Florida’s beaches can make you forget where you are. With white sand, clear water and palm trees galore, it’s easy to think you’re in the Caribbean. But no passport is required to explore the best of the state’s beaches, from Key West to the Panhandle.
Most Picturesque: Grayton Beach State Park, Florida Panhandle
No lineup of best Florida beaches is complete without Grayton Beach State Park in the Panhandle town of Santa Rosa Beach. It’s home to the softest, whitest sand in the state, abutting the clear, warm waters of the Gulf—much clearer and warmer than the neighboring Atlantic.
If you’re able to travel during off-peak times, aka not Spring Break, a holiday, or the first or last weeks of summer, then you’ll be treated to plenty of privacy at Grayton. Overall, we love this spot not only for its beauty, but for the charm of the town. Santa Rosa Beach is packed with mom-and-pop joints hawking everything from fish tacos to gelato and it attracts families, retirees and anyone who appreciate the arty, unexpected vibe.
Best Beach for Kids: Caladesi Island State Park, Clearwater
You have to take a boat to this white-sand gem northwest of the city of Clearwater—but that’s part of the fun. For most visitors, a day trip to this island starts with the state-park-run ferry, the Caladesi Connection. From here, you’ll have to hoof it to your seaside spot, so pack accordingly, keeping in mind that a snack stand is available.
The beach stays open from 8 am until sundown, leaving you ample time to take advantage of the always clear and usually calm waters, and the super soft sand, all of which is inviting for children and adult children alike.
Best Secret Beach: Lovers Key State Park, Fort Myers
Despite the fact that this two-mile flat stretch of sand is now accessible by tram and boardwalk, it remains one of the quietest public beaches in the state. There is plenty of ample real estate—you can spread out a blanket and have nobody around if you’re willing to walk a quarter mile.
As a bonus, this area attracts a raft of wildlife, from manatees to dolphins, bald eagles to roseate spoonbills. Better still, the 712-acre park is multi-use, with five miles of trail for bicycling and walking.
Best for Active Types: Smathers Beach, Key West
Until you’ve been to the Florida Keys, you may not know that these islands aren’t known for beaches. But that doesn’t mean they’re without sandy stretches. For catching rays, our top pick is Smathers Beach, the largest public beach in Key West at half a mile long. Find it off Highway A1A, just east of the Sheraton Suites. It makes the list for its idyllic setting, with palm trees and flat water lapping against the soft white sand.
Note that this beach does attracts crowds, especially around the holidays. The upside of this is that a slew of concessioners offers chair, umbrella, Jet ski and sailboat rentals. Volleyball courts are also available, free of charge.
Best for Extroverts: Siesta Beach, Siesta Key
This public beach rates highly not only for its wide stretch of latte-colored sand, but also for its long list of amenities: lifeguards, newly updated picnic tables and playgrounds, concession stands and volleyball courts. Sunday nights see big groups gathering for the evening drum circle.
Overall, the destination offers an accessible, highly affordable escape, making it among Florida’s more popular beach escapes. For those looking for a quieter patch of sand on island, try Crescent Beach.
Best for Boaters Only: Keewaydin Island, Naples
Only reachable by boat, this seven-mile white-sand beach off Naples draws crowds every weekend. Although there are no amenities on island, this beach isn’t without snacks. We love the unique appeal of the food boats, selling ice cream, nachos, French fries, hot dogs, burgers and beer.
We also love that when Monday rolls around—that is, when it’s not a holiday weekend—this place is a wildlife haven where sightings of loggerhead sea turtles and white-tailed deer are likely. Take note that if you’re not a boat owner, you can still island hop via the Hemingway Water Shuttle, or rent a vessel from an outfitter on Marco Island.
Best for Snorkeling: Bahia Honda State Park, Florida Keys
Found at mile marker 37, Bahia Honda State Park on Big Pine Key beckons for its quiet, back-to-nature appeal. The spot offers camping, but spots book up quickly, so take advantage of reservations, available 11 months in advance.
Of course, you don’t have to camp to enjoy the beach, shaded by palm trees. Bring snorkel gear or rent it onsite to mix with parrotfish, angelfish, small nurse sharks and sea turtles.
Best for Pleasing Everyone: Fort De Soto Park’s North Beach, St. Petersburg
We love that this beach 20 minutes by car south of St. Petersburg offers something for everyone. Families will appreciate the tidal pool where kids can play in the sand free from waves. Active types can kiteboard or rent a kayak. Camping is also available on site. The biggest perk to this beach is, well, its size—1,136 acres spread across five islands.
The only downside, if there is one, is that the sand isn’t sugar soft but coarse, with pebbles and shell bits throughout. However, you’ll hardly notice that when taking advantage of the warm water and the flat sloping beach, well suited to games, long walks and simply relaxing.
Best Beach for Bodysurfing: Cocoa Beach
Perhaps it’s no surprise that the home of legendary surfer Kelly Slater is the top spot in the Sunshine State to surf—and bodysurf. One choice spot is the Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier. In this area, there’s no shortage of shops selling boogie boards, as well as shops renting surf boards.
Note that this isn’t among the quietest beaches in the Sunshine State. Rather, it’s action-packed from sun up to long after sundown and popular with a younger demographic.
Most Accessible: Crandon Beach Park, Key Biscayne
Wide swaths of white sand. Coconut palms lining the beach. Clear water. What else do you need? Key Biscayne’s Crandon Beach Park has it all, and it’s just a 10-minute drive from the heart of Miami.
The beach is lifeguard-protected and offers for-rent cabanas on the south end, as well as showers and a roller-skating area. We love the offshore sandbar that makes playing in the ocean more accessible—and that much harder to leave.