There you are, sitting in front of the computer Googling "the best beach vacation destination in Florida." You're trying to figure out where to go for your next vacation, but trying to pick which beach to go to is overwhelming because they all sound the same. All of the tourism sites scream "we have warm, sandy beaches!"
To help, I've put together a list of the best Florida beach vacation destinations that includes the highlights for each place.
In each section, you'll find an overview of the destination, the best beaches to visit, awesome things to do, and where to stay.
Planning your beach vacation shouldn't be difficult. It should be fun!
So, get ready to count down my favorite Florida beaches.
Ready to discover the best Florida beach vacation destinations?
8. Miami Beach
Miami flaunts stunning beaches and an aesthetic that has become iconic. When you think of Florida, you likely think of neon lights, brightly colored buildings, and street art.
While all of that does exist in Miami (more specifically South Beach), it is also known for it's crowded beaches, over-priced restaurants, and nightlife. I guess you have to take the good with the bad sometimes.
Although, Miami also has some other beaches that are a little more quiet for when you grow tired of the constant party happening at South Beach.
There is a ton of amazing things to do in Miami. While you might be going for the beach, make sure you take some time to see some of the other awesome attractions Miami has.
Best Beaches in Miami
- South Pointe Park Pier - This beach features a large park with picnic areas and a wonderful fishing pier. Read more about it here.
- Surfside - This beach is a lot more quiet than South Beach, offering you the opportunity to lay out and soak up some sun. Additionally, there's plenty of live music around, so if you're into that, you'll love this beach. Read more about it here.
- Sunny Isles Beach - This beach is similar to South Beach, but much less well-known. It offers luxury hotels and restaurants.
- 85th Street Beach - This beach is even quieter than the other mentioned on this list. With little around, you'll love spending the day lounging around this beach. Read more about it here.
- South Beach - We've already talk about South Beach a bit, and while it's not quiet or out of the way, you definitely won't want to miss it. The scene is crowded but beautiful and bright--iconic Miami. Read more about it here.
Best Things to Do in Miami
- Look at the Street Art - Street art is a big part of Miami's culture. So, you can walk around and discover some pretty amazing works of art for FREE! Wanna know where the best pieces are? Find out here.
- Explore Little Havana - Get a taste of Cuba by checking out this great neighborhood. Make sure you grab a bite to eat and a coffee, too!
- Visit the Everglades National Park - Spend some time exploring this awesome National Park. You'll get to see Florida's native plants and animals. Watch out for the Alligators! Learn more about visiting this park.
Where to Stay
Finding a reasonably priced place to stay in Miami can be challenging, but it's not impossible.
On my most recent visit, I stayed at a Hostel (you can check it out here). It was clean and incredibly affordable. There were 5 of us, so we were able to rent out an entire room, so we didn't even need to share a room with strangers.
The best part is that it was literally right across the street from the beach.
If you'd rather stay at a hotel, you can use the map below to find sweet deals!
7. Panama City Beach
Panama City Beach is a popular spring break destination. While there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy a good party at one of the many bars, Panama City Beach is also a great spot for a laid back vacation.
If you're planning on going over spring break, you should know that there are city ordinances in place to help keep people safe. This means that bars close earlier than normal. So, if you want to stay out late, you might want to consider not visiting over Spring Break.
Panama City Beach
Since Panama City Beach is on the gulf coast (in the Florida Panhandle), the water is beautiful and blue.
Best Beaches in Panama City:
- Panama City Beach - Of course this made the list! It's a large beach with plenty of public access points. If you're having trouble finding one, try making you way through one of the restaurants.
- St. Andrews State Park - This park has a beach, so don't you worry! This is the perfect spot for you if you like to getaway from the hustle and bustle. Since it's a state park, there are no high-rises lining the beach, leaving you with a stunning view no matter where you are.
Best Things to Do in Panama City Beach:
- Go fishing - Where there's water, there's fishing. You can charter a boat for a half a day or a whole day of fishing. Learn more here.
