When you think Florida, you think beach and ocean. But the state is home to two very distinct coastlines – the East Coast and the Gulf Coast – offering very different beach experiences for families, surfers, and fisherman. So which coast is the best destination for your vacation?

Gulf Coast, Atlantic Coast. Most states don’t offer any coast, but Florida offers two distinct coastlines, each with their own unique beaches that run up and down the peninsula. Here, we compare the merits of one Atlantic Coast beach and one Gulf Coast beach beneath three different categories: fishing, surfing, and family fun.

For Families: Clearwater Beach vs. Jensen Beach

Florida’s Gulf vs. Atlantic Beach Scene

Gulf Coast: Clearwater Beach [Clearwater, FL]

Soft sand, relaxed surf, and majestic sunsets are some of Clearwater Beach’s best assets from Mother Nature – but it’s the restaurants, shops, and nightly carnival-like vibe on Pier 60 that make Clearwater Beach the perfect post-up beach destination for families. Younger ones enjoy Captain Memo’s Pirate Cruise, while kids ages 14 and up will relish the chance to pilot a jet ski. Try to get there early (before 10 a.m. or so) to secure nearby parking and save yourself from a longer walk.

Where to Stay: Opal Sands Resort or Sandpearl Resort

Atlantic Coast: Stuart Beach [Stuart, FL]

Stuart Beach contrasts with its Gulf Coast counterpart in one way you’ll feel immediately: the sand is very coarse. The upside? Tons of beautiful seashells to be found. Like Clearwater, this beach is pristine, too. Stuart Beach will also make families’ lives easier in that it has plenty of parking, lifeguards, a concession stand, clean bathrooms, and even a playground. If any of the kids take a keen interest in marine life, Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center provides a place for them to engage with and learn more about the ocean and its creatures.

Where to Stay: Hutchinson Shores Resort & Spa

For Fishing 

Florida’s Gulf vs. Atlantic Beach Scene

Gulf Coast: Naples Municipal Beach and Pier [Naples, FL]

You don’t need a license to fish off of Naples Municipal Beach and Pier, and you don’t even need to actually fish to tag along and enjoy the experience. There are 10 miles of beach to explore, plus bird, stingray, and dolphin sightings to keep you occupied – not to mention the gorgeous Gulf sunsets – so if you’re bringing along someone who’s less than enthused about hooking the bait, casting a line, and waiting for a bite, this may be the spot for you.

Where to Stay: Edgewater Beach Hotel

Atlantic Coast: Juno Beach Park Pier [Juno Beach, FL]

For just $4, anglers at Juno Beach Park Pier – just four miles south of Jupiter – can take advantage of 990 feet of Atlantic Ocean fishing. Pristine beaches, clear water, and a clean pier make this a popular castoff spot for tourists and locals alike. If you’re in the area and don’t have your gear, come anyway – the Pier House sells bait and rents poles, so you’ll be good to go.

Where to Stay: Jupiter Beach Resort & Spa

For Surfing: Reef Road vs. Siesta Key

Florida’s Gulf vs. Atlantic Beach Scene

Gulf Coast: Siesta Key Beach [Sarasota, FL]

Most recently making headlines as the setting for MTV’s newest docu-soap, most know Siesta Key for its glossy reputation: white sand, clear (and warm!) water, and pristine beach. While the waves aren’t as big as the ones you’d catch the Atlantic Coast (and its viability as a surfing spot really depends on sandbars and wind), the wide and deep nature of the beach makes this a good spot for beginners looking for something calmer.

Where to Stay: Lido Beach Resort

Atlantic Coast: Reef Road [Palm Beach, FL]

With sweet barrels, big waves, and clear waters, Reef Road (some 30 minutes north of Delray Beach) is considered by some to be the best surfing in Florida, and attracts visiting surfers accordingly, especially during hurricane season. It’s also in the shadow of some of the most expensive coastal homes in the country, so parking is difficult – look for a spot about a mile south and walk your way in.

Where to Stay Opal Grand Resort | Delray Sands Resort