The 15 Best Beaches in Florida

See recent posts by Katherine Alex Beaven

Beach at Fontainebleau Resort Miami Beach
Miami Beach, Florida

If you're anything like us -- that is to say, a beach fanatic -- you may find yourself fantasizing about a sunny, sandy holiday, no matter the season. Luckily, Florida is home to some of the best beaches in the country. With over 650 miles of shoreline, however, not all beaches are created equal -- some are peaceful, and others are party-heavy. We know you have limited vacation days, so we traveled around the Sunshine State to find the top spots. Whether you're looking for a serene scene or the hottest beach parties, here are 15 of the best beaches in Florida. Don't forget to pack the sunscreen.


1. Miami Beach

South Beach, Miami
South Beach, Miami

How could we not start with Miami Beach? This nine-mile stretch of white sand along a natural and partially man-made barrier between the Atlantic Ocean and Bay of Biscayne is one of Florida’s most famous beaches. From May to November, expect calm waves and warm sea temps in the 80s (June through November brings hurricane season). Popular spots along the shoreline include the laid-back and exclusive beaches of Bal Harbour, the low-key area of North Beach, the resort-heavy swath of Mid-Beach, and the party-centric South Beach. For the most part, the clear, turquoise waters make for good snorkeling and stand-up paddleboarding. Plus, it’s common to find yoga classes on the sand. If surfing is more your thing, come during the winter months when the low-pressure systems offer the most consistent waves.

Our Miami Beach Hotel Pick: SLS South Beach is a hip beachfront hotel with Philippe Starck-designed rooms, two pools, beach service, and a great happy hour. On-site dining establishments like The Bazaar by Jose Andres and Katsuya give the property foodie cred, while the popping weekend pool parties are a place to see and be seen in South Beach.

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2. Palm Beach

Beach at Tideline Ocean Resort & Spa

Looking for a beach vacation with a side of upscale dining and shopping? The Palm Beaches offer up 47 miles of Gulf Stream beachfront, plus high-end restaurants, big-brand shops, and relaxing, gentle breezes. It’s no wonder, then, that both Palm Beach and West Palm Beach pull in wealthy visitors and locals. Active types can take a spin on the six-mile, dog-friendly trail along Palm Beach’s Intracoastal Waterway. Meanwhile, foodies should visit during the Palm Beach Food & Wine Festival, a yearly event where emerging and celebrity chefs gather to host exclusive dinners and events. Families can head for kid-friendly Lake Worth Beach, which features a large playground and casual restaurants. History buffs can opt for a quick boat ride to the 79-acre, man-made Peanut Island, which has a bunker from the Cold War era, as well as a running and walking trail that circles the entire island.

Our Palm Beach Hotel Pick: For a luxe, modern take on a vintage Floridian beach break, the recently renovated Four Seasons Resort, Palm Beach is a solid option. Located right on the beach, the property boasts two superb on-site restaurants, an oceanfront pool, and an upscale spa.

3. St. Augustine

Beach at The Saint Augustine Beach House
Beach at The Saint Augustine Beach House

This 42-mile stretch in northeast Florida is nicknamed the “Historic Coast” — and rightly so. St. Augustine is said to be the first U.S. city, as it was discovered by Spanish settlers in 1565, making it the oldest permanent European settlement in North America. The historic district of St. Augustine has a Spanish fortress and museums, while nearby, miles of unspoiled beaches offer space for recreation and relaxation. Cars are allowed to drive along the hard-packed sand of St. Augustine Beach — a central area with hotels, restaurants, and a pier — but nature lovers can head for the 1,600-acre Anastasia State Park, a car-free spot with rolling sand dunes, several types of beach grass, and sea oats. On the southern end of the coast is another unpopulated area called Crescent Beach, which has a crescent moon shape.

Our St. Augustine Hotel Pick: The Saint Augustine Beach House is a value option located across from the beach and nestled behind a few low sand dunes. Free breakfast and breezy views make this the perfect spot for a quiet beach getaway, though the bustle of Old Town is just a 15-minute drive away.

4. Destin

Beach at Hidden Dunes Beach & Tennis Resort

Founded in the 1830s, Destin was once a quiet, sleepy village. However, thanks in part to a bridge connecting the narrow peninsula to mainland Florida, this beach town has experienced a recent tourism spurt. The hypnotizing green water that gives the area its Emerald Coast nickname is also a big draw for beachgoers. The sand here — made of tiny quartz particles that traveled down from the Appalachian Mountains during the end of the last Ice Age — is some of the whitest in Florida. This unique geological component keeps the sand cool, and allows the water to shimmer brilliantly in the sun’s reflection. Destin’s family-friendly vibe is made even more attractive with affordable hotels, golf courses, water parks, and deep sea fishing, while snorkelers and scuba divers can check out a handful of old shipwrecks off the shore in the Gulf of Mexico.

Our Destin Hotel Pick: Hidden Dunes Beach & Tennis Resort has 80 cottages and condo-style units with one to four bedrooms that are great for families or friends traveling in a group. The property is also located near good dining options, has excellent tennis court facilities, and boasts three pools.

