White sand beaches for days, easy and clear water to splash in, lifeguards, concessions, and nearby kiddo-fantastic beach resort options all contribute to ideal family beach vacations, and that’s why we’ve picked these special Florida beach towns.
Here are 18 of the best Florida beaches for families and friends to relax and unwind.
FEATURED FAMILY BEACHES
PANHANDLE BEACH PLAY
PANAMA CITY BEACH
I know. You're thinking, "How the *** can PCB top this list? Isn't that a Spring Break town?"
It used to be crazy...I partied here once or twice, I'll admit. But times have changed, and Panama City Beach has worked diligently to make this an idyllic family escape. In my opinion, they have succeeded, and now it's just time for their reputation to catch up.
It's one of the best surfing locations in the Panhandle and one of the safest places for snorkeling and other water activities on the Gulf of Mexico. Get me on a jet ski!
If you really want to escape (maybe with older kiddos) then consider a boat ride over to Shell Island, an undeveloped barrier island in PCB. There are no concessions, no restrooms, no picnic tables...but here you'll find some seclusion and shelling treasures.
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Pensacola has been a family destination for decades...there is beach fun, water activities, history adventures and more. Casino Beach remains a family-favorite with white sands and green waters. In fact, it was named the Best East Coast Beach by USA Today!
If you're looking for safe, quiet waters then head to Quietwater Beach on the Santa Rosa Sound. You can also grab delicious eats and do some shopping here, on the Pensacola Beach Boardwalk.
And if you want to avoid the masses, then make plans for Johnson Beach in Perdido Key. It's known for the Discovery nature Trail and boardwalk..and a fun place for shore fishing.
Stay Here: Portofino Island Resort
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CAPE SAN BLAS
Cape San Blas is a 17-mile peninsula nestled between St. Joseph Bay and the Gulf of Mexico in the area sometimes called Florida's Forgotten Coast.
On the north end of the cape you'll find the tallest intact dune on the Panhandle at the beaches of St. Joseph Peninsula State Park. The Bay’s water is shallow, making it an ideal playground for your little ones. With older kids, there are opportunities to horseback ride on the beach - something they will never forget.
The park did sustain hurricane damage, but the south end of the park is open and vibrant for swimming, snorkeling and beach combing. You'll also find kayak and paddleboard rentals, and a boat ramp to get you into St. Joseph Bay.
PS. Looking for a sensational beach day trip from here? St George Islands are less than an hour away, and they are sensational.
Stay Here: Cape San Blas Inn
NORTH FLORIDA BEACHES ON THE ATLANTIC
Amelia Island's pristine beautiful beaches, historic charm, and outdoor adventures make it a quintessential Florida destination. There are over 40 public beach access points from which to enjoy the waves on Main Beach Park in Fernandina Beach. The downtown area is precious...and there are lifeguards, a playground, and plenty of fun on the beach.
If you're looking for white soft sand, then make your way to Little Talbot State Park. Enjoy the beaches, bike, hike, or rent a kayak. Just be aware that there are no lifeguards.
American Beach in Burney Park was once a vacation destination for wealthy African Americans and is now the first stop on the Florida Black Heritage Trail. It's a gorgeous, wide open beach. We also love it because you cam camp right there on the sand - for free!
Stay Here: Villas of Amelia Island Plantation
ST AUGUSTINE BEACH
St Augustine is the nation's oldest city and offers a wealth of opportunities to explore, learn... and eat! But just outside the Historic District you'll find 42 miles of coastline from Ponte Vedra Beach to St. Augustine Beach.
You can enjoy the beach from Anastasia State Park. Try swimming hiking nature trails, or renting kayaks and paddle boards.
Butler Beach and Crescent Beach are south of the park, respectively. Butler Beach played an important roll in Civil Rights history. Desegregation was the law, but not practiced here in the 60s. Blacks were only permitted on Butler Beach, sandwiched between the "white" St. Augustine Beach and Crescent Beach.
In June 1964 a "wade-in" protest held at St. Augustine Beach led to a violent confrontation and influenced Dr Martin Luther King Jr. to come to St. Augustine that further pushed The Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Today, everyone is welcome to all the beaches with open arms. You may also drive on the beach during certain times of the year, bring Fido on a leash, and enjoy the comfort of lifeguards during peak season.
You probably conjure up images of race cars and speedways when I say Daytona, but it is far more than that. It's one of the few Florida beaches left where you can drive on the sand, though the number of places where you can do this seems to be dwindling.
