When planning a beach vacation in Florida, the exhilarating options can be overwhelming. There are hordes of spectacular beaches to get you salivating to pack your towel, suit, and board.
Once you’re on vacation, you might yearn for a piña colada or cold Corona to finish the day off. We know that’s best done with sunset or nightlife views. Here at Platinum Sun, we also know the ins and outs of Florida’s popular vacation and water-sport spots.
Whether you’re packing up the whole extended family—and trying to keep them all entertained at once, heading on your honeymoon or catching rides on a board or boat, we’ve got you covered.
Why: 72 miles of beautiful beaches with waves and nearby activities
Best for Whom: Families, those visiting Orlando, kiteboarders, some surfers
Only an hour east of Orlando and halfway down the Atlantic coast are the Cocoa beaches. There are over 17 beaches and beach parks in this area. They’re located on a narrow strip of barrier islands that run together like an outer isthmus. We’ll only mention some highlights.
Cocoa Beach Pier is a historical landmark. In central Cocoa Beach, small, regular waves are great for learning to surf or children. The beachgoers are vibrant and fun, but it’s not quite as sexy as South Beach. Around Cocoa Beach, there’s a wide variety of kitesurfing spots like Manatee Park, 5th Street South and Patrick’s Air Force Base.
Another highlight is Canaveral National Seashore, north of Cocoa Beach. It has 24-miles of coast that’s free of businesses and tourist sites. It’s set up national-park style. Plan to pack in and pack out your belongings. Families or space aficionados can enjoy the space attractions nearby. At the southern end lies the famous and beautiful Playalinda beach.
South Beach in Miami
Why: Fun, people watching, shopping, waves and warm water
Best for: Young people, singles and those not bringing a car
Fully aware of the risk of sounding stereotypical, we’ve still got to argue for the neighborhood of South Beach in Miami. Since it offers surfing and calmer days too, it’s a win for active people.
Who can argue with warm water for most of the year? Between July and November when the swells are better, the water holds onto warmth. It’s a great time to go.
Of course, South Beach is a mecca for young people and partying. People of any age can enjoy the nightlife. With Art-Deco buildings and hotels, palm-tree-lined stretches, shopping and a few opportunities for watersports like fishing mixed in, South Beach can please a lot of folks.
Since South Beach revved up in the early 19th century, it has a long history. For Kitesurfing in Miami, try Crandon Park and Matheson Hammock Park.
While we’d love to say that you can visit any of the beaches in our list year round, some of the gulf coast beaches mentioned below present the issue of red tide. Red tide is composed of “Harmful Algae Blooms” (HABs). The algae kill water animals and can irritate humans’ breathing tract, as would severe allergies.
Unfortunately, you won’t want to go in the water or stay on the beach during a red tide. Most often, they occur in late summer and early fall. We’ll let you know if a red tide could emerge at that beach. Also note that plastic washing ashore is an issue for South Florida’s beaches.
Why: Breathtaking beaches and day trips
Best for: Families and anyone
Almost halfway down the gulf coast of Florida lies the city of Clearwater. After hopping over the beautiful intercoastal waterway from the city, have your breath taken away by both Clearwater Beach Island and Caladesi Island State Park a bit to the north. Both beach destinations live up to the name “clear water.”
The Beach Walk promenade and Pier 60 provide activities besides lounging on the beach, including volleyball, rollerblading and fishing. Take the ferry or a private boat to Caladesi Island State Park for a day trip. Back in Clearwater, Clearwater Marine Aquarium can complete a vacation for families—or anyone who got too much sun early on! Clearwater can be affected by red tide, so you’ll want to check if it could occur when you book your vacation.
St. Augustine and Anastasia State Park
Why: History, a variety of activities and surfing
Best for Whom: Families, seniors and vacationers who stay on the go
As a deeply historic and navigable area with beautiful beaches, St. Augustine is one of Florida’s gems. It’s pretty cool that it has stayed accessible and nice to visit since it is the nation’s oldest lasting city, dating back to 1565. This former Spanish settlement offers some variety compared to the mainly English and American settlements throughout the rest of the country.
The incredible historic district and the Castillo de San Marcos are in close walking distance. They lie along the Matanzas River that opens to St. Augustine inlet and the Atlantic. A variety of tours and outings can keep families and restless vacationers exhilarated.
The beaches have both parking nearby or more secluded beaches to which you can walk. Nature enthusiasts will enjoy Anastasia State Park with nature trails, camping, and wildlife spotting. With several surfing and kiteboarding spots, along with opportunities for other watersports, there’s something for everyone in St. Augustine.
Fort Lauderdale Beach
Why: Diving, snorkeling and boating
Best for Whom: Boaters and watersport enthusiasts
Fort Lauderdale is known as a party destination for Spring Break; however, this beach city has raised its standards in recent years. It’s gotten a little classier, although it has partying.
Despite being similar to other south Florida beach cities, we must say Fort Lauderdale has more than just beautiful beaches: it has water-sport and boating opportunities galore.
Picture by Rick Iossi
The amphibious can enjoy 100km of coral reef not far offshore with their scuba or snorkel gear. From yachts to speedboats to fishing boats to kayaks there’s no boat you cannot rent or charter in Fort Lauderdale.
