Known as ‘the Sunshine State,’ Florida’s beaches are arguably the most sought-after in the contiguous United States. The large land peninsula borders both the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico, containing not only some of the best beaches in the southeast U.S. but also some of the best beaches in the United States as a whole. That’s saying a lot and includes the best beaches for families, for solo travelers, as well as the best beaches in Florida for couples.
So, what makes Florida’s beaches such a big draw? The number of beaches in Florida with clear water is staggering. Some have powdery white sand and idyllic turquoise water lapping onto the shore; others have proximity to urban cities with amenities such as upscale restaurants and pulsing nightlife; being close to Orlando’s theme parks or an abundance of outdoor activities and nature parks are also reasons why traveler’s flock to the best beaches in Florida.
Instead of the expense of the Caribbean, the soft sand and crystal clear water of the best beaches in Florida are just a short flight (or even drive) away…and do not require a passport to visit.
We’ve spent a lot of time over the decades traveling to find the best hot spots in Florida for couples. Here is our curated list of the ten best beaches in Florida to dig your toes into!
10 Cape Palms Park
Florida’s “Forgotten Coast” is a charming, quiet, and relatively undeveloped section in the heart of the Panhandle. Here, in Gulf County, you’ll find 43 miles of coastal bliss in Cape San Blas and Port St. Joe.
The coastal complex of Cape San Blas, St. Joseph Bay, and the St. Joseph Peninsula offer pristine white powdery sand beaches along the Gulf of Mexico shore, as well as the sheltered waters of the bay, ideal for water sports.
Cape San Blas is located on St. Joseph Peninsula, a 750-acre narrow stretch of land extending out from Port St. Joe and curving around St. Joseph Bay. The “Cape,” as locals call it, was named the best beach in America (2002) by Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman (a.k.a. Dr. Beach) for its unspoiled beaches.
For couples seeking laid-back, sun-drenched beaches without the crowds or noisy tourist attractions, you’ll find the beaches in Cape San Blas utterly irresistible.
For photogenic reasons, Cape Palms Park was our favorite beach in Gulf County! South of St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, sunny Cape Palms Park is tropical perfection, with a boardwalk leading to an observation deck, and both drive-on and walk-on access. Even though the park is relatively small, there’s plenty of space to spread out, as the calm, pristine, turquoise-green beach is seldom overcrowded.
This park has restrooms and a shower to rinse off the saltwater. There is a covered pavilion outfitted with grills, picnic tables, and a swing. As a bonus, you can have a bonfire here (see below) for a spectacular sunset over the Gulf of Mexico.
9 Gilbert’s Bar
Martin County, on Florida’s Treasure Coast, consists of charming Stuart, and several other small towns such as Hobe Sound, Port Salerno, and Hutchinson Island. It’s outside of the major tourist destinations, e.g. Miami, the Keys, or Orlando, and offers visitors more of an authentic Florida experience, and is a treasure trove of beautiful beaches, outdoor activities, great restaurants, museums, and educational activities.
Gilbert’s Bar on Hutchinson Island provides a backdrop for one of the best sunset photo opportunities in Florida. The dramatic stretch of beach, called St. Lucie Rocks, is an outcropping of Anastasia limestone.
In addition to the limestone, visitors are drawn to Gilbert’s Bar to see the House of Refuge, not only one of Martin County’s quintessential attractions, but it’s also the county’s oldest structures. Originally, there were ten Houses of Refuge built along the east coast of Florida which operated as safe houses for shipwrecked sailors and other travelers. Today, the House of Refuge at Gilbert’s Bar on Hutchinson Island is the only surviving shipwreck life-saving station on Florida’s Atlantic Coast.
8 Carillon Beach
Lined with swaying palms, Panama City Beach lies on the most gorgeous stretch of beach in the United States – the Emerald Coast of Florida’s Panhandle. In fact, their tourism board insists that their little piece of the Gulf of Mexico contains “the world’s most beautiful beaches.” And with a staggering 320 days of tropical sunshine per year and 27 miles of shimmering emerald coastline, you’ll have an incredible array of fun things to do in Panama City Beach.
As our car pulled through the gates of Carillon Beach, I inhaled sharply. Have you ever been to a place where the vibe is almost hypnotic, effortlessly drawing you into its charm?
Carillon Beach was just such a place for me.
Large pastel houses weave through a well-landscaped community, each one prettier than the next. Some have magnificent views of the turquoise waves, but there are also freshly painted public decks where you can access the beach.
You can rent these high-end beauties, but if they’re out of your budget, no worries, the beach is accessible to the public, and there are also public spaces with tables and chairs.
