10 Stunning Florida Keys You Don't Know About
You’ll want to add these picturesque islands to your Florida vacation wish list.
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No trip to Miami is complete without a side trip across the Rickenbacker Causeway to Key Biscayne. Wander idyllic, sunny beaches, as well as two major parks that bookend Key Biscayne — Crandon Park to the north and Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park to the south. Climb 109 steps for 360-degree views at Cape Florida Lighthouse, one of Key Biscayne’s most notable sites. Kids will love the dolphin shows and underwater reef aquariums at the Miami Seaquarium. Stay the night right on the beach at the luxurious Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne.
Siesta Key is renowned for its powder-soft quartz sand beaches, including award-winning Siesta Beach, which ranked number one this year on Dr. Beach’s annual list of the best beaches in America. A stone’s throw from Sarasota, shop the colorful boutiques in Siesta Key Village and sample oysters on the half shell at Siesta Key Oyster Bar, a favorite with locals who call it "SKOB." Explore the eight-mile-long barrier island by bike, stand-up paddleboard or kayak, then head back over the bridge to settle in for the night at the Hyatt Regency Sarasota.
In Manasota Key, located in Florida’s Charlotte Harbor area, the waves wash up colorful shells, sand dollars, even shark teeth. Swim in the clear, even emerald-tinted, waters and hike at Stump Pass Beach State Park on the southern tip of the Key. Take to the sky for parasailing and keep your eyes peeled for dolphins and manatees in the crystal-clear waters. Later, go for a paddle at Lemon Bay where sea turtles are known to swim and sun. Book a stay in an adorable cottage at the Manasota Beach Club.
Just west of Pensacola on the Florida Panhandle, Perdido Key offers white sandy beaches and sensational views of the brilliant green-blue waters. Here you’ll find some of the best fishing on the Gulf Coast, so plan to rent a fishing pole or bring your own to cast a line in the surf. Once you’ve had your fill of sun and sand, visit the National Naval Aviation Museum, one of the most popular museums in Florida. On Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, keep your eyes on the skies to see the Blue Angels practice. Stay nearby at the colorful Margaritaville Beach Hotel.
Boca Chita Key
Boca Chita Key is one of several small islands that make up Biscayne National Park in South Florida. It’s also the most-visited island in the park, boasting a historic lighthouse that dates back to the 1930s. Book a half- or full-day boat tour with Biscayne National Park Institute that includes sailing, paddling and snorkeling, as well as hiking on the loop trail around Boca Chita Key. Pitch a tent at the campground or head back to the mainland for free wi-fi and a hot shower at the Courtyard Miami Homestead.
Lovers Key State Park in Southwest Florida is home to manatees, bottlenose dolphins, marsh rabbits and bald eagles, even alligators. Just north of Naples, Lovers Key is a sheller’s paradise at low tide when sand dollars and multi-colored shells are plentiful along this pristine 2.5-mile stretch of beach. Rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard for the afternoon, then settle in at nearby Lovers Key Resort, an all-suite property with full kitchens, bright living spaces and incredible views of Lovers Key State Park and the Gulf of Mexico.
Lido Key lies just west of Sarasota and is home to Lido Key Beach, one of Florida’s most pristine beaches. Spend the day deep-sea fishing or simply relax with a book and a beach chaise. In the evening, take a stroll around St. Armands Circle, home to upscale boutiques, ice cream shops and fantastic seafood restaurants, then traipse back to the beach for a delightful west coast sunset. Book a stay at Sandcastle Resort at Lido Beach, a quiet, family-friendly hotel with a private white sandy beach, movie nights and shuffleboard.
Tucked away on Florida’s Gulf Coast is delightful Cedar Key. Known for its Old Florida charm, this historic small town is lined with eclectic boutique shops and tummy-tempting seafood restaurants, like Steamers Clam Bar & Grill. Cedar Key is also home to a thriving arts community, so plan to pop into galleries across town. Book a stay at the refreshingly minty Cedar Key Bed & Breakfast. Nestled among towering oak trees and lush tropical greenery, this charming inn’s wrap-around porch is nearly as inviting as its bottomless cookie jar.
Just over the bridge from Clearwater, Sand Key stretches 14 miles from Sand Key to John’s Pass. Go for fishing at Madeira Beach, the self-proclaimed Grouper Capital of the World. Dolphin-watching and shell-hunting boat cruises are also popular thanks to warm, crystal-clear waters. Between May and October, sea turtles come ashore to lay 100 to 150 eggs at a time. Staff and volunteers at nearby Clearwater Marine Aquarium patrol the beaches before sunrise to mark nests and collect data. Stay the night at the stylishly retro Belleair Beach Resort Motel.
Egmont Key State Park, near St. Petersburg, is rich in cultural and natural history, including a lighthouse that was built in 1858. Accessible only by private boat or public ferry from Fort De Soto Park, a sail to Egmont Key is worth the effort to explore decommissioned forts, garrisons and jails that date back to the mid-1800s. The largest is Fort Dade, which was in use until 1923. Pitch a tent at the well-kept campground at Fort De Soto Park or book a room at the Sirata Beach Resort, which sits right on St. Pete Beach.