By Donna Carter
The Lee County CVB
Whoever coined the phrase, “life’s a beach,” had to have been thinking of the Sunshine State. With 2,880 kilometres of coastline dotted with hundreds of awesome beaches, Florida is truly a beach lover’s paradise. Moreover, no two are exactly the same meaning there’s plenty of diversity and choice. There are options for everybody including high-activity beaches, family favourites, secluded sandy coves, popular shelling beaches, and even a beach on which people can drive cars.
Hip, Hot & Glitzy
Miami’s famous South Beach has a reputation that extends to the far reaches of the planet. This is Florida’s epicentre of glitz and glamour where its spectacular beachfront is flanked by world-class restaurants, swanky shops and one of the hottest nightclub scenes in the nation. It’s a gathering place for the rich and famous and it’s also a place vacationers come to join in the excitement of one of the most fashionable “in” spots in the U.S., where a spectacular beachfront is the icing on the cake.
Playing The Shell Game
Several Florida beaches offer good shelling, however, the Gulf Coast’s Sanibel Island is renowned for its shell abundance. It’s so popular with shell hunters the name “Sanibel stoop” is used to describe the bent-over posture of people regularly combing the beachfront. Moreover, Sanibel and its sister island of Captiva are deemed to be among the world’s top shelling locations. Other statewide locations include aptly named Shell Island off northwest Florida’s Panama City Beach, plus Venice Beach south of Sarasota, and Jupiter Island on the mid-Atlantic Coast.
Snorkelling, kayaking, beach volleyball, and even horseback riding in ocean surf are among the beach activities that make memorable family vacations. The upper Gulf Coast town of Destin is among the multitude of places with a kid-friendly waterfront. This quiet, family-oriented community’s wide, white sand beach is ideal for everything from sandcastle building to swimming in the emerald green waters that lap its shoreline. Indeed, excellent family days can be had at scores of Sunshine State beaches including those at Amelia Island, Siesta Key, St. Petersburg and Clearwater. Other good places to lay down family beach towels are the Atlantic Coast’s Delray Beach, Gulf Coast Naples, Tampa and Fort Lauderdale – to name just a few.
Rare & Unusual
The Daytona Beach area is one of the few places anywhere that people can drive vehicles on beaches – a tradition here that dates back to the early 1900s when the wide, hard-packed sand stretching south from upper Ormond Beach to Daytona and Ponce Inlet was Florida’s first racetrack. In fact all kinds of land speed records were set here in the early days of beach racing. Even NASCAR races were once held on the beach until Daytona’s now famous Daytona International Speedway was established. Today, the speed limit for leisurely beach driving is 10 mph and is restricted to dedicated driving lanes. There are 13 auto access ramps between Ormond Beach and Ponce Inlet.
Lovely To Look At
In addition to a delightful web of inland canals, Fort Lauderdale has one of the prettiest beachfronts in the state. Its more than 37 kilometres of pale, sugary sand are pure eye candy and the city has gone out of its way to take advantage of this great natural asset. The building of an attractive, 3.2-kilometre-long wave-wall and a signature beachfront promenade were part of a multi-million-dollar beautification project that resulted in the creation of one of the finest and most impressive waterfronts in all Florida. Flanking the promenade is a host of shops, restaurants, sidewalk cafes and entertainment venues. Of course, the beach remains the star of the show where vacationers indulge in snorkelling, surf fishing, scuba, beach volleyball, windsurfing and jet-skiing.
Unique & Unusual
Not all Sunshine State beaches are ribbons of silky sand. Some of Florida’s rocky shores represent an entirely different kind of beachfront. These are places where swimming may be limited but water-carved sea caves are fun to explore and tidal pools beg for splashing. One of the best-known craggy shorelines is found at the Blowing Rocks Preserve off the mid-Atlantic Coast on Jupiter Island. Here, at high tide, wave after wave pounds away at sea caves shooting 15-metre-tall geysers into the air. While these impressive water shows are certainly engaging, the limestone shoreline of Blowing Rocks is entertaining in other ways: spotting loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles, inspecting small fossils, meandering through tunnels of sea grape, snorkelling and scuba diving. Other rocky shorelines are found at the Washington Oaks Gardens State part north of the Palm Beaches, as well as Big Talbot Island State Park east of Jacksonville.
On the Atlantic Coast south of Melbourne, along a 32-kilometre stretch of beach defined by coastal dunes is the 115-hectare Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge where its protected environment is the most important nesting site for loggerhead sea turtles in the Western Hemisphere. It’s also a minor nesting spot for leatherback turtles, the largest and rarest of all turtles on the planet. Weighing upwards of 544 kilograms each, they are among the more than 15,000 sea turtles that annually arrive at the Archie Carr Refuge to nest and hatch their young. Nesting months occur from April through September and Refuge volunteers provide guided walks for visitors wanting to observe and learn about this phenomenal ritual.
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Small Town Charm
Visitors who prefer small town beaches over Florida’s big city waterfronts can vacation in communities like New Smyrna Beach. This laid-back town on the central East Coast that began in the mid-1700s as a seaside plantation has 21 kilometres of pristine, white sand shoreline and a community vibe that is pure “down home.” The small, friendly town of Dunedin north of Tampa likewise has a small town atmosphere and a waterfront that’s the doorway to two of Florida’s top-ranked beaches: Caladesi Island and Honeymoon Island.