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1 The Best Beaches
Virginia Key (Key Biscayne): The producers of "Survivor" could feasibly shoot their show on this ultrasecluded, picturesque, and deserted key, where people go purposely not to be found. See chapter 5.
Matheson Hammock Park Beach (South Miami): This beach features an enclosed, man-made lagoon that is flushed naturally by the tidal action of the adjacent Biscayne Bay. The serene beach is surrounded by the bay's warm, calm waters; its backdrop is a tropical hardwood forest. See chapter 5.
Bahia Honda State Park (Bahia Honda Key): One of the nicest and most peaceful beaches in Florida, located amidst 635-acres of nature trails and even a portion of Henry Flagler's railroad. See chapter 6.
John U. Lloyd Beach State Park (Dania Beach): Unfettered by high-rise condominiums, T-shirt shops, and hotels, this wonderful beach boasts an untouched shoreline surrounded by a canopy of Australian pine to ensure complete seclusion. See chapter 8.
Lover's Key State Park (Fort Myers Beach): You'll have to walk or take a tram through a bird-filled forest of mangroves to this gorgeous, unspoiled beach just a few miles south of busy Fort Myers Beach. Although Sanibel Island gets all the accolades, the shelling here is just as good if not better. See chapter 10.
Cayo Costa State Park (off Captiva Island): These days, deserted tropical islands with great beaches are scarce in Florida, but this 2,132-acre barrier strip of sand, pine forests, mangrove swamps, oak hammocks, and grasslands provides a genuine get-away-from-it-all experience. Access is only by boat from nearby Gasparilla, Pine, and Captiva Islands. See chapter 10.
Naples Beach (Naples): Many Florida cities and towns have beaches, but few are as lovely as the gorgeous strip that runs in front of Naples's famous Millionaires' Row. You don't have to be rich to wander its length, peer at the mansions, and stroll on historic Naples Pier to catch a sunset over the gulf. See chapter 10.
Caladesi Island State Park (Clearwater Beach): Even though 31/2-mile-long Caladesi Island is in the heavily developed Tampa Bay area, it has a lovely, relatively secluded beach with soft sand edged in sea grass and palmettos. Dolphins cavort in offshore waters. In the park itself, there's a nature trail, and you might see one of the rattlesnakes, black racers, raccoons, armadillos, or rabbits that live here. The park is accessible only by ferry from Honeymoon Island State Recreation Area off Dunedin. See chapter 11.
Canaveral National Seashore (Cape Canaveral): Midway between the crowded attractions at Daytona Beach and the Kennedy Space Center is a protected stretch of coastline 24 miles long, backed by cabbage palms, sea grapes, and palmettos. Its neighbor is the 140, -acre Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, home to hundreds of Florida birds, reptiles, alligators, and mammals. Wooden boardwalks lead from a free parking lot to the huge expanse of soft brown sand and a few well-spaced picnic tables. See chapter 13.
Gulf Islands National Seashore (Pensacola): You could argue that all of Northwest Florida's gulf shore is one of America's great beaches-an almost-uninterrupted stretch of pure white sand that runs the entire length of the Panhandle, from Perdido Key to St. George Island. The Gulf Islands National Seashore preserves much of this natural wonder in its undeveloped state. Countless terns, snowy plover, black skimmers, and other birds nest along the dunes topped with sea oats. East of the national seashore and equally beautiful are Grayton Beach State Park near Destin and St. George Island State Park off Apalachicola. See chapter 14.
St. Andrews State Park (Panama City Beach): With more than 1, acres of dazzling white sand and dunes, this preserved wilderness demonstrates what Panama City Beach looked like before motels and condominiums lined its shore. Lacy, golden sea oats sway in gulf breezes, and fragrant rosemary grows wild. The area is home to foxes, coyotes, and a herd of deer. See chapter 14.