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The best places to go for your next Florida beach holiday
Read time: 8 mins
America’s southern state of Florida is surrounded by both the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic, with its total coastline stretching for more than 8,400 miles. Not surprisingly, it’s the ideal place to enjoy the beach, with pristine white powdery sands edged by warm turquoise waters, but visitors will also find a host of other things to appreciate from historic sites to delicious eats and beyond.
If you’re hoping to take advantage of Orlando’s famous theme parks, you might want to combine the trip with a coastal holiday. For an especially memorable vacation, choose one of these options, or perhaps combine more of your favourites to create the ultimate adventure through The Sunshine State.
One of the top holiday destinations in Florida, Tampa boasts a gorgeous coastline filled with spectacular beaches while offering a host of attractions. Discover the thrills at Busch Gardens, divided up into African-themed regions with a wide range of rides like a triple launch coaster and Conquer Kumba! - this classic ride drops 135 feet on one of the largest vertical loops in the world and includes three seconds of total weightlessness. The park also features an array of exclusive experiences like Guided Adventure Tours, live entertainment and shows, Serengeti Safari and more. You can see animals at Bird Gardens, Edge of Africa a Cheetah Run and Jambo Junction. Or head over to Adventure Island water park for some splashing fun in the sun.
Tampa has lots of museums to explore like the Tampa Museum of Art and the Museum of Science & Industry. The Tampa Riverwalk is a hot spot to be, a pedestrian pathway running along Hillsborough River linking downtown to the waterfront. There are restaurants, parks, and a variety of entertainment that can be enjoyed along the way. One of the top attractions is the Florida Aquarium which houses more than 20,000 aquatic animals and plants from across the globe.
Our recommended hotel pick: Epicurean Hotel
St. Pete Clearwater
Nearly every day is a sunny one in St. Pete Clearwater, one of the top destinations in the country for a beach holiday. You’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to powder sugar-like sands and brilliant blue waters for swimming along with many other water sports. We love Clearwater Beach especially, a favourite among the locals too, although St. Pete Beach offers a solid stretch of undeveloped sands for a tranquil experience ideal for quiet contemplation and making sandcastles. At Fort de Soto you can paddle through the water in a kayak, explore scenic trails on two wheels and go beachcombing, searching for colourful seashells. At Caladesi State Park, swim through crystal-clear waters or join a dolphin watching excursion.
Sunken Gardens is an ideal outing for the whole family as the oldest living museum in St. Petersburg hosting over 50,000 tropical plants and flowers. The meandering paths will lead you to magnificent waterfalls, hidden groves and some of the region’s oldest tropical plants. Visitors of all ages will enjoy Captain Memo’s Pirate Cruise which offers the chance to look for dolphins that frolic through the waters while the kids join in on a treasure hunt, take part in water gun games and face painting. Staff tells fascinating pirate stories and hosts a fun dance party too.
Our recommended hotel pick: Sandpearl Resort
This beachside city that includes a string of eight gorgeous islands in the Gulf of Mexico is a popular foodie destination in addition to offering beautifully clean beaches and warm cerulean waters. Siesta Key Beach is often named among the most stunning beaches in the country and lies just minutes from downtown. The moment you set eyes on those magical quartz sands glistening under the sun, you’ll understand why. We believe it’s one of the most ideal spots for relaxation and breath-taking views in the entire country. If you’re hoping to spot an alligator and other wildlife, head to Myakka River State Park, a wilderness preserve home to Florida alligators, bobcat, deer and more. The especially daring can visit the ‘Deep Hole.’ A 200-foot-wide by 130-foot-deep sinkhole where many of the toothy creatures congregate.
Shopping is a popular pursuit in Sarasota too, including St. Armands Circle on St. Armands Key which hosts an extensive variety of restaurants and shops, including opportunities for indulging in ice cream, homemade chocolates and fudge. You’ll also find retail outlets, clothing stores and trinket shops for discovering that perfect souvenir.
Our recommended hotel pick: The Resort at Longboat Key Club
A vibrant family-friendly community filled with spectacular nature, Cape Coral has over 400 miles of canals as a popular place for fishing, boating and all sorts of other water sports. It also boasts seven lush golf courses, 30 parks and attractions like Sun Splash Waterpark, southwest Florida’s largest waterpark in with more than 14 acres of attractions, including an interactive water play zone for the little ones with geyser fountains and gushers, along with heart-pounding water slides and a relaxing lazy river. This is a wildlife watcher’s paradise too, where it’s possible to spot everything from herons and ibis to manatees.
