Florida's 8 most beautiful beaches

In terms of vacations, Florida's image is so dominated by man-made theme parks that it is easy to forget that the state also has some fantastic natural attractions, such as its beaches. Here are just some of the most stunning to be found along its 1,197 miles of coastline and islands.

South Beach, Miami

The flour-soft sand of Florida's most famous beach runs for 2.2 miles. Crowd minglers love to congregate in the touristy section which runs parallel to Ocean Drive while locals prefer the quieter areas north of 15th Street and south of 5th Street. Backed by charming Art Deco hotels and plenty of bars, "SoBe" has glitz and glam in abundance but it is also a lovely place to throw down a towel to soak up the sun and enjoy a swim.

Fort Zachary Taylor State Park Beach, Key West

If you are not totally swayed by beauty and need something else of interest, this lovely beach in Key West fits the bill. Located where the Gulf of Mexico meets the Atlantic, this beach is not only picturesque but also boasts Fort Taylor. The fort is a National Historic Monument that played a crucial role in the Civil and Spanish-American Wars and now holds the largest collection of Civil War armament. The beach sits in the southernmost national park of the United States and is praised for its nature trails and clear water which teems with wildlife making it ideal for snorkeling. Its spectacular sunsets are not to be missed.

Pensacola Beach

Stretching along the coast of Santa Rosa, a narrow barrier island, Pensacola Beach is a favorite family destination. The Emerald Coast beach, part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, has charm and style with some tranquil areas for escaping the crowds on the sugar-white sands. There's a boardwalk lined with shops, bars and restaurants and the pier here stretches for 1471 feet (450m) and as well as being used for fishing, is a great viewing point for dolphins and manatees and watching a fiery sunset over the Gulf of Mexico.

Grayton Beach State Park Beach, South Walton

This beach borders one of the most unique geographical features on Earth – there's just a handful in four countries - a coastal dune lake that attracts loads of wildlife to its waters and shores including some endangered species. The Gulf Coast beach offers up 2,000 acres of wilderness sand and dunes. It's popular with snorkelers and divers because the amazing feature here is the Underwater Museum of Art. Part of South Walton's artificial reef program, it is the first permanent underwater sculpture park in the USA.

New Smyrna Beach

Surfing isn't restricted to California. The East Coast Florida beach of New Smyrna can more than hold its own with the West Coast beaches. Four to five miles offshore, there are some huge rock ledges that create some terrific breaks. As well as the gorgeous stretch of sand, the town is a charm often featuring in lists of the best surf towns in America so after a day of sun, sea and sand, the palm-lined historic center of Downtown is a fun place to explore.

Bowman's Beach, Sanibel Island

Sanibel Island's coast is practically all beach but it is divided into individuals so people do pick and choose their favorite. One of the least busy because it is not the most accessible is Bowman's Beach. Access is a bit of a hike over a bridge and dunes but once there, it's a stunning swathe of sand several miles long. There are no vendors and the beach is practically devoid of development but it is good for what the island is famous for – shell hunting. Walkers love the nature trail that runs across a ridge above the beach.

Far Beach, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

Far Beach is part of the shoreline of the Continental United States' only living coral reef. Famed for its biodiversity, the reef stretches for three miles from Key Largo into the Atlantic Ocean and the state park has a total area of 70 nautical square miles. While most people use the beach for wading into the water for some snorkeling or diving, the sand is just as wonderful for lounging on. There are also tropical hammocks, glass-bottomed boat tours, fishing, a canoe/kayak launch and short nature trails. The saltwater aquariums at the visitor center provide some interesting respite from the sun.

Clearwater Beach

One of the most popular beaches in Florida, Clearwater is a Gulf Coast beach with plenty for every type of seaside vacation activity. The beautiful stretch of powder-soft white sand always has a festive feel with performers and musicians on the promenade or among those soaking up the sun or getting involved in jet-skiing, parasailing, paddleboarding in the shallow, calm water. Clearwater is a quintessential Florida beach and was named by Trip Advisor as Best US Beach in 2018.

Super soft sand, calm clear waters, and charming towns … it's no wonder the Sunshine State can claim to have some of the best beaches in the world.