Under the Sun, Fun on the Sand

written by | Posted on March 27th, 2013

Canaveral National Seashore, courtesy of Florida's Space Coast Office of Tourism

Whether bustling with activity or leaving visitors feeling as if they could be on a deserted island, Florida’s beaches are for families, friends, couples, watersports enthusiasts, and beach bums. Along the miles and miles of Florida’s coastline, your clients can find a wide variety of beachfront hotels and resorts where they can watch the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean or sit back to see it set on the Gulf of Mexico. So before they make the trip to the “Sunshine State” (and boy, does the sun shine down here), remind them to pack a beach towel, loads of sunscreen, flip-flops and a pail and shovel for the kiddies

PENSACOLA

With 52 miles of coastline to explore with family or friends, the area of Pensacola is located in the northwest corner of Florida, as well as along the Gulf Coast. Pensacola offers visitors miles of beaches to choose from alongside a town rich with history, culture and Southern hospitality. “A large portion of Pensacola Bay beaches are either federally protected or belong to national or state parks,” says Valeria Lento, director of tourism communications for Visit Pensacola CVB. “To that effect, we are very fortunate that our beautiful beaches are such a treasured natural resource and one that we strive to continue to preserve for generations to come.”

Like most Florida coastal cities and communities, the area’s beaches are ideal for jet skiing, parasailing, snorkeling and kayaking, but a must-do for families is searching for sand dollars, seashells and hermit crabs on Pensacola Beach and Perdido Key.

For large families or groups, recommend the Portofino Island Resort (portofinoisland.com). The resort is made up of five Mediterranean-inspired towers situated on eight miles of beach and offering 300 guestrooms. The resort’s 2- and 3-bedroom accommodations provide all the comforts of home with comfortable linens, a dishwasher, washer/dryer and much more.

Also located directly on the Gulf is the Hilton Pensacola Beach Gulf Front (hilton.com). The property is only 30 minutes from Pensacola International Airport and offers 275 guestrooms including 65 Junior Suites, 14 two-bedroom and 12 three-bedroom condominium-style suites.

South Walton, courtesy of Visit South Walton

SOUTH WALTON

Any destination in the world with 26 miles of sugar-white sand beaches should be a destination worth visiting, and it’s good to know that Florida’s very own South Walton is such a place. A quaint beach town located along the Gulf of Mexico in the Florida Panhandle, South Walton has 15 distinct beachfront neighborhoods each with its own personality and quaint appeal. “The beaches in Northwest Florida, like the Walton County area, are amazingly gorgeous and a must-see. White sand, as soft as powder and it doesn’t get hot under your feet like most beaches as it’s made of quartz,” says Jill Martin, VISIT FLORIDA Family Insider.

“Find Your Perfect Beach” is South Walton’s slogan, inspiring visitors to traverse the area’s 15 different beach neighborhoods in search of the one that is just right for them. From secluded beach spots to bustling towns with a slew of outdoor activities, South Walton’s beach communities provide a wide array of things to see and do. And with names like Seascape, Seaside (a picture-perfect spot where The Truman Show was filmed), Rosemary Beach and Watercolor, it may be difficult for your clients to pick only one neighborhood to explore since they all ooze with authentic Old Florida charm.

Overlooking the emerald Gulf waters, recommend the family-friendly Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa (sandestinbeachhilton.com), located right on the beach and presenting all the amenities associated with the brand—expansive pools, a wide selection of dining options, a golf course, 598 spacious guestrooms and a Serenity by the Sea spa. The hotel also offers its guests beachside service, stand-up paddle boarding and kayak rentals.

The Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort (sandestin.com), meanwhile, is a massive vacation rental community offering four championship golf courses, 15 tennis courts, 19 swimming pools, a 113-slip marina, watersports, children’s programs, a fitness center and spa. The property offers 1,300 luxury vacation rentals that are grouped into four separate resort areas: Beachside, Village, Lakeside and Bayside.

Panama City Beach, courtesy of Panama City Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau

PANAMA CITY BEACH

A family-friendly destination known for its 27 miles of flawless beaches bordering the Gulf of Mexico, Panama City Beach has long been favored by travelers seeking an affordable beach vacation with year-round offerings for families, couples, groups and adventure-seekers interested in diving and deep-sea fishing.

