Escape to the Islands!
When you really want to get away, escape to one of Florida’s beautiful islands. From the Panhandle down to the Gulf Coast and all along the Atlantic Coast, Florida has numerous islands that dot its bays, Gulf, and ocean, each with its own character and community. While there are too many islands to list, we have chosen our top picks to guarantee a great getaway, from historic communities and nature-centered beach towns to secluded golf destinations and hidden gems. While we have not included the famous Florida Keys, we want to spotlight some of the most idyllic islands that you just need to visit!
In the Panhandle
Santa Rosa Island
Found on the 26-mile stretch of Northwest Florida’s famed Emerald Coast, Santa Rosa Island offers several beach communities for visitors, each with its own unique draw. Santa Rosa Beach, founded in 1910, provides a perfect blend of old and new: historic architecture houses modern restaurants and boutiques, and arts and culture surround you. Throughout the island, you can enjoy the breathtaking scenery of Northwest Florida nature with pristine parks, rich forests and rare coastal dune lakes all intertwined by a series of trails. Deer Lake State Park offers Southern magnolias, golden asters, woody goldenrod, and scrub oaks can be seen in a coastal dune habitat, with a boardwalk across the dunes providing easy access to the beach. Local history and nature beautifully intertwine at Eden Gardens State Park, which features the historic Wesley house and ancient oak trees. Stop by for a guided tour of the home or walk through the gardens to learn about South Walton plant and wildlife species. And there are always special ways to explore nature thanks to plenty of adventure outfitters, from pushing yourself along the water on a paddleboard from YOLO Adventures Sandestin, to exploring the acreage of Point Washington State Park on horseback with Arnett's Gulfside Farm & Stables. Accommodations vary, from magnificent beach rentals like the Sea-Esta Luxurious Designer Home in Seagrove, to charming beach bungalows like Summer Breeze Bohemian Beach Bungalow in Miramar Beach.
The sister island of Santa Rosa, Okaloosa Island is full of water adventures! Surrounded by Santa Rosa Sound, Choctawhatchee Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, there’s plenty of fun to be had on the waves. Love to relax? Rent a pontoon boat from Crab Island Watersports, and spend your time laying out in the sunshine. Does your family love adventure? Try Banana Boat Rides in nearby Destin Harbor. Want to see some friendly dolphins? Visit Gulfarium Marine Adventure in Fort Walton Beach, where you can snorkel with stingrays and sharks, feed penguins and watch otters play - and don’t forget the dolphin shows and special dolphin encounters! Become a VIP trainer and work side-by-side with the staff to learn what it takes to train and care for marine mammals, and don’t leave with a sweet kiss from a seal! Speaking of family trips, there are plenty of family-friendly accommodations on Okaloosa. El Matador sits at the end of the island, overlooking the water, and offers one and two bedroom condo rentals that come equipped with all the comforts of home. Enjoy being just steps from the beach, or take a dip in one of the swimming pools.
St. George Island
Located just off North Florida's Gulf Coast, the 28-mile St. George Island is one of the last inhabited, yet unspoiled, barrier islands in Florida. St. George Island consistently rates as one of the top beaches in the U.S., with miles of uncrowded expanses for sunning and shelling, clear Gulf waters for swimming and fishing, and pristine marshes for wildlife viewing. When visiting here, don’t leave your pet pal at home - this is area is well known for being pet-friendly! St. George Island State Park allows leashed pets in the campground, the nature trails, and on the paved surfaces throughout the park. The island itself is protected by low-density zoning and strict building codes, making it purely an island community with no high-rises or chain stores. Stay in one of the island inns, or consider a vacation rental - several, like Collins Vacation Rentals, are pet-friendly. Collins has been a vacation destination on St. George since 1973, and they provide a wide variety of rentals from luxurious five to seven bedroom beach homes, to beach bungalows and townhomes. floridasforgottencoast.com
On the Gulf Coast
While just a short drive from the bustling urban environments of Tampa and St. Petersburg, Treasure Island is an ideal beach destination, with expansive beaches made of sugary white sand and warm, gentle Gulf waves. A recently-renovated beach walk lines the sands, perfect for making your way to nearby beach bars, restaurants, and shops. You could certainly lay out in the sun all day, but we recommend checking out the local watersports like parasailing, boating, and Jet Skiing. Having long been a beach vacation destination, Treasure Island has a charming collection of classic hotels and vacation rentals that are interspersed with luxurious resorts. The Thunderbird Beach Resort is a beachfront hotel and historic landmark, and has been a beachfront favorite since 1957. While the their retro neon Thunderbird sign still presides over the resort, the rooms themselves have been updated and include all the modern amenities. In the pool area is the Ikki Woo Woo’s Tiki Hut beach bar with live music and entertainment just about every day.
