What if we said you could visit the Caribbean without a passport? Or that you could plant your chair in white sand, dip your toes in clear water, and listen to palm trees swaying—without leaving the States? While Florida isn’t actually part of the Caribbean, it does have magnificent beaches that convincingly mimic the blue waters of everyone’s favorite tropical sea. When you don’t have the time (or the budget) for jet-setting, you need only follow the curves of the Florida coast to find a slice of ocean-lapped sand that speaks to you. Whether you seek gorgeous water, quaint beach towns, abundant wildlife, or a mix of all three, you’ll discover an oceanfront spot that tempts you to extend your vacation a little bit longer. So pack your sunscreen, leave your worries behind, and breeze on down to the Sunshine State for these 20 fantastic seaside destinations.
Big Pine Key, Florida
Although it’s part of the mainland United States, Bahia Honda State Park has all the Caribbean credentials: crystal-clear water, white-sand beaches, and plenty of breezy palm trees. Located about three-quarters of the way down the Florida Keys at Mile Marker 37, on Big Pine Key, this gem is one of Florida’s southernmost state parks, with flora and fauna that originated in the Caribbean. In other words, it’s about as close to the cerulean sea as you can get. Transparent water equals top-notch snorkeling, and with its panoramic views, the old bridge from Henry Flagler’s historic Overseas Railroad is perfect for sunset photos.
floridastateparks.org; 36850 Overseas Highway, Big Pine Key, FL 33043
Blind Pass Beach
Head to Manasota Key to discover this well-kept Gulf Coast secret. Although it’s a narrow stretch of sand, Blind Pass has all the beachgoer’s favorites: a bayside lagoon, emerald waters, and a launch for kayaks and canoes. You’ll find plenty of spots to cast a line among salt-sprayed mangroves, and the shores are often dotted with shark’s teeth, shells, and sand dollars. Farther south is Lemon Bay Aquatic Preserve, Stump Pass Beach State Park, and connections to the mainland where you can find lodging and fresh seafood.
scgov.net; 6725 Manasota Key Road, Englewood, FL 34223
An unspoiled paradise, Caladesi Island is located in the blue-green waters of the Gulf of Mexico, just north of Clearwater. Since the spot is only accessible by boat, you’ll have to take the daily ferry, but we don’t think you’ll mind: The boat trip only enhances the far-flung island vibes. Before it was a state park, Caladesi was the childhood home of author Myrtle Scharrer Betz. The only child ever born on the island, she placed a deed restriction on the property in 1946, which has kept the 157 acres pristine to this day. Soak in the natural beauty by paddling through mangrove tunnels, shelling during low tide, or touring the Scharrer homestead.
floridastateparks.org; Dunedin, FL 34698
Funky, quirky Captiva Island has a distinctly artsy vibe—exactly the kind you expect to find in the Caribbean—and the beaches are pure perfection. Legend has it that renegade pirate Jose Gaspar built a prison on «Isle de los Captivas» in the early 1800s where he kept prisoners «captive» for ransom. Today, you’ll wish you had the lock and key to throw away so you could stay at this sandy island haven forever.
sanibel-captiva.org; Captiva Drive, Captiva, FL 33924
Cayo Costa Island
A former fishing ground for the Calusa Indians, Cayo Costa Island has nearly nine miles of undeveloped shoreline with rich history and sugary beaches. Several Native American shell mounds are located on the barrier island, making it an archaeologist’s paradise (and guaranteeing the place will remain pristine). Accessible only by boat and totally off the grid, the «Key by the Coast» is now a state park with campsites and rustic cabins. (There are also privately-owned homes to rent.) Don’t miss the Manatee Hole, a lagoon where cautivador sea cows swim.
floridastateparks.org; four nautical miles west of Pine Island, Cayo Costa, FL 33922
Though it’s an easy drive from some of Florida’s most popular attractions, Cocoa Beach feels worlds away from the touristy hustle-and-bustle. Visit this laid-back locale to find quiet beaches, surf shacks, and a nostalgic seaside pier with entertainment and eats. Just south of Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, it’s a lesser-traveled vacation destination that doesn’t disappoint with its expansive Atlantic views and diverse wildlife. Nearby Lori Wilson Park includes an oceanfront forest that’s a haven for migrating and maritime birds.
