Florida residents Susan and Simon Veness recommend the state’s best beaches
With more than 1,000 miles of coastline, the Sunshine State gives plenty of beach for its buck, and some of them are among the best in the world. There’s variety too, so whether clients are looking for safe, child-friendly shallows, high-adrenaline watersports or simply total seclusion, there are options to suit. But how to choose?
We’ve put together a range of suggestions for different types of beach, to help you select the right stretch of sand.
Best for seclusion
Bowman’s Beach on Sanibel Island is the quintessential get-away-from-it-all experience, where the most strenuous activity is to go shelling. Off-season visitors may have the beach to themselves, but there is plenty of room to stretch out even in peak season.
The quarter-mile walk from the car park to the beach is a warm-up to strolling miles of pristine shoreline, or the luxury of sunbathing with only the waves breaking the silence. Barbecue grills, picnic tables, showers and restrooms are available.
Equally relaxed is the island’s J N Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. A birder’s paradise, the preserve is home to river otters, raccoons, bobcats and alligators. Old Town Sanibel features shops, restaurants and the historic Sanibel Lighthouse, plus the Historical Village and Museum, with guided tours and plenty of pirate folklore.
Book it: Travel 2 offers seven nights in a one-bed apartment at the four-star Sanibel Moorings, from £1,129 including car hire and return flights to Fort Myers from London between August 17 and October 28.
Anna Maria Beach takes the title for “it doesn’t get any more secluded than this”. Located on tiny Anna Maria Island near Bradenton, this wide expanse of natural beachfront has no facilities, and that’s part of its charm.
It’s easy to get lost in the ‘private island’ feel, with nothing beyond a leisurely swim, a lazy stroll or a good book to distract beachgoers. A wander along the sand rewards visitors with a cool drink or a meal at the Sandbar Restaurant, the only sign of civilisation and a perfect venue for celebrating the sunset.
Book it: Thomson Tailormade offers seven nights in a villa in Bradenton from £1,010 based on two sharing, including return flights from Gatwick to Orlando with BA on September 14.
Or try: Fort De Soto’s North Beach, where dolphins and stingrays may be the only company all day.
Best for families
Clearwater Beach, lapped by the warm Gulf of Mexico waters, is an ideal family choice, with gentle waves that are especially appreciated by parents with young children.
The beach is wide and clean, with full toilet facilities and outdoor showers, and a vast array of shopping and dining just steps away. Beach wheelchairs are available, and lifeguards are on duty from 9.30am-6.30pm (4.30pm in low season).
Nearby family-friendly activities include Captain Memo’s Pirate Ship, the thrilling Clearwater Sea Screamer power boat and spectacular dolphin-spotting cruises with Dolphin Landings.
Clearwater Marine Aquarium, home to Winter, star of the movie Dolphin Tale, offers daily shows, animal encounters and backstage tours. Enhance the experience with a gentle boat or kayak tour into the waterway, or the aquarium’s Sea Life Safari, which allows families a hands-on experience with intra-coastal sea creatures such as dolphins, seabirds and other marine life.
Book it: Funway Holidays offers seven nights for a family of four (two adults and two children under 12 sharing a standard room) at the three-star Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites Clearwater Beach from £2,116, including flights with US Airways from Heathrow, departing August 20.
On pretty Siesta Key, Siesta Public Beach, a short drive from Sarasota, offers eight miles of pristine white sand. The warm, shallow waters and year-round lifeguards keep youngsters safe and happy, while a nearby shaded playground helps expend kids’ energy out of the sun.
Limited concessions of burgers and hot dogs are available but most visitors bring picnic coolers (no alcohol or glass containers allowed). Free beach wheelchairs are available, as are full restroom and shower facilities. Kayaking, fishing, snorkelling, fitness trails, tennis and beach volleyball add an active touch, but relaxation is the main feature here.
Nearby Siesta Key Village provides further dining options, as well as a variety of bars for those all-important umbrella drinks. The village’s supermarket supplies picnic foods and accessories.
Book it: USAirtours offers seven nights at the Holiday Inn Lido Beach in Sarasota for a family of four (two adults and two children under 12 sharing a standard room) from £3,036, including flights, departing October 29.