One of the most popular outdoor recreation spots in the area is St. Andrews State Park, featuring 1.5 miles of beach on the Gulf. Watersports enthusiasts can enjoy swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking and canoeing. In 2008, St. Andrews Park ranked No. 2 on the list of “Top 10 Beaches in the United States” by TripAdvisor.

Lodging varies in Panama City Beach, from condo and home rentals to beachside hotels and motels. Ideal for families is the Holiday Inn Resort (hipcbeach.com) and Seahaven Beach Resorts (seahavenbeach.com), both located steps from the sparkling Gulf waters.

Panama City Beach Balcony, courtesy of Panama City Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau

FRANKLIN COUNTY

For clients who love to travel with their pets, Franklin County is well known for its miles and miles of award-winning, pet-friendly beaches that make up the coastal communities of Alligator Point, Apalachicola, Carrabelle, Eastpoint and St. George Island. Franklin County is located along the Gulf of Mexico in Florida’s northwest panhandle and is situated 80 miles southwest of the state’s capital and 85 miles southeast of Panama City.

St. George Island State Park features nine miles of beaches and high dunes and is surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico to the south and Apalachicola Bay—one of the world’s last pristine estuarine systems—to the north. Visitor amenities are plentiful, and include two boat ramps that provide bay access to boats, kayaks and canoes, which can be rented at the ranger stations. Dog Island Beach requires a boat to access the area followed by a hike to the seashore, but the efforts are worth it when visitors arrive to a spot with more natural beauty than the eye can behold. There are no public facilities or stores on Dog Island so visitors must bring all their supplies.

Most hotels in Franklin County are located along the Apalachicola River, yet if your clients are interested in staying for an extended period of time, recommend renting a home or condo in the area; historic inns, and bed and breakfast accommodations, located in the historic community of Apalachicola, are also very popular.

Fun Fact: Franklin County harvests more than 90 percent of Florida’s oysters and 10 percent of all oysters consumed in the U.S.

AMELIA ISLAND

Amelia Island is a barrier island on Florida’s northeast coast with 13 miles of unspoiled beaches for visitors to explore, discover and rediscover again and again. Voted one of the “Top 10 North American Islands” by Conde Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards, your clients can visit any one of the island’s five state parks where they can walk along the immaculate beaches ideal for kayaking, fishing, sunbathing and other outdoor activities. “Amelia Island is unlike any other Florida beach with wide open spaces, pristine quartz-sand beaches and some sand dunes towering up to 40 ft. high in places,” says Gil Langley, president of the Amelia Island Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Recommend a day trip to Amelia Island State Park, the only state park on the island offering horseback riding excursions right on the beach. Also, Little Talbot Island State Park, located on the southern tip of Amelia Island, boasts five miles of beautiful beaches where visitors can canoe, kayak and fish. During the summer months, visitors will find the shoreline dotted with protected sea turtle nests.

The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island (ritzcarlton.com) provides comfort, luxury and Southern charm synonymous with the island itself. With 1.5 miles of dune-lined beachfront property, oceanview accommodations, four restaurants and a Ritz Carlton Spa, your clients may be inclined to spend most of their time at the resort and lounging by the ocean instead of exploring Amelia Island and its rich history.

The Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort (omnihotels.com) is nestled on Fernandina Beach and is currently undergoing an $85 million dollar renovation that will include an additional 155 oceanview guestrooms and 27 suites. New pools will be added as well as new dining options, from a steakhouse to a pizzeria and sushi restaurant.

Funfact: Amelia Island was named after Princess Amelia, daughter of England’s King George II and is known as the “Isle of Eight Flags” since it is the only territory in the U.S. to have been ruled under eight flags of sovereignty.

Amelia Island, courtesy of Amelia Island Convention & Visitors Bureau

ST. AUGUSTINE, PONTE VEDRA AND THE BEACHES

Florida’s Historic Coast, which includes the area of St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra and the Beaches runs for 42 impressive miles along Florida’s northeastern coastline and stretches from Ponte Vedra in the north to Marineland in the south. The beaches perfectly complement the rich history of America’s oldest town where visitors can either relax on the shore or go back in time with historical tours of St. Augustine.