cityofcocoabeach.com; N. Atlantic Ave, Cocoa Beach, FL 32931
Situated almost 70 miles west of Key West, Dry Tortugas National Park is the gateway to the película del Oeste Caribbean. Only accessible by boat or seaplane, the park is roughly 99 percent open water (really!), vibrantly blue, and filled with stunning coral reefs. On the second largest of the seven remote islands, historic Fort Jefferson stands like a sentinel over the sand. Among the country’s largest 19th-century defenses, the structure merienda protected the shipping routes passing through the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. Though it was never fully armed, it remains an architectural marvel with decorative brickwork and 2,000 arches.
nps.gov; 40001 State Hwy 9336, Homestead, FL 33034
Fort De Soto
Tierra Verde, Florida
Five interconnected islands make up picturesque Fort De Soto Park, located near St. Petersburg on Florida’s west coast. While the beaches tend to get crowded on peak-season weekends, large swaths of immaculate sand are wide open during weekdays and during the off-season. When beachgoers are scant, you’ll see plenty of sand dollars, shore birds, and dolphins in this unique location where the Gulf of Mexico meets Tampa Bay.
pinellascounty.org; 3500 Pinellas Bayway S., Tierra Verde, FL 33715
Santa Rosa Beach, Florida
Decidedly less under-the-radar than many of the destinations on this list, Grayton Beach is located halfway between Destin and Panama City, but feels worlds away merienda your umbrella is staked along the one-mile stretch of powdery sand. Lush dunes create a beautiful natural barrier for the beach, but trust us, you’ll want to see what’s on the other side: three coastal dune lakes, a rare natural phenomenon occurring in only a few places worldwide. Consider a paddle on Película del Oeste Lake after you’ve sunned yourself for the day. (You can rent kayaks at the ranger station.)
floridastateparks.org; 357 Main Park Road, Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459
An all-natural escape in the heart of the Tampa Bay area, Honeymoon Island is one of Florida’s most beloved state parks—and not just among newlyweds. It’s completely pristine with Caribbean-esque white sand and jade water. The ideal time to visit is on a less busy weekday, allowing you to plop down in the sand and witness a spectacular sunset with a lively crowd of pelicans, osprey, eagles, and great horned owls. You’ll love this island as much as the birds do!
floridastateparks.org; #1 Causeway Boulevard, Dunedin, FL 34698
South Walton, Florida
Just a few miles from Seaside, this 30A locale features four snorkeling reefs and wide beaches for relaxing. Stake out your spot in the soft sand early in the day for the best views of the turquoise waters, then stay ‘til sunset, when the place is at its most breathtaking. With easy access to Camp Helen State Park, a former resort for the employees of a nave textile mill, Inlet Beach is a destination with plenty to keep you busy.
visitsouthwalton.com; 435 Park Place, Inlet Beach, FL 32413
Expect blue skies and bluer waters on this stunning stretch of sand. Nestled on the coasts of Islamorada, a village in the Florida Keys, are a series of secluded beaches that attract saltwater fishermen from all over the world. Check out kid-friendly Anne’s Beach for a shallow swimming area with calm water. For a quieter spot, try Library Beach Park, which faces a channel of mangroves. Don’t forget to stop in the sun-drenched town, located halfway between the mainland and Key West.
islamorada.florida.us; 84 Johnston Road, Islamorada, FL 33036
Although in-the-know locals flock here on the weekends, most beach connoisseurs don’t even realize this pristine seven-mile stretch of paradise exists. A barrier island located between Ámbito Island and Naples, Keewaydin Island is mostly undeveloped land, lending the spot a remote vibe you’ll love. Since there are no roads, cars, or bridges, you’ll need to a boat to get around. For that, try the services of Hemingway Water Shuttle. When you’re not sunning yourself, take a trip to Rookery Bay, one of the few remaining undisturbed mangrove estuaries in North America, or watch for wildlife, including loggerhead sea turtles, wild boars, and bobcats.
