Palm fronds rustle gently in the breeze as sparkling blue waves kiss the shoreline, scattering sandpipers across the warm, white sand beach. Lifting your sunglasses, your eyes struggle against blinding rays to catch a glimpse of gulls and pelicans dive-bombing for afternoon snacks.
This is Florida, where no matter how you define fun-in-the-sun, one – or a couple dozen – of its almost 200 gorgeous beaches will surely be a perfect fit. Gallop through crashing waves, beachcomb for washed-up treasures, welcome your day with sunrise yoga, marvel at sea turtles nesting in the sand, or grab a board and tackle some monster swells. It’s all right here.
Dry Tortugas National Park
Best secluded beach
Hop aboard a ferry (or seaplane) from Key West and soak up the sun, cruising 70 miles of sparkling, emerald-green waters to the secluded paradise of Dry Tortugas National Park. Once there, mosey through Fort Jefferson, teeming with military history, or head straight for its dreamy, white-powder sands. Snorkel the shallow waters exploring the coral reef, or just cozy up with a good book and embrace peaceful solitude.
Alternative: Hobe Sound Beach
Another quiet retreat, the unsigned Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge, hides at the north end of Jupiter Island, just past Hobe Sound Beach (often packed with loud kids and teenagers). Escape the racket and treat your feet to a gorgeous two-mile beach stroll along its deserted sandy shores.
Detour: Many celebrities nest in Jupiter Island; it’s always fun strolling or biking down Beach Road checking out eye-catching mansions – many un-gated and easy-to-see. Tiger Woods lives here – so have Celine Dion, Alan Jackson and Burt Reynolds.
Best beach for watching sea turtles
Take a romantic stroll along Melbourne Beach during nesting season (May to October), as moonlit skies cast spotlights upon determined sea turtles crawling ever-so-slowly to lay eggs at the top of this wide beach (50-60 days later, hatchlings struggle back to the sandy shoreline).
Local tip: Ditch the flashlights and maintain comfortable space to avoid disturbing the turtles.
Treasure Shores Park
Best beach for treasure hunting
The Treasure Coast earned its name for a reason. Valuables continue to wash ashore from countless nearby shipwrecks. Any beach along Hutchinson Island is ripe for harvesting tidal gifts, but my favorite is Treasure Shores Park near Sebastian. Just offshore is the resting place of a treasure-laden Spanish galleon that sank during a hurricane in 1715.
Detour: Visit nearby McLarty Treasure Museum to view many impressive artifacts recovered from the ocean’s depths. Mel Fisher’s Treasure Museum in Sebastian boasts a bounty of treasures collected by this family of professional shipwreck salvagers. Rent metal detectors from their gift shop (which also sells actual treasures!) and sift for your own riches.
Best shelling beach
Known as “the shelling capital of the world”, beaches of Sanibel Island (including Bowman’s Beach and Blind Pass Beach) offer a treasure trove of almost 400 species of shells. Do the “Sanibel Stoop,” prospecting for lightning whelks, prickly cockles, and jingle shells.
Local tip: New to shelling? Book a guided tour with Captain Brian Holaway, a certified naturalist, who’ll have you knowing your conchs from your whelks in no time.
Best clothing-optional beaches
Ready to let warm ocean breezes caress your skin – and shed those unsightly tan lines? While most naturist beaches are intentionally secluded, Haulover Beach, between Fort Lauderdale and Miami, has no shame. It’s like a mainstream beach… just without clothes. No matter your age or shape, you’ll feel comfortable strutting your stuff at this judgment-free, family-friendly beach (its patrolling ambassadors ensure that fun remains “clean”).
Alternative: Playalinda Beach
If you prefer a bit more discretion, the remote white sand beaches of Playalinda Beach, inside Canaveral National Seashore are more reserved. Although nudity is forbidden in Brevard County, the secluded stretch north of parking lot #13 is a de facto nude beach, sanctioned by official signs.
Local tip: Pack whatever you’ll need – including lots of water and sunblock; amenities consist of portable toilets in the parking lots. Passes to Playalinda cost $20/week, $40 seasonally; parking at Haulover Beach is $5 on weekdays, $7 on weekends and holidays.
Lake Worth Beach
Best family beach
Once a popular gathering spot for free-spirited hippies, Lake Worth Beach continues to strut to a Bohemian beat. But these days, its gorgeous white sand beach is light on partying and heavy on family vibes, man. Surrounded by shops, restaurants and ice cream huts, kids won’t go hungry here – and there are plenty of washrooms and showers, too. From fishing from its spectacular pier to building fortresses in the sand or hitting the waves with a boogie board, it’s endless family fun.
Frederick Douglass Park
Best beach for riding horseback
Whether you’re a diehard romantic or want to role-play thundering scenes from Game of Thrones, almost everyone has envisioned themselves riding horseback through crashing waves, the sea breeze blowing wildly through your hair. Well, saddle up and head to Frederick Douglass Park in Fort Pierce, the only beach in south Florida where hooves can hit the sand. Guided 1.5-mile trail rides take riders (including beginners) along stunning, secluded shores, where an abundance of sea life graces the sands.
Best party beach
Since South Beach gets all the attention, I’ll nominate Hollywood Beach as Florida’s beach party central. Stroll or bike its beachfront Broadwalk, and it won’t take long to feel the burning party vibe. Lined with tiki bars, al fresco restaurants, t-shirt shops and ice-cream parlors, skateboarders whiz between pedestrians, as buskers juggle, sing and dance. Quiet in the morning, surfers invade by afternoon, and energy peaks after dusk when evening concerts rock the Bandshell, an outdoor music venue. This is quintessential Florida beach life.
Local tip: Learn to surf at Margaritaville Beach Resort’s safe, wave-controlled simulator, FlowRider. If you’ve always been curious, but nervous to try, don’t miss this chance, dude!
Jupiter Dog Beach
Best dog beach
Dog lovers are in great company at Jupiter Dog Beach, where owners are as friendly as their pets. Dogs run leash-free along two-and-a-half miles of shell-covered sand, aqua-blue waters lapping their paws. The area’s super clean, with free parking, free poop bags, plenty of trash bins and washing stations.