Miami and Orlando may be Florida favorites, but that doesn’t mean they’re the Sunshine State’s most scenic destinations. In fact, Florida is home to many charming seaside towns where you won’t find waves of tourists. Most of these coastal getaways and island respites have unspoiled beaches, wildlife refuges, and fresh foods to savor. For those who prefer the gentle massage of an ocean breeze to a thrilling spin on Space Mountain, this list of adorable beach towns may inspire you to consider a new vacation spot.
Editor’s Note: Some services, amenities and events at these locations may be changed / discontinued due to the pandemic. Save these ideas for when to travel safely again, and always follow all COVID-19 restrictions, rules and safety rules both at your destination and when you return home.
A collection of six islands, Islamorada is a revered place for sport fishermen. The calm, clear, creature-filled waters along Anne’s Beach are perfect for snorkeling, while Long Key State Park has kayaks and canoes available for hire. The library beach, located on a mangrove canal, includes play equipment and few people, making it a favorite stopover for families. Other Islamorada attractions include dolphin shows at the Sea Theater and exhibits at the Diving History Museum. The Rain Barrel Artisan Village also has several remarkable galleries to browse.
New Smyrna Beach
South of Daytona Beach, New Smyrna Beach is known as a trendy surfing haven. The city has about 12 miles of white sand beaches and great waves. Renting a surfboard isn’t difficult, although aficionados will likely want to bring their own. You can also plan your trip to coincide with one of the food festivals held throughout the year, including the New Smyrna Beach Food Festival (in April), the Cinco de Mayo celebration (in May), the Shrimp & Seafood Festival (in August), or Jazz Fest (in September). Attractions throughout the year include the artist studios at the Hub on Canal, exhibits at the Atlantic Arts Center and the area’s wildlife, which includes manatees and dolphins.
About 20 minutes south of downtown Miami, Key Biscayne has seen a development boom since the causeway opening to the mainland in the mid-20th century. Notable residents have included Brad Pitt, Cher, and Richard Nixon. While luxurious living can be found throughout Key Biscayne (golf courses and gourmet restaurants included), the destination also has many scenic attractions. The 170-year-old Cape Florida Lighthouse is a local landmark, and the Heritage Trail offers fascinating views of the water and a prehistoric fossil reef. Meanwhile, the fresh water of Crandon Park Beach is a favorite among windsurfers. Almost all of Key Biscayne’s sandboxes offer relaxing alternatives to Miami party stalls.
Off the west coast of Florida, about an hour’s drive from Fort Myers, Captiva Island is small enough that you don’t need a car once you arrive. For families, South Seas Island Resort offers plenty to do on its 300 acres, including relaxing on private beaches, enjoying the scenic marina, playing a round on the nine-hole golf course, and taking a dip in the beaches. three outdoor pools with slides. Travelers who prefer a more personalized vacation also have plenty of accommodation and dining options. The Keylime Bistro at the Captiva Island Inn serves dishes like Benedict Crab Cake and, as expected, Lime Pie. The Bubble Room is full of toys from the 30s and 40s and offers a menu of Gulf shrimp (made in many ways), sticky buns, and crunchy orange cakes. Captiva Beach has limited parking, but a huge variety of seashells for people who like to pick them up.
Locomotives stopped at Stuart to haul bushels of chrysanthemums and pineapples. Although no longer a farming community, Stuart still has the charm of a small town that can be found in its guesthouses, sidewalk cafes and art galleries. There are also picturesque waterside scenery to enjoy here. Not only does this town of 19,000 inhabitants offer stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean, it is also positioned along the Saint Lucia and Indian rivers, making it the perfect location for leisurely strolls by the sea. water. The promenade is dotted with shops, restaurants and people to watch. Locals also take pride in the health of the ecosystem here, which makes it possible to see dolphins swimming through the clear blue waves just off the coast. Marine life enthusiasts can stop by the Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center, which features turtles, stingrays, and many other types of local fish. Another part of Stuart culture, the House of Refuge Museum was once a shelter for sailors and now houses exhibits on patents and inventions. As for the sand, Jensen Beach, Bathtub Reef Beach, and Stuart Beach are all popular.
Try not to confuse Siesta Key – the barrier island off the southwest coast of Florida – with the MTV reality show of the same name. Yes, the show is shot in Florida, but Siesta Key has a lot of family fun. Ocean Boulevard has boutiques and buskers playing Jimmy Buffet covers. The sand here has a high quartz content, which makes it soft, cool to the touch, and comfortable for sunbathing. The annual Siesta Key Crystal Classic sand sculpture festival challenges artists around the world to create a masterpiece in 24 hours. Other local traditions include a weekly drum circle that forms on Siesta Key Beach every Sunday one hour before sunset. If you want to get off the mainland, book a deep sea fishing excursion or a sunset cruise.
A trip to Seaside is like walking through a time machine. Founder Robert S. Davis inherited the land in 1978 and transformed it into a community resembling an old seaside town. Located in northwest Florida in Panhandle, Seaside is closer to Alabama and Georgia than Orlando, and its culture is modeled after the genteel life of small towns in the South. Seaside’s buildings are a mix of Victorian, Neoclassical, Modern and Postmodern styles, and it is precisely this combination that made it an excellent choice for a filming location for “The Truman Show”. Local attractions include Airstream Row, a food truck fleet where chefs work from vintage trailers, and the Seaside Repertory Theater, the Emerald Coast’s only professional troupe. Nearby Grayton Beach State Park is considered one of the best beaches in the country. Not only can visitors go swimming here, but camping, mountain biking, tubing, and scuba diving are also offered.
Vero Beach has a fair amount of culture and wildlife over 13 square miles. A local ordinance prevents buildings from exceeding four stories, helping the destination maintain its small town feel. Unlike other crowded areas of Florida, Vero’s white sand beaches often have more birds than humans. About a quarter of the world’s sea turtles lay their eggs on the east coast of Florida, where Vero is located, which makes it possible to regularly see turtle hatching. Several circuits are organized around the local turtle population. Florida Cracker airboat rides are also popular, as guests can cruise the Saint John River on a boat powered by an airplane engine. The Vero Beach Art Museum has an impressive permanent collection, including works in glass, bronze and baguettes. The Vero Beach Opera Guild regularly hosts performances in city buildings, and moviegoers should plan their trip in June during the Vero Beach Wine & Film Festival. Local food and shopping caters to upscale tastes (many millionaires vacationing here), so be prepared to splurge.
About an hour from Orlando and less than half an hour from the Kennedy Space Center, Cocoa Beach can be a good base for visiting several Central Florida attractions. The city’s growth took off in the 1960s with the expansion of the US space program. Fans of the sitcom “I Dream of Jeannie” may remember the location, as it was often mentioned in the series. The actual stretch of sand known as Cocoa Beach is less crowded than most Florida sunbathing areas, and free parking can be found if you know where to look. As the unofficial surfing capital of the East Coast, Cocoa Beach takes boarding seriously. The Cocoa Beach Surf Company has one of the largest surf shops in the world and the Florida Surf Museum is located in the local Ron Jon store. Several festivals take place each year, including Pro / Am, NKF Surf and Beach ‘n Boards. You can often watch the action from the Cocoa Beach Pier, where you can also fish and stock up on oysters, ice cream, and umbrella drinks.