- Try your hand at a water sport - Scuba Diving and Paddle Boarding are available in Panama City Beach. Beginner? No problem! Classes and tours perfect for novices are offered. Find out more here.
- Conservation Park - If you're looking for something to do outside that doesn't involve water, you'll enjoy this park. It has walking, biking, and pet-friendly trails. Learn more here.
- Shipwreck Island Waterpark - I know; I had you at "waterpark." Learn more here.
Where to Stay
While in Panama City Beach, I stayed at a very nice RV resort, which was fully equipped with a bathroom and showers, which was incredibly convenient since there were six of us staying in that RV. This is where I stayed, if you're interested in learning more. It's called Panama City Beach RV Resort.
That's the only place I've personally ever stayed in Panama City Beach, since I've only been once.
If you're looking for something where you don't have to BYOB (bring your own bed), there are plenty of hotel options.
You can use the map below to find a perfect and affordable hotel.
6. St. Augustine Beach
St. Augustine Beach is a beautiful and relatively quiet town. While there are plenty of houses, it lacks the multitude of high-rises that commonly line Florida beaches.
Plus, the tiny (and adorable) city of St. Augustine is just a short drive away.
Best Beaches in St. Augustine:
- Vilano Beach - This beach is quiet and lined with houses instead of the usual condos and hotels. Instead of being directly on the ocean, it's actually located at an inlet. While it may sound like the water will be calmer, but it's actually a bit rough, and it's a great spot for surfing. Learn more about Vilano Beach here.
- Anastasia State Park - There is a small entrance fee, but if you're looking for a quiet getaway, you'll love the beaches there. Tucked away from civilization, the beaches at Anastasia State Park look as though they have hardly been touched by people. Learn more here.
- Mickler's Landing - This beach is a little further south than the others, so it might be a short drive from wherever you end up staying; however, if you enjoy looking for shells and/or shark teeth, you'll definitely want to spend some time there. (If your feet are tender, I recommend wearing water shoes!) Learn more here.
- Crescent Beach - Again, this beach is mostly a residential beach, meaning it's void of high-rises, giving it a great small town vibe. Although, if you don't feel like packing a lunch, a short walk or drive will take you to a restaurant. Learn more here.
Best Things to Do in St. Augustine Beach:
- St. Augustine - Since you're so close, you should definitely take some time to explore the US's oldest continually inhabited settlement. There are tons of awesome things to do in St. Augustine (only of few of which will end up on this list). However, even if you choose to just walk around St. Augustine, you'll enjoy yourself. (Read my full guide here.)
- Climb a Lighthouse - St. Augustine has a lighthouse that you can climb and a museum that you can explore. Feeling adventurous? The lighthouse also offers a ghost tour at night because, like most places in St. Augustine, it's reportedly haunted. Learn more about the Lighthouse here.
- Take a Ghost Tour - Like I just said, most places in St. Augustine are reportedly haunted, so there are plenty of ghost tours to take. I personally took a walking ghost tour, which was fun. It was more informative than anything else, though. My friend took a Ripley's Ghost Tour, and she said it was fantastic. She said some stuff happened that she couldn't explain. #ghosts
- Alligator Farm - This is an expensive Zoo, but if you've never seen Alligators before, you'll enjoy yourself. They have some incredibly rare Alligators and some Crocodiles, as well. Make sure you check the scheduled shows so you can watch caretakers feed the Alligators! Learn more here.
If you want to learn more awesome (and inexpensive) things that you can do in St. Augustine, read my full guide here.
Where to Stay
You have a couple of options since St. Augustine Beach is so close to St. Augustine. It really depends on where you want to spend more time.
If you think you'll spend more time in St. Augustine, stay there; however, if you think you'll spend more time at the beach, stay there.
Or, you can choose one based on price. It's totally up to you!
I've never staying anywhere in St. Augustine or St. Augustine Beach because I've never had to. If I'm staying the night, I've always had friends that I can crash with.