5. Clearwater Beach

Beach at Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort & Spa

Located on Florida’s west coast, Clearwater Beach frequently ranks on lists of the country’s best beaches, and it’s easy to see why. It has ample white sand with plenty of tourist-friendly activities, including shopping, dining, water sports, and pirate ship cruises — especially near Pier 60 (great for people-watching). The area is a popular boating community, with several marinas built inside the Intracoastal Waterway. Many choose to take a boat or public ferry to nearby Honeymoon Island or Caladesi Island for protected beaches, secluded trails, and kayaking opportunities — especially pretty at sunset.

Our Clearwater Beach Hotel Pick: The upscale Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach draws all types of guests with its luxe spa and delicious seafood restaurant. Rooms features full-size kitchens and balconies overlooking the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

6. Siesta Key

Beach at Captiva Beach Resort
Beach at Captiva Beach Resort

Siesta Key has always been a well-known spot among Florida locals, but thanks to the reality show of the same name, it has also been enjoying the spotlight nationally. This now-famous beach shares space with two other noteworthy stretches of sand: Crescent Beach (more quiet) and Turtle Beach (more sporty). Since Siesta’s brilliant white sand is 99-percent quartz, building sand sculptures is a popular activity, especially in November, when the annual sculpture contest takes place. Siesta Key Beach has shallow azure water, making it great for families, and those who base themselves here will be within walking distance of shops and restaurants in Siesta Key Village. The island is also close to Sarasota, where you’ll find more cafes, bars, and restaurants — not to mention a Whole Foods Market for stocking the fridge.

Our Siesta Key Hotel Pick: Captiva Beach Resort is popular among families and folks looking for a laid-back value property right on the beach. The hotel’s 19 rooms have contemporary decor, plus kitchenettes or kitchens. The property also houses a beautiful garden, heated pool, and barbecue grills.

7. Sanibel Island

Beach at Sunset Beach Inn

A barrier island on the Gulf Coast, Sanibel Island offers some of the best shelling in the world. If shells aren’t your thing, there’s also the century-old Point Ybel Lighthouse, which makes for great photos. This beach is slightly more undeveloped and rugged, but Sanibel also has sections of soft white sand, along with water-centric activities, like swimming, fishing, windsurfing, and kayaking. Peace-and-quiet seekers can head over the bridge to Bowman’s Beach to walk or jog on nature trails. On the island’s south coast is Tarpon Bay Beach, another uncrowded spot with a small fee for parking (pack a picnic). Couples wanting privacy can also wander around Captiva Beach on the northern tip of the island. Keep an eye out for dolphins jumping in the distance, as well as a pontoon boat selling concessions, here.

Our Sanibel Island Hotel Pick: Sunset Beach Inn is a mid-range beachfront property with small guest units at reasonable prices. It’s near the water, plus guests get access to an outdoor pool, tennis and shuffleboard courts, and free bike rentals.

8. Naples

Beach at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples
Beach at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples

This upscale (and some would say overdeveloped) town on the southern Gulf Coast offers a dizzying array of free public beaches for visitors who have a car. The upside to the area’s glitzy growth — mansions and golf courses included — is that this section of calm coastline (ideal for stand-up paddle boarding) is well cared for with a dedicated beach patrol. Condominiums and hotels have also added lovely tropical landscaping and tall palm trees (Naples is said to have some of the most lush vegetation in Florida). The downtown area — a charming hub of shops, bars, and restaurants — leads to seven miles of sand, including Naples Municipal Beach, and a popular 24-hour pier for fishing. Within driving distance are lesser-developed areas like Clam Pass Park, South Marco Beach, and Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, which has a network of trails. Another plus for Naples: During the winter months, the weather is warmer here than most of Florida.

Our Naples Hotel Pick: The Ritz-Carlton, Naples is a true luxury resort in a spectacular private beachfront setting. Guests can expect VIP treatment, a huge spa, two pools, seven dining options, and rooms that are elegant without being overdone.

9. Smathers Beach, Key West

Beach at Southernmost Beach Resort
Beach at Southernmost Beach Resort

The Keys aren’t known for having the best beaches in Florida, as many have rocky coastlines. Smathers Beach, however, is an exception. The sugary sand here is perfect for wiggling your toes into, while the palm trees provide lots of shade. Paddleboats, beach chairs, and catamarans are available to rent. Thanks to its southernly location, temperatures also stay warm in the winter months. And it’s not just about the beaches here either; Key West also has fun and free-spirited vibe. After the sun sets, head to lively Mallory Square to sip margaritas or dine on seafood and Key lime pie.

Our Key West Hotel Pick: For easy access to Smathers Beach, opt for a stay at the all-suite Sheraton Suites Key West. There’s free shuttle transportation to the bustle on Duval Street, or guests can take advantage of the on-site gym, tiki bar, and pool.

10. St. Pete Beach

Beach at The Don CeSar
Beach at The Don CeSar

St. Pete Beach is a family-friendly stretch of sand that, like many other Florida beaches, ramps up during spring break. Its soft sand, natural landscapes, warm waters, and fun beach bars make it popular choice. While places like Pass-a-Grille are quieter with more natural grass and some low sand dunes, the northern stretches of St. Pete Beach offer cabana rentals, a plethora of water sports, and beach bars with live music. If you’re willing to peel off the main strip, you can visit the rugged and nature-filled Fort DeSoto Beach, where you can also tour an old fort and barbecue in designated areas.

