5 Less Crowded Beaches in Florida
AAA Travel Editor Laurie Sterbens
You’re finally on vacation and have just settled on your lounge chair for a long-awaited, relaxing day at the beach. As you gaze out over the smooth white sand, crystal clear turquoise waves splash onto the shore in a hypnotizing rhythm. A warm, gentle breeze begins to lull you into a deep state of calm.
Suddenly a large family appears and sets up an elaborate camp in front of you, blocking your view with tarps, tents and chairs as children run in circles around you, flinging Frisbees past your head. A chain-smoking couple plops into your gentle breeze and turns up the volume on your least favorite music genre. Behind you, a frustrated mom screams at her toddler to finish his sandwich. This was not how it looked on Instagram.
Even before social distancing began, an overcrowded beach could be less than relaxing. Since proximity to strangers is less than ideal, it’s worth the effort to look for places where you can enjoy a little more space on the sand.
Florida is known for its beautiful beaches, with dozens of popular spots along its Atlantic and Gulf coasts. But among its more than 800 miles of sandy shoreline, there are also lots of places to go that are less likely to be crowded. Here are a few to consider:
1. Canaveral National Seashore
Central Florida’s Atlantic coast offers several well-known beaches, including Daytona Beach, which bills itself as “The World’s Most Famous Beach,” and New Smyrna Beach and Cocoa Beach, both popular with surfers. Between New Smyrna and Cocoa is the long, peaceful stretch of shoreline that is part of Canaveral National Seashore. Part of the national park system, Canaveral National Seashore encompasses 58,000 acres of not only beach but also lagoon, coastal hammock and pine forest, with recreational activities including hiking, canoeing and kayaking, boating and birdwatching. Just want a day at the beach? Two are available within the park: Apollo Beach and Playalinda Beach.
Know before you go: You can watch rocket launches from Kennedy Space Center from the beach if they happen during park operating hours. Be aware, however, that this can affect the crowd factor and park officials may restrict incoming traffic.
2. Ormond Beach
Also on the east coast, farther north, are Ormond Beach and Ormond-by-the-Sea. While only 5 miles north of Daytona Beach, Ormond Beach offers a more relaxed vibe than the busy Daytona Beach Boardwalk area. As you drive north on A1A, you enter the more residential Ormond-by-the-Sea, where the lack of large hotels and a traffic-free beach offer a more peaceful beach experience. The beaches at Ormond Beach and Ormond-by-the-Sea also differ from Daytona Beach in color; here the sand is mixed with crushed coquina shell, giving it a reddish-orange tint.
Know before you go: A different type of Florida outdoor experience is available across the Granada Bridge in Ormond Beach. Tomoka State Park is a lush hardwood hammock on the Halifax River that offers kayak and canoe rentals, fishing, picnic areas and wildlife viewing. A half-mile nature trail passes through the site of an ancient Timucuan Indian village.
3. Fort De Soto Park
Florida’s central Gulf coast has no shortage of popular beaches, including Clearwater and St. Pete Beach, both of which are perennial top vote-getters in various “best of” lists. However, just south of these is another jewel of a beach that’s less well known. Fort De Soto Park comprises 1,136-acres set amid five keys: Fortune, Madelaine, Mullet, St. Christopher and St. Jean. Along with a lovely white sand beach, the park features several miles of multi-use trails, a dog beach, boat docks, fishing piers, picnic areas and a 2.25-mile kayak and canoe trail.
Know before you go: The park gets its name from a Spanish-American War-era fort that sits at the southwest tip of Mullet Key. Grab a self-guiding tour map and explore a path through the site’s many historic buildings and other structures.
4. Santa Rosa Beach
Between the popular Panhandle destinations of Pensacola and Panama City is Santa Rosa Beach, a quieter stretch of sugar-white sand along the Gulf of Mexico’s Emerald Coast. When you’re ready to escape to a shady spot, head to nearby Point Washington State Forest, which offers picnic spots and miles of trails to explore. You can also stroll through Eden Gardens State Park and Wesley House, where live oaks and ornamental gardens surround a restored 1897 mansion. Here you can wander nature trails, picnic, fish and tour the antique-filled mansion.
Know before you go: This stretch of coastline is dotted with rare coastal dune lakes, which are both freshwater and saltwater and have their own unique ecosystems. Topsail Hill Preserve State Park is a great place to see them, with more than 15 miles of hiking trails through the dunes.
5. Sanibel Island
Off Florida’s southwest Gulf coast near Fort Myers is Sanibel Island, known as one of the world’s best beaches for collecting seashells. The island’s shape and orientation create a sort of scoop for seashells traveling through the Gulf, resulting in an amazing variety of shells washing ashore. There are several beaches here, each offering different experiences and amenities. Blind Pass Beach is great for shelling and fishing, but not swimming because of fast currents. Bowman’s Beach is quiet and secluded with lots of amenities including changing rooms and showers, picnic tables and nature and fitness trails. Lighthouse Beach and Fishing Pier features the Sanibel Lighthouse, a fishing pier and nature trails through the wetlands.Know before you go: Take a break from the beach and hop on the Take the Tram Wildlife Drive through the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, where you can spot wildlife amid the mangroves while learning about the island’s history, folklore, archeology and more. Reservations are recommended.
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AAA Travel Editor Laurie Sterbens
AAA Travel Editor Laurie Sterbens is an AAA Travel Expert.