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Beach at Key West

When most people think of Florida they think of beaches, blue sky and turquoise water. And they are right; Florida has the longest shoreline of any state in the US except Alaska. Over 1200 km of its coastline consists of sandy beaches, primarily in the form of offshore barrier islands. These long, narrow shifting spits of sand are home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the nation, and several on our list of best beaches to visit in Florida.

Every year Dr Stephen Leatherman, or "Dr Beach" as he is known, evaluates all major public recreational beaches in the United States. Some of Florida’s beaches always rank the top ten. In 2007, three of the ten highest rated beaches in the US were in Florida.

WildFlorida’s favorite Florida Beaches.

Most of our favorite beaches are in State Parks. Click on the link to one of the State Parks listed below and select the Google Map link on the park page to see a map. When you are at the map, try selecting the satellite or hybrid view (top right) to get a better sense of the beach and its surroundings.


Little Talbot Island State Park

Anastasia State Park 

The Beach at Washington Oaks Gardens State Park

Canaveral National Seashore

Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park

Bahia Honda State Park

Fort De Soto Park

Caladesi Island State Park   

Grayton Beach State Park

St Joseph Peninsula State Park  


Nude or ‘Clothing Optional’ Beaches in Florida.

Apollo Beach. The north end of Cape Canaveral National Seashore. The ‘clothing optional’ section has traditionally been south of crossover 5. However, parking lot number 5 has very limited parking, so you may have to park in 4 and walk south. The further you walk the more privacy you have.

Playalinda Beach. The south end of Cape Canaveral National Seashore. This is an internationally known nude beach but in recent years it has become less welcoming. Brevard County has an anti nudity ordinance which remains in effect. The ‘clothing optional’ area is north of parking lot 13 and north of dune crossover 13b.

Haulover Beach  A county park in North Miami Beach, near Sunny Isles causeway and Highway A1A. This is said to be the only legal nude beach in Florida - a county ordinance specifically permits nudity on a section of this beach. An 800-yard stretch of the north end of the beach is marked as ‘clothing optional.’

Beach warning flags - what they mean.

Beach Warning Flags

Most Florida beaches have a flag system to warn people of dangers. Look for them around the lifeguard station.

Green means calm conditions, good for swimming.

Yellow means moderate surf or currents, caution.

Red means high surf, strong currents, no swimming.

Blue means jellyfish or other dangerous marine life.


Florida’s beach sand – ‘sugar sand’, shell sand, or coral sand?

As you travel about the state you will notice that the texture of the beach sand changes dramatically from place to place. Beaches on Sanibel Island in southwestern Florida are made up almost entirely of shell fragments, whereas if you look closely you can see that the sand in the Keys is grayish and made of ground up coral. The famous ‘sugar sand’ of the Panhandle beaches is almost pure quartz and squeaks like snow when you walk on it. This quartz sand began as granite in the Appalachian Mountains, and was carried to the coast by ancient rivers.


Beach restoration in Florida

Beach and dune systems are naturally dynamic zones that change in shape over space and time. They are meant to move over time and nothing can stop them for long. Major storms scour vast quantities of sand from the ocean floor and deposit the sand in a ridge parallel to the shoreline. The ridge may remain and grow with wind blown sand creating dunes, or it may all wash away in the next storm. Barrier islands are formed in one storm and cut in two by the next. On the edge of the ocean, nothing is permanent.

But because beachfront real estate is so expensive and desirable, people don’t want the beach to move. Cities build massive sea walls to prevent natural erosion, and spend millions of dollars on beach “re-nourishment” programs. Re-nourishment usually involves dredging sand from the nearby ocean floor and spreading it on the beach. Many cities consider re-nourishment essential to protect their tourism industry. It is estimated that beach re-nourishment has cost taxpayers some $886 million to date, and today Florida spends about $90 million annually on beach re-nourishment projects. Lobbyists for beach projects consider this money a good investment. They argue it is a small price to pay compared with the $17.7 billion generated by the states beaches every year in direct tourist spending.

However re-nourishment critics argue that the process is an expensive, never-ending cosmetic cycle that never addresses the root of the problem. The real problem is that people have built and thousands of hotels, condos and expensive houses too close to the shoreline. Without beach re-nourishment many of these structures would eventually wash away.

The problem is compounded by the fact that many of Florida’s coastal areas are running out of convenient sources of offshore sand for re-nourishment. Miami Beach has exhausted its offshore supplies of the right kind of available sand, and is considering shipping sand in from Apalachicola, hundreds of miles away.

Re-nourished beaches do not stay forever. Storms and hurricanes usually wash or blow the sand away almost as soon as it is put down. In 2002 the city of St Augustine spent 17 million dollars on a beach re-nourishment program. Much of this expensive sand was washed away in the 2004 hurricanes. Florida’s 2004 hurricanes removed an estimated 45 million dollars worth of re-nourished beach sand from the State’s beaches.


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Wildlife of Florida 2011
Wildlife of Florida 2011
Fiona Sunquist
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Lizards book cover
Wildlife of Florida: Lizards
Fiona Sunquist
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