As most of the state is bordered by either the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean, the best beaches in Florida happen to be plentiful and diverse: the Gulf coast offers the crystal-quartz sands of western Florida as well as the glittering green/blue hues of the calm waters on the panhandle’s Emerald Coast. The crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean meet the golden sands of northern Florida in addition to the expansive beaches on the south-eastern coast.
No matter where you are in the state, whether you are looking to snorkel, ride horses, hike nature trails, search for shark teeth, or you just want to relax, we’ve got you covered. And when you’re done with all that, satisfy your hunger pangs at the best restaurants in Florida, seek out some adventure at the top water parks in the state or rest your head at these awesome local hotels.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in Florida
Best beaches in Florida
Where: Siesta Key
As its name implies, Siesta Key is the place to relax. The expansive beachfront rarely feels overcrowded and the fine quartz-crystal white sand stays cool to the touch, so be sure to dig your feet in whilst reading your favorite magazine. (Ahem.) Pack your cooler with your adult beverages—no glasses allowed—and, if you bring a designated driver, get there early as parking fills up quickly. Should you feel the need to exert yourself, kayaks and paddleboards are available for rental.
Where: Gulf County
If you are a nature lover looking for a secluded, dog-friendly beach filled with soft white sand brimming with local wildlife and offering fantastic sunset views, then Cape San Blas is the place for you. This 17-mile peninsula is home to a wilderness preserve featuring hiking trails, scallop beds and great snorkeling spots. It is also one of the few spots in Florida where you can ride a horse right on the beach.
Where: Walton County
The panhandle of Northwest Florida is known as the Emerald coast given the gorgeous green hues of its waters. Where the gulf meets the Santa Rosa Beach, the sugar-white sand is packed so tightly that you can hear your footsteps as you walk across it. High-rise hotels are not allowed, which helps keep the crowds down, and there are several entrances to Point Washington State Forest, a lush 15,000-acre preserve home to hiking trails, campgrounds and local wildlife.
Where: Monroe County
Some of the best snorkeling in Florida can be found off of the pristine beach at the Dry Tortugas National Park, located about 70 miles off of Key West. The only way to get there is by boat, the Yankee Freedom III high-speed catamaran ferry or seaplane (our choice, obviously). Sunbathe on the soft powdery sand, snorkel the clear blue-green waters or take a guided tour of Fort Jefferson.
Where: Flagler and Volusia counties
The most exciting thing about this six-mile stretch of beach located between Daytona and St Augustine is the nice portion that grants pet-friendly access, allowing leashed dogs on the beach. It’s also a fantastic location to watch the incredible sunrises over the Atlantic Ocean and there are plenty of affordable houses available for rent right on the beach that allow pets for free or a small fee. A perfect home-away-from-home for you and your pooch, indeed.
Located at the Southernmost end of St Petersburg Beach on central Florida’s west coast, Pass-a-Grille Beach is the best spot to watch the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico. Relax or stroll along the wide, sandy beaches, take a paddleboarding lesson in the Gulf waters or explore the tiny island by taking a self-guided walking tour courtesy of the Gulf Beaches Historical Museum. Then toast it all with a cocktail at the fabulous Don CeSar resort, known locally as the “pink palace.”
Where: Sanibel Island
Shell seekers come from all over the world to Sanibel to comb the beach for one of the more than 250 different types of shells that the gulf tides wash up onto the silky sand. In addition to the beautiful beach with its shallow waters leading out into the gulf, buildings are no more than three stories high, so there are plenty of locations to take in the incredible views of the sunset.
Where: Nassau County
Amelia Island sits on 13 miles of wide golden sand on a barrier island on the Atlantic Ocean just north of Jacksonville. Once you make your way over the large sand dunes dotted with sea oats, you will see that the beach is wide with plenty of room to spread out and enjoy the expansive ocean views. As you watch the sandpipers and seagulls at the shore, keep your eyes open for dolphins swimming in the ocean.
Where: Monroe County
Bahia Honda is a 500-acre park with beaches fronting both the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. The beautiful beaches are divided by a gigantic crumbling remnant of one of the original bridges built in the early 1900s for the railroad that connected the Florida Keys to the mainland. After spending the day lounging, kayaking or snorkeling on the gulf or oceanside beach, you can sleep under the stars at the campground just steps from the ocean.
Where: Sarasota County
You’ll find more seagulls and sandpipers than people on this secluded beach which is a favorite spot of shell-seekers. Spend the day relaxing on the soft sand or combing the gulf’s edge for shark’s teeth, sand dollars and shells that wash up on the beach. Sea turtles nest here and you might spot a manatee or two in the water as you wander through the trail in the nearby mangroves.
As you drive over the causeway on the Emerald coast, you are greeted by Navarre Beach’s 12 miles of soothing, white quartz-sand beach and emerald-green water. After relaxing gulf-side, make sure to pay just $1 to walk the long fishing pier that juts out into the gulf as you will get terrific views of the local sea life including rays, sharks, sea turtles and a variety of fish.
Where: Pinellas County
The views of the sunset from the west coast of Florida cannot be beat and Indian Rocks Beach is a local favorite when celebrating the end of another beautiful day. The dune-lined beach is rarely crowded, easily accessible and there is plenty of parking and beach access. For a change of pace, take a stroll along the boardwalk to explore the lush mangroves.
Where: Lee County
This beach is only accessible by kayak, boat or ferry, and the extra effort it takes to get here is completely worth it. Low tide is the best time to search for shells. While sunbathing, make sure to keep an eye out for the dolphins, manatees and sea turtles that live in the surrounding waters. The island is pet-friendly and restrooms, cabins and campgrounds are all available should you choose to extend your stay.
Where: Miami-Dade County
Looking to get an all-over tan? Then this is the beach for you. Haulover Beach Park offers a rare clothing-optional section, located on the northern one-third of the largest remaining stretch of undeveloped beachfront in Miami-Dade County, right between lifeguard towers #12 and #16. Beach ambassadors sporting green safari hats are on hand to provide etiquette tips on navigating the nude beach, and restrooms, umbrella, chair rentals and concessions are all on offer.
Where: Madeira Beach
This two-mile stretch of beach is located on a Gulf coast barrier island, and John’s Pass Park, on the south end, is a quiet location for soaking up the sun. Parking, chair rentals and covered picnic areas are all available and every Wednesday and Sunday, you can learn about local shells, sea turtles and more on the Shell and Beach Walks headquartered at John’s Pass Village & Boardwalk right across Gulf Boulevard.
Explore more of Florida
Don’t believe the Snowbirds! There’s so much more to do in Florida than just going to the beach (although we’re pretty proud of the fact that we can do that all year round).
Running the gamut from hole-in-the-wall seafood dens and renowned hotel restaurants in big cities to high-brow Spanish fare and celebrity chef spots in the state’s small towns, Florida’s dining scene is as eclectic and diverse as its residents.
Just like its sundry neighborhoods, so, too, is the Sunshine State packed with hotels that reflect everything it has to offer. Here are our favorite hotels in east coast America’s most southern peninsula.