What makes Carillon even more spectacular is the proximity to an almost infinite number of things to do in Panama City Beach. Panama City Beach is a waterfront destination known for miles of emerald green beaches, St. Andrews State Park, hiking trails, and fishing piers. Pier Park is the main shopping hub and there are a ton of spectacular seafood restaurants.
We highly recommend eating at the Grand Marlin. Overlooking the Grand Lagoon, 2-story floor-to-ceiling windows offer views of the harbor and luxurious docked boats. The seafood was exquisite and the dessert – a sweet praline bowl brimming over with creamy ice cream, sweet sauce, huge pecans, and fruit was to-die-for.
7 Ft. Zachary Taylor Park
If you’re searching for sunny days and temperate waters, it doesn’t get much warmer than the beaches of Key West, the state’s southernmost point. The calm turquoise waters and the long stretch of white sand at Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park are a great place to spend a pleasant afternoon. You can spend your time sunbathing, picnicking, or enjoying water activities such as swimming, snorkeling, or water sports rentals. For history buffs, check out the park’s pre-Civil War fortress. There are also hiking trails on site.
Key West, the southernmost city in the United States is famous for Duval Street’s many bars, walking tours, Mallory Square’s nightly Sunset Celebration, and the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum.
In Key West Old Town, architecture is a big attraction and the focus of the Conch Train Tour. A mixture of Cuban, Bahamian, fishermen, and New England cultures have produced a diverse style of architecture including conch houses, shotgun houses, Victorian, gingerbread, and plantation-style houses. Key West’s antique housing is deservedly recognized as a national treasure.
From casual but fresh finger food like conch fritters to more fine dining on lobster and crab, the Keys offers eating experiences to suit every appetite and budget. Not to be missed is The Stoned Crab (pictured above) where you can see the catch of the day delivered to their dock in the morning and order it as a delectable entre in the evening.
6 Siesta Beach
You don’t have to fly to the Caribbean to experience white-sand beaches. Located on a barrier island within the Sarasota area, Siesta Key features shimmering mint-green Gulf of Mexico water lapping onto a wide, powdery-white quartz-sand beach. The blindingly white sand is as fine as powdered sugar because it’s 99% quartz, which doesn’t get too hot from the sun and contrasts beautifully against the glistening Gulf of Mexico waters. Many consider Siesta Key to be the best beach in Florida, if not the entire country. It comes as no surprise to learn that it has won many international prizes for being one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
On the beach is a riot of color, from the multitude of sun umbrellas to the surrounding colorful bungalows and shops. Whether you choose to frolic in the water, stroll on the beach looking for shells, take a kayak into the calm waters, or rent a bike for a ride down the island, Siesta Key will not disappoint. Note that the beach does get crowded, so if you want a parking place, get there early.
After the beach, explore nearby Sarasota’s picturesque downtown with outstanding upscale restaurants and boutique shops.
5 Daytona Beach
Located in Volusia County, Daytona Beach is one of the state’s most popular destinations and one of the best beaches in Florida for couples. The city lies on the Atlantic coast between Jacksonville to the north and the Palm Beaches to the south and had a population of slightly more than 60,000.
Nicknamed “The World’s Most Famous Beach,” Daytona’s 23 miles of scenic beaches are a prime destination for those looking to spend their vacation time relaxing in the Florida sun. It has hard-packed sand that allows the unique opportunity for cars to drive in certain restricted areas of the beach. It was given its moniker “The World’s Most Famous Beach” in the 1920s when it became world-renowned for its high-speed automobile testing and racing which took place right on the beach.
But it’s not just the endless strips of beaches and auto racing that draw the crowds. For many visitors, the city’s boardwalk is a popular place for an afternoon or evening stroll. Featuring amusement park-style rides like roller coasters, bumper cars, and even a Ferris wheel, it’s chock full of family-friendly activities that have been known to keep visitors occupied for hours. The strip offers a variety of arcades, boutiques, eateries, and bars. During the summer, there are fireworks and free live performances.
Water enthusiasts will delight in swimming, surfing, stand-up paddleboarding, and parasailing.
4 South Beach
South Beach, or SOBE as it’s called, is within Miami Beach and one of the most famous strips of sand in the US. This flashy beach destination is known worldwide for beautiful weather, beautiful beaches, and beautiful people. Located on a barrier island between Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean off Florida’s coast the postcard-perfect beach consists of swaying palms, gleaming turquoise water, and blinding white sand. Myriad water activities are available here, such as parasailing, kite sailing, surfing, or jet skiing.
Home to the trendy Art Deco district, high energy, and sometimes raucous nightlife and topless sunbathing tend to make it more of an adult experience than a family vacation spot. End-to-end, the strip is teeming with neon lights, Art Deco architecture, art galleries, boutique shops, restaurants, a thriving cultural scene, and the ubiquitous rollerbladers.
