Part of the Florida For Grown Ups Guide.
Whilst Florida is most well-renowned for its stretches of sandy beach along Key Largo to Key West, you really don’t have to venture quite that far south (unless you really want to) to find a great beach. There are plenty of others to explore when you’re in the Sunshine State.
Here’s my choices:
The West Coast
Lying on the warm waters of the Gulf Coast are some of Florida’s most popular beaches, including Clearwater, Sanibel and Sarasota. But have you thought about St Petersburg and Anna Maria Island?
Anna Maria Island
Best for: Couples and those preferring quiet beaches
Just look at that view! White sands and the Gulf of Mexico as far as the eye can see.
Anna Maria Island and it’s beaches (Holmes, Coquina and Bradenton) are a little piece of heaven on the West Coast. It’s unspoilt and old-fashioned narrow beachfront looking out into the Gulf seems to attract a more ‘mature clientele’ of sun worshipers (by that I mean 30+) – which is a welcome break from beaches packed with kids and teenagers. That’s not to say that Anna Maria beaches aren’t suitable for families; they most definitely are. But generally speaking, if you’re looking for a place to throw down your beach towel and sunbathe in peace, this is it. Having visited twice now, it’s never been overcrowded (in fact, these pictures were taken on Columbus Day – a National Holiday!).
If sunbathing for the entire day is not for you, there is plenty to explore around Anna Maria Island itself, from hidden coves, to the neighbourhoods with their colourful deco houses, to organised dolphin tours and fishing trips. If there’s a place you’ll want to buy a holiday home, this is it.
When you do find yourself hungry or in need of an ice cold beer – you will find both in either the Sandbar on the beach or the restaurant at the end of Rod Reel Pier. Of course, there are other taverns around the island, but these two get the best views.
Rod Reel Pier – perfect spot for lunch
St Petersburg Gulf Coast
Best for: Sun-worshipers, shell-collectors and bird-spotters
St Pete’s is up there with the busiest of beaches on the West Coast and was once a party-ground for the rich and famous (at least those who grew bored of Miami). On the doorstep of the busy city of Tampa, it’s hardly surprising that it gets so many visitors. That said, the Pass-A-Grille is a 30 mile stretch of coastline offering much more than just St Pete’s Beach. Here you will find Shell Island, Treasure Island and a lot more in between. If you find the right spot (and the right day – avoiding weekends), you can enjoy quiet stretches of beaches almost to yourself, aside from the birds!
If you try hard enough, you might also spot a sand dollar (a flattened sea urchin). These are a bit like gold dust so if you do find one, you’ve done well. Mine was broken unfortunately…..
If there’s one thing that the West Coast does really well, it’s sunsets on the water. If you decide that you want to make an evening of it (after all, you can’t always be bothered to drive home after a lazy day at the beach) – why not hop over to Tampa Bay for the night? We stayed at a lovely Godfrey and Cabanas hotel where we were treated to this view from our balcony….
Tampa Bay sunset
The East Coast
Set this time on the Atlantic Ocean, the beaches in the East are famous for sun, fun and surf. Stretching all the way down from Jacksonville to the famous Florida Keys, you are spoilt for sand on this coastline. But this blog deliberately isn’t about the Keys, so where else might take your fancy?
Best for: Surfers, families and fun-lovers.
Everything about Cocoa Beach shouts out fun, colour and a good old time. Clearly catering more towards families and the young folk as opposed those in their twilight years, this is the kind of beach where it may always be busy, but with that comes an abundance of things to see and do, from water-sports to a bit of souvenir shopping on the pier. It is also just down the road from Kennedy Space Centre, so is a good choice if you’re in that area.
The Cocoa Beach pier has a number of cafes and restaurants that provide some welcome shade from the midday sun. The Tiki Bar at the end of the pier is particularly nice if you want something to eat and drink with panoramic views out to sea. The food is pretty standard fare (burgers and sandwiches) but the cocktails are great.
Best for: Couples and fishing folk.
Just North of Fort Lauderdale and Miami sits the cute beach resort of Lauderdale-By-The-Sea with its golden yellow sands, turquoise ocean and fishing pier. This beach is a favourite with fishermen and as such, the pier is tailored towards them rather than the tourists. Nonetheless, it’s worth a walk down for a bit of sea air.
The great thing about this beach is that if you time your trip right, you will find unoccupied areas of the beach all for you! I prefer beaches quieter which is why we chose to visit Lauderdale-By-The-Sea ahead of Fort Lauderdale. This is probably the least populated stretch of sands you will find before hitting Miami, so it’s a good choice if you don’t like beaches too overcrowded.
The resort itself has just enough to see and do, with options for eating, drinking, shopping and staying over. Perhaps a good choice if you are taking a flight out of Miami the next day.
South Beach, Miami
Best for: Cool kids, rich kids, the LGBTQ community and the curious tourist.
South Beach (known as SoBe) is the place to be if you are bronzed, beautiful and keen to show off what yer mama gave ya! Ok, so there’s a lot of that, but in honesty, everyone is welcome whatever your age, race, sexuality and gym-status!
The beach is absolutely gorgeous, with soft, white, clean sand (man-made). The lifeguard towers that dot all the way down the coastline are brilliant too, each one a different colour. There’s so much going on here, from sunbathing, to volleyball, to jet skiing, to roller blading to organised boat trips. It’s a beach that you may never tire of – and even if you do, there’s a whole island to explore with restaurants, bars, shops, museums and vibrant nightlife.
So there it is – a handful of what is available to any beach lover visiting Florida!