There’s no doubt about it: the best beach vacations take time to plan and save for. However, abroad doesn’t necessarily mean better. In fact, arriving at a truly tropical destination may be a little easier to swing than you think. And it might be a lot closer.
No passport? No problem. Florida happens to be covered in a treasure trove of coastal options that’ll give you the feeling you’re smackdab in the Caribbean. The biggest difference? Going seaside while stateside may afford you the ability to stay in paradise just a little bit longer. And isn’t that the point?
When you think of central Florida, tropical paradise is likely not the first thing that springs to mind. Even the locals will tell you that. But there is one major exception to this rule: Vero Beach. With its Caribbean-Esque waters and lush terrain, this glittering gem stands out for the island’s dreamiest of reasons.
The journey and the destination offer an all-around picturesque feast for the eyes. To get to this barrier island, you take a bridge across the Indian River Lagoon. Vero Beach is not just a beach lovers’ paradise. It’s an ideal escape for nature enthusiasts. Make your way to McKee Botanical Garden, one of Florida’s most diverse collections of tropical plants, and you’ll quickly see what I mean.
Keewaydin Island is located off the coast of Marco Island and Naples, making this barrier island a hidden gem within a gem. For in-the-know locals, this seven-mile stretch of soft, white sand is the lesser-known place to be. You’ll need a boat to get around, but the solitude, gorgeous views, and loggerhead sea turtle sightings will make the extra work it takes to get here well worth it.
Adding to its untouched charm, you’ll find the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. It’s one of the few undisturbed mangrove estuaries that still exists in North America.
Speaking of pristine paradise, Caladesi Island is a state park not to be overlooked. Located in the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico, this untouched oasis wildlife is abundant with unique wildlife, is only accessible by boat, and is one of the few undeveloped islands left on the barrier reef. So be sure to make a day trip out of exploring it.
Here’s a fun fact. Author Myrtle Scharrer Betz was the only child ever born on Caladesi Island. In 1946, she placed a deed restriction that prevented any and all alterations to the island’s 157 acres. Thanks to her efforts, this tropical paradise remains intact and indescribably beautiful to this day.
Sandspur Beach (Bahia Honda State Park)
Sandspur Beach is commonly dubbed the second most tropical beach in all of Florida. The flora is vibrant, the water is crystal clear, and unlike much of The Keys’ rocky shoreline, there are perfectly sandy spots to take it all in.
Not to mention, Bahia Honda State Park is mostly uninhabited. Surrounded by natural wonder, visitors can enjoy the best of what the lower Florida Keys has to offer and feel worlds away while still within an accessible distance from the more lively scenes.
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Loggerhead Key and Garden Key
Dry Tortugas National Park Garden Key is about as close to feeling like you’re vacationing in the Caribbean as it gets in Florida. You’ll have your pick of seven idyllic islands, all of which you can only get to by boat or seaplane.
While it’s not easy to get to Loggerhead Key, this tropical beach boasting breathtakingly clear water, coral reef, and endless white sands will more than make up for the journey. Or, if you’re looking for tropical luxury, Garden Key is not just the second largest island in this national park (made up of 14 acres), it’s also the most developed.
If you’re looking for seclusion and natural splendor, make your way to this Palm Beach Inlet. Peanut Island is only accessible by private boat or ferry. This truly tropical island also happens to be a historic landmark, making it a perfectly preserved paradise.
Crystal clear waters make it a constant hot spot for snorkeling and it boasts one of the most sought-after boating sandbars on the East Coast.
Sanibel Island has been declared “the shelling capital of North America.” However, its world-renowned colorful shells aren’t the only thing that gives this beachy terrain a particularly tropical feel.
Sanibel is equally adored for its sugary white sands, year-round sunshine, and dolphins popping up from the Azul water to say hello on occasion. And it’s just a short and scenic drive from Fort Myers.
Blind Pass Beach
Manasota Key is home to a Gulf Coast oasis that for many moons, only the locals knew about. Blind Pass Beach is perfect for kayaking, shelling, and getting away from it all without having to go far from the mainland.
These days, the secret’s out and it remains a popular paradise among locals and tourists alike. In turn, parking near this tiny treasure can be tricky. But if you ask any who’ve been, nothing can take away from its tropical beauty. Just give yourself plenty of time to explore.
You may recognize this picturesque part of Crandon Park from countless magazines, movies, and TV shows. It continues to be the place that everyone wants to be, see, and be seen. And it has the weekend crowds and seasonal peaks to prove it. Obviously, you can’t put a price on paradise, but the luxury resorts here are some of the Florida coast’s best.
With its palm-lined beaches and it’s bright blue-green waters, saying this former coconut plantation is stunning would be an understatement. Key Biscayne is adorned in vibrantly colored flowers and easy-breezy beauty for as far as the eye can see. My advice? Find yourself a hammock on a weekday and stay right there through sunset.
North Captiva Island
Beneath the coconut palms and soft sea breeze sits the uniquely inviting North Captiva Island. Surrounded by clear water and punctuated by luxury, this resort island is “an unspoiled oasis” only accessible by boat. While known for being ritzy, there’s also a 350-acre state wildlife preserve worth all-day exploration.
North Captiva boasts some of the most beautiful beach homes on the coast. It’s also home to a private runway for those who travel by private plane or jet. You might come to marvel at the mansions and a top-notch seafood dinner, but you’ll stay for the unmatched ocean view.
Once again, we find ourselves traveling to the Florida Keys for all the right reasons. Because no matter how you slice it, Islamorada is a true sliver of paradise.
Home to quiet beaches, a boatload of outdoor sports options, and a tropical forest, this “village of islands” offers the opportunity for true island living and then some. Covered in rentable, private cottages, it’s the place to go for lounging in luxury while escaping the modern world and all day-to-day obligations.
Offering endless tropical fun for the whole family, this Sarasota barrier island has been ranked the #1 beach in the U.S. by TripAdvisor’s Traveler’s Choice Awards.
Stroll along the 8-miles worth of white sand beaches. Go for a dip in the seafoam green shallows. Then gaze into the aquamarine middle and the deepest cobalt blues at the heart of the ocean. Perfect for visitors with both peace and playtime in mind, there’s a little something for everyone looking to relax in Siesta Key.
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