Top 10 Florida beaches


By Alison Roberts-Tse for British Airways

Title photography by MargaretW

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May 2018

Basking on beautiful beaches is a local past-time in the Sunshine State, and you can join the family friendly Florida beach action, too. (Just avoid the notorious “spring break” bacchanals, such as Panama City Beach, during high season.) The best beaches in Florida offer prime real estate to build brilliant sand castles, push off on paddleboards and cosy up with your partner – or a good book. This Florida beaches guide will help you to select the most suitable stretch of sand for your dream holiday.

1. Clearwater Beach – Clearwater Beach

The name ‘Clearwater Beach’ doesn’t leave much to the imagination… But along with inviting crystalline waters, the soft sand in Clearwater Beach also calls for celebration. Try to visit during the beach town’s annual Pier 60 Sugar Sand Festival, which showcases temporary monolithic masterpieces – carefully crafted by expert sand sculptors with trowels, toothpicks and dentistry tools. Visitors will even learn how to improve their own sand sculpting skills with workshops and speed sand demonstrations. The festivities in Clearwater, Florida also include free concerts and movie screenings on the beach before vibrant fireworks displays light up the evening sky. While adults will appreciate casually strolling through the pop-up art gallery with a beer in hand, kids will particularly enjoy playing in the supersized sandbox and bounce houses.

Where to stay: Sandpearl Resort

Saunter to Sandpearl Resort for casual beachside elegance on a stretch of private coastline. You can conveniently plan daily activities and excursions with the hotel’s professional concierge. The seasonal Camp Ridley kid’s club will keep your little ones entertained on nature walks and scavenger hunts, while you park in a poolside cabana with food and beverage service or snooze under an oversized umbrella on the shore.

Book a stay at Sandpearl Resort

Keep your eyes peeled for a prized Junonia shell. It’s “finders keepers” here, so long as the seashell has been evacuated – and the find can earn you a feature in the local paper.

  • Pier 60, Clearwater Beach. ©Boone Clemmons.

2. Bowman’s Beach – Sanibel

The massive deposits of seashells on Sanibel Island, set off the Florida Gulf Coast, attract beachcombers from around the globe. Proud residents of the “seashell capital of the world” regularly “shell-ebrate” their claim to fame with artsy displays: seashell studded mailboxes, seashell encrusted mirrors and seashell faux flower arrangements, just to name a few. The annual shell show in spring showcases every type of shell craft imaginable, along with rare former homes of bivalves and gastropods. Although many of the holiday homes in Sanibel have access to private beaches, Bowman’s Beach may afford more seclusion during high season. It also has public parking spots for visitors, in addition to picnic tables and barbeque grills, restrooms, changing rooms and an outdoor shower. Keep your eyes peeled for a prized Junonia shell. It’s “finders keepers” here, so long as the seashell has been evacuated – and the find can earn you a feature in the local paper.

Where to stay: Sundial Beach and Golf Resort

This island resort is ideal for travellers that would rather play in the water than lounge on the beach. Cruise the waters with complimentary kayaks and paddleboard rentals, or jaunt around Sanibel on a borrowed bike. Golfers can tee off on the verdant 18-hole championship course at The Dunes Golf & Tennis Club. For a bout of family fun at the hotel, pick up a ping-pong paddle to play pickleball on one of 12 Plexicushion courts.

Book a stay at Sundial Beach and Golf Resort

If you can endure the etiquette code, settle in for a luxurious stay at Naples Grande Beach Resort… with the daily included 'mid-afternoon refresh'.

3. Delnor Wiggins Pass State Park – North Naples, Naples

Naples is a notorious retirement destination, and it’s easy to see why empty nesters flock here. The city offers a ritzy downtown area with high-end shopping and art galleries, and the Naples Beach area spans seven miles. For an activity-packed day, make your way past North Naples, Florida to Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park. Here, you can snorkel or scuba dive over hardbottom reefs that grow atop limestone, or lackadaisically paddle over the shimmering waters in a kayak. Nature enthusiasts will enjoy fishing from the shore and spying birds from the accessible observation tower. When you need a well-earned break, grill lunch in the picnic area or plop your bottom on a beach chair, under an umbrella on the park’s sandy west end.

Where to stay: Naples Grande Beach Resort

If you can endure the etiquette code, settle in for a luxurious stay at Naples Grande Beach Resort. Should you find lounging at the exclusive adults only palm terrace pool taxing, perk up with the daily included ‘mid-afternoon refresh’: chilled towels and frozen grapes. Kids will love whooshing down the waterslide attached to the family pool, and fitness fanatics can enjoy their own aquatic arena for swimming laps.

