Your No-Fail Beach Packing List
Sun, sand, and everything you need to enjoy it.
There’s a reason that Florida is called the “Sunshine State.” The sun is shining in this southern state two-thirds of the year. But there’s another name that would be just as fitting—the “Vacation State.” With an abundance of beaches on both the Atlantic and Gulf side of Florida, you could plan a dozen trips and have totally different experiences on each one.
Whether you’re traveling with a few friends or have your entire family in tow, here’s a list of Florida beaches worth considering for your next vacay.
If you’ve got little ones, you’ll want to focus on locales that have lots of things to do. These beaches offer plenty of sea and sand, as well as other fun activities that the entire family can enjoy.
Between Pensacola and Panama City Beach lies Grayton Beach, a low-key alternative to some of the rowdier neighboring beaches. The main attraction: Grayton Beach State Park, which includes 400-acres of white sandy beaches, ocean, and even a dune lake. Little budding naturalists will love all the wildlife—like Osprey and Great Blue Heron. Plus, the relatively slow pace and smaller crowds are something parents will appreciate.
Located on what’s known as the Space Coast thanks to its proximity to Cape Canaveral, Cocoa Beach is consistently named one of the best family beaches—as well as one of the best beaches in Florida overall. The surf is calm and the water is shallow, making it ideal for small children. There are also countless wildlife and space-related activities nearby, including the Lori Wilson Park and the Kennedy Space Center.
Fernandina Beach sits at the northern end of Amelia Island. The quaint town has lots to offer by way of small businesses and local restaurants, as well as plenty of beautiful beaches. It’s less commercialized than other beach towns, making it delightfully charming. Need a break from beaching? Fort Clinch State Park offers the opportunity to check out some of Florida’s famous marshlands.
Lucky for us, some of the best seashell beaches in the world are located in Florida. Not only do pretty shells make for a picturesque experience (and kid-friendly activity), but they can be a great souvenir. Here, shell-tastic destinations that are worth your consideration.
The shape of Sanibel Island, which is just west of Fort Myers, helps create calm shorelines which are ideal for shelling. Not only that, more than half the island is devoted to wildlife refuges, making it a must-visit on any nature-lover’s list. Looking for an even lower-key island? Head to Captiva Island, Sanibel’s smaller sister island.
Found on Florida’s Gulf Coast about halfway between Orlando and Tallahassee, Cedar Key is an old-school, charming Florida beach town that happens to have some of the best shelling in the state. Of particular interest is its plentiful tidal pools, where a variety of shell shapes and sizes can be found.
Between Sarasota and Fort Myers, Venice Beach is a town of about 25,000. Not only does it have excellent shelling, it also has an abundance of shark teeth. While you can find shells all over Venice Beach, Caspersen Beach (which is located within the Venice Beach city limits) offers plenty of shells and tidal flats.
Beach with a side of nightlife or nightlife with a side of beach? Don’t worry, you don’t actually have to choose. These picks offer gorgeous strips of sand to relax on during the day and plenty of P.M. activities to keep your evenings busy.
Miami’s South Beach is internationally acknowledged as one of the best spots for partying—and the beaches are beautiful, too. Glamorous people from all over the world dot the neighborhood, and the daytime beach clubs are always packed with revelers looking for a good time. A day of suntanning can easily shift into cruising Ocean Drive once the sun goes down, where some of the best restaurants and clubs are located.
The panhandle’s Panama City Beach has almost 30 miles of beach. But there are also plenty of opportunities for a fun night out. The hub is Pier Park, an almost 1 million square foot shopping center that offers restaurants, shopping and even some amusement park-style attractions. During the day, hang on the pearly-white sands of the beach and take selfies in front of the otherworldly blue-green ocean.
Key West is another internationally known nightlife destination. Duval Street is the main attraction once the sun sets. There, you’ll find restaurants, shops, and tons of fellow revelers ready to see where the night takes them. By day, rent a boat, try your hand at parasailing, or simply lounge on the beach.
The good news: Nearly all Florida beaches have incredible sunsets thanks to their positioning on the coastline. However, there are a few that qualify as truly spectacular.
Situated where the Apalachicola River meets the Gulf of Mexico, St. George Island is one of Florida’s barrier islands. It’s popular for its pristine beaches, but its real draw is the sunsets. Thanks to strict zoning laws, the views are unobstructed and inspiring. And you can bring your pooch, too—St. George Island’s beaches are dog-friendly.
Clearwater’s name pretty much says it all. The city is located in the Tampa Bay area and Clearwater Beach is the furthest west point—which makes it a great place to see a sunset. Picture a vast expanse of orange and red sky above powdery white sand and clear blue water.
There are many beautiful places on the Florida panhandle to watch sunsets, but Fort Walton Beach is certainly a favorite. That might have something to do with Okaloosa Island Pier, where, for a small fee you can join a nightly ritual and watch the sunset, as well as swimming dolphins and manatees.
Looking to escape the crowds and enjoy the peacefulness of the ocean? These beaches offer plenty of solitude.
This Florida key is located off Sarasota, and compared to other nearby beaches and cities, it’s practically private. Eleven miles of beaches allow you to explore, fish, hike, and shell. There are fewer amenities such as lifeguards, restrooms, and parking, so come prepared.
North of Jupiter is Tequesta Park, home to Coral Cove Park, a quaint and quiet stretch of beach. Despite being on the Atlantic coast, Coral Cove Park has clear water that will please snorkeling enthusiasts. Paddleboarding is also popular.
It takes some time and energy to get to, but Dry Tortugas National Park is a worthy endeavor. This 100-square-mile park composed mostly of open water is located 70 miles west of Key West and is only reachable by boat. It’s also home to Fort Jefferson, a military fortress built in the mid 19th century.