Florida Island Vacations
When most travelers hear "Florida islands," they immediately imagine the crowded Florida Keys, the likely destination for most visitors seeking an island getaway in the balmy Sunshine State. But Florida's 1,197 miles of coastline is also home to a seemingly endless number of charming barrier islands that remain blissfully peaceful and haven't succumbed to throngs of tourists or high-rise real estate development. Enjoy a respite on one of Florida's "other" islands; we've selected our 5 favorite Florida island vacations.
Anna Maria Island
You'll want to join the locals at Anna Maria's wide, sandy shores, such as Bradenton Beach or Bean Point; it's easy to explore the various beaches via the island's complimentary trolley. Kayakers, boaters and windsurfers will likely convene with other like-minded outdoors lovers at Palma Sola Causeway Beach. Whether you're an Old Salty Dog who loves fishing or you could care less about baiting a hook, plan to hit the island's Rod & Reel Pier, a fishing hot spot marked by a budget-friendly seafood restaurant at the pier's end.
Sanibel & Captiva Islands
Instead you can blissfully stroll through the island's charming main street, while under a shady sheath of palm tree fronds. The island's shell-strewn beaches are stunning: Among the more popular is Turner Beach, which faces west and is a delightful place to watch the sunset. If searching for seashells by the seashore gets dull, visit the J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, which you can explore by bike, foot, canoe or kayak.
While you'll likely lie on the soft, sandy beach or hit the calm, turquoise water to kayak or windsurf, you might also be tempted to hike Key Biscayne's many nature trails or tour the park property or visitor's center. Though the island is mostly residential, it does boast a handful of accommodations, including the stellar Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne, where high-end room amenities, multiple restaurants, a luxury spa and a prime, beachfront location make it one of South Florida's most desirable properties.
Gasparilla is an outdoor lover's paradise: The island is rich with opportunities for snorkeling, swimming, fishing and nature hiking. Since 1913, discerning travelers to the island have lodged at the Gasparilla Inn & Club, a 137-room resort featuring its own golf course and spa. Plan at least an afternoon to explore the beach near its iconic lighthouse, a particularly good place to go shelling during winter months.
Once you've had your fix of basking in the sun, spend quality time wandering through Fernandina Beach. History buffs will find plenty to admire in the Victorian, Italianate and Queen Anne-style homes that line the town's streets, while shoppers and foodies will be ecstatic to discover an array of delightful boutique shops and eclectic restaurants. Island accommodations suit all manner of travelers and tastes, from swanky beachfront resorts, like the Omni Amelia Island Plantation (which reopens in spring 2013, following an $85 million-renovation), to homey bed-and-breakfasts in the heart of the historic center.