Just a few of the other delights in Cape Coral include a butterfly garden, farmers market and the Wicked Dolphin Rum Distillery which offers an engaging guided tour through the plant. At the end, you’ll venture to the tasting room to sample several different types of rum, including some new options that are currently in the works.
Our recommended hotel pick: The Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village
A gulf coast gem, Captiva Island is Sanibel’s lesser-known neighbour to the south, a place where outdoor adventure abounds. Enjoy close encounters with wildlife at the J.N. ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge which helps to rescue and rehabilitate animals, including a wide variety of bird species, alligators, manatees and dolphins. The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum is popular with all ages, providing everything anyone could ever want to know about seashells and then some. Find your own at Turner Beach, rated No. 1 when it comes to shell collection and views. Getting out onto the water is a great way to spend the day anywhere here, with everything from snorkelling and diving to sailing, fishing and kayaking available here.
Our recommended hotel pick: South Seas Island Resort
Yet another nature lovers’ haven, Naples is home to soft sandy beaches and pristine aquamarine-hued waters. Its iconic pier is the epicentre of Naples Beach, an historic landmark constructed in 1888 that’s ideal for spotting dolphins and enjoying a legendary sunset. Head to Delnor Wiggins Pass State Park to take advantage of miles and miles of stunning shoreline and activities like wildlife watching, fishing, snorkelling and hiking. The Sun-N-Fun Lagoon is a popular water park appealing to all ages with everything from a peaceful lazy river to steep slides for a thrilling ride down to the water.
One of the state’s most enticing gardens, the Naples Botanical Garden is an ideal destination for a tranquil stroll, with multiple gardens like an orchid and children’s garden as well as featuring a large nature sanctuary home to otters, gopher tortoise and eagles. After a day of play in Naples, you might want to enjoy a cold brew at Naples Beach Brewery, the very first to open in Florida’s southwest region. It serves 19 unique flavours of delicious artisanal beers.
Our recommended hotel pick: The Inn on Fifth & Club Level Suites
A sun-soaked jewel along the Gulf Coast, Marco Island is part of Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands, located about a two-hour’s drive west of Miami. It enjoys a magical, laid-back vibe with a hundred miles of waterways and more than six miles of white sandy beac, along with an abundance of seafood eateries and water-based activities like kayaking, canoeing, boating, fishing and dolphin watching. At Collier Seminole State Park, you’ll find plenty of family-friendly activities, including a mile-long nature trail for spotting the local wildlife, while Briggs Nature Reserve has a half-mile stretch of boardwalk for spotting gopher tortoises and alligators.
Our recommended hotel pick: Marco Beach Ocean Resort
Famous for its sizzling hot days and nights, Miami is home to beautiful beaches, beautiful people, delicious eats and so much more. Ideal for nightlife lovers, fashion and arts enthusiasts, and shop-a-holics, it truly offers something for everyone. South Beach is the place to see and be seen as a glorious mecca for tossing down a blanket and taking it all in, but if you’re looking for something more peaceful, visit uncrowded Sunny Isles Beach, framed by calm azure waters perfect for swimming.
The must-visit Art Deco district boasts more than 800 pastel-coloured historic buildings dating back to the 1920s. You might want to join a walking tour of this area that’s on the National Register of Historic Places, available through the Miami Design Preservation League. Sampling the food can make for an unforgettable holiday of its own, with everything from some of the best stone crab ever served at Joe’s Stone Crab to a wealth of authentic Cuban flavours in Little Havana.
Our recommended hotel pick: The Betsy Hotel
Less than an hour north of Miami on the Atlantic coast, Fort Lauderdale is famous for its gorgeous beaches and glamourous atmosphere. Get a glimpse of its glitz by visiting Millionaires Row home to opulent mansions and yachts, then enjoy an afternoon of shopping or browsing at the luxurious Fort Lauderdale Galleria with high-end stores selling all sorts of extravagant items. History buffs won’t want to miss the Historic Stranahan House Museum, built in 1901 as a trading post before being converted into a family residence for the Stranahans five years later. It’s Broward County’s oldest surviving structure.
Known as the ‘Venice of America’ with its complex canal system, one of the most popular activities here is to take a boat tour along the waterways. There are gondolas, water taxis and river cruises that will take you out to explore while learning about the area’s geographical and historic past.
Our recommended hotel pick: W Fort Lauderdale
The Palm Beaches
The Palm Beaches is an area made up of nearly 50 miles of Atlantic coastline, providing an idyllic setting for dipping your toes into the soft sand everywhere from lively West Palm Beach and luxury-filled Palm Beach to Coral Cove Park’s spectacular snorkelling opportunities. At the Loggerhead Marine Life Center in Jupiter, learn all about threatened and endangered sea turtles, getting a look at some of the animals being rehabilitated from injuries and illnesses. Visitors can also view interactive exhibits, tropical fish, artefacts and shells.
