SunsetThe Beaches of Fort Myers & SanibelBy Donna Carter

With hundreds of miles of coastline punctuated by long stretches of silky sand, Florida remains one of the world's top destinations for beach lovers. It took root in the late 1800s when tourists from the northern United States began flocking there for its sub-tropical climate and sun-bathed beaches. Its future as one of the most popular vacation venues on the planet was established and the rest is history.

Puttin’ On The Glitz
Miami’s sizzling South Beach area is Florida’s epicenter of glitz, glamour and high-octane entertainment. With a global reputation for fabulous weather, beautiful people, world-class dining and one of the hottest club scenes in the country, South Beach consistently attracts the rich and famous and hordes of ordinary tourists wanting to experience everything it has to offer including its spectacular beaches. Whether visitors take time out to visit one of South Beach’s trendy martini bars, dine at a fancy restaurant or explore the area’s chic boutiques, almost anywhere on the east side of Miami Beach is rarely more than a stone’s throw from the sand. Hip, hot and fashionable South Beach is clearly a destination for clients looking for a high-powered, high-life holiday where chances are high they could end up rubbing shoulders with movie stars, millionaires and even royalty.

The Shell Game
The majority of Florida’s barrier islands lie parallel to the coast in a north-south alignment, however one exception is Sanibel Island. Situated off the state’s southwest shore, its unique east-west orientation results in seashells continuously washing up on the beach, sometimes as thick as leaves on a forest floor. Shelling here is so popular that the name “Sanibel Stoop” has been applied to the posture of people, young and old, who scour the island’s beaches in a bent-over position in search of special shells. A never-ending parade of visitors comes to collect and admire Sanibel’s “treasures from the sea.” Regarded among the best shelling spots in the world, Sanibel Island is also home to the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum, an outstanding repository containing an enormous collection of shells and mollusks from around the world.

Where The Rubber Hits The Sand
Daytona Beach is one of the few places anywhere where people can drive vehicles on beaches, a local tradition dating back to the days when its wide, smooth-compacted sand shore served as the state’s first racetrack. Racing eventually moved inland to the now famous Daytona International Speedway, however, leisurely beach driving continued. Today, there are 17 auto access ramps where the speed limit is 10 mph on designated driving lanes. While it’s highly unlikely clients would book a Daytona vacation merely to motor on its beach, such an opportunity is a unique attraction. Driving on the beach is simply one of the city’s attributes that includes budget-wise golf, one of the largest outdoor flea markets in the US, outstanding dining, a world-class museum and, last but not least, the city’s distinction as the home of NASCAR and the World Center of Racing.

Island Time
The Sunshine State has scores of coastal islands with magnificent beaches including those in the famous Florida Keys where the prevailing pace of life is decidedly “no-rush, no-hurry.” Once a favourite haunt of celebrated author, Ernest Hemmingway, the Keys are defined by endless sand spread over a series of connected islands extending like a string of pearls off the state’s southern tip. Getting there amounts to one of America’s best drives, a motoring trip that begins in Key Largo and heads south on the Overseas Highway. Throughout the Keys a slower pace of life is earnestly embraced and among its best beaches are those found in the Bahia Honda State Park. Here, waves wash onto the longest sweep of natural sand in the islands. The Keys, of course, is not the only Florida site to boast excellent island beaches. Among the litany of other good choices is the Fort DeSoto Park at St. Petersburg. Here, off the central West Coast, there are five interconnected islands with almost five kilometres of unfettered beaches and a fort that’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There are also nature trails, fishing piers and an extensive canoe route.

Picture Perfect
It is no surprise that people annually flock to Fort Lauderdale’s 11 kilometres of sparkling sand beaches. Not only is it one of the most beautiful beachfronts on the East Coast, over the years it has been revitalized and developed into a world-class family resort destination. Running parallel to the beach, a long line of swaying palms and a stylish promenade are flanked by a host of resort hotels, shops, restaurants and nightclubs. The main attraction, however, is Lauderdale’s renowned white sand beach and not far offshore is a natural coral reef system perfect for snorkelling and scuba diving. In addition to the beach, this is a destination where clients will never run out of things to see and do. Nicknamed the Venice of America, the city has more than 480 kilometres of inland waterways where visitors can canoe, kayak or take a leisurely gondola ride. Clients can also take a water taxi ride to one of many outstanding dining spots, or maybe a moonlight cruise or daytime sightseeing excursion aboard a motor yacht.

Panama City BeachPanama City Beach CVBPerennially Popular
One major feature that has historically attracted vacationers to the northwest coast’s Panama City Beach is its reputation for value-based holidays. In addition to budget friendly vacations, the destination boasts one of the finest stretches of beach in Florida lined with resort hotels and rental condos. Located in the middle of what is generally known as the Florida Panhandle, Panama City Beach has 43 kilometres of ultra-wide sand beaches as white as snow. Amounting to a 400-hectare sandbox for family fun, this expansive stretch of shoreline lapped by emerald green waters is punctuated by picturesque dunes dotted with sea oats. Offshore, the Gulf of Mexico offers excellent sport fishing, shipwreck diving, snorkelling and every water sport imaginable. Access to this true family destination got better last year with the addition of the new Northwest Florida Beaches Airport currently served by Delta and Southwest Airlines.

Perpetual Down-Home Charm
With a history dating back nearly 500 years, Florida has several beach communities with deep roots including New Smyrna Beach on the central Atlantic coast. Founded in 1768 as a seaside plantation, this pleasant, laid-back town that is somewhat reminiscent of Old Florida has 21 kilometres of pristine, white sand beaches that are among the community’s chief attractions. On the West Coast, the town of Dunedin has a Scottish settlement history that goes back to 1899. This pretty waterfront village known for steadfastly preserving its ethnic roots is also a doorway to a pair of Florida’s best beach destinations lying off the northwest coast: Caladesi Island and Honeymoon Island. Both are well worth the trip offshore.