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Florida is teeming with scenic beaches on both the Gulf Coast and the Atlantic Ocean. Whether you’re looking for a bit of history, quaint beachside charm, or the perfect spot for an epic sunset, here’s our guide to our favorite beach towns in the Sunshine State that aren’t Miami.
Located on Amelia Island, the small town of Fernandina Beach is known for its quiet charm, and yet this unassuming place has a surprising background in pirate culture. The historic town bares a rich past, as it once served as a hiding spot for pirates’ treasures, and is also home to Florida’s oldest and (supposedly haunted) saloon. But aside from the ghost tales, the beach town also hosts the Eight Flags Shrimp Festival and offers plenty of boutique shopping.
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 sit on 20 acres of botanical gardens, and boast a collection of artifacts and inventions made by Edison and Ford.
Swarming with shells and conches of pale pink hues, the shores of Sanibel Island are a shell hunter’s paradise. The currents wash up tons of shells which visitors can pick up and identify with those collected at the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum. The island is also famous for its scenic sunsets, bird-watching, and the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, which is home to different species like giant manatees and crocodiles.
Translated from Spanish to “purple island,” Islamorada is part of the archipelago of the Florida Keys. Easily accessible via boat or the Seven Mile Bridge, visitors can indulge in plenty of saltwater fishing catching tarpon, redfish and snook as the island is known as 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.
The most famous island of the Florida Keys, Key West makes our list for a variety of reasons. It’s got all the snorkeling, water sports and fishing to be expected, but it’s also a historic town with charming 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 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 boasts great dining and nightlife as well.
Dotted with pastel-painted Victorian houses, the colorful town of Seaside is a real-life postcard. Spend the day shopping in the quirky boutiques, see the lighthouse and go for a relaxed stroll along the shores to watch the sunset along the Golden Coast. The small town is so picture-perfect it served as the location for the utopic film The Truman Show starring Jim Carrey.
Home to the world-renowned Salvador Dali Museum, St. Petersburg is a cultural haven with plenty of dining, attractions and beautiful parks. Visitors can indulge in fresh artisanal foods at the Discover Locale Market, 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!
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 is 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.
This barrier island along the Gulf of Mexico boasts a vast 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 bottle-nose dolphins.
Another barrier island worth a visit is Gasparilla Island located along the southwest coast. Mostly inhabited by fisherman until the late 19th century, legend has it the island is named after the pirate José Gasparilla who had his base and treasure hidden on the island. The treasure was never found, but visitors can equally enjoy their share of snorkeling and fishing in the glittering waters surrounding the island.