South Beach has become known for the much-photographed colorful lifeguard huts constructed after Hurricane Andrew.
3 Gulf Islands National Shore
As you can probably guess, beaches in Pensacola FL are the biggest draw. A humid subtropical climate combined with shimmering turquoise water lapping onto impossibly white sand makes it one of the prettiest beaches in the U.S.
Pensacola is the largest metropolitan area between New Orleans and Tampa, yet still maintains a small-town vibe, especially around the beach area. It’s home to several annual festivals, events, historic tours, and landmarks.
Pensacola’s immaculate beaches have been ranked among the best in the country by the likes of the Travel Channel, Dr. Beach, USA Today, and TripAdvisor. And none are more beautiful than the sugar-sand, iridescent turquoise-green water of the federally protected Gulf Islands National Seashore, the longest stretch of federally protected seashore in the United States. What better place to chill than gazing at miles of unobstructed views across the Gulf of Mexico. Pensacola is a gem among southeast beaches!
160 miles of almost blinding-white powdery beaches and dunes juxtaposed against iridescent turquoise water that you normally only find in the Caribbean or Southeast Asia, and unobstructed views across the Gulf of Mexico, will make you fall in love with these beaches.
The town of Pensacola is famous for its giant beach ball-painted water tower and is one of the most popular beach towns on the Emerald Coast. In addition to the beach, offerings include a fishing/walking pier, a boardwalk filled with fun shops and restaurants, art galleries, rental shops, trolley service, and a variety of hotels.
In addition to the pristine beaches of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, there’s access to recreational sports such as scuba, snorkeling, kayaking, fishing, biking, and hiking.
You can also get a glimpse into American history by exploring three forts – Fort Pickens (in use for more than a century, from 1834 to 1947), Fort Barrancas, and Fort McRee —all are within the Gulf Islands National Seashore and administered by the National Park Service.
2 Cayo Costa
An unspoiled island scattered with dunes, impossibly turquoise bays, sand bars, and wind-bent trees, Cayo Costa State Park, on the Gulf Coast, is accessible only by charter boat, private boat, kayak, ferry, or helicopter.
This secret gem is coastal Florida at its best – 2500 acres and nine miles of undeveloped shoreline offering idyllic solitude. Its bathtub-warm waters are ideal for swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, and kayaking the mangroves. Hiking and biking nature trails crisscross the lovely island.
This unique island is very well known for its shelling, and locals and tourists alike flock here every year to scour the sandbars in search of colorful shells and conchs. Shelling is encouraged by the Cayo Costa State Park‘s website, although they advise that some may still have living inhabitants so handle it delicately and it is mandatory to return to the water.
Campsites and cabins in designated areas are available for overnight stays and have access to fire pits, restrooms, and showers.
1 Bahia Honda
Located at mile marker 37 on Big Pine Key in the Florida Keys, Bahia Honda State Park is one of Florida’s most spectacular and natural beaches. The 500-acre park has three beaches with shallow, nearly transparent aqua-mint water, dotted with palms and sand so white that you’ll feel like you’re in the Caribbean.
In 1992, Bahia Honda was named the #1 beach in the United States by “Dr. Beach” – the first Florida site to be awarded that honor. The landscape is simply astounding, especially one of its most impressive sights – the old abandoned and broken railroad bridge that juts out from one end of the island.
Kayaks and snorkeling gear can be rented and boat trips to the reef for snorkeling excursions are available. Just off the beach, snorkelers can spot many impressive species of marine life, including stingrays, barracuda, sea turtles, and even the occasional nurse shark. Campsites and cabins are available, although reservations for the winter months can be elusive.
Warning: If you stop at this paradise on your road trip to Key West, you may decide that you want to go no further!
If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you already know that the beach is my happy place. And fewer places make me happier than Florida, with its abundance of gorgeous beaches and tropical (my favorite!) weather.
Did I miss your best beaches in Florida for couples? “Favorites” are always subjective. As you have probably noted, in general, I prefer the Gulf Coast to the Atlantic Coast because of the Caribbean-like turquoise water. However, the Atlantic Coast has its own charm, such as the plethora of things to do.
Whatever coast you decide on, I know you will love it. Let me know which one is your favorite!
All photos ©Kary Kern unless otherwise indicated.
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About the Author
Patti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning international blog Luggage and Lipstick and southern travel blog Gone to Carolinas. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials” and she was named one of the “Top 35 Travel Blogs” in the world.
She is also the star of the upcoming TV series “Destination Takeover” which is scheduled to premiere in a few months.
Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal. She has traveled extensively through six continents looking for fabulous destinations, exotic beaches, and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer tribe.