The area also hosts a buzzing nightlife scene, fantastic golf courses, lavish spas and a wide range of cultural attractions, including frequent festivals and concerts, world-class art galleries and museums, award-winning theatre and Broadway performances. At the Flagler Museum you can walk through a Gilded-Age Palm Beach mansion to view period artwork, furnishings and historic exhibits. Worth Avenue is its famous shopping locale, tucked alongside the oceanfront providing an impressive collection of luxury department stores and designer boutiques.
If you’re looking for a lack of thick crowds and more tranquil landscapes, you might want to spend some time at Vero Beach. You’ll find a wealth of ideal spots for soaking up the ever-present sun and enjoying water sports for the whole family. Jaycee Park offers eight acres of oceanfront with a boardwalk, picnic area and playground, while Wabasso Beach Park has a wonderfully quiet stretch of sand edged by clam waters that are perfect for swimming. The Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge is not only home to brown and white pelicans, but over 40 different bird varieties that can be spotted from the boardwalk and jungle. Watch for West Indian manatees and Atlantic bottlenose dolphins which frequently make an appearance here too.
This city also boasts a vibrant arts and culture scene that includes the popular Vero Beach Museum of Art with regional, state and national art exhibits along with an art studio, sculpture garden and more. At the McLarty Treasure Museum, you can learn the true stories of sunken treasures and view a wide range of memorabilia, tools and artefacts that came from 18th-century ships that wrecked along the Florida coast while traveling from Cuba to Spain.
Our recommended hotel pick: Vero Beach Hotel & Spa, A Kimpton Hotel
Located just a little over an hour southeast of Orlando, Cocoa Beach is ideal for anyone wanting a holiday that includes the sand and sun along with theme park attractions. It famously attracts surfers looking to catch that perfect wave, although the sandy shoreline is ideal for relaxing in between sessions. Don’t miss a visit to the Kennedy Space Center, one of the most fascinating experiences in the state. Just a short drive away, it offers public tours where you can step into the shoes of an astronaut while launching into the stratosphere. You can even train or dine with an astronaut, take a mission control tour and more. After a day of play, come back to enjoy Cocoa Beach’s laid-back ambiance with cool seafront bars, casual seafood shacks and upscale steakhouses.
Our recommended hotel pick: Hilton Cocoa Beach
America’s oldest continuously inhabited city, St. Augustine offers 500 years of history to explore. First discovered by Ponce de Leon, it’s home to some of the state’s most significant historical landmarks, including original buildings dating back to its founding. Check out the fountain of youth, take a stroll through the colonial-era Castillo de San Marcos fort, watch the cannon firing and witness a re-enactment at the Colonia Quarter. There are plenty of pristine beaches along the east coast nearby as well. St. Augustine Beach, which is actually a separate town, is just a short drive away and features nearly 45 miles of pristine sands.
Our recommended hotel pick: Guy Harvey Resort on Augustine Beach
Spanning about 125 miles from the mainland to Key West, linked by 42 bridges, the Florida Keys offer a wonderful Caribbean-like feel that begins just south of Miami, traveling from Homestead through the Everglades before continuing onto Key Largo, Islamorada, Big Pine Key and others, culminating in famous Key West, known for its Bohemian vibe, sunsets and margaritas. You might want to start by exploring America’s first underwater park, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, one of the top spots in the country for diving and snorkelling. If you don’t want to get wet, take a glass-bottom boat tour. At the Theater of the Sea in Islamorada, visitors can swim with stingrays, sea lions or dolphins. There are wildlife shows and a private beach for sunbathing and swimming too.
End your journey with a Key West sunset and time on Duval Street, world famous for its bars and pubs which can be experienced by joining the Duval Street Crawl. If drinking isn’t your thing, it’s still worth a visit for the great people watching.
Our recommended hotel pick: Ocean Key Resort & Spa
Combine a Florida beach holiday with a Miami stay and Caribbean cruise
It’s easy to create your own perfect adventure by combing a variety of holiday experiences. Enjoy time on the beach along with Miami’s hot nights (and days) along with a cruise through the Caribbean on the Miami Stay and Celebrity Western Cruise. It includes multiple enticing stops like Key West and Cozumel, Mexico, famous for its snorkelling and diving.
Another option is to add Miami and the Bahamas to your Florida beach holiday via the Miami and Bahamas Tour. Take advantage of Miami’s hopping nightlife, food scene and beaches before enjoying seven nights in the tropical Bahamian paradise.