Which Florida beach is right for you? The Sunshine State boasts almost 1,000 miles of flip-flop-friendly beaches, each with its own distinct style. From snow-white sand perfect for relaxing to the best place to explore with your dog, find the perfect beach for your travel needs.
Best for Couples: Caladesi Island
For a getting-away-from-it-all beach, this island retreat more than fits the bill—you can only get to the island by boat. Stroll the uncrowded shoreline with your main squeeze at Caladesi Island State Park, on a 3.5-mile-long barrier island near Tampa. Water quietly laps the shore, which is secluded except for the many birds, from common sandpipers to majestic blue herons to rare black skimmers. You can search for seashells, swim in the clear waters, paddle a kayak through the mangroves, hike on the nature trail, or just unwind with a romantic picnic on the white-sand shore.
Best for Seashells: Bowman’s Beach.
While most beaches in Sanibel are worthy hunting grounds for shell devotees, Bowman’s, the most remote, tops them all. In fact, islanders here have coined the phrase “the Sanibel Stoop,” for the hunched position shell-seekers assume. Reach Sanibel’s Bowman’s Beach by traipsing from the parking area through beach grass, pines, wetland, and a picnic area. Do like the veterans and get there before sunrise and collect shells at low tide. The likelihood of leaving with a bag of gorgeous shells is high. Score one of the island’s most coveted shells—from the junonia, an olive-shaped, spotted gastropod—and you’ll get your picture in the local paper.
Best for Pets: Dog Beach of Hollywood
Soft sand? Check. Fresh water? Check. Dogs allowed? Check. Unlike many Florida beaches, Hollywood’s Dog Beach, is pet friendly. Fido can frolic unleashed on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at this stretch of sand about 20 miles south of Ft. Lauderdale. Latch him to his leash to explore the rest of the laid-back area. The main part of the Broadwalk has spiffy features like a pedestrian walkway, a concrete bike path, a crushed-shell jogging path, and places to shower off after a dip. Kiddies stay entertained with play areas, rental bikes, trikes, and other pedal-powered gizmos.
Best for Divers and Snorkelers: John Pennekamp Coral Reef
With shallow-water reefs, submerged sculptures (like the 8.5-foot bronze Christ of the Deep), and 55 kinds of coral, Key Largo’s John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park gets top marks as the Diving Capital of the World. The first underwater park in the United States is also home to 600 varieties of fish and makes an ideal snorkeling or diving outing for newbies and veterans. For those who don’t want to get wet at all, glass-bottomed boat tours are also available.
Best for Celebrity Watching: South Beach
Lummus Park (a.k.a. South Beach) is made up of the the swath of beach that line Miami’s Ocean Drive between 5th and 15th streets. While the beach itself opens at 5 am, when bars close, later in the day, stars such as Lindsay Lohan and Jennifer Lopez come out to freshen tans, frolic in the surf, play volleyball, and rollerblade on the boardwalk. Tanning butlers, private cabanas, and trendy nightclubs are never far away—and neither are the paparazzi. You’ll feel like a celebrity (and maybe spot one too), when you’re lounging in style on the white sand.
Best for Family Fun: Clearwater Beach
This Tampa area beach has lifeguards on duty, showers on site, an area for picnicking, and sand suitable for building great sand castles, all of which keeps families coming back for more. Gorgeous white sand, attentive lifeguards, shallow waters that are clear and warm, a pier, and plenty of showers and restrooms make Clearwater Beach a family paradise. Kids can also check out the playground, located near Pier 60
Best for Parties: Panama City Beach
Seventeen miles of snowy-white sand and sparkling emerald-green water along the Panhandle are enough to attract any beach lover, but collegiate party animals are especially drawn to the “Spring Break Capital of the World.” In years past, MTV’s televised spring break concerts added fuel to the already hot word-of-mouth fire about partying in Panama City Beach. When they’re not drinking and dancing, thrill-seeking visitors can tether themselves to a parachute and a speed boat for a bit of parasailing, while people looking for a break can get a pedicure or scour the shops at Pier Park.
Photo Credit: Top to bottom: Malgorzata Littkowska/Shutterstock; plent5D LLC/Shutterstock; Courtesy of Visit Florida; Alexander Demyanenko/Shutterstock; Migclick / Shutterstock; Rob Hainer/Shutterstock