Florida, best West Coast beaches
Siesta Beach, Siesta Key, near Sarasota, central-west Florida
Siesta Beach on Siesta Key, a barrier island 8 miles long, is not only one of Florida's best beaches but has also been voted America's best beach by various publications over the last 20 years. It claims to have some of world's finest, white powder sand that does not heat up, washed by the warm, translucent waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Siesta is a public beach with full facilities, activities and numerous choices of accommodation, very commercialised and built-up but a terrific, safe, kid's destination with gradual slopes, shallow waters, lifeguards and gentle waves. Siesta is also the habitat of a wide variety of fish and is the best snorkeling beach on the west coast of Florida.
Travellers who prefer less busy sands should check the Siestsa Key's Crescent Beach, Turtle Beach or the more remote Palmer Point Beach at the south end of the island.
Destin Beach, west Florida
Destin is another superb beach destination, with fast-growing, lavish resorts on pristine sand. Apart from getting a death-defying tan visitors come to Destin to play golf and all kinds of watersports - sailing, diving, but particularly fishing for its famous fishing fleet, the state's largest.
The best beach is probably unspoilt Henderson Beach State Park with squeaky suger-white sand and crystal clean water, though nearby public beaches are almost as good as the Park but without the fee!
Near Destin, another fine spread of sand worth mentioning is Fort Walton Beach.
Pensacola Beach, Santa Rosa Island, Florida
Santa Rosa is a large and dazzling, white sand, barrier island south of Pensacola city, scattered with dunes, grasses, sea oats, monstrous hotels and other tourist trappings and connected via bridges to the Fairpoint Peninsula. The beach is washed by the clear emerald waters of the Gulf of Mexico; in summer time it becomes a very busy place. Great for families, but if you're in search of solitude, this is not for you.
On the north, Santa Rosa Sound side of the island is a boardwalk lined with shops, restaurants, clubs and - in season - enlivened by street musicians and sidewalk artists. Possible activities include surfing, swimming, biking, hiking, fishing, sailing and noisy marine sports such as jet skis and para sailing, so this is hardly a tranquil paradise but well suited to families and young party people.
The city of Pensacola is tourist-oriented too, with many festivals, a couple of interesting museums and a zoo.
Sea turtles lay eggs in the dunes May - August and babies hatch from mid-July thru October.
Perdido Key, NW Florida
Photo by Infrogmation
Perdido Key, near Pensacola, north-west Florida
Perdido is one of the least developed areas of the Florida Panhandle (the top left curve of the state, adjoining Alabama) and offers 52 miles of famously white sand beaches, many backed by rolling, partially grassed dunes and a climate that averages more than 340 days of sunshine a year.
The key features several nature parks (also called state recreation areas) including Big Lagoon State Park, Gulf Islands National Seashore and Perdido Key State Park- fantastic for outdoor recreation activities such as hiking, fishing, sailing, diving, camping and wildlife watching (many birds, osprey, dolphin and various sea turtles).
The wide and dazzling beaches are washed by clean, clear waters that make excellent swimming, sunbathing and occasional body boarding, though there is no resort atmosphere. There is plenty of accommodation and facilities nearby.
Turtles lay their eggs May-September and babies hatch two months later, heading for the bright horizon. Sadly many mistake the lights of hotels and stores for their marine destiny and end up going the wrong way. Only 1% of hatchlings survive these days.
Perdido Key state recreation areas is on the Gulf Beach Highway, 15 miles southwest of Pensacola, off S.R. 292.
Fall in Grayton Beach State Park, NW Florida
Photo by Ebyabe
Grayton Beach, Panhandle (northwestern Florida), on the 'Emerald Coast' between Panama City beach and Destin
This fine, white sand beach and emerald Gulf waters provides excellent swimming, sunbathing, fishing, kayaking and boating.
Hikers and cyclists can enjoy over four miles of trails through pine flatwoods around Western Lake or on a nature trail winding through a forest of oaks and magnolias, bent and twisted by salt winds, with an eerie 'Middle Earth' look.
Modern cabins and a full-facility campground are available.
Grayton is located near the town of Grayton Beach on County Road 30A, south of U.S. 98.
Dr. Julian G Bruce St. George Island State Park (rolls off the tongue doesn't it?), is another unspoilt beauty in the Panhandle. The park is great for all kind of nature activities and water sports and the pristine beach is also known for excellent shell collecting. Picnic and camping facilities are available.
The Park is located 16km southeast of East point off US 98, on the barrier island of St. George in Apalachicola Bay, the Gulf of Mexico.
Fort De Soto State Park, NW Florida
Fort De Soto Park, near St Petersburg
The park comprises five islands covering 1,000+ acres, with shallow waters and three miles of soft white sandy beaches, attracting more than 2.7 million visitors annually. It offers two main swimming centres at North Beach and East Beach, with modern facilities, as well as a dog beach. Dogs can roam freely along a prime stretch of beach near the park's pier.
There's also an adjacent fenced field complete with dog facilities – fire hydrants and garden hoses with spray nozzles.
The park is well supplied with outdoor activities as it embraces a 6.8 mile walking trail, a 2.5 mile canoe trail, several nature trails, a boat launching facility and a large camping area.
Get there via I-275 south to exit 17 (Pinellas Bayway) and west at the second stop light. 3500 Pinellas Bayway South.
Caladesi Island State Park, near Dunedin
This 3 mile length of wide, flat and undeveloped white sandy beaches is a no-vehicle area, just grassy dunes, birds and calm Gulf waters, excellent for swimming, kayaking, snorkelling and shallow-frying yourself.
via a ferry from Honeymoon Island SRA, 30 miles west of Tampa.
Clearwater Beach, north of Dunedin is another splendid beach on the Gulf Coast. Clear water (of course!), wide and white sands, safe for little kids, great for walks or jogs, commercial and consequently well-manicured.
Gasparilla Island State Park
Photo by Ebyabe
Gasparilla Island State Park, Southwest.
This uncrowded beach on Gasparilla Island is one of few Florida's best kept secrets.
Gasparilla Island is located an hour and half west of Ft. Myers and encompasses the tranquil historic town of Boca Grande. The island boasts plenty of natural assets including dolphins and manatees as well as 7 miles of superb sandy beaches.
Keewaydin Island beach, Southwest.
Only accessible by boat, this hidden gem is located just off the luxurious resort of Marco
Island, 2 hour west of Miami. The spectacular white sandy beach is a shell paradise and offers peaceful walks with great view of Marco Island. Marco is also home to some lovely public beaches such as Tigertail and South Marco, in case you have no boat.
Keewaydin Beach has warm water but strong currents.
Also see America's best beaches, California and Hawaii
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