The Best Island Beaches in Florida
By Elon Jones
With the longest coastline in the contiguous US, Florida has a vast and eclectic range of beautiful beaches to choose from. But the cleanest and prettiest beaches in Florida you find on the islands that surround Florida’s coast.
How can you find the best island beaches in Florida? You ask a local, of course.
You see, we Floridians are – admittedly – spoiled when it comes to beaches. And so, we judge beaches differently.
Floridians judge beaches based on:
- How busy is the beach?
- Does the beach feel natural?
- How far do you have to walk to get to the beach?
- Is the beach clean of trash?
- Can I do more than just swim?
You don’t want to just sit on a crowded beach with no personal space – no matter how white the sand is. You want to experience beautiful beaches in Florida, observe the untouchable coral reef communities, and explore unique ecosystems like Mangroves in Florida’s coastal parks.
That’s why you should check out the best island beaches in Florida.
What Makes These the Best Island Beaches in Florida?
Whether you like being close to civilization or far away from it, Florida’s island chains offer quintessential, relaxing island life with unique experiences on some of Florida’s prettiest, cleanest beaches.
The setting is perfect. Literally. The setting sun here is stunning.
These islands are the perfect place to set up your chair in the white sugar sand and relax all day. But they also have amenities for all ages to get out and explore more than just the beach.
The beaches in Florida are clean. All of these coastal parks and beaches are clean and maintained with beautiful, natural white sand beaches. All of them have bathrooms, boat docks, and a variety of amenities – not just the beach.
Fishing is allowed at all of these beaches in Florida as long as you have your fishing license for the State of Florida. If you don’t, you can get information and purchase one on Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s website.
The islands are also less-visited. That means more space for you to relax and more opportunities for you to see wildlife like birds, manatees, dolphins, sharks, and even a saltwater crocodile – if you’re lucky. Also, The shell selection is much better at these spots.
Bahia Honda State Park
Perfectly situated between Marathon and Big Pine in the Florida Keys, Bahia Honda State Park keeps you close to exceptional hotel accommodations, fabulous food for dining out, and water excursions for the whole family.
Bahia Honda’s award-winning beach is great for families with small children because the water is on the shallow side. At low tide, you can even walk out to a sandbar.
Biking is a favorite activity here, but there is also a hiking trail. And you can take advantage of tours that take you snorkeling out on the reef. You’ll see colorful fish, turtles, and several types of coral.
As you are in the middle of the Florida Keys, the benefits are plentiful. Bahia allows you to get back into nature while being close to tourist amenities like amazing seafood restaurants that will even cook the fish you catch.
- Concessions offer everything from food to boat tours and even WiFi.
- Camping and Cabins
- Bike paths
- Nature trail
- Picnic area with BBQ grills
- Overnight boat slips
You can easily see Bahia Honda from your car. It’s just off Overseas Hwy.
Cayo Costa State Park
Known as a popular stop for the pirate Jose Gaspar in the 1800s, Cayo Costa is a remote adventure for those wanting to leave civilization behind and appreciate nature.
While the island is only a couple of miles wide, it is home to 4 unique ecosystems.
It starts with the lifegiving mangroves that protect Florida’s coasts from erosion, serve as safe havens for fish and manatees, and provide hunting grounds for coastal birds. But they also absorb more carbon than inland trees. So yeah, they’re pretty important.
On your tram ride to the beach, you notice the dense underbrush of a jungle. The jungle morphs into sparse pine woods that give way to desert cacti and finally the long sea oats, sea grapes, and white sand of the beach.
You can explore these ecosystems via kayak to manatee lagoon and on hiking trails that explore the history of the island as a homestead and a quarantine zone.
The best time to camp at Cayo Costa is between October and March. The weather is less hot and humid. And the cooler wind keeps the bugs at bay.
Cayo Costa is a primitive island that offers peace and quiet away from notifications, traffic, and city lights. There is running cold water but no electricity. Even so, the park staff and volunteers make your stay comfortable with:
- Tram rides to the beach
- Kayak rentals
- Cabins and camping accommodations
- Well maintained boat slips
- Bait and gift shop with camping necessities
- Ice for campers and for purchase
- Seasonal live entertainment
The only access to Cayo Costa is by boat or ferry. By motorboat or – my personal preference – sailboat, the best crossing is from Boca Grande or Gasparilla Island.
