Whether you’re looking for turtles, snorkeling, or shelling, here are our top Florida beaches.
For Beginner Snorkelers [Boca Raton, FL]
Home to turtles, barracuda, eels, and stingrays, Red Reef Beach offers shallow-water artificial reefs just 30 feet from the shoreline. This reef was originally created to cover jagged rocks from swimmers but has become an underwater home to area wildlife. There’s no need for a diving flag, and lifeguards are on duty, so it’s a great place to take the older kids to explore the fish up close and personal.
For History Buffs [Jupiter, FL]
Dubois Beach has played home to the 1898 Dubois Pioneer Homestead – the oldest standing house on its original site in Palm Beach County – so it’s no stranger to history. But in 2010 and 2011, the county’s Parks and Recreation Department uncovered faceted chevron beads dating back to 1513, believed to have come from Spanish explorer ships. Local historians believe those Spaniards were the crew that scoured Southern Florida for the Fountain of Youth, so wandering the beach, you might just be standing in Ponce de Leon’s footsteps.
Where to Stay Jupiter Beach Resort & Spa
For Beachcombers [Clearwater Beach, FL]
Sand Key Park and Beach, just a two-mile drive from the Sandpearl Resort and downtown Clearwater, is a locals’ hangout with far less crowds and ample opportunities for shelling. It’s part of the 180-acre gulf barrier island, Shell Key Preserve, that’s home to a healthy population of colorful conches and whelks. After combing the beaches for shells, the park’s picnic area lends itself as the perfect afternoon luncheon spot with an ocean view. Or check out the heron, roseate spoonbill, and great horned owls that feed near the salt marsh.
Where to Stay Sandpearl Resort
For Day-Trippers [Sanibel Island, FL]
While Sanibel Island can clearly be its own destination, it’s best done in one day. An hour north from Naples, this unique barrier island has an immense amount of shells, large luxury Floridian estates, and a small-town, secluded feel. Just minutes from the beach along West Gulf Drive, you’ll find flowery vegetation that dots small shopping complexes and a drive-by view of some of the area’s most expensive real estate – all with an ocean view. Don’t miss Bailey’s, the island’s 1899 staple shop with everything from fishing supplies to ready-to-go fresh meals and beach supplies.
Where to Stay Edgewater Beach Hotel
For Birdwatchers [Bahia Honda State Park, FL]
Less than an hour from Key West, the shores of Bahai Honda come alive with willets, sanderlings, ruddy turnstones, and plovers. These shorebirds come to feed and rest along the shallow sand flats during low tide. Wading birds – such as great white herons, snowy egrets, and white ibis – are also plentiful. It’s home to the endangered white-crowned pigeon, often found resting in poisonwood trees in the summer months. And in the fall, return mid-September to mid-November for the annual hawk migration.
For Nature Enthusiasts [Clearwater Beach, FL]
While the nearly secluded white-sand beaches of Caladesi Island State Park continuously rank as some of the best in the country for sunbathers and swimmers, wildlife lovers find this area near Clearwater Beach just as appealing. Just off the beach, visitors will find three miles of nature trails full of gopher tortoises, ospreys, and plover. For those who prefer to get into the water, an additional three miles of waterways through mangroves can be kayaked with a rental from Café Caladesi. Get to the beach by ferry, private boat, or by walking Dunedin Pass just north of Clearwater Beach (1985’s Hurricane Elena filled in a section that now connects the island to the mainland).