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21st–45th Street Beach

A small stretch of sand, with sporadic lifeguard huts and snacks. It also serves as backdrop for some of the area’s most luxurious hotels and exclusive beach clubs, which unexpectedly command less beachfront real estate than their neighbors to the south so more locals gather here. The Miami Beach boardwalk runs through it, turning into a paved surface as you head south past 23rd Street—ideal for joggers.

Lummus Park Beach

Volleyball, thatched huts and people-watching. There’s also a gay beach at 12th Street and plenty of topless tourists and friendly bird feeders, which provide a good source of entertainment. Keep an eye out for the funky lifeguard stands: the one at 14th Street, which sports a circular roof crowned with AstroTurf, is our fave.

Haulover Beach

These dozen miles of white sand, ocean surf, landscaped dunes and shaded picnic areas rank as one of the area’s most scenic stretches of beachfront. Worth the drive or bus journey (take the S from Lincoln Road), the beach is fringed with dense vegetation that blocks out the visual pollution of nearby high-rises. There’s a nude beach (between the two northernmost parking lots) and a gay nude beach (north of the lifeguard tower). Tuesday nights bring a small food truck festival, with local vendors, live music and programming for the whole family.

South Pointe Park Pier

This verdant spot on the very tip of Miami Beach is part of a 17-acre park with picnic areas, a playground, a fishing pier (complete with cutting and washing stations, and recycling bins for fishing lines) and great views of cruise ships. Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and Government Cut channel, it makes for a wonderful respite from the urban madness. During stone crab season, you’ll find plenty of locals hoisting bags of claws and other goodies from nearby Joe’s Takeaway for a beachside picnic at the park.


A sleepy residential enclave less than a mile square, Surfside exudes a small beach town vibe. Everyone knows each other and there’s a true neighborhood feeling to the town. Every first Friday of the summer months there’s a communal beach picnic that happens on the sand near the lifeguard station on 93rd. It’s mostly residents who gather to listen to music, feast and participate in kid-friendly activities. The Surfside Community Center also boasts one of the best water parks in Miami.

Sunny Isles Beach

Beyond Haulover Beach Park lies Sunny Isles Beach, two miles of public beaches, souvenir shops and hotels. Architectural kitsch and older tourists once prevailed here; in an effort to change its reputation forever, the place has recently undergone a luxury beachside condo boom. These days, Sunny Isles Beach resembles more the condo canyon of mid-Miami Beach than the low-rent beach community it was from World War II until just a few years ago.

46th–63rd Street Beach

Pleasant, not too crowded and very family-oriented, with a play area at 53rd. On the downside, the otherwise vibrant Collins Street morphs into a soulless backdrop of bland condos around here with a few big-name hotels from Miami Beach’s golden era sprinkled in-between. Parking is easier to come by than in South Beach, but you’re exchanging environment and proximity to cool eateries for sheer convenience.

Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park

Occupying the southern tip of Key Biscayne, this park’s wide beaches regularly make the national top ten lists. But this is more than just a place to catch some rays: there’s history, wildlife and plenty of activities too. You can tour the Cape Florida Lighthouse, the oldest building in south Florida; explore native wildlife planted in the aftermath of 1992’s Hurricane Andrew; and try your hand at shoreline fishing, ocean kayaking, windsurfing, cycling and in-line skating. Covered pavilions are available for picnics, and the Lighthouse Café offers good food.

Crandon Park

Palm trees line Key Biscayne’s Crandon Park, and shallow waters, barbecues and picnic tables make it a favorite destination for families. A winding boardwalk and convenient parking complete the picture.

Fort Lauderdale Beach

A wide and handsome sandy strip with a brick promenade for skaters, joggers and cyclists. Postcard-perfect, it comes complete with bronzed lifeguards and coconut palms, and draws an altogether more laidback crowd than the beaches in Miami. Just looking to cruise? Fort Lauderdale Beach offers direct water views (and access) right from the street—like driving down the Pacific Coast Highway without all of the cliffs.

