If Florida is known for anything, it’s beaches. With three of its borders surrounded by water, this state has plenty of beaches. The main problem isn’t finding a beach but choosing a beach.
Narrowing down a list of the best beach towns in Florida is challenging. However, below, we’ve attempted to do just that.
1. Sanibel Island
Sanibel Island is located off Florida’s peninsula on the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a barrier island and collection of sand on the leeward side of the more solid coral rock of Pine Island.
This island was first inhabited by the Calusa Indians around 1500 years ago (though we don’t have an exact date). It was then somewhat explored by Spanish explorers in the 16th century. However, it really wasn’t inhabited much until the 19th century.
The island was the site of a major battle during the Seminole Wars in 1833 when a group of Seminoles attacked and burned a US Army fort on the island.
It was finally incorporated as a city in 1974. However, the island still looks to preserve its natural environment and avoid overdevelopment.
Sanibel Island is most well-known for its abundance of pastel-colored seashells. It’s home to the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, which contains a 6,000-acre mangrove jungle. This refuge hosts several endangered species, including manatees, alligators, raccoons, and tropical birds.
The island includes 25 miles of bike path, where visitors can see the natural beauty and wildlife of the area.
As of 2020, the island has 7,000 people. There are no traffic lights, billboards, or high-rise buildings on the island. Therefore, it has a much more naturalist feel.
The city of Naples is located on Florida’s southwest coast on the Gulf of Mexico. It’s about 125 miles west of Miami and 160 miles south of Tampa.
It was founded in 1886 by Confederate General John Stuart Williams. The city’s namesake is Naples, Italy, because of its mild climate. It quickly became a popular winter resort for wealthy northerners in the early 20th century. Naples quickly became a year-round destination for tourists and retirees, though.
Naples is famous for its world-class art, sophisticated dining, and high-end shopping. It has over 80 golf courses and is the Golf Capital of the World. It has the second most holes per capita out of all communities worldwide.
3. Captiva Island
Another community on the Gulf of Mexico is Captiva Island. It’s very close to Sanibel Island, which is located on the other side of a short causeway.
Originally, Captiva Island was a much larger island that also included Sanibel and North Captiva. However, a hurricane came through in 1926 and separated them.
It was first inhabited by the Calusa Indians, who were known for fighting and creating shell art. It was later visited by Spanish explorers, fishermen, and pirates. The island was named because of a legend that Josefa De Mayorga held her captives there.
In the early 20th century, the island became a popular destination for tourists and artists. It is a relaxing, peaceful destination with a lot of wildlife preserves. It’s home to several beaches where you can swim, shell, and sunbathe.
The island has a tropical climate year-round and no traffic lights or chain stores.
4. Amelia Island
Amelia Island is located off Florida’s northeast coast on the Atlantic Ocean. It’s part of the Sea Island chain, stretching across the East Coast of the United States from South Carolina to Florida.
This island was first inhabited by the Timucua Indians, who called it Napoyca. The island was later claimed by France, Spain, Great Britain, the Patriots of Amelia Island, the Green Cross of Florida, Mexico, the Confederate States of America, and the United States, earning it the nickname “The Isle of Eight Flags.”
Amelia Island has long been a center of piracy and smuggling, especially during the 18th and 19th centuries. However, it became a popular tourist destination in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Advertisers promote the island as the best of both beach and city life. It has 13 miles of pristine beaches, where visitors can enjoy surfing, fishing, shelling, and swimming. It also has a historic downtown district with boutique shops, ice cream parlors, and restaurants of all sorts.
Amelia Island has a humid subtropical climate with very mild winters and very hot summers.
5. Palm Beach
Palm Beach is located on a barrier island off Florida’s southeast coast. It’s part of Palm Beach Country, which has a population of 1.5 million.
This town was originally founded in 1878 by Spanish shipwreck survivor Elisha Dimick, who built the first hotel on the island. It was then transformed into a winter resort by Henry Flagler, co-founder of Standard Oil. He built Royal Poinciana Hotel and Breakers Hotel in the late 1800s.
Since then, the island has become popular with the rich and famous, attracting politicians and celebrities worldwide. It was incorporated as a town in 1911 and has since adopted very strict zoning and building codes.