Anna Maria Island
A short drive from the bustling cities of Bradenton and Sarasota, Anna Maria Island is a classic, quiet, and laid-back island destination that has been a hidden gem of the Gulf Coast for many years. A seven-mile strip of beautiful white-sand beaches line the barrier island of Anna Maria Island between the turquoise Gulf of Mexico and peninsular Florida. Tall trees sway in the Gulf breezes, and much of the island’s natural beauty has been preserved to create a connection to nature that is often missed in other vacation destinations. Small beach communities are dotted throughout the island, offering boutique and specialty shops and delightful cafes and seafood restaurants. While relaxing on the beach is the primary activity here, it is a charming experience to explore the island by bike. Beach Bums, located at the northern end of the island, lets you pedal along in style, with cute and colorful bikes and trikes, as well as tagalong attachments for children who can’t pedal themselves. Don’t feel like doing all the legwork? Bop around the island on one of Beach Bums’ street-legal golf carts! Many of Anna Maria’s beach houses and bungalows have been converted into unique vacation rentals, allowing you to create a home-away-from-home experience like no other! Palm Isle Village is a collection of cottages all situated around a private, tropical pool.
Adjacent to Anna Maria Island and Lido Key, Longboat Key is only accessible through its sister islands - making it incredibly private for those who like a complete getaway. With all-inclusive resorts, vacation homes, shops, restaurants, parks and grocery stores, you could spend every day on the island without ever having to leave! Longboat is known to its residents and returning visitors for its championship golf courses at the Longboat Key Club. Consistently rated among the country's finest golf courses, The Resort at Longboat Key Club has earned Golf Digest's prestigious "Best Places to Play" award and continues to serve as Florida's premier golf resort. Test your skills on 45 challenging holes including the tree-lined Harbourside Golf Course that runs along Sarasota Bay and Links of Longboat Course that borders the Gulf of Mexico. Hotel guests can enjoy discounted fees on the course.
A quick scenic drive over the Ringling Bridge from downtown Sarasota, Lido Key is always bustling with beachgoers and village activities. It shopping and dining attractions are anchored in St. Armands Circle, a rotunda of boutiques, specialty stores, cafes, restaurants, bars, and more whose walkways are interspersed with statues and tropical foliage. In the Circle’s center is a park area, which hosts many events throughout the year like art festivals and classic car shows. Take a stroll away from the Circle and you’ll find yourself at the beach, with its expanse of white sand and gentle Gulf waves. At the end of Lido Key is Ken Thompson Park, which combines a beach area on the Gulf side, beach area on the bay side with a picturesque view of downtown Sarasota, and even a shaded playground for children. This exciting yet elegant island escape offers a variety of accommodations, including beautiful hotels on the beachfront with breathtaking views of the water. Lido Beach Resort stands right on the beach, letting you walk straight from your room to the sand. Take a dip in the Gulf or in one of the resort pools. Each of the 222 spacious guest rooms are designed as island-inspired retreats, equipped with stocked kitchens or kitchenettes, and private balconies. Don’t miss grabbing a refreshing drink at their outdoor Tiki Bar!
Anyone visiting the Bradenton-Sarasota area must make a trip to Siesta Key, one of the most iconic Gulf Coast island getaways. Its beach, Siesta Public Beach, is so stunningly beautiful that it has one numerous awards, including the nation’s best - more than once! Huge expanses of powdery white sand will squeak beneath your feet, and a slight gradient from beach to waves makes it perfect for wading and for small children. The kids will also enjoy the new playground located at one of the two recently-renovated beach facilities, which include concessions. This beach is surrounded by all kinds of accommodations, and is just a short walk or bicycle ride from Siesta Village. The Village is packed with shops, ice cream stores, grocery stores, gift shops, and of course, restaurants. The Village also hosts a Farmer’s Market on Sundays, as well as art shows throughout the year. Siesta Key itself is quite a long island, but don’t worry about getting around! The Siesta Breeze trolleys can cart you around the island - for free - every day of the week from 8 a.m. to midnight. Not only does Siesta offer the traditional island accommodations like hotels and cottage rentals, it also takes things to the next level with luxurious vacation home rentals, for those who like to vacation in style. Siesta Key Luxury Rental Properties can help you find the perfect location for your stay, from gorgeously renovated homes and condos to duplexes, all with top-notch amenities like resort-style pools, new appliances, and even pet-friendly options!
