Florida has miles and miles of great beaches, but more and more of them are lined with condos and multi-storied hotels. If you want a Florida beach with a wonderful all-natural view, you might consider a Florida State Park.
For too many visiting vacationers, Florida’s State Park system is still the most underrated tourist attraction. Here are my favorite Florida State Park beach settings.
Bahia Honda State Park, Bahia Honda Key
The Florida Keys is wonderful for diving and fishing and boating, but good natural beaches are shockingly rare. Sitting almost under the Overseas Highway at MM37 is this wonderful park, with two beaches, great snorkeling spots, and glorious sunsets. Like all major Florida parks, there are campsites and cabins, but they fill up fast all year round. The Sand and Sea Nature Center is a great addition to the park.
St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, Port St. Joe
You can’t miss the St. Joseph Peninsula State Park on a map of the Florida Panhandle for it resembles a reversed Cape Cod. With 9.5 miles of usually empty snow white beaches extending northward beyond the end of the road, the park is vast. Exploring it past the cabins and Class A RV park, and campsites, you will see towering dune formations, heavy forests, and wildlife that seem oblivious to your presence.
St. Joseph: The bay to the right and the Gulf to the left
Go to the bay-side and you’ll see clear water for snorkeling and kayaking. While the summer is the big time for the Panhandle, winter visitors get the treat of sharing their views of nature without other humans.
Caladesi Island State Park, off Dunedin
While you can actually walk from North Clearwater Beach over to Caladesi, most people take the ferry from Honeymoon Island to this great barrier island. Selected as America’s best beach in 2008, Caladesi has more than white sand beaches. It has a terrific three mile nature trail, a full marina, concessions, and recreational rentals. The best part of this park is it is minutes away from the large cities of Tampa Bay.
Sebastian Inlet State Park, South Melbourne
Famous as the most consistent surfing location on Florida’s Atlantic Coast, Sebastian Inlet is also host to a great state park which gives access to miles of lagoon side kayaking, boating, and fishing. There are few outdoor activities you can not do at Sebastian Inlet.
North of the Inlet is the State Park on left and surf on right
The Visitors Centers are actually in two unique museums: the McLarty Treasure Museum, housing some of the treasure of 1715 Spanish fleet wreck off the Inlet, and the Sebastian Fishing Museum, which shows how good fishing is off the jetties. People have indeed found Spanish coins on the beaches in this area.
Lovers Key State Park, Fort Myers Beach
South of Fort Myers Beach, minus the motels and condos, is Lovers Key State Park with its two miles of natural beach and winding inlets and lagoons. To get to the beach, you park and take a tram over a bridge. You are surrounded by nature at this park. It is said this was where the famous female pirate Anne Bonny “honeymooned” with her pirate cohort “Calico Jack” Rackham. With five miles of hiking and biking trails and canoe and kayak rentals, you too can play pirates in paradise.
Grayton Beach State Park
There are miles of wonderful beaches in the Panhandle, but Grayton Beach State Park has soon stunning features. The 2,000 acre park has a rare coastal lake surrounded by towering dunes and a forest of magnolias and scrub oaks. The one mile beach of sugar white sand is rated in every beach poll, but few people realize how good the camping and cabin sites are.
Dunes at Grayton (Photo by Laurie Ausley)
This is one spot where you can do excellent saltwater and freshwater fishing within ten minutes of each other. The park gets high marks for kayaking, canoeing, and paddle-boarding.
Big Talbot Island State Park
The Boneyard Beach of Big Talbot Island is the place to pretend you are in a Robinson Crusoe situation. The beautiful sand beach is strewn with the bleached skeletons of thousands of dead trees whose shapes twist oddly in every direction. There is no camping at this place. It is reserved for enjoying nature with picnics, kayaking into the swamps, bird-watching, and maybe an isolated picnic.
Big Talbot Looks Like An Adventure
Big Talbot is the location that has won dozens of National Gold Medals for geo-seeking games. Almost every weekend you will see a group of treasure hunters looking not for Spanish coins but for natural landmarks.