10 Florida Beaches So Beautiful You'll Think You're in the Caribbean
Perhaps one of the most Caribbean-style beaches in the mainland United States, Bahia Honda State Park has it all: crystal-clear water, white sand beaches, and plenty of breezy palm trees. The island is located about three-fourths of the way down the Florida Keys at Mile Marker 37 on Big Pine Key. The water is so transparent that the snorkeling here is second to none. And be sure to check out what’s left of Henry Flagler’s historic Overseas Railroad—a great spot for sunset photos.
Funky, quirky Captiva Island has a distinct artsy vibe—exactly the kind you might 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 1800’s where he kept prisoners “captive” for ransom. Today, you’ll wish you had the lock and key to throw away so you can stay in this island haven forever.
Located almost 70 miles west of Key West, Dry Tortugas National Park is the gateway to the western Caribbean. Only accessible by boat or seaplane, the park is a collection of seven remote islands, as well as one of the largest 19th century forts in the country. Early on, Spanish explorers used this high-traffic shipping channel through the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. The fort was built between 1846 and 1875 to protect the shipping routes. Today, it’s a marvel with decorative brickwork and 2,000 arches.
An unspoiled paradise, Caladesi Island is located in the blue-green waters of the Gulf of Mexico, just north of Clearwater. Only accessible by boat, set sail on the daily ferry and leave the hustle and bustle of the mainland behind. Before it was a state park, the island was the childhood home of author Myrtle Scharrer Betz. The only child ever born on the island, the author was the daughter of 1880’s homesteader Henry Scharrer, and she placed a deed restriction on the property in 1946 to ensure that no unnecessary alterations could be made to the 157 acres. Thanks to her, the island is pristine to this day.
Cayo Costa Island
A former fishing ground for the Calusa Indians, Cayo Costa Island offers a rich history and nine miles of undeveloped shoreline and sugar sand beaches. Dating back nearly 4,000 years, several Native American shell mounds are located on archipelago, which means “Key by the Coast.” Now a Florida state park, the island is only accessible by boat, and it’s completely off the electrical grid. Interestingly, there are about two dozen private homes on the island, three of which you can find on VRBO. The state park also has campsites and rustic cabins available for vacation rentals, the perfect opportunity to unplug and recharge.
A barrier island located off the coast of Marco Island and Naples, Keewaydin Island is a hidden gem. It’s a hotspot on the weekends for in-the-know locals, but most beach connoisseurs don’t even know this pristine seven-mile stretch of sand exists. There are no roads, cars, or bridges, so you’re going to need a boat. Wildlife abounds, especially loggerhead sea turtles, wild boars, and bobcats. It’s also home to the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, one of the few remaining undisturbed mangrove estuaries in North America.
Fort De Soto
Five offshore islands collectively make up picturesque Fort De Soto Park, located near St. Petersburg on Florida’s west coast. While the beaches tend to get crowded on the weekends, during the weekday and off-seasons, large swaths of immaculate sand are wide open with hardly another soul in sight. However, you will see plenty of sand dollars, shore birds, and dolphins in this unique location where the Gulf of Mexico meets Tampa Bay.
Certainly by now, almost everyone knows that Sanibel Island is the undisputed shelling capital of North America. Every collector’s dream, you don’t have to go all the way to the Caribbean to discover hundreds of colorful sea shells. On 15 miles of beaches that wrap around this isle in the Gulf of Mexico, there are more than 250 different kinds of shells. It’s such a popular pastime, that the act of bending at the waste to retrieve a shell is referred to as the “Sanibel Stoop.”
This flawless beach just off the coast of Miami isn’t a secret. In fact, the picturesque island setting in Crandon Park has provided many the backdrop for modeling photo shoots, TV commercials and magazines. The key is to go on a weekday—no crowds. Just a sprawling pearly sand beach and hundreds of palm trees for shade. Back in the day, Key Biscayne was a coconut plantation, and it’s still home to hundreds of towering palms and lush tropical flora. Hang a hammock between two breezy beauties and you’ll instantly lock in that laid-back Caribbean vibe.
An all-natural escape in the heart of the Tampa Bay area, Honeymoon Island is one of Florida’s most famous state parks. It’s completely pristine with white sand and jade water—definitely Caribbean-esque. The ideal time to visit is on a less busy weekday, where you can plop down in the sand and witness a spectacular sunset on the beach along with a lively crowd of pelicans, osprey, eagles, and great horned owls. It’s no wonder the birds love this island, too!