Florida's most romantic beaches

(USATODAY.com) - There's no doubt that Florida is blessed with a slew of beautiful beaches packed with unspoiled dunes, coastal woodlands and tidal streams, all offering a rich habitat for loads of wildlife and photo-worthy backdrops galore. But which ones are best for couples looking for a romantic getaway? Here are a few we think you'll love.

Amelia Island

For most, an uncrowded beach is the key to a romantic getaway. Peace and quiet. Just the gentle roll of the waves. If that is your cup of tea, well, Amelia Island delivers. Not to mention, this is one of the only beaches on Florida's east coast that allows horseback riding on its golden sands. Choose sunrise or sunset, they are equally romantic. If you're up for a marshmallow-roasting session, the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort does beach bonfires nightly from June through August.

Nearby, you can also sign up for a kayaking tour of the salt marshes. This is where the wildlife shows up. You've got everything from microscopic, single-celled, planktonic plants to dolphins and manatees. The usual cast of characters includes osprey, great blue herons, great egrets, snowy egrets and even the occasional bald eagle (especially in the fall and winter months). Plus, all sorts of fish, crabs, stingrays and oysters, too. Kayak Amelia does firefly tours in the spring each year. For just a few weeks, lightning bugs gather here by the thousands. You'll paddle to this special place at sunset and then walk the trail. As it gets darker and darker all the chatter of the group gets quieter and then all you hear are oohs and aahs. In other words, it's pretty darn magical. ameliaisland.com

Vilano Beach

There's just something about St. Augustine and its surrounding beaches. The mix of Colonial-city charm and breezy beach town vibe makes for the perfect combo. About two miles from St. Augustine is Vilano Beach, which is connected to the ocean and to the Intracoastal Waterway, which makes it great for fishing and for general beach lounging.

For an ideal picnic spot, grab a table at the Vilano Beach Pier. Here, you'll have dreamy views of downtown St. Augustine, the Castillo de San Marcos and the 208-foot cross of the Mission of Nombre de Dios. Better yet, if you're there on the first Saturday of the month, there's a Sunset Celebration in the golden hours leading up to sunset at the Vilano Beach Pier. There's live music and perhaps a pirate or two. In the evening, shake the sand off your towels and head into town for a horse-drawn carriage ride through the narrow cobblestone streets for views of enchanting Spanish-style castles, Mediterranean revival-style architecture and adorable shops. floridashistoriccoast.com

Lovers Key State Park

According to experts, in the early 1900s Lovers Key, between Fort Myers Beach and Bonita Beach, was accessible only by boat. It was said that only lovers made the extra effort to get to this romantic island, and so it became known as Lovers Key. If the name has anything to do with it, this Gulf Coast island, one of four barrier islands, will spark romance in a heartbeat. Visually stunning and environmentally pristine, it comes as no surprise that this is one of Florida's most visited parks.

While it is a popular stretch of beach, there are plenty of tucked-away spots where you will feel like you own the place. Active couples will enjoy renting bicycles. In fact, there are more than five miles of bike trails, including the Black Island Trail, which winds through a peaceful, maritime hammock. Or skim across miles of waterways that lead to several uninhabited islands through the park. On Estero Bay, the state's first aquatic preserve, you are almost guaranteed to spot some wildlife, including West Indian manatees, roseate spoonbills, marsh rabbits and bald eagles. Come sunset, snuggle up on a blanket on the beach. floridastateparks.org/loverskey

Little Torch Key

For full-blown seclusion, try Little Torch Key in the Florida Keys. This private, 5-acre island is romantic to the nth degree. In fact, the only way to get there is by boat or seaplane. Better yet, it's home to only one resort, Little Palm Island Resort & Spa. Settle in to one of the 15 thatched-roof bungalows where there are no TVs or phones in sight. In other words, you have no choice but to relax. Then, dig your toes into the sand while you dine by the sea and take a dip in the calm ocean while keeping an eye out for dolphins. Don't forget to order a Gumby Slumber, a refreshing cocktail made with delightful juices and garnished with fresh coconut. Come evening, head back to your room where you can rinse off in the outdoor shower and watch the sunset on your private verandah. littlepalmisland.com

Siesta Key Beach

Siesta Key, an eight-mile-long barrier island near Sarasota, is nestled along Florida's Gulf Coast. It has a certain irresistible charm, and the silky, white sand, no doubt, has a whole lot to do with that. Made up of 99% quartz, the fine sand feels like flour to the touch and never gets too hot no matter how high the outside temps may soar.

Siesta Key certainly has a lot going for it. It hit the jackpot when it comes to nearly perfect sand. That's why it keeps winning awards over and over. Even nearby beaches don't compare because their sand is much coarser and darker. Plus, it typically has a cool gulf breeze and the turquoise waters tend to be calm.

Challenge your loved one to a game of beach volleyball, retreat to the tranquil ocean or dance to the beat of the Drum Circle held every Sunday. Sunsets, of course, make the perfect date. Take a stroll at dusk and keep your eyes peeled for dolphins popping out of the water. And pick up wine and cheese at nearby Crescent Beach Grocery or Morton's Gourmet Market. www.visitsarasota.org/beaches-places/siesta-key


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