While I can't make any personal recommendations, if you stay in St. Augustine, there are a ton of adorable bed and breakfasts, which would make for a unique stay.
You can use the map below to help you find a great place at an even better price.
5. Jacksonville Beach
Jacksonville Beach at Sunset - Photo by Jennifer
Jacksonville Beach is located in North East Florida, just a bit north of St. Augustine Beach.
While this beach definitely draws tourists, it's nothing like some of the other beaches on this list.
If you're looking for a laid back destination for a beach vacation that still has all of the amenities (restaurants, hotels, etc.) that you want, Jacksonville Beach is perfect for you.
It gets busy there, but often times you'll find a lot of locals. Sure, there are some tourists but not a crazy number.
Best Beaches in Jacksonville:
- Jacksonville Beach - Of course, there's Jacksonville Beach, which is a great beach! It can get pretty busy in the summer, but if you go in the morning, you'll get a spot before most people even show up. This beach also has a pier, shopping, and a nice board walk you can enjoy.
- Neptune Beach - This beach is just north of Jacksonville Beach. While there are some restaurants around, the beach itself is lined with houses instead of business and hotels, which makes this beach a bit more laid back than Jacksonville Beach.
- Atlantic Beach - This beach is just north of Neptune Beach. It's a nice beach, with a ton of awesome restaurants around. (Definitely try Poe's Tavern while you're there.) However, like Neptune Beach, these restaurants are a short walk from the beach, as the beach itself is lined with houses.
Where to Stay
There are plenty of places to stay in Jacksonville Beach, and Neptune and Atlantic Beaches are just a short drive away.
You can spend a little extra money and get an ocean view or you can stay a few blocks back to save a bit of a cash.
Use the map below to find your ideal hotel!
4. Daytona Beach
Daytona is a famous beach destination. While you may not have heard of some of the other beaches on this list (e.g. Jacksonville Beach), you will certainly have heard of this one.
While it may not have the same reputation as Miami, it's certainly a lively place.
This beach is well-developed, meaning there are plenty of restaurants, shops, and hotels lining it.
Best Beaches in Daytona:
- Daytona Beach - This beach, as you could guess, takes up the majority of Daytona's beach front. With some beaches to the north and south, this will likely be the beach you spend your time at, during your visit. This beach boasts white sand. Plus, there are certain sections where you can drive onto the beach. Learn more here.
- Sun Splash Park - This beach is close to Daytona Beach and is a bit more laid back. Instead of finding drunken college students, you're more likely to find children. While both beaches are family-friendly, this one appears to be more quiet, even when it's busy. Learn more about it here.
Best Things to Do in Daytona:
- Tour the Daytona International Speedway - Whether you're a NASCAR fan or not, it's a huge part of Daytona's culture. I'd highly recommend taking the tour. While I missed it (damn) on my last trip, my family praised it, and they're not NASCAR fans. Learn more about the tour here.
- Ponce Inlet Lighthouse - This lighthouse, like most, has a unique history. With a great museum to explore, you'll learn a lot about this special lighthouse. Plus, a climb to the top will offer you a stunning view! Learn more about the Lighthouse here.
- Halifax Historical Museum - If you're anything like me, you love learning about a location's history. A destination's history is one of the things that sets it apart from other similar places. Taking a walk through the Halifax Historical Museum will give you an appreciate for the history of Daytona, enriching your experience. Learn more here.
Where to Stay
There is a plethora of places to stay in Daytona Beach.
Honestly, out of all of the destinations on this list, Daytona Beach is probably one of the most affordable places to visit.
The price of hotels are pretty affordable. Although, I'm sure they're more expensive during the peak season.
Sarasota is a bit different from some of the other destinations on this list because if you stay in Sarasota, it's a short drive to get to the beaches.
This is because the beaches are actually on Keys, which are right of the coast of Sarasota.