Matheson Hammock Park Beach

Scenic park with scores of nature trails and a man-made atoll pool that’s flushed by the tidal action of Biscayne Bay—a hit with families with small children not yet ready to brave the waves of South Beach. It doubles up as a prime kite-boarding spot. Come with a hammock and gently rock yourself through an afternoon of people-watching. Or dock your boat (it’s one of the city’s most popular public marinas) before heading to dinner at Red Fish Grill, one of the Miami’s best seafood restaurants right inside the park.

Bal Harbour

A small beach with a Vita course, nestled inside this famously well-heeled town just north of Surfside. There are said to be more millionaires per capita in Bal Harbour than in any other city in the U.S.—you need to be one to hang out here for long.

Delray Beach

If you want to stop between Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach, do so at Delray Beach, an intimate town with wide beaches, trolley tours and an impressive cultural scene. The coast has always attracted visitors, from Spanish explorers in the 1500s to today’s retirees and sun-seekers. It’s not hard to see why: the beach is picturesque, and not too populated. You’ll have no trouble finding an (inexpensive) umbrella and beach chair on which to lie on and soak up some rays for several uninterrupted hours.

Hobie Beach

Hobie Beach, named for the late surfboard pioneer Hobie Alter, is unsurprisingly the beach of choice for practitioners of that sport. Windsurf, jet-ski and sailing boat rentals are all available onsite. It’s also one of Miami’s few dog-friendly beaches, so expect lots of canines splashing around in the shallow waters—which are often murky and covered in seaweed.

Stay In Miami



Lover’s Key is made up of four barrier islands between Fort Myers and Bonita Beaches. For years it was only accessible by boat so “lovers” would travel there for solitude. These days, trams and boardwalks help you to navigate the two miles of white sand. Even with so many visitors, the land is mostly unspoiled, with an abundance of wildlife not to mention great shelling. Black Island has hiking and biking trails or you can explore the well-known Calusa Indian site of Mound Key by kayak. This beach has something for everyone. And if you are hungry or sandy, find concessions and showers for comfort.


Occupying some 300-plus acres, Barefoot offers a varied natural landscape that can seduce and captivate everyone from sun worshippers to hikers and animal-lovers. You may even run across a Loggerhead Turtle. Shielded from surrounding development by the dense growth of mangroves and hemlocks, Barefoot Beach manages to escape the traffic and large crowds that other beaches usually see, making this one of the area’s true treasures for those seeking a quiet, peaceful day on the Gulf. That’s not to say that Barefoot is free of any and all modern convenience, as those with children will be happy to note that the park has public restrooms, showers and even concessions.


This quiet county park is home to one of the most popular beaches on Sanibel. Situated well off a long stretch on Sanibel-Captiva Road, the beach presents a certain “undiscovered” feel when you arrive. This also translates into excellent shelling and great photo opportunities, especially at sunset. The sand is white and there are miles of it for you to walk, unobstructed. The water is calm, great for swimming or floating. It’s also stunningly clear and it will wash all your cares away. The walk from the parking lot to the beach will take you a good five minutes but it’s worth it. The park features shady picnic tables, grills and public restrooms.


Cayo Costa is a barrier island with nine miles of beautiful beach, mangrove swamps and acres of shady pine trees. A fabulous spot for shelling, also keep your eyes open for wildlife including dolphins, manatees and an array of birds. For a one-of-a-kind getaway, rent a primitive cabin or pack a tent and spend the night. Fishing is permitted and there are trails for off-road bicycling. The island is only accessible by boat, if you don’t have one you can hop on a ferry at Tropic Star of Pine Island in Bokeelia or aboard Captiva Cruises at Jensen’s Marina. Many people don’t want to make the effort it takes to get here, that means low crowds and at times you can feel as if you have the entire island to yourself.


This popular family destination boasts one of the area’s most well known attractions: Fort Myers Beach Pier. The park’s beach area appeals to sunbathers, swimmers, volley-ballers and fisherman. It’s adjacent to “Times Square”, a pedestrian area full of restaurants and shops. Indeed, Lynn Hall is the place to head if you are looking for a fun, activity-filled day at the beach and good people watching. The park offers public restroom facilities and bathhouses. There is a trolley stop here if you don’t have a car or don’t want to fool with parking. If you do drive, park and pay at a central kiosk; two dollars an hour, credit cards accepted.


