Best Florida Beaches
With about 1,200 miles of coastline, Florida is a year-round travel destination for many on the East Coast. Plus, the diversity of the shores – from family-friendly to party-focused – helps draw different types of travelers. U.S. News took into account reader votes and factors like aesthetics, atmosphere and convenience to rank the best Florida beaches. What's your favorite beach in the Sunshine State? Vote below to contribute to next year's rankings. Click here to see the Best Resorts in Florida »
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You'll be hard-pressed to find a place in Florida with quieter and calmer shores than Sanibel Island. Here, the pastime is "shelling" – collecting assorted, colorful seashells along the sand – rather than partying, making this beach town an excellent choice for families. For the best seashells, head to Bowman's Beach or Blind Pass Beach. Also, save time for a visit to Lighthouse Beach Park, where you can cast a line off of the beach's pier and snap pictures of its 19th-century lighthouse.
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Families flock to Destin for its white sands, gorgeous Gulf waters and frequent sunshine. This Florida mainstay is one of the state's most affordable beach towns, though temperatures, visitor volume and room rates are at their highest in the summer. Travelers will find popular stretches of sand like June White Decker Park and Crystal Beach by the town's resorts and vacation rentals, but for a more laid-back atmosphere, sunbathe on Henderson Beach State Park's Appalachian quartz sands. Beachgoers may even spot dolphins, sea turtles and other critters during their visits.
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The Sunshine City offers the best of both worlds. Visitors will find miles of relaxing shorelines and an urban cityscape – perfect for those looking to escape to the beach without feeling disconnected. Plus, the city holds the world record for having the most consecutive days of sunshine, making it an ideal place to lounge on picturesque white sands. Active travelers won't want to miss St. Pete Beach's shores: The area's Pass-a-Grille Beach is a prime spot for activities like windsurfing, parasailing and kiteboarding.
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Overflowing with golf courses, gourmet restaurants and boutique shops, Naples offers travelers an upscale Florida retreat. However, the luxury resorts and costly activities can make a Naples vacation quite expensive. But luckily, the beaches are completely free to enjoy. At Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, vacationers can snorkel, spot wildlife, go shelling and more. Meanwhile, Naples Beach beckons to beachgoers who want to gaze at stunning sunsets and enjoy top-notch fishing. The latter's pier also hosts Naples' annual Fourth of July fireworks show.
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This tiny island might be at the end of the Florida Keys, but it is worth the trek. This little retreat will knock your socks off with exciting festivals, laid-back bars and fascinating people. However, the shores themselves can also be a bit overcrowded, so consider visiting a quieter stretch of sand like Higgs Beach. If you're traveling with kids, venture to Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park to snorkel, picnic and explore the park's Civil War-era fort.
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Panama City Beach's 27 miles of Gulf of Mexico beaches offer a range of pursuits for travelers of all ages. Camp Helen State Park is a prime spot for fishing thanks to its large coastal dune lake, while St. Andrews State Park appeals to visitors keen on snorkeling, swimming, surfing and looking for wildlife. The park is also where vacationers can catch the Shell Island Shuttle – which operates during the spring, summer and fall months – to Shell Island, a 700-acre barrier island that's known for its large population of bottlenose dolphins.
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Amelia Island#7 in Best Florida Beaches
If you're in search of a relaxing beach destination with old-world charm, consider vacationing on Amelia Island. Situated about 30 miles northeast of Jacksonville, Amelia Island features 13 miles of beaches, including Amelia Island State Park (where you can ride horses on the beach) and Main Beach Park (with a playground, an outdoor skate park, picnic tables, volleyball courts and more). When you need a break from the beach, play a round of golf on one of the island's championship courses or enjoy a leisurely stroll beneath its Spanish moss-draped oak trees.
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Cocoa Beach#8 in Best Florida Beaches
Cocoa Beach's proximity to Orlando and world-renowned waves make it a popular beach retreat for both families and surfers. This Space Coast locale features four parks with beach access, including Alan Shepard Park and Sidney Fischer Park (both with picnic facilities and showers). But the city's most frequented beach is its stretch of sand by the Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier. Here, visitors can catch a wave or watch experts compete in annual surfing competitions. For a surfing keepsake, stop by Cocoa Beach's Ron Jon Surf Shop, the world's largest surf shop.
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Nestled between West Palm Beach and Miami, Boca Raton boasts 2 miles of lifeguard-protected sands. Must-visit beaches include South Inlet Park (a fishing hot spot that's rarely crowded) and the 67-acre Red Reef Park, which offers superb swimming, snorkeling and surf fishing conditions. Additionally, Red Reef Park is where you'll find the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, with sea turtle walks and hatchling release programs. If you're traveling with a furry companion, consider visiting Spanish River Park's Bark Beach, Boca's only dog-friendly beach.
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Overlooking the Gulf of Mexico on the Florida Panhandle, Pensacola is best known for its idyllic beaches and military base. Pensacola Beach and Perdido Key State Park offer ample amenities, calm waters and dolphin sightings, but for more elbow room, check out the less crowded Gulf Islands National Seashore, which is home to the longest stretch of protected coastline in the country. The area also boasts three historical forts and incredible snorkeling and kayaking opportunities.
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Though you'll pay a pretty penny to vacation in Miami Beach, the city's highly regarded South Beach is the place to go to people-watch and party. Plus, South Beach sits within steps of Ocean Drive, where you can shop at high-end stores and dine at upscale restaurants. But if you're not visiting to immerse yourself in Miami Beach's chic scene, don't fret: The city offers additional places to soak up some sun, such as kid-centric South Pointe Park and laid-back Haulover Park. Keep in mind, the northern section of Haulover Park is clothing-optional.
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Often overlooked for Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale's less chaotic, less crowded beaches are its greatest asset. Fort Lauderdale is both family- and budget-friendly, offering significantly lower room rates than other nearby Florida beach spots. Fort Lauderdale Beach Park appeals to families and fitness-conscious travelers with its ample amenities, including a playground and basketball and volleyball courts, while Las Olas Beach features clean sand and clear water. If you need a break from sunbathing, go for a stroll along Fort Lauderdale Beach's palm tree-lined promenade.
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Vero Beach#13 in Best Florida Beaches
For a relaxing beach getaway on Florida's Atlantic coast, check out Vero Beach. On the barrier island part of town, you'll find several family-friendly shores that offer everything from playgrounds to outdoor showers to sand volleyball courts. After picking up a sandwich from a beachside eatery to enjoy in one of Humiston Beach Park's picnic pavilions, head a mile north to Jaycee Beach Park, a quiet stretch of sand with a boardwalk and a park. Or, hang 10 at Tracking Station Beachfront Park.
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Clearwater Beach#14 in Best Florida Beaches
Clearwater Beach's gentle water and white sand attract R&R-seekers in droves. Following a few hours of swimming or lounging, beachgoers can play volleyball or go rollerblading or biking on the adjacent Beach Walk promenade. Then, visitors can make their way to Pier 60 to watch a breathtaking sunset and participate in evening crafts and entertainment. Because the 1,800-foot pier is adorned with various lights, anglers often come here to fish at night.
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Key Largo#15 in Best Florida Beaches
Located in the upper Florida Keys, Key Largo is best known for its top-notch dive sites, including shipwrecks and underwater statues. However, travelers don't need to strap on a scuba tank to enjoy this island paradise. Vacationers can lounge on a variety of man-made beaches, such as Harry Harris Park (with calm water and picnic facilities) and Cannon Beach (a stretch of sand in John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park that was named after its 17th-century cannons). For more elbow room, consider staying at a resort with a private beach.
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