It’s not exactly a secret that the Sunshine State’s coastline is full of exciting attractions, including fabulous beaches, thrilling theme parks, gorgeous state parks, and tons of bustling cities waiting to be explored.
While Florida’s mainland has enough to fill up an itinerary, there’s a lot more to Florida if you’re willing to cross the water. All along Florida’s coast, you’ll find plenty of fantastic islands and keys, many of which just happen to boast some of the prettiest beaches the entire United States has to offer.
In fact, Florida has a whopping 4,510 islands, which can definitely make it a bit hard to narrow down where to go unless you have a few years to spare to go on an island-hopping adventure all over the state.
Each island and key in the Sunshine State has its own activities and unique flavor, but if you were to ask us, these are the best islands in Florida to visit first!
This post is part of our series Discover the USA – all the best family destinations in America
Best Islands and Keys in Florida
Set a mere 30 miles from Fort Myers, Sanibel is one of the best islands in Florida to visit for a low-key atmosphere and several glorious beaches.
Aside from its wonderful outdoor activities, 14 miles of unspoiled beaches, and excellent hiking trails, Sanibel Island is unique because it’s a prime spot for shelling. Thanks to its location and west-to-east setting, both the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico wash in tons of sea shells a day, making it a great place for those who enjoy collecting!
Located just over 30 miles from the coast of Jacksonville, Amelia is a barrier island that offers a pretty great mix of elements: gorgeous white sand beaches, history, beautiful architecture, and a laid-back small-town charm.
Here, you’ll find 13 miles of wide, white-sandy shores and picture-perfect turquoise waters to choose from if all you want to do is lay on the beach for days on end. It’s one of our favorite beaches on the east coast.
If you’re into history and architecture, you’ll also love exploring historic Fernandina Town, a quaint Victorian-style seaport filled with boutique shops, restaurants, and many art galleries. A walk through its downtown is guaranteed to make you feel as though you traveled back in time to Old Florida!
Lying only 7 miles away from Sarasota on Florida’s Gulf Coast, Siesta Key is known for its soft white sand beaches that have made the island a go-to for leisure and water sports.
If you’re into bird watching, then right there is another reason to pay Siesta Key a visit as tons of bird species flock to the island’s eight-mile-long coast on a daily basis.
Snorkeling is also a treat here, especially near Crescent Beach. If you want to spot turtles, we recommend heading over to Turtle Beach.
Known for being the home to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Merritt Island is a great place to visit in order to learn about space exploration through exhibits, lectures, flight simulators, and other incredibly cool attractions and activities.
If you get lucky, you may even get to meet an astronaut or witness a real shuttle launch! See the NASA launch schedule and upcoming events here!
With that said, Merrit Island has more to offer other than space activities, including a wildlife refuge where you can see manatees, hiking trails, and some seriously beautiful beaches!
If you’re into small-town charm, colorful buildings, and laid-back atmospheres, Matlacha Island is guaranteed to please.
There’s only one road on the entire island, and providing access from one side to the other isn’t its only function. The road is lined by colorful fisherman shacks, kitsch restaurants and bars, and many artsy attractions ranging from decorated bicycles to gigantic stuffed bears and pocka-dotted dolphin statues.
As a fun fact, Matlacha Island got its lively colors when commercial fishing suffered severe losses during the 90s. As a result of that, locals decided to turn the island into a tourist destination and they all went out with buckets of paint to turn their little fishing village into the colorful town we know today!
As the southernmost city in the continental United States, Key West is a gorgeous destination to head to for a relaxed vibe, beautiful beaches, and wonderful snorkeling among coral reefs.
Aside from offering pretty much every beach activity you could think of, a great dining scene and a nightlife like no other, Key West is also home to tons of historical sites, making it one of the best islands in Florida to visit for a mix of everything.
Here, you can spend your mornings at the beach before visiting a few historical attractions, including the Ernest Hemingway House, the Shipwreck Museum, the Key West Lighthouse to learn about the Civil War, and many others.
You can find a great family guide for road-tripping from Miami to Key West over here.
Big Talbot Island
Set almost 30 miles away from Jacksonville, Big Talbot Island homes one of the most peculiar beaches in Florida: Boneyard Beach.
As its name may suggest, this beach is dotted with bleached oak tree skeletons, most of which are half-buried in the sand and make the landscape look almost other-worldly!
Big Talbot isn’t great for swimming, but it does offer wonderful hiking trails, paddling, and a pretty quirky landscape photographers love shooting at.
Famed for harboring the upscale Boca Grande residential area, Gasparilla Island has always been a favorite beach vacation spot on the Gulf Coast for wealthy socialites like the du Ponts and the Vanderbilts.
Aside from getting your “it” moment, Gasparilla Island is also a great place to visit for fishing aficionados who love practicing the sport at the island’s water pass that’s commonly dubbed the “Tarpon Capital of the world.”
Have you ever been to any of these incredible islands and keys in Florida? Which one did you like the most? Let us know in the comment section below!
More Inspiration For Your Florida Vacation
Looking to plan an overseas vacation to the sunshine state? We’ve visited Florida four times now with our family flying internationally from the UK and now the UAE. Here are a few more ideas to inspire you to plan that trip!
- 5 Fabulous and unexpected Florida highlights
- The best family vacation spots in Florida
- Florida’s closest beach to Disney World
- The Best RV camping sites on the Florida coast
- Ultimate guide to planning a trip to Universal Orlando
- Fun Family Things to do in and near Orlando (that aren’t theme parks!)
- 12 Fabulous Things to Do in Clearwater
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