Few people will ever have a private island to call their own, but a visit to any of these best-kept-secret Florida strands can afford any of us the illusion, if briefly. For nature lovers, unspoiled sanctuaries like Blowing Rocks Preserve are pure heaven. For sand and surf aficionados, few shorelines surpass the blinding bliss of Santa Rosa Beach or St. Pete's Pass-A-Grille.
Even the beaches of nearby Clearwater have nothing on Caladesi, an atoll accessible only by ferry or private boat. Want paved roads? Look elsewhere. Caladesi Island (also a state park) boasts three miles of truly unspoiled beaches. You can bring your own chair, umbrella and lunch or pack light and get it from the on-site purveyor.
Blowing Rocks Preserve
Not many Floridians even know about Blowing Rocks, and the inhabitants probably like it that way. With a look better suited to the jagged coastline of northern California, this pristine Hobe Sound sanctuary is best viewed at high tide for its aquatic spectacle, but makes a lovely place for nature lovers to explore the nooks of its dramatic limestone shelf.
Vero Beach is the most formidable gem on Atlantic Florida's Treasure Coast. A sleepier strand than its neighbors to the north and south, Vero is no less alluring and its location in the heart of the Indian River Lagoon makes it home to some phenomenal flat-water kayaking.
Santa Rosa Beach
Is this the Bahamas? Nope. These turquoise swells come courtesy of Northwest Florida's Emerald Coast, home of Santa Rosa Beach. With a shoreline this hypnotic, you probably won't stray, but just in case, you might want to check out Santa Rosa's upscale artists' enclave of Gulf Place.
One visit to this Palm Beach County enclave and you'll feel light years from work and worry. Plus, you can bring Fido. Jupiter is home to one of the few remaining dog beaches left in Florida - but fear not, the pups are only allotted about a mile's worth of sugary sand. The rest is for two-legged sunbathers.
Named for the pirate Jose Gaspar, this beautiful barrier island is home to Boca Grande. Spring Breakers 'round here come in the form of migrating wildlife, vagabonds who fall in with regulars like manatees, dolphins, pelicans and osprey. Epic tarpon fishing is among Gasparilla's lures.
Another of the Gulf Coast's barrier islands, for years Lover's Key was only accessible by boat. Today, it's one-fourth of a state park, home to a resort and an enduring haven for couples in pursuit of blissful isolation.
Anna Maria Beach
Worlds away from popular neighboring Siesta Key, the white sands of Anna Maria are for peaceful lolling, not people-watching. There's nary a volleyball net or parasail boat in sight. And that's just the way its proponents like it. Pack a small cooler, bring a beach read and plant yourself.
It's minutes from the spoils of downtown St. Pete, steps from the opulence of grand dames like the Loews Don CeSar Beach Hotel, and yet Pass-A-Grille, with its powdery sand and laid-back vibe is the rapturous "World's End" of Tampa-area beaches. Parking is cheap. Refreshments are plentiful. And sunsets are free.
Naples and Marco Island locals would prefer it stay hush-hush, but we're outing Tigertail. North of the hotel zone, it's a bit of a stroll from the parking area but perseverance is rewarded with isolation, unspoiled beauty and two beaches in one. Enjoy the lagoon or make your way across to the beach for gorgeous Gulf access.