak trees, this state park is a nature photographer’s dream. You can stop at neighboring Little Talbot Island State Park, where salt marshes abound.
Nestled in the less developed Big Bend area of the state, this rustic Gulf of Mexico fishing village and artists’ colony delivers peace and quiet. Bird-watch from a kayak, fish from the town’s pier, eat fresh clam chowder made from farm-raised local clams, and just kick back at one of the many cozy vacation rentals (you won’t find any high-rises here) that make this one of the best beach vacations in Florida.
Drive across a bridge with a grand name—the “World’s Most Fishingest”—into Matlacha, a colorful art-gallery community that leads to Pine Island. A few miles more and you’re at the island’s only four-way stop, where mangroves, charming cottages, fruit-tree nurseries, and the occasional eatery dot the streets. Stay at the Tarpon Lodge for a classic Florida vacation experience that includes everything from golf to exploring the Great Calusa Blueway.
Little Palm Island
Step onto the boat, turn off your cell phone and prepare to meet true paradise. Little Palm Island is 2.5 miles off Overseas Highway in Little Torch Key, near Key West, but it feels like a secluded, self-contained universe. On the boat trip over to Little Palm Island, the resort’s staffers help the outside world fade from your mind by encouraging you to drink their complimentary signature cocktail, the Gumby Slumber (refreshing rum and fruit juices topped with coconut shavings).
This fun destination is known to locals by a few names: Grant Island, Grant Farm Island, or the far more alluring VIP. That’s Vacation Island Paradise for those who have never heard of this spot, which is set in the Indian River Lagoon and just a short boat ride from the mainland in South Brevard. There are no bridges, and plans for a causeway were forgotten years ago, but there is a community full of people who couldn’t be happier to have ended up here.
While the other islands are all great places to visit, VIP is the kind of destination where tropical travelers and even Floridian mainlanders would love to find a home and settle down for the rest of eternity. Just don’t get your hopes too high—homes here aren’t put up for sale very often.