Explore Florida’s best beaches, state parks and islands

Published May 27|Updated Jun. 1

Hernando County

Get a feel for vintage Florida with a trip to Brooksville’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. Weeki Wachee is known for its magical mermaid shows and the clear, crisp waters of Weeki Wachee Springs. Buccaneer Bay, the on-site water park, is open on weekends only and offers water slides and lazy river tubing. Boat tours are also available, and you can make a reservation through Weeki Fresh Water Adventures to kayak down the Weeki Wachee River. Arrive early to avoid lines. floridasadventurecoast.com

Pinellas County

For a piece of paradise, visit the consistently top-ranked Clearwater Beach, an ever-popular coastal destination with plush, soft sands and picturesque views. But there’s more than the shore: evening visitors will enjoy Sunsets at Pier 60, a nightly event held along the beach’s 1080-foot pier, replete with street performers, vendors selling handmade creations, live music and more. Pier 60 is also the perfect place to go fishing, no license needed. Right around the corner is the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, which rescues and nurses all kinds of marine animals back to health. Clearwater Beach is also near a bustling downtown area with places to shop and dine.

Just north of Clearwater Beach lies Caladesi Island State Park, a Gulf Coast gem that can only be reached by boat. Take a leisurely ferry ride over from Honeymoon Island and discover a secluded oasis where you can kayak through a mangrove-laden trail or enjoy a peaceful place to picnic. The park also offers concessions in the form of Cafe Caladesi, which boasts burgers, fish, smoothies and more. Pick up a souvenir at the gift shop, or head to the water to collect beautiful shells as a memento from your trip. floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/caladesi-island-state-park

Rather remain on Honeymoon Island? Stay a while and stroll along over four miles of sprawling white sand. Animal lovers are in for a treat: osprey, armadillos and gopher tortoises call the island home, and your pup can enjoy the dog days of summer, too, when you visit Honeymoon Island’s very own Pet Beach. Go to visitflorida.com/en-us/florida-beaches/dog-friendly.html for a full list of dog-friendly beaches. Bikes and kayaks are available to rent, and you’ll be over the moon when you traverse the miles-long Osprey and Pelican Cove Trails, which wind through a virgin slash pine forest and mangroves, respectively. floridastateparks.org/honeymoonisland

Southwest of St. Petersburg Petersburg is Fort De Soto Park, which extends for a whopping 1,136 acres and consists of five nature-laden keys. Visit the park’s namesake fort or journey to the Quartermaster Storehouse Museum to learn more about its history. pinellascounty.org/park/05_ft_desoto.htm

Sarasota-Manatee County

Further south is Anna Maria Island, a stunning barrier island with an old-Florida feel. Cruise around town in one of the island’s street-legal golf carts, or take a stroll along miles of sandy shore, from Bradenton Beach to Holmes Beach to Bean Point Beach. Arrive early to secure parking. annamariaislandchamber.org

Travel south and discover Longboat Keya coastal community home to Beer Can Island, a remote sand bar with beautiful views. Head south to nearby Lido Key for more fun in the sun. Lido Key has many sites to enjoy, including South Lido Beach, the perfect place for a picnic, birdwatching or canoe adventure. visitsarasota.com

Not far away is the popular Siesta Key Beach, a top-ranked seaside getaway known for its lush, quartz-rich sand. Savor the shore with a variety of engaging activities, from morning yoga sessions on the beach to electric bike tours. Music and dance lovers will enjoy the Siesta Key Drum Circle, a gathering that has been meeting on Sunday nights for decades. visitsarasota.com/siesta-key

Close by is Turtle Beach Campground, a small campsite with direct access to the beach where turtles make their nests from May through October. Head south to Venice Beach, where divers and snorkelers will love exploring the nearby coral reef and those in search of shark teeth are in luck. Artsy types are sure to enjoy the city’s International Chalk Festival, which gives professional artists an opportunity to display intricate works of chalk art on concrete. visitsarasota.com/venice

Beyond

Your last stop is further south and past the Everglades: the breathtaking Florida Keys. Head to Key West to find the Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, a National Historic Monument that you can tour and explore. Bookworms will be delighted to visit the Hemingway Home and Museum where Ernest Hemingway once lived, and those with their sights set on a nature adventure will love the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. fla-keys.com

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