Boca Chita Key
Do you need a romantic getaway in South Florida? Sure, the Miami beaches are beautiful, but what you both need is a little time to yourself. Look no further than Boca Chita Key.
In sharp contrast to Miami’s popular beaches, Boca Chita Key is a picturesque, romantic and remote getaway. This small key in Biscayne National Park is marked by an ornamental lighthouse. The serene island has a half-mile of walking trails, secluded beaches, and a thriving bird population.
But to truly experience the remoteness of Boca Chita, you need to see it by night. Here you can properly view the stars that the city lights block out.
And honestly, what’s more, romantic than stargazing on a secluded beach?
Unlike Cayo Costa, Boca Chita has no running water or electricity, so be sure your boat provides proper accommodations. You also need to pack out any trash that you bring with you.
- Nature trails
- Calm harbor
The only access to Boca Chita is by private boat. Currently, there are no charters to the island. That’s what makes it the perfect getaway!
The boat slips are first come first serve, and there is a fee if you choose to stay overnight.
- Private boat
- Experienced kayakers
Caladesi Island State Park
Not far from Florida’s iconic Clearwater and St. Pete beaches, Caladesi Island State Park offers the same – if not better – quality beach without the crowds.
Accessible only by boat, Caladesi is a family-friendly park with a park and picnic/grill area close to each other. The kids can play at the park while you can sit in the shade for a bit. And a historic nature walk takes you through the interior of the island.
More often, people visit Caladesi for the phenomenal shelling. The best shelling spot is about a mile and a half down the beach. The pristine specimens are worth it, and when all that shelling and walking and sunbathing makes you hungry, Caladesi Cafe serves a good burger and fries.
Caladesi also has several ADA-accessible amenities such as raised boardwalks to the beach and even beach wheelchairs upon request.
The island has almost everything you’d want except a place to stay overnight, so unless you bring your own boat to sleep on, you’ll need to stay somewhere else.
- ADA Accessible
- Picnic area with BBQ grills
- Historic nature trail
- Kayak rentals
If you plan on taking the ferry, you should know that its port is on Honeymoon Island. This means that you do have to pay to get to the ferry, and then pay the ferry as well. But if you choose to kayak over instead, you could save a bit in admission and ferry fees.
Dry Tortugas National Park
For a more exclusive experience in the Florida Keys, come to Dry Tortugas National Park. Onshore and underwater, the Dry Tortugas offers history and adventure for those looking for something more than a typical vacation to the Keys.
The best way to get to the Dry Tortugas with enough time to enjoy them is by seaplane. (Though there are ferries that can take you). The Dry Tortugas is home to Fort Jefferson, but there’s more history buried beneath the waters.
Snorkel and scuba divers love the Dry Tortugas for the beautiful coral reefs and the shipwrecks that rest on the ocean floor. You can even participate in night dives through the clear water.
Like Boca Chita, any trash you bring, you have to pack out. So be conscious about what you bring.
- Night dives
- The best coral reefs in the Keys
The seaplane offers the quickest way over if you want the maximum amount of time on this island. But the ferry is a viable option.
Help Keep Beaches in Florida Clean
Imagine going to one of these islands and loving it. You love the island atmosphere, the shelling, the wildlife, everything. You decide to take your whole family there for next year’s vacation and be sure to attend an Ocean Blue Project ocean cleanup event.
You can’t wait to show your kids the white sand beaches in Florida and explore the marvelous habitats for wildlife.
But when you arrive, the view is different…
Trash blows in the sea breeze and catches in the mangrove roots. The plethora of birds and vibrant fish that you remember from your first trip is waning.
In their place are fishing lines caught in the mangroves and beer cans and bottles trapped in the roots.
A once beautiful natural treasure ruined by carelessness…
Let’s teach our children to not be that tourist.
Don’t take in the beauty of beaches in Florida and then leave it a dump for the next generation.
But before you go, give something good back.
Contact The Ocean Blue Project to learn about a clean-up near you, and help conserve our beaches and mangroves for future generations making change to go green.
Elon Jones: Native to Tampa, FL, and an avid outdoor person, she believes in being a good steward of the Earth. She enjoys sailing – preferably to Cayo Costa – and exploring new trails with her 3 daughters.