Fort de Soto Park
Fort de Soto Park is the furthest point south you can reach by car on the stretch of coast running south from St Petersburg. Made up of five interconnected keys, it covers 1136 untrammelled acres and some blissfully undeveloped beaches. As well as the ruins of a Civil War era fort, the park contains almost three miles of white sand, which possess an intoxicating air of isolation during the week – pristine North Beach is contender for the best on the Gulf coast.
© Jon Marc Lyttle/Shutterstock
Sand Key Park
Just to the south of Clearwater Beach, a full-scale resort community popular with students and families, lies pretty 65-acre Sand Key Park, where tall palm trees frame a scintillating strip of sand. This classic beach vista is a good spot to watch dolphins, though the view is marred by the nearby high-rises. Beyond lounging on its belt of sparkling white sands and enjoying the daily sunset festivities at Pier 60, you can also make a day-trip to Caladesi Island (see below), a few miles north.
Caladesi Island © Malachi Jacobs/Shutterstock
For a glimpse of what the St Petersburg beaches must have looked like before the onset of mass tourism, make for Caladesi State Park, just to the north of Clearwater Beach. From Caladesi’s mangrove-fringed marina, boardwalks lead to a beach of unsurpassed tranquillity that’s perfect for swimming, sunbathing and shell collecting.
© Jerome LABOUYRIE/Shuterstock
St George Island
A few miles off the aptly named Forgotten Coast, the three Apalachicola barrier islands are well endowed with beaches and creatures – including thousands of birds that use them as resting stops during migration. The largest island, St George, boasts twenty-seven miles of powdery white sands and Gulf vistas. Shady live-oak hammocks and an abundance of osprey-inhabited pine trees add colour to a day’s lazy sunning.
© Jim Schwabel/Shutterstock
St Andrew’s State Park & Shell Island
With some of the best stretches of sugary white sands on the Gulf coast, St Andrew’s State Park is one of the region’s real highlights. The brilliant white beaches here are wild and undeveloped gems, while a further 800 acres of untouched Shell Island, across the inlet, is also part of the reserve.
© Rob Hainer/Shutterstock
Perdido Key, lined with spectacular untouched, bone-white beaches, has some of the best sands in the Panhandle. Though there has been some development in the centre, large swathes of beach and the island are protected within Perdido Key State Park and Gulf Islands National Seashore. A one-and-a-quarter-mile nature trail allows you to explore the area, and if you’re smitten with the seclusion, stick around to swim or pitch your tent at one of the primitive campgrounds.
© Malachi Jacobs/Shutterstock
Header image credit: Damien VERRIER/Shutterstock
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