The Most Beautiful Beach Towns in Florida That Aren’t Miami

Key West is Florida's southernmost point and a popular holiday destination for families
Key West is Florida's southernmost point and a popular holiday destination for families | © Maria Kraynova / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Karina Castrillo
28 July 2021

Florida is brimming with picturesque beaches on its Gulf and Atlantic coasts. Whether you’re looking for a slice of history at Fernandina Beach or Fort Myers, quaint beachside charm at Seaside, or the perfect spot for an idyllic sunset at Sanibel Island, here’s our guide to the places worth a visit in the Sunshine State once you venture beyond Miami.

Fernandina Beach

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Buildings in downtown Fernandina Beach, Florida
© James Schaedig / Alamy Stock Photo

The small town of Fernandina Beach, on Amelia Island, is famed for its quiet charm, yet this unassuming place has a surprising background in pirate culture. The historic town has a rich past, having once served as a hiding place for pirate treasures; it is also home to Florida’s oldest – and supposedly haunted – saloon. Aside from the ghost tales, the beach town also hosts the annual Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival in May, but if that’s not your thing there’s also plenty of boutique shopping opps here.

Fort Myers

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Hendry Street, River District, Fort Myers, Florida, USA
© Ian Dagnall / Alamy Stock Photo

Perched on the west coast of the peninsula, Fort Myers offers plenty of decent fishing and family-friendly attractions, including a tour of the Thomas Edison and Henry Ford Winter Estates. The homes-turned-museums are set in 20 acres (8ha) of botanical gardens, and boast a collection of artefacts and inventions made by Edison and Ford.

Sanibel Island

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Sanibel Island Lighthouse on Sanibel Island on the Gulf of Mexico Southwest Coast of Florida
© James Schwabel / Alamy Stock Photo
Stacked with shells and conches in all shades of pink, the shores of Sanibel Island are a shell-hunter’s paradise, where they’re washed up by the currents. You can pick up and identify them with those collected at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum. The island is also famous for its glorious sunsets, birdwatching and the JN Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, which is home to giant manatees and crocodiles.

Islamorada

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Islamorada Restaurant, Florida Keys, USA
© mauritius images GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

Translated from Spanish to “purple island,” Islamorada is part of the archipelago of the Florida Keys. It’s easily accessible by boat or the Seven Mile Bridge, and visitors can indulge in plenty of saltwater fishing, catching tarpon, redfish and snook. This is, after all, the sport-fishing capital of the world. There’s hiking along the nature trails of the Long Key State Park, and snorkeling by the coral reefs. Tip: beer lovers shouldn’t miss a taste of the ales from Islamorada Beer Company.

Key West, Florida

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Floating Houses, Key West, Florida, USA
© Paul Thompson Images / Alamy Stock Photo
The most famous island in the Florida Keys, Key West makes the list for a variety of reasons. It has all the snorkeling, water sports and fishing to be expected, but it’s also a historic town with pretty streets dotted with Queen Anne-style architecture, ghost stories and tours, a vibrant, laid-back nightlife, and, lest we forget, the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum. The island is the perfect vacation spot for a couples getaway, a family holiday or a fun time with friends.

Cocoa Beach

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beach guard lifeguard tower hut on cocoa beach florida usa
© Radharc Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Cocoa Beach is located just south of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and is a favorite surfing destination. Amateur and pro surfers can experience decent waves along the Cocoa Beach Pier, especially at the end of hurricane season, which is generally September–December. Visitors can delve into some deep-sea fishing, or explore the Kennedy Space Center, where, if you time your visit right, you can catch a glimpse of a rocket launch. The beach town also boasts great dining and nightlife.

Seaside

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Seaside, Florida
© Arcaid Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Dotted with pastel-painted Victorian houses, the colorful town of Seaside is a real-life postcard. Spend the day shopping in the unique boutiques, see the lighthouse and go for a relaxed stroll along the shores to watch the sunset along the Gulf Coast. The small town is so picture-perfect, it served as the location for The Truman Show starring Jim Carrey.

St Petersburg

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The Dali Museum, St Petersburg, Florida, USA
© Ian G Dagnall / Alamy Stock Photo

Home to the Salvador Dali Museum, St Petersburg is a cultural haven with plenty of dining, attractions and fabulous parks. You can indulge in fresh artisanal foods at the food hall at the Sundial shopping outlet, watch glass-blowing at the Chihuly Collection or simply take in the glittering coast. The waterfront city is also known for having the most consecutive days of sunshine each year.

New Smyrna Beach

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Main street and cafes in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, USA
© Findlay / Alamy Stock Photo

Cruise through the enchanting palm-tree-lined streets of New Smyrna Beach, and you’ll know why it’s a Florida favorite. The white sandy beaches and stress-free personality of New Smyrna are everything you’d expect from a beach town holiday. It’s brimming with eclectic boutiques, delicious mom-and-pop restaurants and glorious sunsets to enjoy in peaceful tranquility.

Anna Maria Island

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A Great Blue Heron watching people in the waters, Anna Maria Island, Florida
© Danita Delimont / Alamy Stock Photo

This barrier island along the Gulf of Mexico boasts a vast array of wildlife and pristine beaches popular with both locals and tourists. Visitors can spot nesting sea turtles and a broad spectrum of birds such as herons, cranes, roseate spoonbills and wood storks. If you’re lucky you might also spot bottlenose dolphins.

These recommendations were updated on July 28, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh. This article is an updated version of a story created by Karina Castrillo

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