Not all coastal communities are created equal, but these idyllic locales in Florida stand out from the crowd.
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Located at the halfway point in the Florida Keys, Islamorada is a whimsical paradise where small-town businesses cater to the ultimate island state of mind. If you’re a beer lover, Florida Keys Brewing Co. and Islamorada Beer Company both serve up an impressive selection of local craft brews. Fine Florida-kitschy institutions like Lazy Days Restaurant and Lorelei Restaurant & Cabana Bar offer a quadruple threat of killer water views, fruity cocktails, live music, and fish tacos.
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The birthplace of the modern shrimping industry, Fernandina Beach is a waterfront village nestled on the north end of Amelia Island. Celebrating pirate culture is a way of life, so it’s not uncommon to see people dressed as swashbucklers just for the heck of it. Visit during the Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival, when the historic district bustles with parades, live music, lots of shrimp, and—you guessed it—pirates.
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Anna Maria Island
Anna Maria Island is what beach town dreams are made of. You won’t find any hotel chains or condominium towers here, just a collection of tropical-style homes and friendly neighbors who wave from golf carts. Stretching from the bay to the gulf, Pine Avenue is the perfect place to shop funky boutiques, dine at local cafes, and get a feel for that ultimate island lifestyle.
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Flanked by two picturesque beach parks and home to the historic Cape Florida Lighthouse, Key Biscayne is an island village with a sophisticated feel. It’s close enough to Miami that you can easily get to and from the 24/7 action of the city, but just far enough out into the ocean that you immediately get that sense of “ahhhhh” when you drive over the Rickenbacker Causeway.
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Perhaps one of the quirkiest beach towns in Florida, Captiva Island is full of character. Golf carts are the preferred method of transportation, and there are zero traffic lights on the island. Beaches here are second to none and offer some of the best shelling you can find. The island sparkles every year during the Captiva Luminary when residents light candles from one end of the island to the other, marking the launch of the holiday season.
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A colorful coastal town full of pastel houses and funky local eateries, Seaside is a breathtaking nod to life on the beach. The best way to soak up stunning Gulf of Mexico views and explore this friendly community is by foot or bicycle. Neighbors and visitors alike gather every year for the annual 30A Songwriters Festival, with live music performances at Seaside venues and other locales along scenic 30A Highway.
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A hidden gem nestled on the east coast of Florida, Vero Beach is a nature lover’s paradise. Think unspoiled beaches, salt water lagoons and protected wildlife refuges. With miles of biking and hiking trails, there are ample opportunities for eco-friendly adventures. Then enjoy the small-town charm in the “main street” area of Vero Beach, where you’ll find weekly gallery strolls, a vintage market, and plenty of quaint cafes.
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Cruise down Atlantic Avenue, the main drag in Delray Beach, and you’ll end up at one of the most beautiful beaches on Florida’s east coast. A haven for beachcombers and art lovers, you’ll find more than 20 galleries and iconic public art pieces in downtown and in the Pineapple Grove Arts District, home to Artist Alley. Go for one of the popular Friday gallery nights and browse local art, listen to live music, and dine at one of the eclectic eateries on the “Ave.”
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A laid-back beach town with a healthy—and well-loved—population of vintage ice cream parlors, Pass-A-Grille Beach is an island town located at the southernmost end of St. Pete Beach. Sunset is a nightly rite of passage as locals and visitors gather at the seawall outside of Paradise Grille to ring the sunset bell. The rooftop deck of the Hurricane Seafood Restaurant also offers spectacular views of the sun’s descent into the Gulf of Mexico.
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Surrounded by the azure waters of the Gulf of Mexico, Gasparilla Island is truly an ode to Old Florida. Shelling enthusiasts find an impressive assortment of treasured sea shells and sand dollars tucked between layers of pure white sand, while fisherman flock to the area for its prized tarpon fishing. Visit one of the two stately lighthouses on the island, where you’ll find postcard-perfect views, especially at sunset.
Article by Kara Franker of Southern Living ©