In Southwest Florida, you’ll find one of the most classic island getaways on the Gulf Coast: Gasparilla Island. Its primary community, Boca Grande, gained popularity around the turn of the 20th century, and has remained an affluent area that has been enjoyed by residents and visitors for generations. Its Old Florida charm reminds one of the estates of the South, with lots of tall oaks and banyans covered in Spanish moss, elegant architecture with columns and expansive front porches, and a laid-back pace. The beaches here are ideal for laying out, shelling, and long, scenic walks - particularly at the end of the island, where you can find the stately Boca Grande Lighthouse and Museum. From Gasparilla, it’s a short boat ride to another island: Cayo Costa, a small barrier island popular for its seclusion (you can only get there by boat) and excellent fishing. Endless Summer Charters can get you over to Cayo Costa, and even equip you for your fishing excursion. When it comes to accommodations, there is one at the forefront of the mind of anyone has visited here before: the Gasparilla Inn & Club, built in 1911 and meticulously maintained to preserve its elegance. Accommodations at this resort range from rooms at the inn, to cottages, and their brand new Sharp Houses. Wherever you choose to stay will be decorated in a cheerful island style, and comes with great amenities and first-class service. The main attraction here is the golf course; designed by the renowned Pete Dye, there are water views from every hole, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico and Charlotte Harbor. Many golf lovers, including presidents, have come to enjoy the island-within-an-island course.
Sanibel and Captiva Islands
The sister islands of Sanibel and Captiva are located across the mainland from busy Fort Myers. Though you usually visit one if you’re visiting the other, each of these two islands have their own distinct atmosphere. Sanibel is known for its shell-strewn beaches, created by a very specific geographical phenomenon that allows the many beautiful shells to wash up its shores, most intact and all colorful and unique. Sanibel is also intent on preserving its lush tropical foliage, with little shops, cottages, and inns tucked between. It slow pace and many bike paths make it ideal for biking around. Billy’s Bike Rentals, located on the popular Periwinkle Way, offers bike and Segway rentals and bike repairs so you can wheel around with ease. Wheel your way over to the Baileys-Matthews Shell Museum, which houses all kinds of seashells and also features exhibits about conchology, malacology, and even the archaeological aspect of shelling! They also offer beach walks to search for shells, and be sure to visit their gift shop for shell-inspired jewelry, books, and gifts. You truly can’t go wrong when choosing accommodations on these islands; but if you’re traveling with the whole family, we must recommend South Seas Island Resort on Captiva. Between the gentle Gulf waters, nature preserve, numerous pools, and family activities available, this resort is like one big playground for you all to enjoy together. Whether you stay in an inn suite, condo, or vacation home, all of this resort’s accommodations are meant to suit a family vacation with spacious layouts, equipped kitchens, and amenities. Have a meal at one of their onsite restaurants, visit the activity center, or even play a round of golf together on their unique family-friendly course.
On the Atlantic Coast
Home to a rare maritime forest ecosystem and unique array of flora and fauna, Amelia Island offers an escape from urban life to the wonders of nature and the sea. Beloved by naturalists and those who wish to reconnect with their natural roots, the island is awash with eco tour opportunities and exceptional exploration. Amelia River Cruises will take you on an eco tour with a twist: a shrimping eco tour, wherein guests will be coached on the operation of a traditional shrimp net, which will be deployed during the scenic cruise where you can be on the lookout for egrets, herons, sea turtles, and dolphins. At the end of the tour, the net is pulled up, the catch displayed in an aquarium for study, and then released back in the wild. Go on a different kind of exploratory adventure when you visit historic downtown Fernandina Beach, a charming Victorian seaport village that was once a stomping ground for pirates, Gilded Age millionaires, bootleggers, shrimpers, and other colorful characters. Enjoy delicious seafood dishes at local restaurants, check out the shopper’s paradise of eclectic shops along the harbor-front, and take part in the art walk each second Saturday of the month. Taking advantage of the existing Victorian architecture of Fernandina Beach, the area offers several stately bed and breakfasts. Fairbanks House is a breathtaking Italianate-style villa that sits on a well-manicured acre, with each suite offering splendor, comfort, and private baths. There are also cottages onsite for rent, and amenities include gourmet breakfasts and swimming pool.
