Ditch the loud crowds for some peace at these beach picks from the Sunshine State’s Atlantic and Gulf coasts.
Imagine: you arrive at a beach to find yourself and those you’re with the only humans for miles around. All you hear are ocean waves gently swelling and receding. Reclining in your beach chair, you let your mind drift off, opening your eyes for a moment to catch a crab darting across the sand. For those times when only complete peace will do, check out this list of off-the-beaten-path beaches where your sole companions may be the seabirds who dance along the water’s edge.
Perdido Key Beach
Get lost on the farthest western shores of Florida at this Pensacola-area barrier island. On Perdido Key’s southern side, powdery white sand dunes give way to gentle, emerald Gulf waters. On its northern side, wetlands and estuaries are home to loggerhead sea turtles and the Perdido Key beach mouse, a federally listed endangered species whose sole home is the dunes of Perdido Key.
St. Joe Beach
This Port St. Joe strip of shoreline faces due west, making it the perfect spot to settle in and watch the sun set over the water. Enjoy sugar-white sands and gentle, lapping waves without the bustle of nearby Panhandle resort towns. Just across the Saint Joseph Bay is the T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, a serene scene only accessible by watercraft where visitors enjoy snorkeling, fishing, hiking, and bird watching among the peninsula’s sand pine scrub and high dune habitats.
Caladesi Island State Park
To reach this pristine island in the Gulf, you must take a 20-minute ferry from Honeymoon Island State Park in Dunedin, but it’s worth the work. What awaits you are untouched beaches, three miles of mangrove tunnels, and forested areas filled with centuries-old slash pines and massive live oaks. Spot gopher tortoises burrowing in the dunes and sand dollars and scallops washing ashore. Bring a picnic basket to enjoy an oceanside lunch, or visit the handy concession stand, which also rents chairs, umbrellas, and kayaks.
Because of damage sustained during Hurricane Ian, this Marco Island beach—and many other southwestern Florida parks like it—may reopen next year. When Tigertail resumes welcoming visitors, adventurers will be delighted to find crystal-clear waters often teeming with fish and dolphins, the latter of whom aren’t afraid to say hello. It’s a welcome greeting after visitors travel nearly a quarter-mile from the parking lot to the beach. Speaking of somewhat arduous treks, this park features a large lagoon—cross it, holding your belongings over your head and squishing mud between your toes, to find your prize: a nearly private beachfront, complete with powdery white sands and ospreys calling overhead.
Oleta River State Park
This North Miami state park—the largest urban park in Florida— is only the jumping-off point for a journey to one of the most secret beaches in South Florida. Rent a kayak, paddleboard, or canoe to take a tour through the mangrove trails in the Oleta River before heading for Sandspur Island. At 15 acres, Sandspur is one of the largest spoil islands in the Biscayne Bay, and it features a sandy beach facing the Oleta. A densely wooded island with no facilities, this is a rare piece of unspoiled nature in the Magic City. The island only becomes crowded on weekends, when power boaters have been known to pull up, blast Bad Bunny, and twerk into the evening hours.
Nathaniel P. Reed Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge
Containing the longest contiguous section of undeveloped coastline in southeastern Florida, this wildlife refuge located 15 miles north of Jupiter in Martin County is home to scores of species like leatherback turtles, manatees, brown pelicans, and bright-pink roseate spoonbills. On the eastern side of the refuge, miles of beach are only interrupted by a single wooden observation platform. On the refuge’s western edge, the Hobe Sound Nature Center offers visitors of all ages field experiences and native wildlife presentations. Learn from nature center staff about the lives of the endangered leatherback, green, and loggerhead sea turtles who nest on these unspoiled shores, as well as the manatees who count on food and shelter from the refuge’s seagrass beds for their survival.
Golden Sands Beach
Swimmers agree—what makes this Vero Beach park so special is its water depth. Shuffle out only a few steps from the sand and find yourself fully immersed in gentle, often warm water, or float on top of the Atlantic’s gentle waves. If staying on land is more your speed, listen for the tinkling sound of shells in the receding tide to find some keepsake treasures. Those with a keen eye will find sharks’ teeth, smoothed down by the churning ocean. Be sure to steer away from sea turtle nests—Indian River County sees upwards of 7,000 sea turtle nests each year on only 22 miles of beach.
Just south of St. Augustine’s busy beach parks, Crescent Beach is a quiet stretch of coast with wide beaches onto which you can drive and park the car. Thanks to an interesting characteristic of the beach’s topography, ocean water follows winding, river-shaped grooves that connect the shallow sea to the shore to form large pools of water in the sand, often several degrees warmer than the ocean. Children—as well as the young at heart— float tiny boats, lounge, or even paddle themselves along in these unique pools.