Some of the best Florida beach destinations for vacationers aren't necessarily those that earn national recognition as the best beaches. They may not have the best sand or the biggest waves, but what they do is cater to specific crowds that love them just the way they are.
This popular family vacation spot pretty much makes child's play out of having fun. Twenty-three miles of sparkling white sandy beaches and beautiful blue-green waters of the Atlantic make Daytona Beach an irresistible playground for kids of all ages. Families will find a wide array of hotels and motels to fit just about any budget too.
While the beach is the main attraction, there are other recreational opportunities including water sports and a family-friendly amusement and water park. Of course, let's not forget Daytona's racing history with Daytona's International Speedway and the Daytona 500 Experience.
Shallow and calm water laps just outside your campsite at Long Key State Park. While the beach might not be as wide or sandy as our other favorite beach campsite (Fort DeSoto Park), what we like is the peace and quiet. It is easy to spend lazy days bird watching, snorkeling just off shore, napping in a hammock, or taking off for the day for nearby sightseeing. Just be sure to return in time to catch the beautiful sunset!
Reservations for Long Key State Park can be made through ReserveAmerica.com.
Shelling is a popular pastime of tourists and residents alike. Although you can find shells on just about any beach, southwest Florida's Sanibel Island is one of the best places in Florida to find the sea's treasures as they wash up on shore. It is said that Sanibel Island's shape and location encourages shelling, allowing the shells to slow down enough to arrive on the beach in one piece.
Whatever the reason for bringing the shells to Sanibel Island, you will find plenty of reasons besides shelling to visit Fort Myers and Sanibel Island. Among them is the beaches and plenty of available lodging that fits just about any budget.
Best Beach for Sunsets: Clearwater Beach
Clearwater Beach has long been a favorite vacation destination for those seeking sun, sand, and surf. Since the mid-'90s, every sunset is a reason to celebrate on Clearwater Beach. About an hour before sunset, Pier 60 and the surrounding area comes alive. The festive atmosphere is complete with live entertainment and craft vendors selling an array of locally made goods.
Clearwater Beach is still one of the best municipal beaches on Florida's Gulf Coast. The extra wide, mile-long, white, soft sand provides plenty of recreational opportunities for the public and enough parking for easy access. Combine the beach with nearby attractions for a great vacation!
Best Beach for Sightseeing: Miami's South Beach
Miami's South Beach, often referred to as America's Riviera, is a great place to see and be seen. Multiculturalism is alive and well in South Beach and it attracts a growing number of visitors each year, including back-packers, society types, long-legged models and muscular men. Mix in the celebrities that come to make movies or simply frequent the beach, nearby shops and nightspots and you've got the recipe for a sizzling vacation destination.
Best Beach for Surfing: Cocoa Beach
It's hip, it's happening, it's surf... and it's just an hour from Orlando! Cocoa Beach has long been the "Surfing Capital of the World" and it's a title it will continue to hold. This beach not only has the best surf and the best surf shop — Ron Jon Surf Shop, its proximity to Kennedy Space Center and Port Canaveral provides additional activities found nowhere else in the state.
Best Beach for Sun Worshipers: Caladesi Island
While Caladesi Island's 4 miles of pristine beaches are ranked among the best in America, people also come for the outdoor recreational opportunities — swimming, fishing, boating, kayaking, hiking, birding, picnicking, and shelling. If you love the outdoors, you're certain to love Caladesi Island.
One drawback is that Caladesi Island State Park is one of the few parks in Florida's state park system that is only accessible by boat. In fact, the only way you'll stay on the island overnight is to bring your own boat. While this makes the island a bit exclusive, a ferry from Honeymoon Island State Park makes access available to anyone staying in the area.
Best Beach for Spring Break: Panama City Beach
Panama City Beach is the hottest Florida spring break destination, easily winning the "Spring Break Capital" award! Panama City Beach is one of the few beach communities to welcome spring breakers, so they come ... some half a million a year. Besides the 27 miles of sugar-white and coffee-colored sand, college students come expecting to party hard. They are never disappointed. There always seems to be plenty of booze, plenty of wild contests and events and MTV is usually on hand to provide plenty of entertainment.
Considered for years America's gay vacation capital, Fort Lauderdale is home to more than 100 gay-owned and gay-friendly hotels, bars, clubs, and restaurants. The area adjacent to these businesses tends to be where gays congregate, with popular same-sex locations along Hwy. A1A being NE 18th (popular with locals), Terramar Street (popular with tourists staying at gay resorts), and Sebastian Street.
It is believed that Haulover got its name from an early fisherman in the area — a man named Baker — who would regularly "haul" his sponge boat from Biscayne Bay over the thickly wooded dunes to the ocean at this spot.
The controversy that clings to the area is that of nude sunbathing. Haulover has become a very popular with the clothing-optional and gay crowd but is limited to an 800-yard stretch of the 1.3-mile beach. You are encouraged to avoid the area if nudity or the gay scene is personally offensive.