Fort Zachary Taylor Beach isn’t exactly the “hidden gem” it once was, but it is still a great place to spread out and enjoy some ice-cold drinks under the warm Florida sun. (Shutterstock /)
Florida has its fair share of beaches that are the places to be when it comes to lively crowds, sandy spots where you’ll find tourists and locals alike, everyone appreciating the natural beauty we’ve all come to expect from the Sunshine State. But there are also plenty of beaches that take visitors far away from the hustle and bustle of bigger cities and allow for the rest, relaxation, and, most importantly, peace and quiet we so desperately crave.
Here is our list of best beaches in Florida where you can soak up the sun and feel like you’re the only person around for miles.
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, Key West
Fort Zach, as the locals call it, offers nearly a mile of white sand beach on the westernmost edge of Key West. The beach gradually deepens, offering ample shallow areas to play. We like that it has amenities, including the Cayo Hueso Café, open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. to serve frozen coffee, domestic and imported beer, daiquiris as well as chili dogs, nachos and ice cream.
The park is open from 8 am until sunset and charges an entrance fee.
T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, FL Panhandle
This is everything we love in a beach: 20 miles of white-sand nature preserve with no development—not even a snack stand. It’s a whole lot of quiet real estate along the Gulf of Mexico in the Panhandle where you can certainly spread out on the beach. You can also bring a bicycle, binoculars for birding or fishing gear for snagging speckled trout, red drum, mullet, bluefish and, in the summer months, scallops—all with a permit.
The park is only open by day, 8 a.m. until sunset, so you won’t be overnighting here. You can either daytrip from Panama City, 75 minutes away by car, or you can stay anywhere along road 30E, which threads along narrow Cape San Blas.
Caladesi Island State Park, Dunedin
One great way to escape crowds is choosing an island that puts a cap on the number of guests. (Shutterstock/)
Caladesi Island has always limited the number of daily visitors to its three miles of white sand beach, north of the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area. A ferry operates every half hour, carrying 30 passengers; masks must be worn.
This beach impresses in that it toes the line of wild-meets-concessions. You can rent beach chairs, umbrellas and kayaks, plus there’s a snack stand and restrooms. Yet, it’s also a nature preserve where gopher tortoises, great blue herons, armadillos and hawks roam the oak-and-palm hammock.
Seagrape Trail, Vero Beach
A public beach, not a state park, the Atlantic-facing Sea Grape Trail typically draws attention for the silver coins dating to a 1715 Spanish shipwreck that treasure hunters occasionally stumble across. Booty aside, we like this stretch of sand for its solitude, and for the fact that it’s a short walk from your parked car to the sand.
A wall of sea grape trees separates Highway A1A from the vanilla white sand—a beach so soft and wide that it’s a preferred nesting spot for green sea turtles, March through October.
In Central Florida, the six miles of Flagler Beach—located just over an hour by car from Orlando—are known equally as for its Atlantic Ocean surf breaks as it is for back-in-time charm, where height restrictions prevent any high-rises or big hotels from moving in. It’s a wide beach where the vibe is family friendly and folksy. Stretches of Flagler are dog friendly, and you can also stay for a bonfire (with a permit). All beaches and parking are free.
Lovers Key State Park, Fort Myers
When it’s not serving as the setting for some of Florida’s most romantic beach weddings, Lovers Key is a great place for a solo kayak ride. (Shutterstock /)
Spared from becoming condos thanks to the hard work of concerned citizens who negotiated with one of the developers and some Lee County commissioners, this Gulf of Mexico barrier island offers 2.5 miles of white sand on a 1,600-acre park. It’s a nature preserve with tidal lagoons and canals, welcoming manatees and roseate spoonbill birds.
Note that from the main parking lot, you’ll have to cross two canals, so it’s not the shortest walk from car to beach blanket. We recommend packing light, including a few bucks for lunch at concessioner Hurricane Charley’s, dishing up simple fare like cheeseburgers, nachos and ice cream.
The closest beach to Miami that gets out vote is Dania Beach, 35 minutes north of Miami and 10 minutes south of Fort Lauderdale. Unlike other beaches in the metro area, this one is surrounded by green—including the Dr. Von D. Mizell-Eula Johnson State Park, a narrow ribbon of sand and hammock.
You can venture anywhere in the park for greater privacy, or if you’re limited in terms of how far you can hoof it, you can lounge close to the Dania Beach pier. There’s ample parking near the pier, and from here, you only need to stride a few yards to have your own private stretch of sand.
Blue Mountain Beach, FL Panhandle
There’s a reason the beaches of the Florida Panhandle rate so highly on Dr. Beach’s lists—the white sand and turquoise water are so seductive that it’s easy to forget that you’re still on the U.S. mainland. One of the best of the bunch is Blue Mountain Beach in South Walton, so named for the dunes that rise to a whopping 65 feet. We’re big fans for the white sand, the dunes covered in sea oats, and the curling sandbars that appear at low tide.
It’s a place where you’ll feel like you’re exploring, both because there are so few people in sight, and because low tide makes this a dynamic, magical spot.
Big Talbot Island State Park, Jacksonville
The great thing about all that driftwood is that it doesn’t talk or blast loud music. (Shutterstock /)
This quiet Northeast Florida beach, littered with driftwood, is a favorite among birders and kayakers. It’s a bit of a democratic destination in that high-end accommodation is available thanks to luxury hotels like One Ocean, and so is camping at the state park.
Photographers love the area known as Boneyard Beach for the massive trees that have washed ashore only to be weathered white by the elements. We like the fact that if you’re there in the winter, it’s complete solitude—just note that if you’re not Canadian, you’ll want to bring a sweatshirt.
Little Gasparilla Island, Fort Myers
We’re suckers for a good Gulf of Mexico Beach, and Little Gasparilla Island north of Fort Myers is one of the best. No paved roads connect this beach to mainland Florida. Instead, a 10-minute ferry makes a beach day—or week—possible. There are no stores or restaurants. Home rentals are available for those who want to spend more time connecting with nature, and less time connecting to fast Internet.
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