Unless someone is visiting a friend or relative, or on a business trip, Florida’s 98 million annual visitors have but two things in mind. Theme parks and beaches. From destinations unknown, they travel to Orlando for a fun-filled overdose of Mickey & Friends or to roam the lands of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal. Build it, they will come. And they did. And they continue to do so in record numbers.
If sun, sand, and surf are on the agenda, Panama City, Pensacola, Clearwater, Daytona, Miami, and other well-known beaches absorb the brunt of the tourist industry. They can get crowded. Very crowded. Some people like that. Most people don’t. Yet they continue to show up, year after year.
While there is no way of escaping the open floodgate crowds of the theme parks, why would anyone subject themselves to a crowded tourist-trap Florida beach city when there are far less crowded patches of sand in much quainter settings? Because they aren’t aware of them. But they soon will be, and so will you. Keep reading.
Ever heard of it? Didn’t think so. This Florida beach town is so cool and quirky, the town’s unofficial slogan is, “Nice dogs. Strange people.” But don’t let this scare you away. Here is how the locals describe their slice of paradise; Grayton is “a funky little beach town full of free-spirited folks with a laid-back attitude.”
Located in the Florida Panhandle, Grayton sits between the popular cities of Destin and Panama City, where most visitors to the area go. The majority of the town is neatly tucked inside of Grayton Beach National Park where moss swings from giant oaks and the smell of salt air and southern magnolias permeate the air.
The town’s streets are narrow and weathered beach cottages dot the landscape. Now for the best part. The beach is clean, wide, and not even close to being crowded. Visit Red’s Bar for some fresh seafood, a couple of cold ones, and a great time with new friends.
Not far from the madding crowd, Crandon Park is a well-kept secret located in north Key Biscayne. The Rickenbacker Causeway connects it to Miami. The beach stretches for a full two-miles so there’s plenty of room to spread out. This 808-acre urban park is family-friendly so nobody should see anything they might consider offensive, and there are several activities to include a carousel, kiteboarding, and an outdoor skating rink.
Excellent golf courses and tennis courts keep avid players content while anglers will find deep sea charter boats docked within a close drive. Bicycle trails run throughout the park which is preserved as a nature center. Since the beach is within a Miami/Dade park it’s only open between sunrise and sunset, but accommodations in Key Biscayne are plentiful, and it’s much more laidback and tamer than Miami.
Caladesi Island State Park
Perhaps the most uncrowded Florida beach award should go to the pristine sands found at Caladesi Island State Park. It isn’t that no one knows about this place and it certainly isn’t because the beaches are full of sand crabs. It’s because there are only two ways to get there and it entails either catching a ferry out of Dunedin or owning your own boat.
What makes the beaches even more interesting is being able to observe all of the wildlife of the park in their natural habitats. Here, they aren’t frightened away by civilization, but they also are not dangerous. Anglers love the action they get just by casting from shore into the relatively unfished waters and children can run up and down the beach with no fear of them getting lost in the crowd.
There are restrooms, a playground, a restaurant and a concession stand on the island so making a full day of it is easy to do. Accommodations are plentiful once leaving the island.
Fort Desoto Park
Only a very short drive from the crowded beaches of St. Petersburg lies 1,136 acres known as Ft. Desoto Park, and it’s like entering another world. In 2009 TripAdvisor rated Ft. Desoto’s sugar sand beach as the best in America. Yet. It remains uncrowded.
The park is an ecological masterpiece with over 328 species of birds, an abundant sea life, mangroves, hardwoods, palm hammocks, and beach plants. Then there is the old Spanish fort itself which has been well preserved and sits right next to the beach. Visitors can explore the old fort prison and powder rooms and walk to the top for an incredible view of the Gulf of Mexico and surrounding area.
RV and tent camping right on the water’s edge is available for the most relaxing few days anyone can spend, and an uncountable array of hotels and restaurants are available only a few miles away.
For one of the most dazzling and stunning beaches in the sunshine state, go to Seaside. Perhaps not as sparsely visited as some of the other hidden beaches, but it’s uncrowded enough to offer the best of both worlds without other beachgoers casting their shadows over you.
Situated in the Florida Panhandle on the Gulf of Mexico, the town of Seaside has shopping galore, a few very cool live music pubs, and a good selection of dining options. Seaside has a good number of quaint private rental cottages available, but if someone would rather do it up right with a beachside mansion, no problemo. There are further options available along the 26-mile scenic highway 30A for those who prefer staying a bit out of town. The majority of them are right on the water and this is by far the best way to really get away from the crowd.
Bahia Honda State Park
This beach deserves at least an honorable mention. For those seeking the tropical climate and beauty of Key West minus the constant hub-bub, this is the place.
Located in the lower Keys, Bahia Honda State Park is family friendly and even camping is allowed in the park. Or, rent a cabin. Snorkeling, kayaking, catching some rays, and fishing, are all allowed. The park is the perfect way to give your budget a break without sacrificing anything at all.
If you’re planning a trip to Florida, why not break from the norm? Forget the crowds and go where the locals have known about for years, just don’t tell them you heard about it here.