Book a stay at Naples Grande Beach Resort

  • Bowman's Beach, Sanibel Island. ©Purdue9394.
  • Beach hut on South Beach, Miami. ©Mark Lewis.

    All that glitters

    Florida's Gold and Treasure Coasts are named after booty found in Spanish galleons wrecked along their shores.£744 pp

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  • Fort De Soto Park North Beach. ©KenCanning.

4. South Beach – Miami Beach, Miami

Swanky South Beach Miami is a Miami holidays must. Occasionally referred to as the “American Riviera,” South Beach sits on the small, man-made island of Miami Beach. Its reputation as a playground for the young, beautiful and well-moneyed crowd draws visitors looking to experience the local luxe lifestyle and tireless nightlife. After long evenings of sipping Miami Vice cocktail combos of strawberry daiquiri and piña colada at bustling Latin clubs, the beach provides a perfect, low-key respite. Simply gaze out over the tropical waters; or stretch your legs – pausing to snap shots of the iconic, stilted lifeguard towers. Although these brightly coloured structures are synonymous with Miami Beach today, they only cropped up in 1992.

Where to stay: W South Beach

W South Beach takes their hospitality seriously. Their top-rate concierge services include a trademarked WHATEVER/WHENEVER® button on guest room phones… Request whatever wonderful whim strikes you, and the accommodating team will do their best to deliver. If you are not so needy, soak up culture on their daily arts walk or play on the basketball and tennis courts. When you need a break, visit the spa or salon for well-deserved pampering sessions.

Book a stay at W South Beach

5. Smathers Beach – Key West, Florida Keys

Tourists frequently drive from Miami to Key West on a pilgrimage to the southernmost point of the continental USA. Thankfully, you can still take a photo at the recognisable Southernmost Point buoy marker; 90-year-old artist Danny Acosta repaired his original artwork with Henry DelValle, after Hurricane Irma pummelled the area. Although the state of Florida boasts pleasant weather year-round, a dip into the Florida Keys grants even more tropical climes. Whether you drive down over the bridges via Islamorada or hop aboard a Key West Express ferry – the creative, laidback and fun-loving area is well worth a visit. Rent a chair at Smathers Beach, and watch turquoise waves lap the shore or join a game of sand volleyball. The largest Key West beach also rents water sports equipment for sailing, windsurfing, kayaking and more. If you’re not too tired after dinner, find a bar with live music… It’s easy; just ramble towards Duval Street.

Where to stay: Sheraton Suites Key West

Whether you want to see the sites or take it slow, stay at this sunshiny beachside hotel. Enjoy a drink at the covered Cabana Bar, overlooking the heated lagoon-style pool and cascading waterfall. To explore Key West’s cute downtown area, hop aboard the fixed shuttle service. It stops at the Historic Seaport Harbour with a surplus of seafood restaurants. The on-site restaurant, Coral Crab Café, also serves up seafood specialties – but with a Caribbean twist.

Book a stay at Sheraton Suites Key West

6. Quietwater Beach – Pensacola Beach

The Gulf of Mexico and the Santa Rosa Sound wrap around the narrow Pensacola Beach, which covers nearly eight miles of Santa Rosa island. The pristine Pensacola beaches are divided into two beach park areas: Casino Beach and Quietwater Beach. At Quietwater Beach, you don’t need to limit your beach strolling to the sand. For a change of pace, meander along the beachside boardwalk, lined with shops and casual eateries. Locals and visitors alike congregate for live music at the wooden amphitheatre, with the beach and ocean views as a backdrop. Other special events on the Quietwater Beach boardwalk include fashion shows, “cornhole” bean bag toss tournaments and the odd bikini contest.

On some occasions, it may be more fun to watch than to participate…

Where to stay: Hampton Inn Pensacola Beach

Choose this Hampton Inn for its central location. Start the day with complimentary hot breakfast, then stroll over to the Quietwater Beach Boardwalk; you’ll arrive in less than 10 minutes. When you want to relax, dive into one of two beachfront pools or grab a fun fruity drink from the seasonal tiki bar. On the beach, you’ll be in good hands with the on-site Lazy Days beach crew, who refer to themselves as “a team of barefoot… well-tanned (well-informed) concierges.”

Book a stay at Hampton Inn Pensacola Beach

7. Fort De Soto Park North Beach – Tierra Verde, St. Petersburg

Active beachgoers will enjoy visiting North Beach, located within Fort De Soto Park, just southwest of St. Petersburg, Florida. Two miles of designated paddle trails and more than six miles of bicycle trails snake through the park – and there’s even more to explore in its 1000+ acres, such as the islands in Shell Key Preserve. These undeveloped islands serve as nesting grounds for a variety of birds and loggerhead turtles. Take your little ones for a dip in the North Beach tidal pool to observe the temporarily confined marine life up close. For extended beach days, settle on a sand dune for a spectacular sunset and retire at one of the park’s 238 campsites – many of which have waterfront access.

