ORLANDO, Fla. — With 1,350 miles of coastline, Florida certainly has a stretch of sandy shores suited for every beach passion, whether it’s hanging 10 on a surfboard, peering at underwater wonders while snorkeling, searching the low tide for the perfect seashell or enjoying a day of tranquil peace on a patch of secluded sand.
From the Florida Keys to the Panhandle, the Sunshine State certainly has a beach for everyone.
Best Surfing Beach: Palm Beach’s Reef Road
Reef Road in West Palm Beach’s glitziest neighborhood is one of the few places in the state where the surf can achieve true “big wave” status. The area has beautiful beaches, crystal clear waters and warm temperatures, which make for epic conditions when cold fronts roll through.
If you go: The break is located in a residential area on the north end of the county’s priciest slab of real estate. There’s no public parking within two miles of the spot — and there is a very active police force.
Runners-up: New Smyrna Beach and Sebastian Inlet
Best Snorkeling/Scuba Diving Beach: John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Whether you want to admire colorful coral reef or the iconic Christ of the Abyss statue (donated to the park in 1966) submerged in the clear waters off Key Largo, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is a must-see. The park covers 70 nautical square miles and, opening in 1963, was the first underwater park in the United States. Personal or group in-water guides are available upon request for $45, plus tax. Each additional snorkeler (guided) is $15, plus tax.
Park admission: $8 per vehicle, plus 50 cents per person
If you go: 102601 Overseas Highway in Key Largo; 305-451-6300; floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/john-pennekamp-coral-reef-state-park
Runners-up: Bathtub Reef Park in Stuart and Point of Rocks on Siesta Key
Best Beach for Shark’s Teeth: Caspersen Beach in Venice
Beachcombers know the Gulf beaches in and around Southwest Florida are the best places to search for prehistoric shark’s teeth. Caspersen Beach in Venice is an exceptionally fine spot — and a good shelling beach too. Walk along the shoreline and look for the shiny black fossils as they roll onto the shore with the tide. Or purchase a “Venice Snow Shovel,” a screened basket fitted onto a long handle, and wade out a few feet into the water to scoop up your treasures. Most shark teeth found near the shore are 1/8-inch to 3/4-inch or even a bit larger.
If you go: 4100 Harbor Drive in Venice; visitsarasota.com/beaches/caspersen-beach
Runners-up: Casey Key in Nokomis and Fort Clinch State Park beaches on Amelia Island
Best Beach for Rocket Launch Viewing: Playalinda Beach
Playalinda Beach is located inside Canaveral National Seashore, one of Florida’s 11 national parks. It’s an undeveloped beach known for its serene environment and pristine shoreline and is a premier location from which to watch a rocket launch. Always check their website or Kennedy Space Center’s website for the most up-to-date info regarding launches. Note: The park restricts access when it reaches capacity for safety purposes.
Park admission: Park passes are valid for seven days. $20 per vehicle; $15 per motorcycle; $10 per pedestrian or cyclist
If you go: Florida State Road 406/402 in Titusville; 321-267-1110; nps.gov/cana
Runners-up: Jetty Park Beach at Port Canaveral and Alan Shepard Park in Cocoa Beach
Best Tidal Pool Beach: Washington Oaks Gardens State Park
With the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Matanzas River on the other, Washington Oaks Gardens State Park preserves 425 acres of coastal scenery along State Road A1A in Palm Coast. On the state park’s beach (one of the few beaches in Florida with rocks), waves have exposed coquina rock and scattered boulders — which creates the ideal situation for exploring the tidal pools, where you might find small fish, shrimp, sea stars, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, barnacles and anemones.
Park admission: Use the honor box to pay fees. Correct change is required. $4 for single-occupant vehicle; $5 per vehicle (limit 2-8 people per vehicle); $2 for pedestrians, bicyclists, extra passengers
If you go: 6400 N. Oceanshore Blvd. in Palm Coast; 386-446-6780; floridastateparks.org/park/washington-oaks
Runners-up: Bahia Honda State Park in the Keys and Cedar Key beaches
Best Shelling Beach: Sanibel Island beaches
Treasure washes up daily on the shores of Sanibel Island, and you can identify the seekers of the perfect shell by their bent-over posture, commonly known as the “Sanibel stoop.” The barrier island off Florida’s southwest coast is famous for its 15 miles of beaches, where more than 200 kinds of shells can be found. The island has a unique east-west orientation, which creates a long, south-facing beach that pitches gradually into the water. From there, the Gulf currents easily push their tiny treasures onto the shore. You can usually find shells anytime on Sanibel’s beaches, but the best time to go shelling is following a storm after low tide. Bring a scooper, a bucket and a net shell bag that allows water to drain.
