Beautiful white sugary beaches. Cool, azure water with foamy waves washing up on shore. Palm trees waving softly in the trade winds. And, at the end of the day, gorgeous tropical sunsets that feed the soul, and leave you wanting to come back 24-hours later for more.
What's not to like? That's the promise of the most beautiful beaches in Florida, America's "Sunshine State."
Unless you're in Alaska or Hawaii (with its abundance of great beaches, that's understandable), any American is within six hours of a Florida coastal paradise, and millions take advantage of that proximity to visit Florida, with its 1,350 miles of mostly pristine coastlines.
With that much geography involved, it's not easy to choose the best beach town landing spots in the Sunshine State. Whether it's biking, sun-worshipping, surfing, or just settling for a cold beer under a beach-side tiki hut, Florida beaches offer a welcoming experience to visitors.
Which Florida beaches belong on anyone's bucket list? Let's list some fast facts first, then get right into seven seaside vistas that certainly qualify as the best beaches in Florida.
Fun Facts About Florida Beaches
Here's a few entertaining factoids about Florida's beautiful beach life:
- Benjamin Green, a Miami Beach pharmacist, invented the first suntan lotion in 1944.
- St. Petersburg-Clearwater boasts 361 days of sunshine every year.
- Islamorada, in the Florida Keys, means "purple island," in Spanish.
- For years, inventor Thomas Edison and auto icon Henry Ford were neighbors in Fort Myers.
- No matter where you are in the Sunshine State you're never more than 60 miles from a sunny beach.
- Florida's beaches are home to 80% of all loggerhead turtles located in the U.S.
- Sunny Sanibel Island ranks in the "Top 10" best beaches around the globe for shelling, with more than 400 species.
Smathers Beach, Key West- We start at the most southerly tip of the continental U.S., at Key West, Florida. At four miles long and just a mile wide, Key West doesn't seem to have the geographical chops to be ranked among the best beaches in Florida, but the evidence says otherwise - it has some of the greatest beaches and sunsets in America. Key West is almost more like tropical Panama or Cuba in its climate than northerly Floridian beaches, so the hot weather requires a cool dip in the Atlantic - and that's just what the Conch Republic offers. Your best bet? Head straightaway to Smathers Beach, the largest and most popular beach on Key West. It's roughly two miles long, close to town, and has all the amenities you'd associate with a Florida beach - water sport, food and drink options, and a blazing hot sun. Both parking and beach entry fee are free, and of it gets too hot, Duval Street is right up the road.
Fun fact: Key West is way closer to Cuba (90 miles away) than Miami (150 miles away.)
Siesta Key Beach- Located in Sarasota, Siesta Key Beach offers eight miles of gorgeous, unspoiled sand and surf (the sand is actually 99% pure white quartz, which not only gives it a great, sparkly look, it's actually cooler to walk on.) The beach is also adjacent to the key's eclectic assortment of local shops, restaurants, bars and nightlife. The beach itself is a barrier island that separates Sarasota from the Gulf of Mexico, and is ranked the No. 1 beach not only in Florida, but in the entire U.S. as well, according to multiple travel sites.
Fun fact: Infamous pirate Jean Lafitte is believed to have been shipwrecked close to Longboat Key - maybe he was blinded by the glittering white sand of Siesta Key.
St. Pete Beach- Right up the road a few miles from Long Boat Key lies St. Pete Beach. Just like Siesta Key, St. Pete's Beach also boasts some of the most gleaming white sand in America. Upham Beach, located at the northernmost point of St. Pete Beach, also offers the best surfing in Florida. Spend the day on the beach, clean up at one of the many beachside showers, and follow up by walking iconic Corey Avenue, where shops and restaurants abound, and pad up to nearby Don CeSar Beach Resort, a St. Pete mainstay for over 80 years. If you opt to stay overnight - and who wouldn't - there are plenty of small hotels and bed-and-breakfasts near the beach.
Fun Fact. Surprisingly for a larger Florida city, only 15% of St. Pete's residents are over the age of 65.
Daytona Beach- The Florida burgh best known for its Nascar 500 auto race every February at its legendary International Speedway, Daytona also has some great beaches that will turn sun-lovers into overdrive. Daytona Beach actually encompasses seven beautiful beaches, including Ormond Beach, Daytona Beach, Daytona Beach Shores, Ponce Inlet, Port Orange, South Daytona and Holly Hill. Hit any one of them and enjoy the wide sands that leave plenty of room for beachgoers, and even drive your vehicle right on to Daytona Beach (just don't go faster than 16km per hour.) If you're lucky, you might see migrating whales pass by the beach, especially in winter months.
Fun Fact. The Daytona 500 actually started at Daytona Beach - right on the sand.
Miami Beach- If you're into gorgeous beach views and into high-profile sightseeing at all, then brother, Miami Beach is for you. The most celebrated beach in Miami Beach (it's actually on a barrier island), and one of America's most iconic beaches, is South Beach. A drive down the main drag with South Beach on one side, with its beautiful turquoise waters and miles of clean, white sand, and the drives of art deco bars, dining spots on the other, is the quintessential Miami Beach experience. After a day on the beach, head for the bars and stay for the stars - the movies "Scarface" and "The Birdcage" were filmed on Miami Beach, as was the 1980s television kitsch classic, "Miami Vice."
Fun Fact. Miami Beach is actually cooler than you may think - it averages just 81 degrees in temperature - even in mid-July.
Marco Island- Just over the bridge from Naples, Marco Island is a sunset-lover's dream come true. Its scenic vistas and its orange and purplish hues when the sun sets over the Gulf of Mexico are a "must see" event for tourists who gather at Kane, one of the most celebrated beach bars in America (located inside the JW Marriott Marco Island.) The views are spectacular, particularly when a school of dolphins roll by - a regular event when the sun goes down over one of Florida's best beaches. Marco Island is relatively low key and quiet, and it's only an hour away from Fort Myers International Airport, giving beach lovers easy access to one of the best twilight shows on Mother Nature's menu.
Fun Fact. Close by Naples is the start of the Everglades, and one of America's only habitats that is home to both alligators and crocodiles.
Pensacola Beach- No list of great Florida beaches is complete without mentioning Pensacola, located in north Florida on its panhandle. Like Marco Island, Pensacola overlooks the Gulf of Mexico, with its beautiful bookend beaches, Pensacola Beach and Perdido Key, offering the best beach action. If you want more elbow room, just head up the road to Gulf Islands National Seashore, which boasts the longest strip of protected coastland in the U.S. The waters are calm, the Gulf is gorgeous, and Pensacola is one of the most laid-back cities in the U.S.
Fun Facts. Pensacola Beach Gulf Pier, at 1,470 feet long, is one of the longest piers in America, and a great excuse to straighten out those sea legs and take a long walk, well into the Gulf of Mexico.