Located on Sanibel Island’s southern coast, this small beach area may not attract the crowds that other stretches see, but those willing to find Tarpon Bay Road are in for quite a sight when they get here. Calm, clear water that’s ideal for swimming, wide expanses of soft white sand, and great opportunities for shelling help make this beach a true diamond in the rough. It’s not uncommon to see dolphins in the surf as well.


This is the last possible stretch of beach on Estero Island, sitting on the Northern tip of Fort Myers Beach. It’s a great place to watch all kinds of watercraft, make their way into the Gulf of Mexico. The park includes walking trails, guided walks and is a designated site on the Great Florida Birding Trail. The beach is narrow at high tide but is beautifully decorated by Mother Nature with lots of driftwood and mangroves. There are restroom facilities and a concession stand if your cooler gets low. The park also offers kayak and paddleboard rentals when you’re ready to move your body.


It was hard to see the Sanibel Lighthouse through the summer of 2013 as it underwent a rehabilitation project. This is the most photographed site on Sanibel Island. While visitors are unable to go inside the 120 year old structure, they can read about its history and sun on it’s beaches. The shelling is good here as the current can sometimes be swift, washing up all kinds of treasures. Explore the wetlands around the lighthouse using the designated nature trails and boardwalks. There are a number of shady parking spaces, a small pier for fishing and for your comfort, indoor restroom facilities


Sitting at the entrance to South Seas Resort, on the northern tip of the island, this is the last possible bit of public beach on Captiva. The parking is limited but it is worth the effort if you can find a spot. There are miles of shoreline and it is widely regarded as one of the most romantic beaches. The sand is full of shells and the dolphins love to play in the clear blue water. This is one of the few beaches along the Southwest Florida coast that actually has a drop off as you wade into the water. A pontoon boat sells beverages and snacks from the shallow water in case you run out of sustenance.


While the “Causeway” may not have the most beautiful sand or the bluest water of the Fort Myers area beaches, it is the most popular for extreme sports. The constant wind makes the Causeway most appealing for wind surfing, kite surfing, fishing, skiing and other water sports. You can pull your car right up to the shoreline, no lugging coolers and tents through soft, sandy dunes. Parking is free, however, it will cost you six dollars to get through the toll. Your friends with boats can pull up, anchor and join the party by water. There are a few picnic tables and restrooms. Set up camp and stay all day.

Stay In Fort Meyers



Recognized as one of the best beaches in the US, the sandy shore at Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park is all-natural and devoid of the high rises and development of most of the other local beaches. A nature trail leads to an observation tower at the beach’s north end. Fishermen head to the pass to hook into fish being flushed out of the Cocohatchee River. This is a popular park, but you can usually find parking in one of the many lots if you arrive early enough. The park posts a sign on the road leading to it when it is full, but there’s another parking lot less than a quarter mile away if you don’t mind walking. Picnic areas have grills, restrooms and showers.


This pristine park offers the ideal beach experience complete with tropical hammocks, scenic tidal creeks and lush mangrove swamps. For those who eschew beach crowds, this is usually a good bet, because it is a little trickier to get to – through a neighborhood development mined with speed bumps and roaming gopher tortoises. The 342-acre preserve features a one-mile nature trail, public showers, a picnic area, a concession stand, a butterfly garden and equipment rentals. Rangers give free nature walks and shell talks at the chickee learning center. Its natural, unspoiled quality appeals to wildlife watchers, fishermen and beach bums alike.


A staple in the community for more than 100 years, the Naples Fishing Pier is a must-see attraction close to the downtown goings-on around Third Street South. Once the entry point for those who arrived to Naples by boat, the main mode of transportation in the early days, today its importance lies in the recreational rather than practical realm. Six miles of flawless, white sand meets aquamarine waves that lull beach lovers into relaxation. Bring a rod to try fishing off the pier, or just watch as others reel in their catches. The pier and beach never close, and provide the perfect spot to watch the setting sun dip into the endless sea. It’s a nightly ritual for fishermen, strollers, lovers and pelicans.