The area offers visitors a plethora of beaches such as Vilano Beach, Crescent Beach, Summer Haven and St. Augustine Beach, which are ideal for swimming and fishing, while watersports enthusiasts can partake in windsurfing and kite surfing. “The natural beauty of the beaches remains unspoiled and serves as a year-round magnet for visitors who enjoy sunshine, recreation and the sea,” says Barbara Golden, communications manager with the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau.

The Ponte Vedra Inn & Club (pontevedra.com) opened its doors in 1928 and is a five-diamond oceanfront resort located on Ponte Vedra Beach. The resort features 250 rooms and suites and includes four pools, two 18-hole golf courses, 15 tennis courts, fishing, boating, sailing, children’s programs and a fitness center. Also recommend the quaint Lodge & Club at Ponte Vedra Beach (pontevedra.com), offering only 66 rooms and suites overlooking the ocean. The hotel is perfect for those clients looking for a romantic getaway with accommodations and amenities worthy of a beach vacation along the state’s historic coast.

Funfact: St. Augustine was founded in 1565, 42 years before the English colonized Jamestown and 55 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock.

Flagler Beach, courtesy of Palm Coast and the Flagler Beaches Tourism Office

PALM COAST AND FLAGLER BEACHES

It’s the coquina sand found along the state’s eastern coast that gives the beaches that coppery, cinnamon-colored hue, which in the Palm Coast and Flagler Beaches area, located between Daytona Beach to the south and historic St. Augustine to the north, stretches for 19 glorious miles.

The Palm Coast is perfect for all outdoor activities such as kite boarding, stand-up paddle boarding and surfing since the wave action in that area of Florida is considered to be the third best in the state. Flagler Beach is also home to the Tommy Tant Memorial Surf Competition held each fall.

Hammock Beach Resort (hammockbeach.com) is located on an unspoiled barrier island and features 330 luxury accommodations ranging from 1-bedroom oceanview suites to multi-bedroom villas. The Intracoastal Waterway sits behind the hotel, which allows for kayaking, paddle boarding and canoeing. For golfers needing a break from the sun and sand, the property includes two golf courses designed by sport legends Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson.

Funfact: From December through March, northern right whales migrate to this area to give birth and nurse their calves before returning north to feeding grounds off New England and Canada.

Daytona Beach, courtesy of Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau

DAYTONA BEACH

Once considered to be the place for spring breakers, Daytona Beach welcomes more than 8 million visitors a year and offers 23 miles of beach fun in an ocean park atmosphere as beach vendors sell everything from hot dogs and sodas to boogie boards and bicycles right on the sand.

Daytona Beach, aka “The World’s Most Famous Beaches,” is up to 500 ft. wide at low tide, which is ideal for sandcastle building, cycling, jogging, volleyball, fishing or just relaxing in the sun. The 23 miles of beach is a watersports enthusiast’s home for surfing, parasailing and stand-up paddle boarding.

The Hilton Daytona Beach Resort/Ocean Walk Village (hilton.com) is situated near the entertainment district of Daytona Beach, and pets are welcome. Guests can retire (after a day of sunbathing) to a standard guestroom, suite or beachfront cabana overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The property also features an extensive range of bars and restaurants; a fitness center; spa; and D-Dawg’s Kidszone kids’ club. The Shores Resort & Spa (shoresresort.com) offers 212 guestrooms and suites with views of the Atlantic or Florida’s Intracoastal Waterway. The Shores provides an impressive list of luxurious guest services and amenities, including private poolside cabanas, oceanside fire pits, spa and dining options.

Funfact: At the turn of the 20th century, automobile racing became a regular pastime along the hard-packed beaches of Daytona. Today vehicles are only allowed to cruise on 11 of Daytona Beaches’ 23 miles at a snail’s pace of 10 mph.