At low tide, the beach here is 500-ft wide - that is 500 ft for building sand castles, burying kids up to their necks (my kid's favorite!), flying a kite, and having a great time. There are plenty of water sports opportunities, to boot.
When it's time to take a stroll, head over to the longest pier in the eastern US - Main Street Pier. Need to get off the beach a while - there is so much to do! A Children's Museum, Marine Science Center, chocolate factory, lighthouse, and so much more.
Stay Here: Hard Rock Hotel Daytona Beach
BEACH BUMMING IN CENTRAL FLORIDA
Families flock to Clearwater Beach to dig their toes into the sugary sand and play in the clear, shallow water. Clearwater Beach is a pedestrian-friendly tourist town and one of the best beaches in west Florida. Rent a bike or pop the kids in the stroller and meander down Clearwater’s half-mile Beach Walk. There are plenty of fun shops and places to eat along the way.
Don’t miss Pier 60, aka the public beach, which offers a plethora of beachfront playgrounds and plenty of sand to stick your umbrella in. The Pier is famous for its sunset celebrations and free outdoor movies in the summer.
If you love dolphins, join a dolphin watching cruise or visit Winter from Dolphin Tale at Clearwater Marine Aquarium. If sea turtles are more your thing, visit Sand Key Park and you may get a chance to see these endangered animals laying their eggs.
Stay Here: Opal Sands Resort
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Cocquina Beach in Longboat Key (Sarasota County) do not include ginormous facilities with fancy bathrooms, behemoth concessions and lifeguards. It's a little "off the beaten path," which is why we love it.
The beaches aren't white lush powder, but they are still beautiful and clean... and the sand makes good sandcastles. There are also plenty of shells to hunt. Bring your goggles and snorkel right on the water's edge for great sand dollar, or stay on the sand and hit the volleyball courts.
It's a more quiet alternative to Siesta Key, with plenty of parking and place to spread out. In fact, the free parking area has a number of trees you can park under so the car won't overheat while you're playing!
Stay Here: Zota Beach Resort
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Playalinda Beach has become one of the go-to beaches, with national awards for "Quietest Beach" and "Top 10 FL Beaches." It's in the Canaveral National Seashore. You won't find lifeguards or concessions - this is undeveloped awesomeness.
If you prefer a little more excitement then, head over to Cocoa Beach Pier. There are plenty of places to eat and drink along the pier, with the same great beach action. You're far enough from Port Canaveral to avoid the cruise ship crowd, but still enjoy the festivities of the city.
Finally, Sidney Fischer Park is a 10-acre oceanfront park, perfect for families. You'll find shaded picnic pavilions, showers, a playground & restrooms.
Stay Here: Westgate Cocoa Beach Resort
Stuart Beach on Hutchinson Island is the Florida beach we return to again and again. It's never too crowded, there are showers and restrooms, and great sand for sandcastles. We love the free parking areas, short walks from the parking lot, and wide beach area.
When you are ready to get out of the sun, visit the Oceanographic Coastal Center to feed the stingrays and learn about sea turtles. The Elliott Museum showcases a collection of classic cars, trucks, bicycles, and boats that the kids will flip for!
We love its charm, the slow pace, and the fact that Sanibel Island is not overdeveloped. The opportunities to get out and explore the island’s mangrove ecosystem and its animal and plant life are plentiful. Shelling, kayaking, biking…It’s a getaway where you can truly get away!
And when you want a little more excitement, get out on the water during this west coast adventure. Tarpon Bay Explorers has guided kayaking trips through the DN 'Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Captiva Cruises can take the whole family island hopping for the afternoon. Or for the true adventurer, Whitney's Bait and Tackle knows all the best fishing spots.
Stay Here: Seaside Inn
With an expansive white sand beach, shallow water, concessions, picnic area, playground and watersports equipment for rent, Tigertail Beach in Marco Island is reason enough for a trip there with your family. It’s perfect for sand castle building, shell collecting and bird watching,
But there are so many other activities for children of any age. Take a boat tour or paddle your own kayak though the mangroves at Capri Paddlecraft Park. For an amazing day on the water, take the Dolphin Explorer eco tour, a three-hour educational adventure with a stop on a small barrier island where you’re guaranteed to find shells. For views of the natural habitats of Florida, take the nature center boardwalk trail at Briggs Nature Center, where you can also view wildlife that includes alligators and osprey.
