Being a born and raised Floridian, we have visited almost every beach town in the state. The places that stand out are the areas that feel like an escape from everyday life, have a great atmosphere in the town, sunrises or sunsets that make you never want to leave and have a sense of calmness where you could relax (and fall asleep) for hours.
We enjoy the beaches and waterways on the Atlantic Oceanside of Florida …however, the sunsets are to die for on the Gulf side.
Note, we are basing this strictly on the actual beach and surrounding beach towns. i.e., we absolutely adore every island of the Keys, but they really don’t have the best beaches.
Siesta / Lido Key (Gulf)
The beach of Siesta key is Ah-MAZING! The sand is sugar white and the oceans are clear blue. Apparently the sand is made of quartz crystals, so the sand can never get THAT hot. That’s a #WIN in our book. There is so much parking, that this spot makes it easy to have a stress-free beach day. The town of Siesta Key is very low key, beach bar vibe (check out the infamous Daiquiri Deck) and while it is enjoyable, we prefer the town of Lido Key, 20 minutes away. Lido Key (and St. Armands Circle) has such a great variety of shops and restaurants. Our favorite spots are Shore and Surf Shack.
Sanibel / Captiva Island (Gulf)
Such quaint, charming beach towns. Sanibel and Captiva are within 20 minutes of each other and it’s definitely worth checking out both areas. These two towns are known for “shelling”, and while not our thing, it is what makes the towns unique and the shells are a plenty. We love all the boutique beach shops in Sanibel, the Lighthouse (fun fact: this is one of Florida’s first lighthouses north of KW), and Bowman’s beach. We always recommend renting a bike to cruise around and stopping by our favorite breakfast spot, The Island Cow. Captiva is a much smaller town, that is home to one of the most unique restaurants we’ve ever been to, The Bubble Room. Don’t miss the red velvet cake! The houses (i.e., MANSIONS) on the island provide pictures for days and the stunning sunsets are our favorite here. You can enjoy watching the sunsets with your feet in the sand at, The Mucky Duck.
We’ve only made it to Destin once, but fell in love! It is right on the border of Alabama, so you get a lot of people traveling down from the south. The sand is unbelievably white, and since it is a little north, the temperatures are always great (maybe a little chilly in the winter). One of our favorite activities is renting a pontoon boat and heading out to the sand bar, Crab Island.
Delray Beach (Atlantic)
One of the main reasons we moved to the area was for this stunning beach. It was even rated “Best small town in America”. The main stretch of the beach is surrounded by the cutest beach bars and in walking distance to our favorite strip, Atlantic Avenue. Our house is closer to a locals beach and it is the perfect spot for a relaxing Sunday or BYOB cocktails for sunset. It is a very wide beach, where the sand is always soft and they have chairs/umbrellas for rent (worth every penny!). If you are coming in town to visit, highly recommend the Seagate hotel …or just give us a shout =)
Atlantic Beach in Jacksonville (Atlantic)
We lived one block from the sand of Atlantic Beach for a couple years. What a privilege. We would go on nightly sunset runs on the beach (this beach has some of the best packed sand I’ve ever run on), take weekend bike rides on the actual beach since it is so wide (if you are visiting, make sure you rent some beach cruisers) and took advantage of the best beach bars & restaurants. We love this area, since it is not as touristy as many other spots in Florida. If you are looking for an even quieter beach, check out Amelia Island and the to die-for Ritz Carlton!
New Smyrna Beach (Atlantic)
The best part of this town is you can drive your car on the beach. Hello convenience! So jealous of anyone who lives here and doesn’t have to lug rolling coolers, beach chairs and all the other crap we try to carry onto the beach =) This is also a great place for surfing and kite boarding. We also adore this town for their strip of shops and restaurants. Make sure to stop by everyone’s NSB favorite restaurant, The Garlic.
South Beach in Miami (Atlantic)
Just to preface, this is not our favorite beach to actually lay out at, as it is rather touristy and the sand is not the softest, but the scene around it is worth putting it on the list. You can walk the entire beach and see something unique every 5 minutes …whether it be a food festival, a huge group of people working out and rollerblading, a group strolling in from their evening out the night before, a DJ near-by playing at a pool party, etc. etc. If you are looking for something a little more high-end and private, check out the area, Key Biscayne.
Naples Beach (Gulf)
We grew up near this beach, so of course are somewhat biased. It definitely has an older crowd, but the beaches are high-class, there is minimal traffic, and you have 5th avenue close by, which is one of our favorite strips. We love Vanderbilt beach, but beware it does get quite crowded in the summer. We always make a point to head to Gumbo Limbo at the Ritz, post-beach to catch a sunset with a Miami Vice in-hand. You also have Marco Island near-by if you are looking for something more private, which is an unbelievable spot.
St. Augustine Beach (Atlantic)
St. Augustine wins a spot on this list, due to its unique town (the oldest town in the US). It does have magnificent beach areas, St. Augustine Beach and Crescent beach, but they are about 15 minutes from the center of town. Ponce de Leon founded this area 500 years ago and the history and architecture can be seen on every street, and is a part of all the shops and restaurants. Most people flock to the Columbia restaurant to start off the trip and it’s one tourist spot, we highly recommend. If you are looking for an amazing beachside restaurant, check-out Salt Life Food Shack. The poke bowls are $$.
St Pete Beach (Gulf)
We love all the unique hotels in this area that overlook the beach, from old Florida B&B’s to 5-star hotels. Hotel Zamora is one of our favorites and although a little pricey, it’s worth every penny. If nothing else, check out their amazing 360 degree rooftop bar. This area has grown a little more commercialized over the years, but they still manage to keep a great beach town feel.
Honorable mention – if you are looking for a very quiet beach, a complete getaway, highly recommend looking into Boca Grande (NW of Naples/Ft. Myers) or Anna Marie Island (SW of Tampa/Clearwater).
Some of our favorite memories growing up were made at the beach. We have taken countless summer vacays with the family and would love to help plan your trip if you are heading to Florida =) Comment below with your favorite beach town!