NEW SMYRNA BEACH

The main attraction in New Smyrna Beach is (you got it) its 13 miles of white sandy beaches hugging the Atlantic Ocean. Your clients can choose to sunbathe, go for a swim, stroll the beach or really do nothing at all. The beaches of New Smyrna are well known for surfing, offering prime wave action on the eastern seaboard.

If your clients are interested in spending a day at a protected park, recommend Smyrna Dunes Park, located on the northern tip of the New Smyrna Beach peninsula. Visitors can arrive at the 73-acre park by land or sea; the area is surrounded by water on three sides providing a variety of fishing or swimming venues for park-goers. And don’t forget to bring Fido as dogs are allowed to explore the park as well, but they must be leashed at all times.

Hutchinson Island Marriott Beach Resort & Marina

EMERALD COAST

The Emerald Coast is another of Florida’s gems bestowed with miles and miles of sugar-white sand beaches along the Gulf of Mexico. The area encompasses Santa Rosa Island, Destin, Fort Walton Beach and Okaloosa Island. With acclaim from Southern Living magazine and USA Today as one of the best beach and family vacation destinations, it boasts 24 miles of stunning shoreline perfect for sandcastle making and relaxing under a beach umbrella.

Learning how to be a certified beach bum should be your client’s No. 1 agenda when visiting the Emerald Coast. But for the adventurous visitor, the beaches are ideal for parasailing, waterskiing, sailing, windsurfing and stand-up paddle boarding.

According to The Emerald Coast CVB, the area sees approximately 3.9 million overnight visitors a year. For clients looking to stay a night or two, recommend the Four Points By Sheraton Destin-Fort Walton Beach (starwoodhotels.com). A Starwood Hotels & Resorts brand, the beachside property delivers comfortable accommodations directly on the beach with room categories that range from King Standard to Beachfront Suite.

Funfact: The oval shape of each grain of sand on the Emerald Coast makes the beach “squeak” when you walk on it.

FLORIDA’S SPACE COAST

Encompassing such coastal communities as Melbourne, Palm Bay and Titusville, Florida’s Space Coast has the longest stretch of beaches in the entire state—over 72 miles along Florida’s east coast.

Florida’s Space Coast is made for surfing, and whether it’s a seasoned professional or a first-time surfer, with this much beach for practice, visitors and locals can be sure to find a killer spot to ride the waves. Kayaking is also popular as is parasailing and boogie boarding. Of course, picking up a book and lying under a beach umbrella is also an option.

The Hilton Melbourne Beach Oceanfront (hilton.com) is conveniently located near Kennedy Space Center and Port Canaveral. Oceanfront guestrooms feature full-sized balconies and comfortable accommodations. The hotel received the 2012 TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence Award for outstanding traveler reviews.

Funfact: Florida’s Space Coast region holds the largest sea turtle nesting area in the U.S. and the second largest in the world.

Cocoa Beach, courtesy of Florida's Space Coast Office of Tourism

COCOA BEACH

Just six miles long and approximately one mile wide sits the barrier island of Cocoa Beach on Florida’s east coast. The small beach community is the place where surfers frolic (prolific surfer Kelly Slater is from the area) and was once the spot where visitors would flock to watch a space shuttle lift-off into orbit. Cocoa Beach is also one of the closest beaches to Orlando, which makes it a convenient day trip either to or from the amusement parks.

The immense Ron Jon Surf Shop should be an indication of what’s popular in Cocoa Beach—surfing. Advise your clients to take a lesson or just sit back and watch professionals hit the waves. Make sure to send clients to the Cocoa Beach Pier, a historical landmark on a stretch of beach famous for its surfing. Other notable beaches include Satellite Beach, Canaveral National Seashore and farther north, Playalinda Beach.

The sandy beach of the Atlantic Ocean is just steps away from The Hilton Cocoa Beach Oceanfront (hilton.com). The hotel offers 296 spacious guestrooms and suites and is ideal for families and groups. The property is only five minutes from Port Canaveral’s cruise terminals, 30 minutes from Kennedy Space Center and an hour’s drive from Walt Disney World, Universal and SeaWorld.