If you go: Sanibel Island is off the coast of southwest Florida, just west of Fort Myers. Parking at Sanibel’s public beaches costs $5 an hour. sanibel-captiva.org
Runners-up: Tigertail Beach on Marco Island and Shell Island near Panama City Beach
Best Party Beach: South Beach in Miami
Hear that sizzle? That’s Miami’s South Beach, where the people are pretty and the party never stops. South Beach, sometimes called the American Riviera, offers hundreds of nightclubs, restaurants, boutiques and hotels. People-watching is a great pastime here, as the clear, aquamarine water and white sand beaches draw celebrities and beautiful people in skimpy swim attire. South Beach is also known for iconic, pastel-hued art deco buildings lining Ocean Drive.
If you go: SoBe is located due east of Miami, between Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.
Runners-up: Panama City Beach and Daytona Beach
Most family-friendly beach: Siesta Key Beach in Sarasota
Siesta Key in Sarasota is known for its sugary sand beach, which is a hit with kids who want to build sandcastles. The beach offers calm, clear and shallow turquoise water for swimmers of all ages, and lifeguards are posted year-round. The Gulf Coast barrier-island beach sports a sandcastle-themed playground, volleyball and tennis courts, a huge parking lot that’s free and a concession stand — where you can take advantage of beach rentals. Tripadvisor ranked the Sarasota beach first in its 2020 list of the Top 25 beaches in the country. The site also ranked Siesta Key Beach as the No. 11 beach in the world.
If you go: 948 Beach Road in Siesta Key; 941-861-5000; visitsarasota.com/siesta-key
Runners-up: St. Augustine Beach and Dubois Park in Jupiter
Best dog beach: Smyrna Dunes Park
Your leashed dog will love splashing in the waves at Smyrna Dunes Park, which is comprised of 73 acres of pristine, waterfront land at the northern tip of New Smyrna Beach. The park has restrictions on which parts of the boardwalk allow dogs, so be mindful of signs. There is a wide footpath next to the boardwalk (with pet-waste stations every few feet) that allows plenty of space for strangers walking pets to pass each other without being too close. Although a water station is located next to the parking lot, bring your own water too, as the trip from the shore to the station can be a long one — and dogs need to drink plenty of fresh water to flush out any seawater they may lap up. There is a dog wash station near the parking lot, so pack your doggie shampoo to wash away the salt and sand before your four-legged friend hops into the car.
Park admission: $10 per vehicle
If you go: 2995 N. Peninsula Ave. in New Smyrna Beach; volusia.org/services/public-works/coastal-division/coastal-parks/smyrna-dunes-park.stml
Runners-up: Fort De Soto Park and Fort Myers Beach
Most secluded beach: St. George Island State Park
Looking for sandy shores with fewer crowds and a dose of tranquil serenity? Head to St. George Island State Park in Florida’s Panhandle. The park consists of 9 miles of uncrowded beach for sunning and shelling, clear Gulf waters for swimming and fishing, and pristine marshes for wildlife viewing. Surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico and Apalachicola Bay, the park occupies 2,023 acres at the end of a long, narrow unspoiled barrier island. Find a combination of sandy coves, salt marshes, shady pines and oak forests. The island is protected by low-density zoning and strict building codes, which makes it a serene beach community with no high-rises or chain stores.
Park admission: $6 per vehicle (limit 2-8 people per vehicle); $4 for single-occupant vehicles; $2 for pedestrians, bicyclists, extra passengers
If you go: 1900 E. Gulf Beach Drive in St. George Island; 850-927-2111; floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/dr-julian-g-bruce-st-george-island-state-park
Runners-up: Cayo Costa State Park, Pine Island and Calusa Beach, Florida Keys