29 Best Florida Gulf Coast Beaches for Families, Sunsets, and More • McCool Travel


Our choices for best Florida Gulf Coast beaches offer the cleanest sugar sand, most scintillating sunsets, and spectacular sunsets along the entire US Gulf Coast. We love Southwest Florida beaches and hope you do also.

We also list our choices for best Florida Gulf Coast beach for families, best Florida Gulf Coast beach for sea shells, best Florida Gulf Coast beach for sunset celebrations, best Florida Gulf Coast beach for shark teeth, and more.

These Best Florida Gulf Coast Beaches are arranged geographically—from Key West, north up the Florida Gulf Coast, to Clearwater Beach.

Sombrero Beach, Florida Keys

Our favorite Florida Keys beach is Sombrero Beach in Marathon, right in the middle of the 110-mile-long Florida Keys.

Sombrero Beach is Florida Keys Best Beach because it has the cleanest beach sand, a covered playground, two sand volleyball courts (fun for the kids if no one is playing), two bathhouses, a dozen picnic shelters, free parking, and excellent kayaking and snorkeling.

And getting to Sombrero Beach is one of our favorite Florida scenic drives.

palm tree and beach sand at one of the best Gulf Coast beaches
Sombrero Beach in The Florida Keys is one of the best Florida Gulf Coast beaches

Other favorite Florida Gulf Coast beaches in The Florida Keys include Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park and Smathers Beach, in Key West, Anne’s Beach near Islamorada, Harry Harris Beach in Tavernier, and the Bahia Honda State Park beaches (Calusa Beach and Sandspur Beach).

Keewaydin Island and Best Naples Florida Beaches

Our choice for best Florida Gulf Coast beach for sand dollars is Keewaydin Island beach, especially on weekdays.

On weekends, Keewaydin Island is packed with partiers and boaters. But weekdays on Keewaydin Island are peaceful, tranquil, and zen. Keewaydin Island is not connected to land so a boat is required to visit it.

US Gulf Coast Travel tip: Because of its position, Keewaydin Island can also be magnificent for seashells—including lightning whelks, fighting conchs, and horse conchs. We suggest visiting on Wednesday or Thursday morning to find the most intact seashells and, if possible, at low tide to find rarer seashells.

sand dollars on Keewaydin Island Florida
Keewaydin Island is the best Florida Gulf Coast beach for sand dollars

Other choices for best Florida Gulf Coast beaches in and near Naples, Florida include Tigertail Beach on Marco Island, Vanderbilt Beach in Naples, and Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park in Naples (for excellent trees to accompany sunset photos). Marco Island beach, although lined with large condo buildings, is a fantastic Florida Gulf Coast beach for seashells.

Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park is one of the best Florida Gulf Coast beaches for sunset
one of the best Florida Gulf Coast beaches for sunsets is Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park

Best Sanibel Island Beaches for Seashells

Called the “Seashell Capital of the World” and home of the National Seashell Museum, Sanibel Island naturally is the best Florida Gulf Coast beach for seashells and overall best US Gulf Coast beach for seashells.

But which Sanibel Island beach is best for seashells?

Lighthouse Beach Park is the easiest to get to and most popular Sanibel Island beach, but that means encountering the most people, most of them practicing the “Sanibel Stoop” while seeking their “Treasures From the Seas”—as the estimated 250 different seashell types found in Sanibel Island are called.

US Gulf Coast Travel tip: visit Lighthouse Beach as early as possible before the masses of shell seekers show up.

Our preferred Sanibel Island beaches, and the best Florida Gulf Coast beaches for seashells, include Turner Beach, Bowman’s Beach, and Silver Key Beach.

Lighthouse Beach, Sanibel Island, Florida
Lighthouse Beach entrance on Sanibel Island leads to millions of seashells

Our favorite place to stay near Sanibel island is South Seas Island Resort: Relaxed Luxury Getaway on Captiva Island.

Caspersen Beach

Just one mile south from the Venice Fishing Pier is one of the most unusual Gulf Coast beaches. Caspersen Beach looks unlike every other US Gulf Coast beach. Rather than the classic white, soft, sugar sand, Caspersen Beach has the dark and dense sand typical of the US northeast beaches.

