If there’s one thing the Sunshine State is known for, it’s beautiful beaches. With more than 825 miles of sandy coastline to explore, it’s nearly impossible to pick a favorite, but we’ve rounded up some of the best beach towns in Florida, whether you’re looking for an affordable place to live or a vacation straight out of a storybook. Note that while most are small towns, with populations under 30,000 (and many under 10,000), we also included a few larger cities that still hit the mark with their beach-town vibes.
For Picture-perfect Views: Seaside
This small resort destination in northwest Florida was the first New Urbanist community, built in the late 1900s by a visionary named Robert Davis. Its architecture, relaxed pace of life, and bike-friendly streets are everything you’d want from a beach town and more. As you stroll past pastel homes with porches and white picket fences, you might feel as if you’re on the set of a Nicholas Sparks book-turned-movie, but no, this is real-life Seaside.
For a Ritzy Vibe: Palm Beach
With more than 30 billionaires calling Palm Beach home, the eight-square-mile barrier island may seem like the definition of unapproachable, but pay a visit and you’ll find a palm-fringed paradise that’s anything but. While its gorgeous beaches have notoriously frustrating parking facilities and limited public access, off-sand highlights like Worth Avenue, The Royal Poinciana Plaza, and the Flagler Museum are eager to welcome visitors. Book a stay at The Breakers and bike the Lake Trail for the full experience in one of America’s first resort towns.
For Peace and Quiet: Captiva Island
Those seeking a peaceful, breezy sojourn will find what they’re looking for on Captiva Island, Sanibel Island’s charming little sibling. Ripe for shell collecting and getting back to nature, this quiet destination has a downtown village, but the main attractions are walking the beach, golfing, tennis, fishing, and boating. While Sanibel and Captiva are still actively working to recover from September 2022’s devastating Hurricane Ian, the two beloved islands will need the support of visitors to get back on their feet as businesses reopen.
For a Lively Nightlife Scene: South Beach, Miami
No Florida destination combines nightlife and beach life quite as vibrantly as Miami’s South Beach. And though it has a sizable population, South Beach maintains an insular beach town quality, albeit with worldly connections. Whether you go to party all night, soak up the sun, relax in one of the many historic luxury oceanfront hotels, or snap photos of every charming example of art deco architecture you can find, South Beach is a feast for the senses. Just off its famously sandy shores, there’s great shopping along the Lincoln Road Mall and a plethora of celebrity chef eateries.
For the Coolest Views: Cocoa Beach
Plan a beach day at Cocoa Beach and you might be greeted with an unexpected sight: the launch of a rocket from the nearby Kennedy Space Center. Whether it’s a NASA mission or a SpaceX test launch, the regular liftoffs are a sight to behold. While these launches may be visible as far as Orlando, Cocoa Beach provides a veritable front-row seat to the action. Plus, if space exploration piques your interest enough to draw you away from the sand, you can buy tickets to check out the many interactive attractions and view astronaut presentations at the Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island. If you’re seeking “beach with a side of space shuttle,” Cocoa Beach belongs on your itinerary.
For a Family-friendly Getaway: Clearwater Beach
Yes, Clearwater’s population numbers more than 100,000, but locals can confirm this beach haven has a small-town atmosphere. From the many beachfront restaurants and hotels to Pier 60 to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, home of the late “Dolphin Tale” star Winter, it doesn’t get more family-friendly than Clearwater Beach. The stunning white-sand beaches with calm waters perfect for jet skiing, parasailing, and stand-up paddleboarding don’t hurt, either. For the perfect Clearwater day, begin with a morning stroll along the beachfront promenade, spend the afternoon building sandcastles, and end with a sunset celebration at Pier 60, home to a daily festival with street performers and local craft vendors.
For Lots of Charm: Anna Maria Island
Anna Maria Island is one of those places you visit, fall in love, and spend the rest of your life dreaming about moving to eventually. This Gulf Coast barrier island has wide, welcoming beaches, bike trails and trolley stops, and a sweet main street lined with shops, galleries, restaurants, and more. While the island has an old-town feel, you won’t be short of modern conveniences: Check out the Rod and Reel Pier for the perfect introduction to Anna Maria Island.
For Tranquility: Amelia Island
Located in a quiet area of northeast Florida, Amelia Island is actually part of the Sea Islands chain of barrier islands that stretches from Florida to South Carolina along America’s Eastern Seaboard. It’s the perfect beach town if you hope to relax and enjoy the serenity of your surroundings. Along Amelia Island’s 13 miles of beautiful beach, visitors will experience native wildlife, pristine waters, marshland, a slow pace of life, and natural beauty unmatched by any of Florida’s other beach towns. While the island clocks in just under 40,000 residents, more than 10 percent of the place is made up of park preserves, so its tranquil natural beauty feels more prevalent than its residents.
For Star Status: Siesta Key
If Siesta Key wasn’t famous enough for its have-to-feel-it-to-believe-it powdery sand, MTV solidified its celebrity status with the 2017 debut of reality TV show Siesta Key, a Laguna Beach-style saga for the next generation. Whether or not you’re a fan of the show, it’s hard to resist the eight-mile island’s sugar-white sand and stunning blue-green waters — not to mention the shopping, resorts, dining, and nightlife.