While you can stay on one of the Keys, I think you'll find the prices are much more affordable in Sarasota.
Best Beaches in Sarasota:
- Siesta Beach - This beach is incredibly popular. Once you arrive and see the massive number of parking spaces available, you'll be floored; I know I was. But, it's popular for a reason. The beach is super wide, meaning you have to walk quite a ways to get to the water, which is nice because it gives people the opportunity to spread out a bit. The sand there is fine, white powder. It's the kind of sand you read about in books but rarely ever find. Learn more here.
- Turtle Beach - This beach is great for watching sunsets as it's not quite as popular as Siesta Beach. There were still people there, but not nearly as many. It was a much more romantic spot for watching the sunset. However, the sand on this beach was not nearly as fine as that on Siesta Beach. So, if you have sensitive feet, you should wear water shoes.
- Longboat Key - The beach on this Key is supposed to be the largest and least crowded, according to Sarasota's tourism board. It's not one that I visited while I was there, but it sounds like it's worth checking out!
- Venice Beach - This seems to be a relatively quiet beach that has still retained much of it's natural shoreline, meaning there aren't a ton of high-rises lining the beach. Learn more about the beach here.
Best Things to Do in Sarasota:
- Bike Around Downtown Sarasota - Explore Sarasota by biking around. While you're exploring, make sure you check out Bayfront Park. There, you can ogle at some big boats and enjoy a stunning view of the bay.
- Tour The Ringling - This house was owned by one of the Ringling brothers (yes, of the Ringling Circus). This grandiose house was built with luxury in mind. It's huge: 44,000 square feet. Plus, it houses some incredibly famous pieces of art. Additionally, the bayfront gardens are beautiful. The entire house is well-worth a visit. Learn more about it here.
- Visit the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens - If you love beauty and nature, you'll adore these gardens. They're the perfect place to spend a peaceful afternoon. Learn more here.
Where to Stay
If you're on a budget, I would definitely recommend staying in Sarasota versus staying on one of the keys.
While you'll have to drive to the beach, it won't be that long of a drive, and the money that you'll save will be substantial.
We stayed at Aloft, which is right in the heart of Downtown Sarasota. It's a bit more on the expensive side, and for this price you could definitely stay on one of the keys. However, if you are part of their points program, you could use those to book the room, which is what a family member did for us.
The hotel is gorgeous and has bikes that you can use for free, which is convenient.
If you'd rather stay somewhere else, you can use the map below to find great deals!
2. Sanibel Island
Sanibel Island Sunset at Bowman's Beach
Sanibel Island is located near Ft. Myers, which is on the gulf coast of Florida.
Sanibel is a serene destination that lacks the absurd development that you often find on beaches. While there are plenty of hotels, restuarants, and grocery stores on the island, you'll find that there is still enough nature preserved to leave you feeling like you're in the middle of nowhere.
Sanibel is busiest during the winter, so definitely go in the summer if you're looking to save some money and don't feel like waiting long for a table at a restaurant.
Best Beaches in Sanibel:
Now, keep in mind that much of the beach on Sanibel is private, so if you stay at a hotel on the beach, you may have access to a private beach! However, if you don't, here are some great public beaches.
- Bowman's Beach - This beach offers free parking, which is a nice feature. Plus, it's not nearly as busy as the other public beaches on the Island. This is the beach I spent most of my time at because it was close to the condo I stayed in. However, this beach would definitely be worth a short drive.
- Lighthouse Beach Park - You need to pay for parking when you visit this beach. And, while it's a bit more crowded than Bowman's Beach, you get a beautiful view of a city skyline across the bay. There's even a fishing pier if that's your thing.
- Gulfside City Park Beach - This beach is located between the other two. While I didn't visit it, it's another public beach that you might want to check out. It has grills and picnic tables, so you can make an entire day out of it.
Best Things to Do in Sanibel:
- Go Shelling - Sanibel is the best destination to find shells in Florida. If you love crafting, make sure you grab some beautiful shells and make yourself a unique souvenir.