But the biggest appeal of Caspersen Beach is hunting for teeth. Yes, teeth. Caspersen Beach is the best Florida Gulf Coast beach for shark teeth. Try your luck and let us know how your hunt goes.

Caspersen Beach is the best Florida Gulf Coast beach for finding shark teeth
find giant shark teeth on Caspersen Beach. Photo credit: TurtleTravels

US Gulf Coast Travel tip: Venice Beach itself is one of our favorite US Gulf Coast Sunset Spots.

Siesta Key Beach

Speaking of US Gulf Coast sunsets, the best Florida Gulf Coast beach for sunset celebrations has to be Siesta Key Beach (aka Crescent Beach or Sarasota Beach). Every Sunday night, at least one hour before sunset, the magical Siesta Key Drum Circle starts forming.

And grows and grows and grows. And gets louder and more vibrant.

The Siesta Key beach drum circle crowd is a true melting pot, with hippies, Parrotheads, corporate CEOs, families, vacationers, locals; people of all social classes and attitudes. One of the most fun things I have seen here was a Girl Scout selling cookies to hula hoopers, drummers, dancers, and anyone milling about.

Siesta Key drum circle is the best Florida Gulf coast sunset celebration
Siesta Key beach drum circle is the best Florida Gulf coast sunset celebration

US Gulf Coast Travel tip: other nearby smaller drum circles are at Nokomis Beach (Wed and Sat) and Englewood Beach (Sun).

Visiting Caspersen Beach and Siesta Key are Fun Things to Do in Sarasota County.

Best Anna Maria Island Beaches

Ahhhh, Anna Maria island.

AMI is our choice for best Florida Gulf Coast beach. Also best overalll US Gulf Coast Beach. Anna Maria Island is simply our favorite beach! Can someone please send me a winning Powerball ticket so that I can visit AMI more often?

Anna Maria Island beaches are the best Florida Gulf Coast beaches because, to us (unscientifically), its sugar sand is the softest, cleanest, and whitest along the entire US Gulf Coast. And even in the peak snowbird winter season, the northern AMI beaches are not crowded.

Sunsets seem more spectacular here and the seafood more succulent. At The Sandbar, one of our favorite Anna Maria Island Restaurants, request a table in the sand and let your feet savor the sugar sand while you have a refreshing drink and some seafood.

Head to Bean Point at the north end for the widest and wildest beaches. Head south to Cortez Beach and Coquina Beach and park under pine trees right next to the sand.

Anna Maria Island has the best Florida Gulf Coast beach sand
Anna Maria Island has the best Florida Gulf Coast beach sand

US Gulf Coast Travel tip: drive a little further south from Coquina Beach, across the bridge onto Longboat Key, and visit the rugged area called Beer Can Island. There are usually sharks, dolphins, and manatees in the gorgeous water around Beer Can island.

Indian Rocks Beach

Our favorite best Florida Gulf Coast beaches for families is Indian Rocks Beach. Indian Rocks Beach is part of Clearwater Beach but we enjoy it so much more because IRB is not lined with massive condo buildings.

With 27 beach entrances along its relatively quiet three miles of US Gulf Coast beach, Indian Rocks Beach is hardly ever crowded and families (or couples, groups, or solos) can enjoy a less hectic beach experience.

One of our choices for Best Grouper Sandwiches in Florida can be found at one of our favorite Indian Rocks Beach Restaurants. Come for the beach (and sunsets) but stay for the excellent seafood!

Indian Rocks Beach is one of the best Gulf Coast beaches
Indian Rocks Beach entrance, photo by Julie McCool

Thank you for reading our choices for best Florida Gulf Coast beaches. Let us know if you have other favorite Florida Gulf Coast beaches—whether super popular ones like St Pete Beach or Fort Myers Beach, or super secluded beaches like Cayo Costa or Anclote Key.

 

Please also see 14 Best Florida Panhandle Beaches, which covers Alligator Point on the east end to Perdido Beach on the state border with Alabama.

29 Best Florida Gulf Coast Beaches for Families, Sunsets, and More was first published on US Gulf Coast Travel in 2022.

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