The International Palms Resort & Conference Center (internationalpalmscocoabeach.com) is only “38 steps” from the sun and fun of the Atlantic Ocean where guests can rent a boogie board or surfboard to try their luck with the waves. Accommodations range from Oceanside and Family Fun Room to Poolside Cabana and Loft categories. Also recommend The Resort on Cocoa Beach (theresortoncocoabeach.com) for groups or families since each rental unit accommodates up to six people. Steps from the Atlantic Ocean, the resort offers 2-bedroom oceanview or oceanfront accommodations with a full kitchen and washer/dryer as well as a movie theater, game room, pool, and outdoor activities like fishing, surfing and golf.

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY

Surfing and eco-tourism rule in Indian River County. The area is popular for novice and experienced surfers as well as nature lovers. Indian River County boasts 26 miles of pristine beaches and is also an eco-tourist’s dream as many areas are ideal for kayaking and canoeing along protected preserves.

There are plenty of parks in Indian River County for your clients to choose from, whether they seek a quiet stretch of sand along the Atlantic Ocean, a place to launch a canoe or kayak, or be a spectator on the sand while surfers ride the waves. Recommend Vero Beach, a 3-mile stretch of beach popular for surfing as well as Wabasso Beach Park and Sebastian Inlet State Park, one of the best surfing sites on the U.S. eastern seaboard. The park also includes camping, a fishing pier, nature walks, restrooms and a boardwalk to the beach.

Perfect for families is the Disney Vero Beach Resort (disneybeachresorts.com). The property’s rooms and suite accommodations range from studios to 3-bedroom beach cottages. Amenities are signature to the brand with Disney-themed pools and play areas for the kids, a Peter Pan-themed miniature golf course, a spa, fitness center and multitude of dining options. Also recommend the Vero Beach Hotel & Spa (verobeachhotelandspa.com), a Kimpton Hotel, located steps from the Atlantic Ocean. The hotel can arrange any activity for your clients from deep-sea fishing to kayaking, surfing and snorkeling. The resort offers 113 guestrooms and suites, from deluxe rooms to oceanfront studio suites and 3-bedroom grand suites with ocean views.

Funfact: Many Ice Age fossils, including mammoth, mastodon and saber-tooth cats, were discovered in Indian River County.

MARTIN COUNTY

Martin County, located on Florida’s eastern coastline, is another area known for its flawless and less-congested beaches where your clients can rent a kayak, canoe or simply lay on the beach soaking up the rays. “The beaches are definitely the biggest draw for visitors who choose our destination because of its natural qualities—our coastline is not over crowded or congested,” says Rozeta Mahboubi, executive director of the Martin County Convention & Visitors Bureau Tourist Information Center.

Recommend Hobe Sound Beach, a family spot with full beach amenities including showers and picnic areas. Also popular is Stuart Beach where your clients can walk the 250-ft.-long boardwalk overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Volleyball and basketball courts are on site as well as a playground and the Elliott Museum, which houses a collection of Americana dating back to 1750.

The 274-guestrooom Hutchinson Island Marriott Beach Resort & Marina (marriott.com) is a 200-acre island retreat located directly along the Atlantic. The property recently underwent a $3.5 million renovation project to its guestrooms, refurbishing carpets, bedding, furniture and artwork—plus adding beach cabanas, restoring walkways and corridors as well as the resort’s golf course and meeting spaces.

Fort De Soto Park, courtesy of Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater

ST. PETERSBURG/CLEARWATER

St. Petersburg/Clearwater, located on Florida’s west coast, is made up of 35 miles of white sandy beaches, which are consistently ranked among the best in the world. “From the laid-back beach community of Pass-A-Grille to bustling Clearwater Beach, we have plenty of options for beach lovers,” says DT Minich, executive director of Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater.

For a romantic beach getaway, recommend Honeymoon Island, a natural barrier island and state park with four miles of sandy beaches, nature trails and abundant wildlife. For families, Clearwater Beach truly has it all: white sand, turquoise waters, marinas, a playground, showers, attractions, nightlife and restaurants. Or tell your clients to hop on a ferry from Honeymoon Island to Caladesi Island, which is accessible only by boat. The island features kayak rentals, mangrove kayak trails and even a concession stand offering beer and wine.

