Florida’s coastline and inner state are full of natural splendor and exciting attractions. The Sunshine State’s gorgeous white beaches, fantastic theme parks, and fabulous state parks are more than enough to fill up any traveler’s itinerary.
As if that wasn’t enough, the state also boasts a ton of islands and keys that deserve attention, especially if you want to experience some of the best beach destinations Florida has to offer.
Florida features 4,510 islands, which makes it quite difficult to narrow them down to fit the average itinerary. Each island and key has its very own flavor and exciting activities to offer, but if you were to ask us, these are the best islands in Florida to consider visiting!
The Best Islands and Keys in Florida
Located 35 miles from Jacksonville, Amelia is a barrier island that hosts the perfect mix of beautiful beaches, historical sites, and southern small-town charm. With 13 miles of wide, white-sand beaches, Amelia Island is a great destination for you to enjoy some beach fun and relaxation.
Amelia is also home to the oldest hotel in Florida, the Florida House Inn built-in 1857. The historic Fernandina downtown is a Victorian-style seaport that brims with tons of quaint shops, art displays, and restaurants, making a visit to Amelia Island feel as though you traveled back in time to Old Florida.
Siesta Key lies a mere 7 miles from Sarasota on the Gulf of Mexico. This island is famous for its pure white-sand beaches, which are ideal for leisure and water sports.
Bird watchers will enjoy the huge variety of feathered creatures that hover over the eight-mile-long island. If you are into snorkeling, Crescent Beach is ideal, while Turtle Beach is, as the name suggests, a turtle nesting area, so you’ll love it if you’re into wildlife viewing and tend to avoid crowds.
Matlacha Island is one of the most picturesque destinations in Florida. This laid-back island has an unparalleled small-town charm which makes it one of the happiest places in the state.
The only road in town is lined by colorful fishermen-style shacks painted with the liveliest colors and enhanced with kitsch decor. Think polka-dotted dolphins, decorated bicycles, and stuffed bears to get a picture of what we mean. Inside, you’ll find restaurants, bars, shops, and art galleries.
The story of how this small island in southwest Florida got so much color is quite interesting too. During the 1990s, commercial fishing suffered severe losses. Matlacha residents decided to take their destiny into their own hands and literally went out with buckets of paint to turn their fishing village into a funky tropical tourist attraction. Today, the island is a cute spot where you can lounge at the beach, fish, and enjoy delicious seafood!
Big Talbot Island
Located 28 miles northeast of Jacksonville, Big Talbot Island is a unique spot that harbors one of the quirkiest beaches in Florida. Boneyard Beach got its name because of the bleached oak tree skeletons that dot the shoreline, half-buried in the sand.
Although it’s not the best beach for swimming, it’s great for hiking, paddling, and snapping some pictures of the odd landscape.
Key West is the southernmost city in the continental US and the last of the Florida Keys. It is also a fabulous vacation destination for gorgeous beaches, coral reefs, and a relaxed vibe.
Besides offering a smorgasbord of beach fun and relaxation opportunities, a killer restaurant and nightlife scene, and great shopping options, Key West also has a few historical sites that are worth paying a visit.
Head to the Ernest Hemingway House, the Key West Shipwreck History Museum, Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, and the Key West Lighthouse to learn about the important role the key had in events like the Civil War due to its strategic location.
Merritt Island is mostly famous for harboring NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, an incredible landmark where you can learn about the history of space exploration by way of exhibits, lectures, flight simulators, and other super cool attractions. If you’re lucky, you might even get to meet an astronaut or even witness a shuttle launch if you time your visit right.
There is more to Merrit Island than NASA and space-related activities, though. The island has pretty beaches as well as a wildlife refuge where you can view manatees from an observation deck, fish, and hike a few trails.
Gasparilla Island is a quintessential Florida island famous for harboring the upscale Boca Grande luxury residential area. This was a favorite vacation destination for wealthy socialite families like the Vanderbilts and the Duponts.
Gasparilla is a dream come true for fishing aficionados who revel in a water pass known as the Tarpon capital of the world. If, on the other hand, you’re a history buff, you’ll love the Boca Grande Lighthouse, which was built in 1890.
Located only 30 miles off the Fort Myers Coast, Sanibel Island is famed for its low-key vibe and unspoiled beaches which are full of shells.
Because of the island’s west-to-east development, both the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico wash in thousands of shells every day, which makes it a favorite beach getaway for kids and shell lovers. They even have a shell museum, the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, where you can learn about shells and marine biology.
Sanibel offers a myriad of outdoor adventures. With 15 miles of unspoiled beaches, 25 miles of biking path, and excellent hiking trails, there is plenty of room for swimming, snorkeling, fishing, hiking, biking, and birdwatching. For golf players, there are golf courses available too.
A visit to both the Darling National Wildlife Refuge and the Sanibel Island Lighthouse is much recommended. If you want to venture further to explore other locations not far from Sanibel, head to Captiva Island, Cayo Costa, Pine Island, and Matlacha Island.
Featuring two gorgeous public beaches and being only 80 miles from Everglades National Park, Marco Island is a fantastic destination that offers you the opportunity to mix and match some of the best that Florida has to offer.
The shallow waters of Tigertail Beach will let you wade across the lagoon to Sand Dollar Island, while you can fish or book a canoe trip in Briggs Nature Center. For a quirky touch, check the white dome houses that stand on stilts in the water at the southern tip of the island.
Have you ever traveled to an idyllic island in Florida? Which one did you enjoy the most or which one has a place on your Florida bucket list?