Where to stay: The Don CeSar

Follow in the footsteps of historical American icons with a stay at The Don CeSar. Past celebrity visitors include author F Scott Fitzgerald, mobster Al Capone and baseball legend Lou Gehrig. The aptly nicknamed the Pink Palace maintains glamorous vibes, and the rooms tastefully reflect its calm seaside location. While you soak up luxury in the immense Spa Oceana, the children will happily hunt for sea shells and play during half-day and full-day sessions at Camp CeSar.

Book a stay at The Don CeSar

8. Siesta Beach – Siesta Key, Sarasota

‘Siesta’ means ‘to nap’ in Spanish; so, it’s no surprise that Siesta Key Beach is great for lounging. Slather on sunscreen and soak up some rays, stocking up on Vitamin D. Break up your beach day by scuttling into the shade to read a book or page through a magazine, as the waves washing into shore serenade you. You may just be lulled into a little siesta… Relaxing isn’t only for kid-free couples, either. Parents can unwind a bit, too, since lifeguards keep a watchful eye on the Sarasota beach all year round. If you get restless, tread along some of the world’s finest, whitest sand. The sand grains are mostly composed of quartz, which stays quite cool, so you won’t have to hotfoot across the beach. For a different scene, simply pack up and head to the island’s more secluded Crescent Beach or energetic Turtle Beach.

Where to stay: Sandcastle Resort at Lido Beach

This hotel will suit families on a laid-back break. Bring the kids beachside for games of sand volleyball, s’mores nights around the fire pit and seaside movies under the stars. Scuffle to the shuffleboard court to play a tropical variation of curling, and lazily toss bean bags in a non-competitive game of ‘cornhole.’ The resort fee also includes bicycle rentals for guests to explore more of Lido Key.

Book a stay at Sandcastle Resort at Lido Beach

  • Blowing Rocks Preserve, Jupiter Island. ©Kinzie Riehm.

9. Lovers Key State Park Beach – Lovers Key, Fort Myers

University students take over Fort Myers Beach a few weeks before and after Easter holiday. To escape the raucous rowdiness, drive to the nearby Lovers Key State Park. Previously, the pristine beaches at Lovers Key lured romance seekers because the intimate area could only be accessed by boat. Now the two-mile long beach can be reached by boardwalk or tram from other areas within Lovers Key State Park. However, couples and families still enjoy the peaceful area. Dolphins and manatees occasionally float by, and on land, you may spy wading birds – such as the shockingly white snowy egret and blushing pink roseate spoonbill. Keep your eyes on the skies to glimpse ospreys carrying fish in their talons and rare bald eagles.

Where to stay: Hyatt Regency Coconut Point

Wind down an adrenaline-filled holiday with a staycation at this elegant hotel, complete with a waterpark and 18-hole golf course. In addition to four pools, hot tubs and a cold plunge waterfall, guests can also take a dip in the lazy river complex or shoot down a three-story waterslide. With tennis courts, a rock climbing wall, the sophisticated Stillwater Spa and a handful of on-site restaurants, you never have to leave.

Book a stay at Hyatt Regency Coconut Point

10. Blowing Rocks Preserve Beach – Jupiter Island, Jupiter

Ruggedly beautiful Jupiter Island is not your typical Florida beach. The dramatic preserve is home to rare loggerhead turtles and leatherback sea turtles. The jagged limestone formations found here look like shorter, lighter toned versions of Hawaii’s ebony lava cliffs. When extremely powerful waves crash into the shoreline, plumes of saltwater rocket 50 feet into the air. (This phenomenon occurs more frequently during winter storms.) The limestone ledges are composed of shell and coral pieces, along with sand. Children will excitedly spot fossils of small clams and oysters in the rock; and everyone can learn about the ecosystem during 40-minute guided nature walks that begin from the beachside information booth each Sunday at 11:00.

Where to stay: Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Resort and Spa

This luxurious 5-star hotel on Ocean Drive provides beach-inspired suites to families and business travellers alike. Each bedroom condominium is complete with a kitchen, dining area and a balcony; and the floor-to-ceiling windows gaze over two outdoor pools or the resort’s private stretch of the Gold Coast. If you need to conduct business while abroad, the hotel has seven private indoor venues and outdoor spaces. The hospitable staff can organise banquets and retreats, too.

Book a stay at Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Resort and Spa