Lowdermilk Park holds the most full-service facilities of any Gulf of Mexico beach in the Naples area, making it a good fit for families with children. They can gather for picnics in one of the two gazebo pavilions that the park rents out, go check out the duck pond, play on the two playgrounds and enjoy the calm and safe waters here away from any rushing pass waters. Other facilities include sand volleyball courts, restrooms and showers, handicap access and beach wheelchairs and a food concession stand. Its close proximity to the downtown area adds to its convenience for visitors of all ages.


Vanderbilt Beach in North Naples fronts a line of resorts, including the Ritz-Carlton. The good news is that affords beach-goers venues for bar-hopping and dining. The bad: It gets a little crowded. Plenty of open white sand carpets the beach along the gently lapping Gulf of Mexico. In the quiet early morning hours, beachers can enjoy hunting for sea shells and watching shore birds. You can walk for miles along this stretch, to Clam Pass Preserve Park to the north and along housing developments and residential neighborhoods to the south. Perks such as a concession stand, public restrooms, showers and bike racks appeal to the midday crowd.


At Marco Island’s northern end, an island and a sand spit peninsula intercept the sand, stealing the beach from the main island. Coconut Island and Sand Dollar Spit are both accessible from Tigertail Beach, the public access operated by Collier County. Both barrier sand structures are known for their sea shells. Meanwhile at Tigertail, a lagoon has formed at the public access that fills with birds, especially in the morning breakfast hours. The access also has playgrounds, water sports rentals, a food concession and restrooms. To get to Sand Dollar Spit, you can swim across the lagoon or walk south to where it connects to land. From the spit’s north end, Coconut Island is a short walk away.


This beach adventure begins with a tram ride across a three-quarter-mile boardwalk through a mangrove estuary, so you get to experience at least two different Naples habitats within minutes. The park fronts the Naples Grande Beach Resort, located adjacent to its parking lot, which means it can be heavily populated, especially in the winter and spring season. The lovely coastal habitat spans 35 acres and also includes a tidal bay area where beachgoers can observe wading shorebirds, osprey and other marine life. Boat and cabana rentals are available at the county-operated facility, plus there are restrooms, showers and a resort food concession.


Public beach access is limited on Marco Island. This one, at the southernmost end of the island, is easiest to get to and find, although there is a bit of a walk from the parking lot on the other side of Collier Boulevard. Marco Island boasts a soft sugar-sand brand of beach, wide and usually teaming with activity – volleyball, jet-skiing, parasailing, paddle-boarding, you name it. Set back high-rises line most of the shoreline. Native vegetation grows between development and the sand. The only facilities are restrooms in the parking lot, but there is a restaurant next to the access where you can use the restrooms if you’re eating or drinking.


Big Hickory Island holds the community of Bonita Beach, an erstwhile fishing village turned swank. At the island’s southernmost end, beach-lovers come to play. The closest beach to Interstate 75, it attracts a lively crowd of active beach-goers with all sorts of water sports rentals and beach volleyball. Although many come to party at Bonita Beach Park, it is also family friendly with a playground, picnic shelters with tables and grills, beach rentals and a burger joint that feeds you indoors and outdoors. Heading north, you will find about ten more smaller public beach accesses, with free but limited parking, lining Hickory Boulevard.


The only freshwater lake public beach in the Naples area, Sugden Regional Park is most well known for its sailing events and programs, but the 60-acre Avalon Lake is also a great place for kayaking and water skiing. The park rents water sports equipment including paddle boats. A scenic walking trail takes you around the lake, and visitors also enjoy picnicking, playing on the playground, fishing from the pier and relaxing on the sand beach. Water-skiing and sailing lessons are available at this county maintained facility in a quiet neighborhood on the east side of Naples – including instruction for those with special needs.

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