Our St. Pete Beach Hotel Pick: For a taste of royalty, check into The Don CeSar, a beachfront property known to locals as the “Pink Castle.” A fabulous spa, on-site dining, beachside pools, and stylish rooms with terraces overlooking the beach make it a luxurious experience.

11. Fort Lauderdale Beach

Beach at W Fort Lauderdale
Beach at W Fort Lauderdale

Often overlooked for Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale Beach provides a much more chill, but equally beautiful, place to throw down a towel and soak up some sun. The sand here is soft, the water is shimmery and warm, and the atmosphere is less rambunctious than what you’ll find just 45 minutes south. However, with less action comes less amenities, so it’s best to stay at a hotel on the beach in order to take advantage of their sun loungers, cabanas, and service.

Our Fort Lauderdale Hotel Pick: W Fort Lauderdale is a beachside behemoth, boasting 517 hip, stylish, and luxe rooms. However, the highlights are the food program — helmed by Steven Starr — and two rooftop pools.

12. Vero Beach

Beach at Costa d'Este Beach Resort
Beach at Costa d’Este Beach Resort

Located along Florida’s Treasure Coast, this beach is an absolute gem. Vero Beach is beautiful, but we especially love it because it’s a great place to get active. The small beach town is popular with golfers, anglers, and water sports fanatics alike, plus there’s lots of nature to go around. Within 20 minutes of the beach, you can jump on an airboat and search for alligators in the Blue Cypress Swamp, watch the sunset over the Fort Pierce Aquatic Preserve, and sail to several small islands in the inlet. South Beach Park has a boardwalk, while Sexton Plaza Beach is a chilled-out spot to relax, tan, and grab lunch.

Our Vero Beach Hotel Pick: This upscale beachfront property has a superstar quality, and that’s not just because it’s owned by singer Gloria Estefan. Modern and sleek decor, locally-sourced menus, a full-service spa, and ocean views make Costa d’Este Beach Resort a top pick in Vero Beach.

13. Fort Walton Beach

Beach at The Breakers at Fort Walton Beach
Beach at The Breakers at Fort Walton Beach

Another gem on Florida’s Emerald Coast, Fort Walton Beach is a relaxing oasis with soft white sand and a touch of nature. Partiers need not apply, but if you’re into fresh seafood, antiques, and a balmy breeze, this is your spot. As a bonus, Fort Walton Beach is also close to Okaloosa Island, where you’ll find a boardwalk with restaurants, shops, and more. During the summertime, you can catch a free fireworks show every Wednesday. For an even more reclusive beach pick, pack a cooler and some beach chairs and head to one of the seven access points nestled between Okaloosa Island’s vacation rentals. If you’re lucky, you might even have a section of the beach to yourself.

Our Fort Walton Beach Hotel Pick: The Breakers at Fort Walton Beach is a beachfront condo property on Okaloosa Island. Rooms come with one to three bedrooms, full kitchens, and private balconies with views of the Gulf of Mexico.

14. Daytona Beach

Beach at Plaza Resort & Spa

These days, Daytona Beach may be most popular for its speedy car races. While it still calls itself the “World’s Most Famous Beach,” it’s not quite the hot spot it once was. However, we still have a soft spot for this family favorite. Unlike many of the other beaches on this list, the sand here is hard-packed. Although that may not be ideal for all-day lounging, it’s great for activities like yoga, running, or even biking on the beach. At low tide, you’ll have up to 500 feet of beachfront to spread out on, so it’s rarely cramped. There’s also a pier, several eateries, and plenty of old-school beach vibes to go around.

Our Daytona Beach Hotel Pick: The historic, beachfront Plaza Resort & Spa is one of the biggest resorts in the area. Rooms come with microwaves and mini-fridges, plus there’s an on-site spa and restaurant. Guests also get access to free Wi-Fi, parking, bikes, water sports equipment.

15. Panama City Beach

Beach at Sheraton Bay Point Resort
Beach at Sheraton Bay Point Resort

Located on Florida’s Panhandle, Panama City Beach is a spring break favorite. There are many beaches to choose from on this 27-mile stretch of coastline, but we particularly love the completely undeveloped Shell Island. This small barrier island between the Gulf of Mexico and St. Andrew Bay is only accessible by boat, preventing it from overcrowding. Available activities include snorkeling, shell collecting, and nature walks. Fine-sand beaches are perfect for sunbathing, and some lucky beachgoers may even see a sea turtle or dolphin offshore. Fun fact: The highest concentration of bottlenose dolphins are in the water surrounding Shell Island. That alone is worth the trip.

Our Panama City Beach Hotel Pick: Located on a small stretch of private beach, Sheraton Bay Point Resort is about 15 minutes from the action of Panama City Beach. In addition to a direct shuttle to Shell Island, guests have access to three heated pools, five restaurants, wine happy hours, and even a helipad.

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With additional reporting by Lilly LeClair

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