The Sheraton Sand Key Resort (sheratonsandkey.com) boasts 390 rooms and suites overlooking the Gulf of Mexico and the Intracoastal Waterway. The hotel sits on 10 acres of beachfront property and includes a pool deck, recreational activities, two bars, three restaurants and two resort shops. Also nestled between the Gulf and Intracoastal Waterway is the Hyatt Regency Clearwater Resort and Spa (clearwaterbeach.hyatt.com), featuring 250 suites ranging from 600 sq. ft. to 2,000 sq. ft., the Sandava spa and Camp Hyatt kids’ club.

Siesta Key, courtesy of Visit Sarasota County

SARASOTA COUNTY

Sarasota County not only has a thriving downtown area but features jaw-dropping islands located on the Gulf of Mexico where travelers can sink their toes into sugary white sand that is 99 percent quartz, so it doesn’t get hot regardless of the temperature outside.

Your clients will truly feel like they are on a deserted island vacation if they visit Casey Key, an 8-mile-long isolated island with only 400 residents. Siesta Key Beach is a must for those who love the soft sand and turquoise waters of the Gulf; Longboat Key is popular for parasailing and kayaking and close to fine dining restaurants along the Gulf.

Hyatt Siesta Key Beach Club (siestakeybeach.hyatt.com) offers residential-style luxury for your clients looking for a trusted hotel brand with beach access to one of the finest beaches in the area as well as comfortable accommodations and state-of-the-art fitness center and spa. Also recommend the Hilton Longboat Key Beach Resort (hilton.com) or the Longboat Key Club & Resort (longboatkeyclub.com), a luxury four-diamond beachfront resort with 218 recently renovated rooms and suites with private balconies, six restaurants, golf courses, a marina, a spa and fitness center.

CHARLOTTE HARBOR & THE GULF ISLANDS

Located halfway between Tampa and Naples on the southwest Florida Gulf Coast is the charming beachside community of Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands. With 28 miles of beaches to explore, Charlotte Harbor has been acclaimed as one of the “10 Greatest Places to Sail in the United States” by SAIL magazine, and rated by MONEY magazine as one of the “Best Places to Live in the South.”

“Visiting the beach is one of the top things visitors do in Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands; it’s an important tourist attraction. However, compared to other well-known beach destinations we don’t receive the huge crowds, but our beaches are appreciated by beachgoers looking for that not-so-crowded beach experience,” says Jennifer Huber, tourism public relations manager, Charlotte Harbor Visitor & Convention Bureau.

Charlotte Harbor is known for its quieter, less-crowded beaches and state parks. Recommend a day on Englewood Beach where your clients can rent kayaks and canoes or spend the day lounging on the sand. If they are interested in visiting a state park for snorkeling, fishing, boating or nature tours recommend Stump Pass Beach and Don Pedro Island state parks.

Palm Island Resort (palmisland.com) offers 100 privately owned villas in Old Florida-style architecture on a 2-mile stretch of beachfront accessible only by boat or car ferry. Accommodations vary from Island Beach Villas to Mainland Marina Villas, ideal for boaters.

THE BEACHES OF FORT MEYERS AND SANIBEL ISLAND

The beaches of Southwest Florida are ideal for shelling and experiencing a natural touch of coastline that is well preserved and undisturbed. Whether your clients desire a beach environment full of action and activity or one where they can walk miles and miles on undeveloped shoreline, The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel Island situated along the Gulf of Mexico, are ideal for whatever kind of beach vacation your clients desire.

There are dozens of beaches to choose from in this area of Florida, but for couples, recommend Turner Beach perfect for watching the sun set; for families there is Bonita Beach Park offering picnic areas, concession stands and boardwalk; and Blind Pass Beach, located on Sanibel’s north end, is the spot where your clients can walk the shoreline and increase their shell collection at the same time.

“Whether you want to hunt for seashells (our area is considered one of the best shelling destinations in the world), or just relax on the beach, you will leave relaxed and craving for a return visit,” says Tamara Pigott, executive director, Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau.

