Blue skies, white sand and clear warm waters: Florida’s east coast beaches routinely deliver on all 3 fronts. Still, no 2 Florida beaches are alike. With a coastline that stretches some 360 miles, the Sunshine’s State’s east coast beaches offer a diverse array of sun-and-sand options. Learn to surf on the gently breaking waves of Cocoa Beach, FL. Head to Florida’s Treasure Coast with a metal detector to scan the sand for pirate booty. Or do the glam thing and check into a jet-set hotel in the tony seaside town of Palm Beach, FL. Come along as we hit these unique beach areas along Florida’s east coast.
Cocoa Beach is best known for its great surfing waves and come-as-you-are vibe, with chill waterfront bars and a fishing pier. For the most pristine beaches, away from the high rise buildings, head to 13th Street South (or Patrick’s Air Force Base), where you’ll find a strip of beach known as “Second Light.” (It’s also where the area’s second traffic light is.) The sand banks, along with sea oats and rolling dunes, create a good beach break in between surfing.
This central stretch of Florida coastline is called the Treasure Coast for good reason; several Spanish galleons from the 1715 Treasure Fleet, lost in a hurricane, have yet to be recovered in these waters just off Vero Beach. Every few years some lucky beachcomber turns up an 18th-century rosary or dazzling emerald in the beach’s coarse, white sand; check out the Mel Fisher’s Treasures for treasure finds. Once you’ve tried your own treasure-hunting luck, relax at The Driftwood Resort, one of the area’s oldest hotels, made almost entirely of natural driftwood from trees and wooden planks that washed ashore. When you’re not soaking up the sun, hit Penelope’s Boutique for handmade jewelry and chic women’s wear and The Laughing Dog Gallery for crafts such as blown glass and metal sculptures.
During the summer, when wealthy denizens of this beach town like Donald Trump and Jimmy Buffet head back north, you’ll find the beaches blissfully uncrowded. Don pastels and khakis for a visit to The Breakers Palm Beach, the historic hotel inspired by 15th-century Italian architecture, where American families such as the Rockefellers and Vanderbilts once vacationed during winter months. Swing by the couture shops lining Worth Avenue (Gucci, Prada, Chanel, Armani, et al) and walk along South Ocean Boulevard to admire the Mediterranean mansions that overlook the Atlantic Ocean.
Atlantic Beach and Neptune Beach are the kinds of places you can blend in like a local. About a 30-minute drive east of downtown Jacksonville, this beach area has just a few low-rise hotels scattered between residential bungalows. It’s all within walking distance of an area called “The Corner,” home to shops, restaurants and bars such as Ragtime Tavern, a Cajun restaurant with a lively bar scene, and First Street Gallery, which showcases paintings and jewelry made by local and national artists. A jaunt through the area makes for a nice break in between peddling a beach cruiser or going for a jog along the wide stretch of sand linking the dunes to the ocean’s edge.
A bold, brash blend of South American sexiness and pure Florida frivolity, Miami Beach is the place for people watching. With the Art Deco facades of Ocean Drive as your backdrop, watch the toned bodies play volleyball and sun themselves bronze. For coffee, hit News Café, a local institution that attracts a mix of beach bums and business types on hiatus. And enjoy cocktails poolside under the impossibly tall palm trees at the Delano South Beach hotel, where you may just spot a celebrity or 2.
Florida’s many beaches are certainly diverse, but one constant remains wherever you go: sunshine, and lots of it. So pack the highest SPF, an umbrella, then hop on US 1 for a beach road trip with a bit of everything.
Based in Cocoa Beach, FL, Terry Ward has written about Florida beaches for publications such as The Washington Post and AOL Travel.