St. Augustine’s go-to beach destination is Anastasia Island, a gorgeous barrier island that is home to St. Augustine Beach. Miles of pristine beaches are ideal for sunbathing and beach biking, and St. Johns County Pier looks over the Atlantic and is a great spot for fishing and watching the sunset. Along with being a great place to enjoy the ocean, the island is home to attractions like the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum as well as the St. Augustine Alligator Farm. The Alligator Farm has been in operation since 1893, and features a wide variety of creatures besides alligators, including wild reptiles, lemurs, Komodo dragons and toucans, and is the only place in the world where you can see all 24 species of crocodilians. Anastasia State Park is another main attraction, covering 1,600 acres and featuring four miles of pristine beach, a tidal salt marsh, and a maritime and upland hammock, as well as an archeological site. All along the oceanfront of Anastasia are hotels and resorts to suit your needs. Perfectly blending comfort and convenience, Courtyard St. Augustine Beach is steps from the beach and only a few blocks from the pier, with easy access to the downtown Historic District thanks to The Old Town Trolley, which stops at the hotel every hour before departing for the city. Spacious rooms offer contemporary decor, and the hotel offers onsite dining, an outdoor pool, and event space.
A barrier island on the Treasure Coast of Florida, Hutchinson Island stretches long and thin for 23 miles through both St. Lucie and Martin Counties with the Atlantic Coast on the east and the Indian River on the west. With an abundance of wildlife, natural beaches, and year around beautiful weather, the island offers a wide variety of outdoor activities for everyone including boating, golfing, sailing, swimming, fresh water or deep sea fishing, kayaking, shelling, horseback riding, bird watching, diving, snorkeling and surfing. In addition to all of its natural attractions, Hutchinson offers arts and culture experiences like the Elliot Museum, which provides an enriching and educational experience for all ages with exhibits featuring art, history, invention and innovation. One of the foremost hotels in the area is the Hutchinson Island Plaza Hotel & Suites, a stately waterfront hotel that overlooks the Fort Pierce inlet and featuring rooms with full or partial waterfront views, each with a private balcony. Enjoy the hotel’s private inlet beach, swimming pool, hot breakfast bar, fishing pier and boat dock, and more!
A trip to the Miami area isn't complete without a stop in Key Biscayne, just a short – and gorgeous – drive over the Rickenbacker Causeway from the big city. From sunny beaches to the Ritz-Carlton resort, Biscayne offers all the allure of South Florida on a tiny sliver of land. Key Biscayne has terrific beaches and the added appeal of being sandwiched between two major parks – Crandon Park to the north and Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park to the south. Biscayne also offers a nearby coastal barrier reef and the only federally recognized underwater archaeological trail in the United States: the Maritime Heritage Trail, which offers experienced divers the chance to explore the remains of six shipwrecks. Diver’s Paradise is one of the outfitters that offer boat trips out to the dive sites, and they also have a dive facility for those interested in pursuing SCUBA certification. While most visitors to Key Biscayne opt to stay in Miami, there are several accommodation options on the island itself; this includes Beach Haus Key Biscayne, which offers fully-furnished, modern apartment rentals that let you create a home-away-from-home during an extended stay. miamiandbeaches.com
More Island Escapes
White Sands Beach Resort
Located on the shore of Anna Maria Island, White Sands Beach Resort overlooks the Gulf of Mexico for stunning views and easy beach access each day. 4th on TripAdvisor’s list of Island Vacation Destinations, the resort offers one and two bedroom apartments, studios, cottages, and motel rooms, which are fully-equipped with kitchens, TVs and gaming systems. Swim the resort’s pool, have family time in the barbecue area, or explore the rest of the island!