- Watch the Sunset - The sunsets on Sanibel are stunning. National Geographic marked them as a bucket list worthy. They're easy to miss while your out to dinner, so make sure you carve out the time to go to the beach and watch the sunset.
- J.N. "Ding" Darling Wildlife Refuge - This is an affordable activity that can take up the better part of the day. There is an educational center that offers information on the wildlife you can expect to see in the refuge. There are plenty of places to stop and enjoy the view and admire the wildlife. You can walk, bike, or drive. Just make sure you bring water and wear sunscreen!
- Visit the Shell Museum - If you love shells, you'll adore this museum. You probably don't realize how much you don't know about shells. Learn more about the shell museum here.
If you want to learn about more awesome things to do in Sanibel (and the best restaurants), read my full guide here.
Where to Stay
When visiting Sanibel, I stayed at Blind Pass Condominiums. We rented it via some vacation rental site. (Forgive me because I'm not sure which one.)
We did this because there were six of us, plus we wanted access to a kitchen so we didn't have to eat out the entire vacation.
The condos had a lot of amenities, including a pool and access to free Kayaks. Plus, it had access to Bowman's Beach.
However, if you're looking for something a bit more luxurious, there are plenty of hotels on the Island.
1. Clearwater Beach
Clearwater is my favorite Florida destination right now. I just recently visited for the first time, and I was blown away.
It's everything I love about beach towns rolled up into one amazing place.
There is blue water, white sand beaches, restaurants that look out over the water, a board walk, a little amusement park, a beautiful bay on the other side, and so much more.
I know that list sounds weird, but all of those things somehow made Clearwater better by just being there, whether I actually took the time to experience them or not.
As far as I can tell, this destination doesn't have a bunch of different beaches like some of the other ones.
So, when you go to Clearwater, just find the beach and sit there.
Some hotels will give you access to a chair and umbrella, but all you really need is a towel and some sunscreen. Although, if you really want a chair and umbrella, you can rent them.
Best Things to Do in Clearwater:
- Clearwater Marine Aquarium - Learning about Marine life is fun way to spend the afternoon, especially when you're in a beach town. This aquarium is supposed to be home to a famous dolphin (you know, the one who inspired Dolphin Tale). Learn more about the aquarium here.
- Rent a Jet Ski - These things are fun and fast. If you're looking to spice up your day at the beach, consider renting one of these!
- Tour Murielle Winery - Um, FREE wine tasting anyone? Enough said. Learn more here.
- Watersports - If you're interested in trying any watersport, you can definitely try it in Clearwater! Learn more about the different watersports you can try here.
Where to Stay
I stayed at a Residence Inn while in Clearwater. The hotel was nice, clean, and had great views!
It also had a kitchen, which was nice.
If you're interested, you can check out prices on Booking.com here.
There are plenty of other awesome hotels in Clearwater, which you can look through by using the map below!
(You'll want to focus on the hotels that are on the little key that is right off the coast. This will eliminate your drive.)
With so many great options, it's hard to go wrong. But, you need to pick a beach that suits your style the most.
If you're interested in a quiet getaway, I recommend these beaches:
- Sanibel Island (during the Summer)
- St. Augustine Beach (Anastasia State Park is typically on the quieter side).
- Jacksonville Beach (this destination isn't as quiet as Sanibel, but it definitely attracts fewer tourists on the whole than many of the other beaches on this list).
If you're looking for a party, the following beaches will make you happy:
- Miami Beach
- Daytona Beach
- Clearwater Beach
- Sarasota (while these beaches are busy, there aren't a ton of bars around)
- Panama City Beach (don't bother going during spring break)
Without a doubt, each of these beaches is different from the other, and while I recommend you visit all of them, that may not be feasible.
Right now, my favorite beach destination is Clearwater Beach, and my second favorite is Sanibel.
I hope all of the information in this post has helped you make a decision.