Stay Here: Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort and Spa
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Deerfield is the most popular beach in Fort Lauderdale, with its beautiful pier and award-winning conditions for water quality, beach conditions, safety services, and conservation efforts. The gentle slope with near-shore reefs makes it a super spot for snorkeling, paddleboarding and surfing.
The neighborhood around the fishing pier has an Old Florida feel, with plenty of restaurants and cafes along the beachwalk.
Stay Here: Royal Blues Hotel
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SOUTH MIAMI BEACH
South Beach is another one of those beaches that surprises people when it shows on a family-friendly list...but it truly is a gem for everyone. Our advice? The best place for families along this strip is where the locals gather at South Pointe Park (not Ocean Drive, which is where the party-atmosphere is alive and kicking.)
Wide open spaces, gorgeous views, and heavenly packed sand make this great for the family. My boys also loved the splash pad and play area, and watching the pups play in the dog park.
The only downside is parking - it can be difficult to find and expensive when you do. Plan on a walk (it's worth it.)
Stay Here: Loews Miami Beach Hotel
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FAMILY BEACHES IN THE KEYS
FORT ZACHARY TAYLOR STATE PARK
Fort Taylor sits on the Southern tip of Key West, and is one of the beloved Key West Beaches in the area. Wide beach space, plenty of shaded spaces, and terrific snorkeling make this a favorite for many families in the area. We love that it's the special place where to Gulf meets the Atlantic.
There are some rocks here, so bring water shoes for you and the kiddos. And bring a picnic dinner, because the Western shore here is a prime spot for catching the sunset without a crowd.
Stay Here: Oceans Edge Key West
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BAHIA HONDA STATE PARK
Making your way North from Key West toward Marathon, you'll find several beaches at this park. Sandspur is closest to the campground, and was an area-favorite for many years. It's reopened now, after Hurricane Irma, but feels like there is more seaweed here than normal. Still a great beach.
If you take the Old Bahia Honda Bridge trail, you can look over and get a great view of Calusa Beach (photo above). White sand and shallow water for a long, long way from shore make this a great beach for snorkeling and for kids. Plus the view of 7-mile Bridge is fantastic; you're on the Bay side.
While we like the view of Calusa from the bridge, we always find ourselves spending the most time at Lagerhead Beach on the ocean side. The sand seems to go for miles. It doesn't... but it sure feels that way and we love it.
There is some seaweed here, too... but not so much that we can't see the fish when we snorkel.
Read More: 21+ SENSATIONAL THINGS TO DO IN MARATHON FL
Stay Here: Isla Bella Beach Resort
Beach at Baker's Cay
Yes, I know it's not a public beach... but it's too good not to share. Baker's Cay in Key Largo is a sensational oasis just inside the Florida Keys... and all the rooms face the water!
On the right side of the resort you'll find sandy beaches with plenty of resort activities like kayaking. My favorite thing was sitting in the chairs and watching the boys play and the sun set. The sky danced with pink and purple.
The beach is home to a Tiki Hut, ideal for grabbing a drink. There are also several restaurants on site.
Beyond the dock, boat slips, watersports area and tiki bar is the Hammock Nature Trail, leading you to a more romantic section of the beach draped with mangroves, hammocks hovering near the water, and a feeling that you've escaped from everyone and everything.
FLORIDA BEACHES FAQ
What beach in Florida has the clearest water?
Some of the clearest water in Florida can be found along the Emerald Coast. The Emerald Coast is a coastal area that stretches 100 miles along the Gulf of Mexico. Beaches like those found in Destin feature waters that are some of the clearest in the state.
Which side of Florida has nicer beaches?
Truly, both sides of Florida feature some amazing beaches. If you're looking for water activities and waves, the Atlantic side is your best bet. If you're looking for clear water and white sandy beaches perfect for lounging, the Gulf side is a good choice.
What is the busiest beach in Florida?
Although Spring Break crowds can sometimes make you think other Florida beaches are the busiest, the honor of busiest beach in Florida belongs to South Beach in Miami. Miami hosts over 25 MILLION visitors each year, and a lot of those visitors make a stop at South Beach!
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO FLORIDA
- YOUR FLORIDA VACATION
- FORT MYERS: 19 Things To Do In Fort Myers For Fun In The Sun
- ROMANTIC GETAWAYS: 17 Best Romantic Getaways In Florida You'll Love
- FLORIDA KEYS: 3 State Parks & 1 Dreamy National Park You Can’t Miss
- DOG-FRIENDLY: 25+ Beautiful Dog-Friendly Beaches in Florida for Fido’s Next Vacation
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