Recommend the four-diamond Sanibel Harbour Resort and Spa (marriott.com) located on a private peninsula overlooking Sanibel and Captiva islands. The property offers 240 guestrooms; three pools; six restaurants; an array of outdoor activities; and a 40,000-sq.-ft., award-winning spa. Casa Ybel Resort (casaybelresort.com) sits on 23 acres of beachfront property overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. The resort has been named one of the “Best Places To Stay In The World” by Conde Nast Traveler, and selected as one of Travel + Leisure’s “500 Greatest Hotels in the World.”

Funfact: Each November, sand sculpting professionals arrive to compete in the American Sandsculpting Championship Festival on Fort Myers Beach, a beach known for its silky smooth, powder-white sand.

NAPLES, MARCO ISLAND AND EVERGLADES

Sunsets, outdoor activities and a laid-back vibe are what truly make the west coast communities of Naples, Marco Island and Everglades Paradise Coast a popular destination for families and honeymooners. The beaches are well-preserved meccas for those that just want to relax and unwind with the warm, soft sand between their toes and gentle lapping waves of the Gulf at their disposal.

Vanderbilt Beach County Park has an abundance of shells, soft sand and plenty of wildlife to observe. The beach offers concessions, restrooms and showers, and proximity to the shops and restaurants of north Naples. Also recommend Naples Municipal Beach with The Pier as its focal point and miles of sea and sand that make for a perfect day at the beach. The area can also be explored via motorboat, sailboat, canoe, kayak, waverunner or parasail.

Bellasera Hotel (bellaseranaples.com) features 100 studio, 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom suites. A unique SunStream property, Bellasera offers luxury cabanas, a heated outdoor pool and spa, fitness center, concierge and spa services and fine cuisine. Also recommend the LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort (laplayaresort.com) situated just 33 steps from the powder-white sands of the Gulf. Conde Nast Traveler named the property the “No. 12 Top Resort in U.S.”

Jupiter Beach, courtesy of Palm Beach County Convention & Visitors Bureau

PALM BEACHES

The Palm Beaches is home to one of the state’s most unique stretches of coastlines (47 miles), ranging from a rocky Anastasia limestone beach in the northern city of Jupiter to a white, sandy shoreline hemming the destination all the way from Palm Beach to Boca Raton.

The county’s northern beaches are ideal for exploring, with limestone formations sheltering a wide variety of marine life and creating some of the best areas for diving and snorkeling just offshore. The flat, sandy beaches in the central and southern parts of the county are great for sunbathing and watersports. Recommend Juno Beach Park, a comfortable stretch of beach with picnic shelters, showers, restrooms and a 990-ft. pier with a bait shop and snack bar. Another popular spot is Jupiter State Park ideal for watersports, fishing and swimming.

Recommend The Breakers (thebreakers.com), a luxury oceanfront hotel offering 520 guestrooms including 68 suites; two 18-hole championship golf courses; a spa; beach bungalows and a variety of watersports. There is also the Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach (fourseasons.com) and Jupiter Beach Resort & Spa (jupiterbeachresort.com), both offering deluxe accommodations and located just steps from the Atlantic Ocean.

FORT LAUDERDALE & ITS ENVIRONS

The Greater Fort Lauderdale area is known for its beaches, arts & culture as well as beachfront restaurants and 23 miles of sun-kissed coastline where visitors and locals lay back and relax under the South Florida sun.

There are many beaches your clients can choose from if they decide to spend a few days exploring Fort Lauderdale. Recommend Dania Beach, a popular spot ideal for picnicking, kayaking and swimming; Hollywood Beach is known for its 2.5-mile boardwalk, and movies Rock of Ages and Marley and Me were recently filmed in the area; and Pompano Beach with its crystal-clear water and pier where locals stroll and fish.

Recommend B Ocean Fort Lauderdale (bhotelsandresorts.com), a chic beachfront property with 240 guestrooms and suites. With its signature B Indulged Spa suite and B Active fitness center, this hotel offers all of the accommodations and amenities associated with the B Hotels & Resorts brand.

