Which side of Florida is better for beaches?
Choosing the right beach for your road trip or vacation can be difficult and confusing. No matter which Florida beach you choose, you can be sure it will be beautiful. But will it offer the experience you are looking for?
The beaches on both coasts of Florida have no shortage of things to do: water sports, entertainment options, and great food. But there’s more to it than that. You don’t want to end up on an Atlantic beach like Jensen Beach Park with huge waves if you’re not a good swimmer. Or stay at a Gulf beach, such as Sanibel Island with no waves when you love to boogie board! There is a perfect beach destination in Florida just right for you. That’s where we come in. Our blog posts show you, up close and personal, the beach vibe. The texture of the beach sand, the clarity of the ocean water, the amenities, and the parking. It’s easy to choose your dream beach destination and travel to it. You might even choose two or three.
Different Florida Coast, Different Beaches
Do you prefer a busy beach with lots of activity? Or a more secluded beach, with a laid-back vibe? Every beach in Florida has a different feel to it, even if they’re only 10 miles away from each other. The calmest water in Florida is on the west coast (or Gulf Coast). In most cases, the sand is white and like a fine sugar texture: Siesta Key Beach is famous for this. Some beaches, like Venice Beach, have darker sand with more shells. On the Gulf of Mexico, the water is a stunning turquoise color. It is great for swimming, snorkeling or floating around and relaxing.
While you’re in the water you will see plenty of fish. You may even see a manatee at some of the more secluded beaches, like Coquina Beach near Anna Maria Island. Snorkeling, parasailing, and jet ski riding are popular activities. The Gulf water is pretty shallow. The Gulf beaches, such as Clearwater Beach, are often rated as some of the best beaches in the USA. Larger coastal cities like Fort Myers Beach will keep you busy day and night. The fishing is great too.
To experience waves and a sea breeze choose the Atlantic Ocean beaches on the east coast of Florida. There are plenty of amazing beaches to visit, depending on where you go and the activities you like. If you like driving and riding a bicycle, you can do this right on the firm beach sand of the Daytona Beach area. Jump into the ocean with your boogie board or surfboard and enjoy the waves. Relax during low tide in warm lagoons filled with ocean water: perfect for kids! Drive on the beach with your vehicle in Ormond Beach, Daytona Beach, Ponce Inlet, and New Smyrna Beach.
Further down the east coast of Florida, on the Treasure coast, the water appears bluer in color and warmer from the Gulf Stream. The Treasure Coast has narrow sandbars and barrier islands, but the ocean waves can still get big. The beaches like Vero Beach and the Palm Beaches, such as Juno Beach, have soft sand and you cannot drive on it. But the beauty of these beaches IS comparable to the Gulf Coast. You will see more surfers and windsurfing on the Florida east coast. So much fun to watch!
Sunsets and Sunrises
The Gulf Coast beaches are the place to be for spectacular sunsets on the Gulf of Mexico. There is a different sunset every night on Siesta Key Beach. Orange and pink clouds are perfect for romantic photos, or while enjoying cocktails beachside. Sometimes it’s a spectacular ball of sun sinking into the blue ocean. Madeira Beach, Sanibel Island, Coquina Beach, and Fort Myers will put on a sunset show for you every evening.
On the Atlantic coast of Florida, there is the Golden Hour. If you’re on a pier, you can see the sun go down when looking to the west. You will also experience incredible pastel colors reflecting the sun in the east as it goes down. Pink and peach clouds above the water give the sky a golden glow. Love sunrises? Get up early on the East Coast of Florida and watch the wonder of the sun's rays rising up out of the ocean. We did at Jensen Beach. It's a romantic and moving experience you will never forget!
Northwest Florida Beaches: The Panhandle
The beaches in northwest Florida, or the Panhandle, are some of the most beautiful beaches in Florida. Referred to as the Emerald Coast, the most popular beach by far is Destin Beach. Other beaches include Fort Walton Beach located west at the inlet of Santa Rosa Sound. U.S. Route 98 leads east to Panama City Beach and west 48 miles to Pensacola Beach. White sand and emerald Gulf water is the signature feature of these incredible coastal areas.
Visit Henderson Beach State Park on the Emerald Coast Parkway during your road trip. It does book up in advance for camping. It is also great if you go there for a day trip. There are pet-friendly walking trails but no dogs are allowed on the beach. Some work is being done this year (2022) on the boardwalk.
It’s important to plan a trip to the Emerald Coast (Panhandle) at the right time of the year. This area has special weather considerations. The best time to go is in May or June when the water is warming up and the temperatures are comfortable (the 70s and 80s). The Panhandle experiences cooler weather and chilly water in the winter months. During the summer it gets very hot and hurricane season can start as early as mid-June. The State of Florida keeps on top of hurricanes throughout the entire season. NOAA issues warnings of potential tropical storms or hurricanes. Know before you go!
Fishing charters are a popular choice no matter which beach destination you choose. Florida visitors need a Florida freshwater fishing, or saltwater fishing license to fish. Even for catch and release, or surf fishing, you need a fishing license. A great choice is to go on a fishing charter, with a guide or party boat that has a valid vessel license. Then you will not need to get one. You will fish under the captain's license. Try to choose a certified guide who will show you the best spots. Whether it is Fort Myers Beach or Daytona Beach, you can enjoy a day of Florida’s best fishing. Some charters even operate at night!
Florida Traffic and Crowds
Whether you visit the east coast of Florida, the Gulf Coast or the Panhandle beaches, you are going to experience the wonder of Florida’s highways and traffic. Some beach locations are easier to get to than others. The Florida Keys are a little different because there is only one way to drive in and out. A variety of factors to consider when planning your beach vacation or road trip are:
The main idea is for you to find the Florida beach location that provides the vibe you want, the activities you like and that speaks to your heart. Coastal areas off the beaten path can be just the ticket. We’ve done the research for you ahead of time, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find your favorite spot (get one of our handy vacation planners here). Check out more of our blog posts for help in selecting a hotel for your stay.
Flying to Florida?
If you are flying to Florida you can use Park 'N Fly for fast, easy airport parking. Here are some promotions from major US cities that save you money:
We’ve listed popular hotels within 5 miles for each Florida beach we visit. You can click on the links and browse one that meets your needs. Do you need to be near golfing or other attractions? If you’re like us and love to swim in the ocean, you may not care about a hotel with a pool. Browse the popular restaurants we’ve listed as well. We haven’t tried them all, but we won’t stop you!
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Susan and Bruno are travel bloggers. We write about Florida beaches on every coast. Our opinions only.