More than 30 billionaires call Palm Beach home, so it’s very ritzy and glamorous. It’s also home to several historic landmarks, such as the Mar-a-Lago estate, Bethesda-by-the-Sea Church, and the Society of the Four Arts.
6. Anna Maria Island
Located just 30 minutes off Sarasota is Anna Maria Island on the Gulf Coast. It’s also part of the Sea Islands chain on the East Coast of the United States.
The Timucua Indians inhabited the island. However, it became a popular tourist destination in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Several grand resorts and hotels were built, mirroring Palm Beach.
Anna Maria Island is best known for its soft sand and turquoise water. It’s very laid-back. The island is home to several beaches, as you’d imagine. There is also a historic district for you to explore.
There are no high-rise buildings or chain stores on the island. All building heights must be 37 feet or less.
7. Cedar Key
One of Florida’s best beaches, Cedar Key, is located just 50 miles southwest of Gainesville on the Gulf Coast. It’s a cluster of islands just off the mainland. The city resides on Way Key.
It was first inhabited by Native Americans, who used the islands for fishing and shell mounds. However, it was later inhabited by Spanish explorers and fishermen, who named it Las Isles Sabines after the red cedar trees that grew there.
The island became a major port and railroad terminus in the 19th century. It largely exported cedar, seafood, and salt. The island was the site of several battles during the Seminole Wars and Civil War.
Cedar Key is a quaint, historic fishing village with a rich culture. There are many museums, art galleries, shops, and restaurants. Plus, the island is also home to the Cedar Key National Wildlife Refuge.
Cedar Key produces more than 90% of the state’s clams, and it’s the Clam Capitol of Florida.
8. St. George Island
Florida’s panhandle features St. George Island on the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a barrier island that is 28 miles long and about 1 mile wide at its widest point. It’s connected to the mainland at Eastpoint by a 4-mile-long bridge.
This island was first inhabited by Native Americans, who used the island for fishing. Later, it was claimed by Spain, France, and Great Britain. However, the island was mostly uninhabited until the 1950s, when the causeway was built.
The island’s history as a popular tourist destination dates back to the 1970s after the construction of several vacation homes and resorts.
It’s a serene island with 28 miles of beaches. On it stands a historic lighthouse rebuilt several times after hurricanes. It also has a fishing pier that is quite popular.
Area guidelines forbid high-rise or chain stores on the island and protect it by strict low-density zoning. It has a subtropical climate with mild winters and hot summers.
9. Madeira Beach
The town of Madeira Beach is a bit livelier than others we’ve discussed so far. It is a family-friendly town with a boardwalk and a marina. Of course, it has several beaches for visitors to enjoy and many restaurants and shops.
The city has an abundant supply of grouper, which earned it the name “Grouper Capital of the World.” The city hosts many annual events, including John’s Pass Seafood Festival.
Originally, this city was part of a fishing settlement called Archibald Beach. It was incorporated in 1947 and named after John’s Pass, which separates the beach from Treasure Island. It grew as a tourist destination in the 1950s and 1960s.
10. Siesta Key
A tropical paradise and a popular snorkeling destination, Siesta Key offers powdery white sand and blue water. It’s home to Siesta Beach, Crescent Beach, Turtle Beach, and many others.
It also has a lively village district with shops, restaurants, bars, and other entertainment venues.
The island was first inhabited by Native Americans, but it was then claimed by Spain, France, and Great Britain. It was mostly uninhabited until the early 20th century, though, when a bridge was built to connect it to the mainland. It became particularly popular in the 1960s.
The island does not allow any high-rise buildings or chain stores. It features very strict zoning and building codes.
Summary of 10 Best Beach Towns in Florida
|Known for its abundance of pastel-colored sea shells
|Famous for world-class art, sophisticated dining and high-end shopping
|No traffic lights or chain stores are allowed on the island
|Was a center for pirates during the 18th and 19th centuries
|Over 30 billionaires call Palm Beach home
|Anna Maria Island
|No high-rise buildings or chain stores on the island
|Produces 90% of the state’s clams
|St. George Island
|Was mostly uninhabited until the 1950s when a causeway was built
|Known as “The Grouper Capital of the World”
|White powdery sands and turquoise waters make it a popular snorkeling destination
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/Cassanas
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