Readers Choice
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    Lovers Key State Park
    Ft. Myers

    Every bit as romantic as it sounds, Lovers Key boasts a wedding pavilion on the sands where hundreds get married every year and hundreds more renew their vows on Valentine’s Day. The isolated cluster of islands that make up the park holds unspoiled beaches that birds love as much as sun-worshippers. A tram takes visitors from the parking lot to one of its three beaches, but the walk across estuary to the Gulf of Mexico is a don’t-miss part of the experience.

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    Henderson Beach State Park

    For those who want to experience the white, dunesy beaches of the Panhandle without the ethereal remoteness of some parts of it, Henderson is easily accessible from Destin and offers plenty of creature comforts including camping, a playground and proximity to an adults-only inn. Popular with families, its beaches overlook typically calm Gulf of Mexico waters populated with fish, dolphin and sea turtles.

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    Fort de Soto Park
    Tierra Verde

    Fort de Soto Park's eponymous century-old Spanish-American War fort serves as a centerpiece for the multi-faceted county park with two separate white-sand beaches. The park lies between the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay and is known for its birds and complete facilities, including picnic shelters, two fishing piers, a dog park and concessions. Extensive recreational activities include hiking, biking, kayaking, boat excursions and camping.

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    St. Joseph Peninsula State Park
    Port St. Joe

    Hidden far off the flip-flopped path, St. Joseph Peninsula State Park juts into the Gulf of Mexico to benefit from both gulf and bay water fronts, meaning excellent fishing and birding, and beaches so quiet even the ghost crabs are spooked. The beach flaunts the white sugar sands trademark of Northwest Florida. Clear aqua waters invite swimming and kayaking into the Wilderness Preserve that occupies the park’s west end.

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    Caladesi Island State Park

    Accessible only by boat (although you can sometimes walk across from Clearwater Beach at low tide), Caladesi Island State Park remains lightly populated despite its reputation for plush white sands and unspoiled demeanor. A ferry from nearby Honeymoon Island State Park makes the short trip to Caladesi for sun-lovers, fishermen, nature trail hikers and picnickers. Docks accommodate boat-in visitors, and a playground keeps the kids happy.

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    Pass-a-Grille Beach
    St. Petersburg

    This quirky community south of St. Pete Beach has a renegade history of rum- and drug-smuggling. Today, its public beach welcomes families with expansive widths of sand, a gradually sloping sea bottom and mellow Gulf of Mexico waves. A number of restaurants and bars lie on the beach or a few steps away. The beachy town has an artistic verve with a string of galleries and shops along Eighth Avenue, the main drag just off the beach.

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    The most easily accessible beach along the Space Coast’s undeveloped Canaveral National Seashore, it nonetheless requires a drive through the wildlife refuge and gorgeous sand dunes that buffer the NASA space complex to the south, which you can see in the distance. A number of parking lots accommodate sun buffs, surfers and nature lovers. Bathrooms are the only facilities.

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    Siesta Beach
    Siesta Key

    For decades, Siesta Key has been winning awards for whitest and softest sand in the world. The thick carpet of sand is made up of quartz crystals that wash down from North Florida beaches. Siesta Key Beach is a wonderland of the pearlescent sand, as popular with couples as with families for its recreational facilities – from volleyball to soccer -- and gorgeous sunsets.

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    Clearwater Beach

    Pier 60 anchors the island’s main beach and is the site of a nightly sunset celebration hailed with musical performances and artisan vendors. Roomy and cushy, Clearwater Beach is part of a recent $30 million Beach Walk renovation project that makes the beachfront modern and thoroughly pedestrian friendly. A cool playground, shops, great restaurants, fine resorts and volleyball courts: Everything is convenient to this urban beach.

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    Gulf Islands National Seashore

    Undulating with the Panhandle’s patent dunes of talcum sands, this continuum of platinum sandscape feels otherworldly and primitive. It stretches from Perdido Key on the state’s westernmost waterfront and continues at Pensacola Beach’s Fort Pickens National Park and the Santa Rosa Area – the most secluded. Crossovers take visitors from parking to the emerald green waters of the Gulf of Mexico. There’s just nowhere quite like it in the world for swimming, birding, camping, fishing and exploring history and nature.

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