The 7 Best Islands in Florida

Bean Point on Anna Maria Island, FL Island, FL
Photo: Jessica Sample

Whether you're planning a family-friendly vacation or stealing away for a romantic getaway, the Sunshine State has a dizzying array of island destinations with spectacular scenery and plenty to do. Each of these isles has its own personality too, from the easygoing shelling beaches of Sanibel to the old-school resort atmosphere of Gasparilla. Here, we've rounded up seven of the best islands in Florida for whatever kind of escape you're seeking.

01 of 07

Amelia Island

Beach Bum Drive in Amelia Island, FL
Courtesy of Omni Amelia Island Resort

Just a 45-minute drive from Jacksonville, this barrier island on the Atlantic Ocean makes the most of its 13 miles of beaches. At Amelia Island State Park, explore 200 acres of coastal maritime forests, salt marshes, and beaches; it's also the only state park that offers horseback riding on the beach. For a luxury experience, book your stay at the oceanfront Omni Amelia Island Resort, which offers 9 on-site restaurants and two first-class golf courses. Finally, for a taste of Old Florida, head to Fernandina Beach, home to restaurants, shops, art galleries, and The Palace Saloon, Florida's oldest bar; don't miss the Pirate Punch, a nod to the beach town's colorful history of seafaring criminals and smugglers.

02 of 07

Anna Maria Island

Bean Point on Anna Maria Island, FL Island, FL
Jessica Sample

Sandwiched by the still blue waters of Anna Maria Sound on one side and the sparkling cerulean of the Gulf of Mexico on the other, this picturesque spot is home to three friendly towns, each with its own personality: foodie-friendly Anna Maria, throwback Holmes Beach, and salty Bradenton Beach. Even with its beach town charmers, the island's seven miles of pristine white-sand beaches are undoubtedly the main draw. Head to Manatee Public Beach for a family outing; it has a playground and picnic tables onsite. Or, for a decidedly quieter, more romantic experience, head to Bean Point Beach, known for its sunset views.

03 of 07

Gasparilla Island

Gasparilla Island, Florida
Paul Costello

Head to this slender link in the chain of Gulf barrier islands to experience Old Florida charm at its finest. Tour the circa-1890 Port Boca Grande Lighthouse at Gasparilla Island State Park, then go for a swim or snorkel in the aquamarine waters; in the winter months, shelling is especially good here. When you're ready to shake off the sand, don your resort evening wear for dinner at The Pink Elephant at the beloved and historic Gasparilla Inn & Club, recently reimagined by celebrated Palm Beach design firm Kemble Interiors.

04 of 07

Key Biscayne

Key Biscayne FL
Marka / Getty Images

Though it's just across a causeway from Miami's hustle and bustle, this bitty island in southern Florida feels worlds away, thanks to two large parks with protected beaches and access to both the glittering Atlantic Ocean and Biscayne Bay. The powdery shoreline at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, also home to an historic lighthouse, is often ranked in the top 10 best beaches in the country. It's also just across the bay from Biscayne National Park, which has the only federally recognized underwater archaeological trail in the United States.

05 of 07

Key Largo

Christ of the Abyss statue
Florida Keys & Key West Tourist Development Council

Perched at the tippy top of the Florida Keys, the first of the Keys is essentially the gateway to all the fun Highway 1 has to offer. But that's not the only superlative it can claim: Key Largo is also considered the Dive Capital of the World, as it's situated by the second largest artificial reef in the country, as well as the country's first undersea park, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, which can be explored either through glass-bottom boat tours, snorkeling, or scuba diving.

06 of 07

Sanibel Island

Woman walking dog down boardwalk to the beach on Sanibel Island, FL
Cedric Angeles; Styling Celine Russell/Zenobia; Model: Hoda/Wilhelmina; Cover-up: Echo New York; Hat: Mar Y Sol; Bag: Kayu; Sunglasses: J.crew; Location: Sundial Beach Resort & Spa, Sanibel Island, Florida; Dog: Allie Donlan

The fishhook-shaped island off the coast of Fort Myers and Cape Coral is a natural treasure: Nearly 70% of its 17,000 acres are protected, and you won't find high rises or rush hour traffic here. With 25 miles of bike paths, there's no shortage of ways to explore this idyllic isle, which is also home to the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, part of the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the nation. The main event on the island, though, is shelling. The spot has become so well-known for the hobby that there's even a trademarked term for the treasure hunters' hunched-over position: the Sanibel Stoop.

07 of 07

St. George Island

St. George Island State Park
James Randklev / Getty

Just as its location on Florida's so-called Forgotten Coast suggests, this slice of Panhandle paradise flies under-the-radar—and locals and long-time vacationers here like it that way. The unspoiled beaches of St. George Island State Park are the ideal place to spend a day on the sand. Sea turtles love it here too; keep an eye out for their nests (and don't disturb!). If you want to bring your four-legged friend along, head to St. George Island Public Beach, which is pet-friendly year-round. See the island's beauty from a birds-eye view by climbing to the top of Cape St. George Light; then, when you get home and are missing the scenery, take a peek at the live cam stream.

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