Photograph by Steven Martine, National Geographic Travel
All along Florida’s roughly 1,200 miles of coastline are pockets of pristine beachfront, plus offshore islands and keys, where locals go to get away from it all. If your vision of a perfect beach day includes powder-white sand and space to spread out without another soul in sight, check out these unspoiled gems.
Blowing Rocks Preserve, Hobe Sound
If you time it right, you may witness the saltwater eruptions that gave this barrier island sanctuary its name. During intense high tides and following winter storms, the surf can crash against the limestone shoreline, sending geyser-like columns of water up to 50 feet into the air. Even if the waves aren’t particularly fierce, Blowing Rocks Preserve is worth a visit for the solitude; the surf-worn, exposed rock; and the opportunity to experience an intact Florida dune habitat. Collaborative efforts have helped restore Blowing Rocks’s mangrove wetlands, natural dunes, and native vegetation such as beach sunflower, gumbo limbo trees, and sea oats. This isn’t an ideal swimming beach due to the rocks and lack of lifeguard, but there’s plenty else to do. Hike the winding sea grape path connecting the hardwood hammock to the beach dune; look for rare loggerhead, green, and leatherback sea turtles; and, at high tide, snorkel among the underwater rocks and worm-rock offshore reefs to see schools of brightly colored fish and, if you’re lucky, a sea turtle.
Caladesi Island State Park, Caladesi Island
You can’t drive to Caladesi Island State Park, which is one big reason why the park’s white-sand beach is pristine and, on most days, sparsely populated. “This is one of the last unspoiled barrier islands on Florida’s west coast,” says park manager Peter Krulder. “Our beach is nearly three miles long, so you have plenty of opportunity for solitude.” Catch the Caladesi Ferry at Honeymoon Island State Park.
Canaveral National Seashore, Volusia and Brevard County
With 57,000 total acres of dune, scrub, hardwood hammock, and marine estuary, Canaveral National Seashore is the largest undisturbed stretch of coastline on the east coast of Florida. With 24 miles of beach in both Volusia and Brevard Counties, finding your own private beach is possible even on busy summer weekends, says Laura E. Henning, Canaveral National Seashore chief of interpretation and visitor services. “This is an old Florida beach experience, however, so bring everything you need,” she adds. “There are no concessions, and most of the beach does not have water or electricity.”
Egmont Key State Park and National Wildlife Refuge, Egmont Key
Board the Egmont Key ferry at Fort de Soto Park, and in only 10 to 15 minutes you’ll think you’re a world away on a deserted, and somewhat eerie, island. Strategically located at the mouth of Tampa Bay, Egmont Key was used during the Civil, Seminole, and Spanish-American Wars. It was before the latter war that the United States Army Fort Dade Military Reservation was built (active from 1898 to 1923). A brick carriage road and other remnants of the old fort remain, as does the lighthouse built in 1858 and still operating today. Besides the historic structures, the island is undeveloped, meaning no restrooms, running water, or food. Since getting there requires a private boat or ferry ride, Egmont Key’s beaches are rarely crowded. They are eroding, however, a process slowed temporarily by a 2014 channel dredging project that pumped sand onto the northern and western shores.
Fun Fact: The southern end of Egmont Key, which is closed to the public, is a 97-acre bird-nesting sanctuary protecting nesting brown pelicans; royal, sandwich, and least terns; and laughing gulls, black skimmers, and shorebirds such as oystercatchers.
Best Bet: On Caladesi Island, rent a kayak at Café Caladesi to paddle the kayak trail through mangrove tunnels and into the Gulf of Mexico.
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