With an abundance of charming getaways dotting both its Gulf and Atlantic sides, the Florida seashore just might be the perfect escape from the busy city. From historic maritime havens to seaside villages buzzing with arts and culture, the Sunshine State has a beach town for every sun-seeking traveler. Wander along boardwalks, pop into quaint galleries and boutiques, then plunk down a chair and soak up the rays in our 10 favorite Florida beach towns.
To most, Key West is best known as a place to let loose and party. But this historic city at the southernmost tip of the Florida Keys is also a beautiful spot to take leisurely bike rides down cobblestoned streets overhung by banyan trees or watch the blazing sun disappear behind sailing ships.
Don't Miss: Open the fence to Nancy Forrester's backyard and enter an enchanting jungle of tropical birds and giant palms. Forrester has been rescuing abused and orphaned parrots for 25 years, and in her Secret Garden, visitors can interact with gorgeous parrots, macaws, and cockatoos while learning about the dangers facing the birds in the wild.
The quaint island of Siesta Key offers quirky shops, watersports rentals, and cozy accommodations. But it's Siesta Key's Gulf-side strand that is the real draw: With pure-quartz white sand and calm, shimmering turquoise water, it's no wonder it was named the best in the country in 2011 by Dr. Beach.
Don't Miss: Stroll through charming Siesta Key Village, stopping in at shops and perusing restaurant menus. You might opt to dine at the lively Siesta Key Oyster Bar—it's something of an institution here. Wherever you end up, make sure to top off your meal with homemade dessert from one of the village's many ice cream parlors.
If you like your beach towns to be more Maine than Myrtle Beach, Apalachicola is just the spot for your next vacation. Historic homes and buildings, tempting fresh seafood, and acres of state parks and wildlife refuges make this charming port a maritime getaway that will transport you to another time and place.
Don't Miss: The Raney House Museum, set in a Greek Revival mansion, is a must-see on any trip to history-filled Apalachicola. This carefully preserved home provides a glimpse into the town's past as one of the largest cotton ports on the Gulf Coast.
Famed for its white-sand beaches teeming with coquinas, whelks, sand dollars, and scallops, Sanibel Island is a paradise for nature lovers. But there's more than shelling on this barrier island: Head downtown and visit the shops, restaurants, and artist galleries on main thoroughfare Periwinkle Way, and you'll see why almost 200,000 vacationers make the trip to this charming spot every year.
Don't Miss: While not open to the public, the Point Ybel Lighthouse (or Sanibel Island Lighthouse) is a must-see photo op on the island. Pause along your shelling route to snap a shot of this beachside beacon, which has guided seafarers to Sanibel Island's shores since 1884.
Take a horse-drawn carriage ride through Fernandina Beach's quaint historic downtown for a seaside experience unlike any other. When the tour ends, head to Fort Clinch Beach and keep your eyes peeled for dolphins and seabirds enjoying the surf in this natural paradise on Amelia Island.
Don't Miss: Fernandina Beach's annual Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival attracts more than 100,000 visitors every year. The festival is host to a pirate parade, a best-beard contest, nighttime fireworks, and even a Miss Shrimp pageant, in addition to vendors selling the delicious shellfish cooked in all manner of ways.
With a famous fishing pier, the world's largest surf shop, and the Kennedy Space Center complex just north of town, Cocoa Beach is nonstop fun. And you'll catch plenty of rays on this barrier island between the Atlantic Ocean and the Banana River Lagoon: Sunbathe on six miles of ocean beaches, or escape the crowds on a kayak tour of the Banana River Islands.
Don't Miss: Take a guided kayak tour through the Indian River Lagoon, home to more than 4,500 plant and animal species, with Cocoa Beach Kayaking. If you're lucky, you'll see dolphins and manatees while gliding over calm waters.
With its brick-paved, car-free streets, Seaside is a picture-perfect place for a beach vacation. This peaceful community on the Florida Panhandle was the filming location for The Truman Show—and when you're biking alongside pastel-colored houses with white picket fences, you just might feel like you're still on a movie set.
Don't Miss: Take a two-hour sandcastle-building lesson from the experts at Beach Sand Sculptures. At the end of the lesson, you'll have a 3.5-foot-tall sand tower to photograph for beach memories built to last.
This lively, vibrant beach town is an oasis in the hustle and bustle of South Florida. With its two-mile stretch of sandy beach and an abundance of art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants lining its main Atlantic Avenue, Delray Beach is a sophisticated yet family-friendly spot that is anything but typical.
Don't Miss: Spot birds and butterflies hiding in the six individually designed garden complexes at Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, including the Early Rock Garden and the Modern Romantic Garden. After a walk around the on-site lake and a tour of the bonsai collection, have a leisurely lunch at the museum cafe.
New Smyrna Beach
Do you like to take in your ocean views from the seat of a four-wheeler? Then New Smyrna, with its drive-on Atlantic Coast beach, is just the ticket. If you prefer a car-free seaside vacation, head downtown and take a stroll along palm-tree-lined Canal Street, which buzzes with cafes, shops, and galleries.
Don't Miss: Step back in time at the historic park that houses the ruins of the New Smyrna Beach Sugar Mill, which was destroyed in the early 1800s. Along with the ruins, the park has 17 acres of gardens and nature trails to explore.
They don't call Stuart the sailfish capital of the world for nothing: The waters off this Treasure Coast town are chock-full of wahoo, king fish, snapper, and, of course, sailfish. Add in Stuart's Atlantic Coast beaches and historic downtown, and you have the perfect spot to cast a line and stay for a while.
Don't Miss: Take a romantic stroll along Stuart's Riverwalk and enjoy the scenery—you might even spot a dolphin or two. Watch the sun set behind docked boats, then pop into one of the nearby restaurants for a meal with a view.
--By Julianne Lowell