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World-renowned, the beaches of Southwest Florida have always been known as a place to escape the realities of life. With fine white sand and clear, calm waters, these beaches on the Gulf of Mexico offer opportunities for shelling, water sports, or just sitting and enjoying the view. And while hurricane activity has damaged and closed some beaches in the area, there are still plenty of locations open to enjoy the sun. Here are the best beaches in Southwest Florida, from Sarasota to Naples.
Often ranked as the #1 beach in the United States, Siesta Key is a top attraction in Southwest Florida. While other beaches in the area have sand that is made of a mix of minerals, Siesta Key’s sand is made of almost 100 percent quartz. Giving the sand an almost pure white appearance and a softer feel. The beach is also wheelchair accessible. Beach access mats provide a stable way to roll out chairs or beach wagons. And beach wheelchairs are available to be checked out at the main pavilion where concessions are also available for purchase.
Known as the ‘Shell Capital of the World,’ Sanibel Island offers visitors warm waters to explore and look for the most unique shells they’ll find in the state. And while it’s exciting to find conch, lightning welk, sand dollars, and coquina, Sanibel Island sits on a shelf that makes the waters shallow. This means shells don’t break as easily close to shore, so more intact shells can be found. Just remember to check found shells for inhabitants. Shells with live organisms inside must be returned to the water.
A perfect combination of high-end shopping and pristine beaches, Lido Key Beach is a place any visitor would love to spend a few days on. Located off the coast of Sarasota, the key (or island) offers several beaches to explore. Activities to enjoy include shelling, kayaking, bird watching, and, of course, people-watching!
Situated 20 miles south of Sarasota, Venice Beach is part of the area that’s referred to as the “Shark Tooth Capital of the World.” Fossilized shark teeth can be found along the beaches and waters, including near the Venice Fishing Pier. Venice Beach, home to many turtle nests during May and October, also has a concession area, and parking is free. It’s easy to see why this is one of the most underrated Gulf Coast beach destinations in Florida.
A barrier island located just south of Naples, Marco Island is a quiet location with beautiful beaches. The island has two public beaches for visitors to access. South Beach is located near the hotels of the area while Tigertail Beach Park, the widest beach in the county, offers bird watching, tidal pools and a playground for kids. Water sports equipment rentals are available at both beaches.
Accessible only by boat, Keewaydin Island is eight miles of undeveloped beaches, giving it a private, quiet feeling. The only pet-friendly beach in the Naples area, the island is only accessible by boat. A local water shuttle makes multiple trips per day, and boat rentals are also available on the mainland. There are no bathrooms or restaurants on the island so prepare accordingly.
Located just north of Fort Myers on Boca Grande, Gasparilla Island State Park offers four beaches to enjoy the water. Snorkeling and scuba diving are popular activities at Gasparilla Island, along with kayaking and canoeing. One of the most secluded destinations in Florida, this park also offers fishing and hiking opportunities to visitors.
North Naples offers visitors access to Vanderbilt Beach Park. A unique hammock ecosystem leads to the white sand beaches where shelling, water sports, and bird watching are plenty. Beach chairs and cabanas are available for rent, but there is no food or drink sales within the park.
The county’s oldest public beach, Nokomis Beach offers a variety of things to see and do. The pavilion, built in 1954, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There’s a raised boardwalk that gives a way to view the Gulf of Mexico. There’s also a kayak launch, bird watching, a concession stand, a fishing pier, and picnic areas.