Best Florida Beaches: Discover the Perfect Stretch of Sand for Your Tastes
Find the Best Sand & Surf Throughout the Sunshine State
Everyone knows about the dog days of summer, especially if you’ve spent any time in the American South. In early August, the days start to swelter as the mercury climbs, the winds still and humidity so saturates the air that you feel as though you could wring it like a wet towel.
But summer isn’t the only season that tends to overstay its welcome.
When I lived in the Chicago suburbs, I saw how the March cold seemed to slide on interminably, slow as a sleepy snail. The snow had stopped falling, but the chill remained, and the old drifts grew crusty and gray with accumulated grime. And April brought little relief as that tired snow melted to mush before refreezing as the thermometer flirted with the freezing point.
Is it any wonder that this time of year sees an exodus from the Northeast and Midwest to The Sunshine State? True, Florida has a reputation for being something of an — ahem — idiosyncratic state, especially if the exploits of the semi-famous Florida Man are any measure.
But there’s one thing few would dare deny: Florida contains some of the world’s best beaches.
Following you’ll find our guide to the best beaches in Florida. Though not exhaustive, this guide should help you suss out the most suitable spots to enjoy sand and sun in all of the state’s major regions, as well as a few specialty beaches. So without further ado, let’s begin.
Bienvenidos a Miami! (South Florida Beaches)
Will Smith’s music doesn’t seem to have aged anywhere near as well as his films, but his 1998 hit “Miami” pretty much captured the feel of South Florida’s most famous beach:
“Here I am in the place where I come to let go, / Miami, the bass and the sunset low. / Everyday like a Mardi Gras, everybody party all day, / No work, all play, okay.”
You know the area already, right? It’s South Beach (Miami).
Like most sandy stretches in the southern tip of the state, the best time to visit this man-made beach on Florida’s southeastern tip is late winter to early spring — it’s no surprise that this is one of the more popular spring break beaches.
Expect clear or partially cloudy skies and temperatures in the 70s or 80s — not to mention warm water, Art Deco lifeguard stations and lots of Spanish. Miami is, after all, the gateway to Latin America, and the luxury surrounding South Beach draws visitors from all over the world.
When sunburn threatens, stroll down Lincoln Road to spy out the distinctive architecture or go clubbing when night falls. (More on that in the “Nightlife” section below.)
Hollywood Beach and the Boardwalk
Heading north to Broward County, Hollywood Beach and the Boardwalk (Hollywood) offers an Old Florida counterpoint to the ritz and glamour of Miami’s shores. Think of a broad walkway lining a length of golden sand, impromptu and organized concerts, and the splash pads and jungle gyms of Charnow Park that kiddos love.
Buy an ice cream, watch a free show at The Hollywood Beach Theater, and head west a mere 10 minutes to reach the downtown area with its 50s-era eateries and high-end shops.
Red Reef Park
Located in Palm Beach County, Red Reef Park (Boca Raton) offers easy ecotourism. A favorite of surfers, snorkelers and divers, the oceanfront area offers all sorts of watery enjoyment. Framed by sea grape-swathed ridges, the beach boasts lifeguards year-round.
Worthwhile diversions include digging for shark’s teeth, swimming around the man-made reef and walking across the street to the Gumbo Limbo Environmental Complex. This family-friendly nature center lets visitors peer at sea turtles (some of them mind-bogglingly giant) that are being rehabbed after recent injuries.
There’s more than just a pristine stretch of sand in Hobe Sound. Visit the Blowing Rocks Preserve — at high tide, water is forced through holes in the rocks and shoots up to 50 feet high. It’s a sight you aren’t likely to see anywhere else!
Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge is also located nearby. Sea turtles love nesting here, but the refuge is also home to bobcats, manatees, royal terns, snowy egrets, gopher tortoises and southern black racers.
Photo Credit: Getty Images
Bigger and Better for Families (Central Florida Beaches)
Most people probably think of NASCAR when considering Daytona Beach (Daytona Beach), forgetting that its 23 miles of beachfront have been the main draw long before drivers began buzzing around a concrete loop in 1959.
More than 8 million visitors flock to its shores annually for the sun, the surf and (in a big plus for families) its regular lifeguard patrols. Outfitters galore hawk adventurous experiences such as parasailing, jet skiing and WaveRunning, and snorkeling.
The boardwalk seems to nod toward a bygone era with a lit Ferris wheel, arcades filled with Skee-Ball as well as more modern video games, and vendors frying fresh funnel cakes and plying ice cream.
Daytona Lagoon combines a water park with laser tag, mini golf, rock climbing and a go-kart track. Or consider renting a bike and simply peddling down the beach
North New Smyrna Beach
A fun and somewhat surprising fact: you’re almost as likely to run into cars on North New Smyrna Beach (New Smyrna) as you are people. Forget about building sand castles, too. The sand here is so tightly packed that it easily bears the weight of passenger vehicles.
But aside from a few intrepid beach combers, most of the action here is out on the waves. Most of Florida doesn’t have a reputation for great surfing, yet New Smyrna Beach regularly lands on top surf lists.
You’ll get waves here, and nearby Ponce Inlet often hosts national surfing competitions. You’re also not far from Canaveral National Seashore, a 57,000-acre refuge where visitors can watch sea turtles lay eggs in June and July.
Continuing the Central Florida theme of “the busier, the better,” Cocoa Beach is an area beloved by both tourists and Orlando locals. The beaches on this sliver of barrier island find themselves thronged with sun worshipers all throughout the year and particularly in March and April.
One of the most popular spots to hit is Alan Shepard Beach Park (Cocoa Beach), a mere stone’s throw from Cape Caneveral. It’s a perfect place to watch space shuttle launches, so check to see if one coincides with your trip.
Yet even if the rockets aren’t rising, you can enjoy bumming around at the famous Ron Jon and Cocoa Beach Surf Co. Nearby Canaveral Pier is also worth visiting for a little history and some great grub.
Photo Credit: Getty Images
Beating the Keys at Their Own Game (Northeast Florida Beaches)
Any beach that the Sun-Sentinel (the newspaper of Broward County, Florida) described as “a family-friendly Key West … with better beaches” would sound too good to be true, right?
Well, such a place exists, and it’s Amelia Island, a barrier island in Northeast Florida that boasts Peter’s Point Beach (Fernandina Beach). Winding wooden boardwalks twine through the grass-clad dunes bordering the brown sands.
Campers will particularly enjoy the fact that you can legally pitch a tent for free on the shore. (However, realize that parking on the beach isn’t allowed at night.)
Cyclers and walkers should enjoy the 6.2-mile Amelia Island Trail that starts at Peter’s Point. Ready to get away from the sand? Try your hand at Fernandina’s Putt-Putt, a mini golf course that has been around for six decades.
Join a river boat cruise along the Amelia River, where you might spy wild horses racing along the shores of Cumberland Island or even a nuclear submarine on its way to Kings Bay Submarine Base in Georgia.
Just south of St. Augustine lies a stretch of coastline called Crescent Beach. If there’s nothing you love more than playing sports and games on the beach, this is the place to do it. The hard-packed sand along the water’s edge is perfect for throwing a Frisbee around or forming a game of pick-up volleyball.
Rent a cottage for the weekend or pack a picnic lunch and enjoy an afternoon soaking up the rays and intermittently enjoying the waves.