Travel domestically remains steady and one of the most popular places to visit in 2021 is the sunshine state. Here are the best beaches in Florida.
Clearwater Beach just south of Tampa, Florida shouldn’t be as stunning as it is. Tampa, the city of Clearwater, and St. Petersburg have been built up to the point that it’s shocking Clearwater remains the beautiful beach it is today. Tampa’s expansion has its benefits with cheap flights t0 almost anywhere in the country as well as international destinations, but despite the accessibility of the greater Tampa metropolitan area, Clearwater remains one of the very best beaches in Florida.
Besides its stunning beauty, Clearwater is separated from the city of Tampa in a way that South Beach in Miami is not. It has a combination of upscale restaurants, seaside haunts, and touristy spots that give just about everyone a reason to visit.
It’s not just my glowing recommendation of the beach. In 2018, TripAdvisor users ranked the beach #1 in the US which is a striking statement considering the level of competition not only throughout the state but also South Carolina, California, the Hawaiian Islands, and Puerto Rico.
Due to the popularity of the area, hotels and resorts offer a range of options from budget to luxury. Clearwater also benefits from a historical perspective with many buildings in the area still standing from the early half of the 20th century.
Fort Walton/Destin has been growing for years in popularity. Allegiant Airlines recently expanded to the city as has Southwest joining Delta, United, and American Airlines. Fort Walton is famous for its powder-white sand beach, Santa Rosa, on the warmer waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
While the city is growing, it’s a quieter lifestyle than other areas of Florida. Smaller communities come with restrictions, fewer flights, fewer hotels, fewer restaurants. However, that’s often the perfect recipe for a relaxing weekend away from the noise, traffic, and busy beaches throughout some of the more popular beaches around the state.
The beach has a natural setting with wildlife reaching in toward the sandy front and water but many find For Walton/Destin and specifically Santa Rosa to be their quiet little secret – and they like it that way.
When you need a break from the heat, check out the many nature trails surrounding the area.
I’ve covered Sanibel beach before in my posts: The Five Best Beaches in Fort Myers. I just visited again a few weeks ago and Sanibel is firmly among the best in the state. The beach offers, by far, the best shelling in the state and possibly the country.
Sanibel also has a small $6 toll to cross over the viaduct and onto the island from greater Fort Myers. For locals, this would be an expensive addition to their beach budget and many stay away as a result. But for visiting families who have already purchased a vacation to Southwest Florida, this charge is insignificant, however, it keeps pristine beach light on traffic.
Sanibel Island is also home to some of the most active sea life in the area. Dolphins are routinely viewed within swimming distance in fairly shallow waters around the island and interactions with swimmers have been recorded. Dolphins do not harm humans, so this once-in-a-lifetime chance to swim near wild dolphins shouldn’t be missed. Other animals in the area include sea turtles, an array for seafaring birds, and flying fish.
If you have the chance to visit Sanibel Beach – don’t miss it.
Just off the shores of Key West, Dry Tortugas is accessible by ferry and offers one of the best beaches in the Florida Keys. The Keys are barrier islands and many of the beaches on Key West proper are not suitable for sunbathing. They tend to be rocky, and built for docking boats. Dry Tortugas is that escape.
One of the things that make Dry Tortugas and Key West so unique is the separation between the two areas. Key West has a classic turn-of-the-century charm from the Overseas Highway, to its relationship with Cuba (just 90 miles away) and a past that made it one of Ernest Hemingway’s homes.
Fishing trips, snorkeling, and scuba diving expeditions are arranged for the area every day for those interested.
Key West also has a party scene that is great for some, but not for everyone. Dry Tortugas allows visitors to leave all of that behind and see what the turquoise waters of the Caribbean have to offer. Key West is a three-hour drive from southern mainland Florida on most days with a single-lane highway over the water providing unbelievable views with islands like Key Largo, and Marathon Key along the way.
Just 60 minutes from Orlando is Cocoa Beach on Florida’s east coast. Cocoa doesn’t get the attention from some of the other beaches but should. It’s got a classic 1960s beach vibe but one serious extra perk:
Cape Canaveral launched the Apollo missions, the Space Shuttle, and now nearly weekly launches from private companies like Lockheed Martin and SpaceX, though the latter is likely the most impressive. Cocoa Beach is now referred to as “Space Coast” for its relationship to the rocket launches and NASA history in the area. However, given the recent expansion into launches from the site, it’s easier than ever to watch the sunset over the water and then the warm glow of yet another rocket climbing into the heavens. Aviation geeks, space fans, and families have found this unique perk to be one of the most amazing places to visit in Florida.
Cocoa’s proximity to Orlando also benefits those who wish to balance their time between sun and sand, as well as thrill rides from Sea World, Universal Studios Orlando, and Walt Disney World Resorts.
Other Great Florida Beaches
With almost a thousand miles of coastline, it would be impossible to include every beach on this list. However, the following two are certainly worthy of this list.
At one of western and most northern points of Florida, Pensacola attracts a special visitor. As the Gulf Shores of Alabama have recently brought in new tourists to the area, Pensacola is being revived. The beaches are famous for white sand but it also offers visitors something special, a cooler climate. It’s still Florida, so it’s not as if parkas are needed, but in the winter, milder temperatures give a reprieve from the oppressive humidity in the southern end of the peninsula.
Still a proud armed services base, an annual air show is worth a visit.
One of the most famous beaches in the world, South Beach is one of the best Miami beaches. Famous more for its distinct culture and style, the water and sand deliver everything a distinguishing visitor could want. Premium experiences, exclusivity, and plenty of sun, sand, and water for visitors to Miami, the Capital of the Americas.
Whether you are looking for an island experience, quiet white sand beaches, or the busy lifestyle of Miami and Tampa, there’s a beach in Floria for you. My personal favorite is Sanibel for the unique wildlife, limited crowds as well as unreal experience of shelling available on the island. That said, watching rockets blast off (and their boosters autonomously land on drone ships in the sea) with your toes in the sand is a very rare experience as well.