Or try:Daytona Beach on the Atlantic side, with all the tourist mod-cons just off the beach.
Best for couples
Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park in Naples is off the tourist radar, making it ideal for a romantic beach break without the shadow of high-rises and resorts.
Kayaks and snorkelling gear are available for hire, but the main events here are sunbathing, shelling and strolling. Barbecue grills, picnic pavilions, food stalls, restrooms and showers are on site, with casually elegant dining options nearby.
Sophisticated Naples is a luxury beach destination par excellence, generally unpretentious but with an undeniable air of moneyed comfort. A drive along Millionaire’s Row shows how the ‘other half’ lives, while boutique shopping and gallery hopping are the order of the day along Third Street and Fifth Avenue South.
Don’t miss the nightly sunset celebration at Naples Pier to set the tone for an evening of romance.
Book it: Thomas Cook’s FlexibleTrips offers seven nights’ room-only at the three-star Best Western Naples Inn & Suites from £725, flying from Gatwick with British Airways on September 22.
The gleaming white sand and year-round sun of South Beach make Miami’s hippest strip of sand a show-off’s heaven. Itty-bitty bikinis meet muscle men in a competition for the hottest bods and flashiest beachwear, and the main occupation is to see and be seen.
Jetskis, sailing charters, snorkelling, kayaking and yacht tours are a prelude to pampering at any one of a dozen resort spas. Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, a short drive from South Beach, will inspire a romantic stroll, while The Jackie Gleason
Theater offers performances in art deco splendour. Night-time sizzles along Ocean Drive in a parade of Ferraris and Jaguars, whose drivers come for boutique shopping, exceptional dining and nightclubs that don’t wind down until the wee hours. The beachfront’s outdoor lounges are tops for sunset cocktails.
Book it: Virgin Holidays offers four nights at the three-star-plus Albion South Beach from £1,085 including car hire and return flights from Heathrow to Miami on September 24.
Or try:Barefoot Beach Preserve Park, six miles north of Delnor Wiggins, for its solitude and terrific wildlife viewing.
Best for adventure
Cocoa Beach, an hour east of Orlando, is among Florida’s most popular beaches for surfing, flyboarding and kiteboarding, with the world-famous Ron Jon Surf Shop just a short walk from the beach. Jetskiing, sail boating, stand-up paddleboarding, parasailing and fishing add to the thrills, and watersport lessons are available.
Lifeguards are on duty seasonally, restrooms are available, and there is an array of shopping and casual dining just a stone’s throw from the beach. Ecotourism is big here, especially during sea turtle nesting season.
Other tours include dolphin and manatee spotting and kayaking through the Thousand Islands, or you can simply explore Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge by car.
Book it: Funway Holidays offers seven nights for a family of four (two adults and two children under 12) at the Best Western Ocean Beach Hotel & Suites Cocoa Beach from £3,796, including flights with Delta Air Lines, departing July 18.
In Panama City, St Andrew’s Beach is known for its white-quartz sand and its fabulous array of activities, including boating, fishing, helicopter tours, snorkelling, paddleboarding and scuba diving to a variety of wrecked ships and artificial reefs.
Bikes and watercraft are available for hire, while two nature trails attract avid birders. Little adventurers are well catered for in the ‘kiddie pool’, a natural basin of calm sea water. A general store near St Andrew’s Pass has limited food and supplies. Restrooms are available.
The Shell Island Shuttle makes regular trips to its namesake island for hiking, snorkelling, shelling, and sea turtle and dolphin spotting in a remote setting. Miracle Strip Amusement Park, Gulf World Marine Park and Pier Park shopping and nightlife centre offer sand-free adventure with a laid back beach vibe.
Book it: Travel 2 offers seven nights at the three-star Hampton Inn Panama City Beach in a Standard Double Room from £999, including seven days’ car hire and return flights to Northwest Florida Beaches International airport from London between August 17 and October 28.
Or try:Sebastian Inlet State Park, just 18 miles south of Melbourne, for surfing, shelling, snorkelling, scuba diving and deep-sea fishing.
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