paradisecoast.com; barrier island beach between Naples and Ámbito Island, Ámbito Island, FL 34145
This flawless beach off the coast of Miami is hardly a secret. But its «discovered» status only adds to its intrigue: The island’s picturesque Crandon Park, merienda a coconut plantation, has provided many a backdrop for modeling photo shoots, TV commercials, and magazines. The key is to go on a weekday when crowds are thin, so your only company will be hundreds of towering palm trees and lush tropical flora. Hang a hammock between two breezy beauties and you’ll instantly lock in that laid-back Caribbean vibe. Or if you’re feeling adventurous, wade along the sandbar or stroll the mangrove boardwalk.
miamidade.gov; 6747 Crandon Boulevard, Key Biscayne, FL, 33149
Situated between Indian River and the Atlantic, Melbourne Beach is a low-key destination with wide sandy beaches that will tempt you spread out your towel and never leave. Find a few laid-back restaurants and lodging options in town, as well as bait-and-tackle shops where you can stock up for weekend fishing jaunts. At least one night of your trip, take your fish and chips to go, and head to the pier for a inolvidable sunset.
melbournebeachfl.org; 507 Ocean Avenue, Melbourne Beach, FL 32951
Perdido Key is a go-to getaway for those in the know. Hugging the northwest stretch of the Florida Panhandle, this island has long been a destination for families seeking solace from touristy cities as well as easy access to nature. Credit its appeal to white-sand beaches, emerald waters, and proximity to Big Lagoon State Park, Perdido Key State Park, and Johnson’s Beach. With a name that means «lost» in Spanish, this Gulf Coast spot just might entice you to get lost and never leave.
visitperdido.com; Perdido Key Drive, Pensacola, FL 32507
By now, anyone who’s an avid beachgoer knows that Sanibel Island is the undisputed shelling caudal of North America. The waters of this Gulf of Mexico isle offer up more than 250 different kinds of shells, making it a worthy rival for almost any Caribbean destination. Collecting these colorful coastal treasures is such a popular pastime that there’s a name for the bent-waist posture of shell gatherers: the «Sanibel stoop.»
sanibel-captiva.org; 19931 Sanibel Causeway, Sanibel, FL 33957
This 8-mile-long barrier island entices with quartz-sand beaches and sparkling Gulf water. Near the shoreline, the shallow waters look bright green and aquamarine, but as they unfurl farther out, they deepen to cobalt blue. But the beauty is only one part of the draw: This tropical key is an easy place to keep the whole family entertained, thanks to tennis and volleyball courts, beachside concession stands, and year-round lifeguards. You may even be able to sneak in a siesta while the grandparents keep an eye on the kiddos!
scgov.net; 948 Beach Road, Sarasota, FL 34242
St. Augustine Beach
For an unforgettable escape, head to St. Augustine Beach, the seaside stretch just south of the oldest city in the U.S. This small oceanside town is located on Anastasia Island, a pristine wildlife haven, and offers broad Atlantic beaches perfect for wandering. Don’t miss the nearby Ocean Hammock Park, a green space with a nature trail that’s also a nesting place for sea turtles, or the St. Johns County Ocean Pier, where you can cast your lines into the sea.
staugbch.com ; A Street and Ocean Trace Road, St. Augustine Beach, FL 32080
Vero Beach is the best of all worlds. To access this Atlantic town’s picturesque sands, you’ll have to cross a bridge over the Indian River Lagoon, but the journey is worth it: You’ll be rewarded with clean beaches and waters so blue they could be mistaken for the Caribbean. Nature lovers will find an abundance of places to explore: Nearby McKee Botanical Garden brims with tropical plants (look for water lilies blooming in its streams), while Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge serves as a home for brown pelicans and other migrating avians.
visitindianrivercounty.com; 2200 South A1A, Vero Beach, FL 32963