Likewise, the tourist industry did well catering to Spring Breakers with a need for speed on the water. Now one can do the more common water experiences like jet skiing and wakeboarding in many parts of Fort Lauderdale.
Beyond that, there are hoverboards, flyboards and power surfboards. Of course, take kiteboarding lessons while you’re there. Families will find no shortage of things to do, but those who love going fast on the water, fishing or diving will feel they’re in an American heaven.
Why: Beautiful sand and water
Best for Whom: Families, fishermen or anyone
In Destin, the stunning turquoise, teal and seafoam greens of the water against white sand make it seem Caribbean. That’s because the sand is quartz and reflects the water differently. Almost halfway between Pensacola and Panama City on the gulf, it’s on an island with bridges connecting it to the mainland.
Although Destin was a little fishing village, now there are high rises along the shores. However, a calmer, more serene or wildlife-filled day can be had at nearby Henderson Beach State Park. With golf and waterparks, there is always something to keep the extended family entertained on vacation.
Fishermen and women will have a blast here. Since Destin is the closest access point to deep water in the northern part of the gulf, it’s great for serious trips. There is some opportunity for wind-based water sports. As far as surf breaks, there are four or five, particularly around Jetty East Condos. Destin can be affected by red tide.
Sanibel Island & Fort Myers
Picture by Rick Iossi
Why: A full, low-hassle beach vacation; Native American history
Best for Whom: Families, shell collectors and seniors
Sanibel is a delightful island near Fort Myers. It’s about three-fourths of the way down the gulf coast. Sanibel’s location makes it a seashell collectors’ paradise. It’s also distinguished from comparable areas by “Indian mounds” built by the Calusa Native Americans. The visitable mounds can be as big as small hills. The Calusa tribe traces its roots back to the 1200’s.
Although Sanibel is peaceful and a map search will show few roads, don’t think you’ll be bushwhacking in the wilderness. With more than thirty-five restaurants, three marinas and a lighthouse from the 1880’s, there is enough bustle to keep the family entertained.
Several museums and art galleries round out Sanibel’s offerings. The Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center is a music venue that also displays art. There’s plenty to do on the outskirts of nearby Fort Myers.
The main, grand waterfront of Fort Myers is only an hour’s drive. Or stay Sanibel-side and rent kayaks, paddleboards or a boat. Sanibel and the surrounding areas experience red tide.
Key West & Fort Zachary Taylor State Park
Picture by Rick Iossi
Why: Unique, happy Key vibes; warm water & history
Best for Whom: All adults, those with short time windows, island lovers
Aside from Puerto Rico, you can’t go any further south in the United States than gorgeous Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. With clear water for snorkeling and trails to hike on, you needn’t just bake in the strong sun of the southernmost latitude.
After touring a fort used during the Spanish-American War and the Civil War, you can enjoy a beautiful sunset in this westward-facing park. Then, indulge in tropical drinks for the rest of the vacation; you’ve done your learning!
Key West is a great place to be for a good time and island vibes. In case Key West’s reputation hasn’t preceded it, it’s hard to have a bad time on the most popular of Florida’s keys. You can rock out in every type of watersport not requiring waves, so Platinum Sun is a big fan.
Beginners can take kitesurfing lessons. Aside from sporting, drinking and sunning, there’s several other monuments. Between sights centered on military history, Hemingway, Truman and the tropical flora and fauna, Key West is a gem with Fort Zachary Taylor as its main twinkle. The ocean sure is warm, and it’s not affected by red tide.
Santa Rosa Beach / Pensacola
Why: Beautiful beaches
Best for Whom: Families or anyone
The beautiful Emerald Coast offers another group of beaches that make our list. There’s several layers of waterfront near Pensacola city due to barrier islands and peninsulas. Gulf Islands National Seashore has a strip of gorgeous beaches. Pensacola Beach has both a gulf-facing side and a sound side.
The latter is great for small children. Pensacola often has surfable waves. To go kiteboarding, Chicken bone beach is popular. Topsail Hill Preserve State Park also has three miles of secluded beaches and a variety of activities for those inclined to spend time in nature.
If you get restless or sunburnt, head into the city of Pensacola. It has more than the usual coastal-Florida-city offerings. Several museums, a historic district and military history sights can stimulate your mind and cultural senses. Pensacola is home to the National Naval Aviation Museum. Overall, Pensacola and its beaches are delightful for several days for most tastes. This area is also subject to red tide.
Why: Luxury and ambiance
Best for Whom: Romantics, seniors, golfers & shoppers
If you want to feast your eyes on more than just clear water and sand, luxurious Naples has views and style infused in every aspect of the city. It loves being likened to Naples, Italy and other fancy coastal towns along the Med.
With upscale restaurants, high-end shopping and primo year-round golfing, it’s sometimes considered a relaxing playground for the wealthy. Despite its reputation, Naples isn’t just for seniors or the rich.
Young people will enjoy breweries and a new food truck park. You needn’t be so “pinky-out” to go parasailing, jet skiing, tubing, paddleboarding or kayaking. It’s easy to reach the northwest arm of Everglades National Park from Naples. It’s less frequented than the eastern side.
There you can spot alligators and other wildlife. A trip to beautiful Marco Island is another natural option from Naples. As romantic as it may be, red tide could potentially show up in Naples so be sure to check up on it.