Five Florida Beaches You'll Have All To Yourself
1. Sanibel-Captiva Islands
Perhaps the $6 toll required to gain admission to these twin islands is what sends the larger crowds boomeranging back to the free beaches of mainland Fort Myers. The payoff, though, is reaching the beaches of Sanibel and Captiva (pictured above), two of the most, well, captivating islands in the entire state. On each, public beaches are peaceful and quiet and even the Gulf of Mexico plays it part with a steady flow of soft ripples touching the shore. Almost as much as swimming and sunning is the appeal of shelling. Credit unusual tides and the layout of the island for the tens of thousands of curiously colorful and elaborate seashells that are sprinkled along the shorelines each morning.
2. Key Biscayne
The international fame of Miami Beach casts a long shadow over other Florida beaches. Yet, only a few miles down the Atlantic coast, little sister Key Biscayne has a well-developed sense of privacy enhanced by two well-placed and very different parks. Cross the Rickenbacker Expressway (a toll road) to reach Crandon Park, a former coconut plantation, encompasses more than 800 acres including two miles of beaches. At the end of the key is Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park with a mile of beachfront accented by an 1800's lighthouse. Combined, the modest distance, minimal toll, and measures taken to preserve these parks make these remote beaches worth a look.
Santa Rosa Island
A 200-mile streamlined string of islands create the Gulf Islands National Seashore and Santa Rosa Island (pictured at right), the longest stretch of protected barrier islands in America. One of the most pleasing strands is southeast of historic Pensacola. Buried beneath tons of sand following 2004's Hurricane Ivan, Highway 399 finally re-opened in 2009 and allows motorists to thread a blacktop needle between Escambia Bay and the wide-open Gulf of Mexico. In the fifteen miles between Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach only occasional parking areas interrupt the flow, giving visitors to this remote beach the luxury of space and a pleasing sense of solitude on the white sands.
4. Canaveral National Seashore
Who knew that -- in addition to satellite television, metal alloys, and the Nerf glider -- America's space program would also spin off some of the nation's most pleasing beaches? In 1975 the federal government set aside 58,000 acres as a buffer from rocket launches, and one of the fringe benefits was the preservation of 24 miles of shoreline. Although security issues mean there are many miles where you can never lay a beach blanket, many more remain blissfully open and undisturbed. Come here and you'll see the ocean the way nature intended. To see people the way nature intended, go just north of the Kennedy Space Center to Playalinda beach where nude sunbathers take advantage of lax enforcement.
5. Fort De Soto
Depending on your perspective, the highlight of this pretty county park is either the remains of a 19th-century fort or the five islands whose miles of brilliant white sands stretch along the Gulf of Mexico. As with other beaches that enjoy the blessings of space, the modest effort it takes to reach the islands from the mainland southwest of St. Petersburg (roughly 11 miles and two tolls totaling less than a dollar) affords a significant amount of privacy. While popular, the several miles of waterfront from East Beach to the most visited and acclaimed section, North Beach, offer enough space to accommodate a slew of sunbathers without the sensation of feeling hemmed in. Add to this placid Gulf waters, waving sea oats, soft sands and repeated rankings among the nation's top beaches.
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