Families and groups would feel comfortable staying at the Harbor Beach Fort Lauderdale Resort & Spa (marriottharborbeach.com). The beachside property features the Surf Club for Kids where children ages 5 to 12 can take part in pool and beach games, scavenger hunts, arts & crafts, relay races and more. The resort features 650 guestrooms and suites and is located only 10 minutes from Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport.

MIAMI & ITS ENVIRONS

Send your clients down to the greater Miami area if they crave the lure of South Beach and its nightlife, acclaimed restaurants, and luxury hotels and resorts located steps from the Atlantic Ocean, or if they seek a quieter, beach town environment that can be found in areas like Key Biscayne.

South Beach in Miami Beach is made for lounging on the sand and people watching. Surfing is minimal but can be found between 1st and 5th streets; Crandon Park in Key Biscayne is three miles long and ideal for families offering picnic areas, beach volleyball, a playground area, shower facilities, restrooms and shelters; and farther north at 79th Street and Collins Avenue, recommend your clients visit North Shore Open Space Park, a beach voted the best in Miami for its greenery and open spaces.

There are truly dozens upon dozens of hotels and resorts located along Miami’s coastline. Some worth noting are The Ritz-Carlton, Key Biscayne (ritzcarlton.com) located near Crandon Park. The property offers 450 guestrooms; 113 suites; 64 Ritz-Carlton Club Level rooms and suites; and one Ritz-Carlton Presidential Suite along with 11 tennis courts and water activities such as windsurfing, sailing and kayaking.

The Acqualina (acqualinaresort.com) is located on 4.5 beachfront acres in the Sunny Isles Beach community. The resort features 188 residences and 98 guestsrooms and suites; three oceanfront restaurants and pools; and a marine biology-based AcquaMarine children’s program.

A Miami Beach staple and boutique hotel, The Delano (delano-hotel.com) is a Morgans Hotel Group brand located in the heart of South Beach and directly on the ocean. Recommend The Delano to couples and those who want to be close to the beach and the nightlife that has made South Beach a popular tourist destination.

AHOY BOAT LOVERS!

It makes sense for Florida to host a bevy of boat and yacht shows during winter and spring when the sky is a crystal-clear blue and temperatures are just right. Here are a few of the state’s most prominent boat shows held every year for those clients who want to browse or buy yachts, boats and a slew of marine commodities.

The 28th Annual Palm Beach International Boat Show, held March 21-24, 2013, is one of the top 10 boat shows in the country, featuring hundreds of power boats, center consoles, personal watercrafts and superyachts over 150 ft. The show features more than $350 million worth of vessels and nautical accessories from the world’s leading marine manufacturers.

Fort Lauderdale, aka the “Yachting Capital of the World,” is host to the 54th Annual Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show held in October. From sportfishers and high-performance boats to cabin cruisers and catamarans, visitors get a chance to see and board some of today’s top-of-the-line vessels in a 3-million-sq.-ft. space.

Cruising into Miami Feb. 14-18, 2013, is the Miami International Boat Show & Strictly Sail showcasing more than 3,000 boats and 2,000 maritime companies from all over the globe. Held in three separate locations—The Miami Beach Convention Center, Sea Isle Marina & Yachting Center and Miamarina at Bayside—visitors get a chance to shop and browse the newest products in recreational boats and marine accessories. Other notable boat shows include The St. Petersburg Power & Sailboat Show, presented in the latter part of the year and the largest boat show on the Gulf Coast, and the annual Suncoast Boat Show, April 19-21, 2013, in downtown Sarasota.

Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse & Museum, courtesy of Palm Beach CountyConvention & Visitors Bureau

WHIRLWIND LIGHTHOUSE TOUR

Florida is sprinkled with lighthouses. Here are a few that should not be missed:

  • Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse, just south of Daytona Beach: The tallest lighthouse in Florida, with 203 steps to the top of the 175-ft. tower.
  • Cape St. George Light on Little St. George Island: Built in 1852, this 153-year-old veteran of hurricanes, wars, anderosion collapsed on Oct. 21, 2005, but was rebuilt and opened to the public in 2008.
  • Cape Florida Lighthouse at the end of Key Biscayne in Miami: Originally built in 1825 and reconstructed in 1846, this is the oldest structure in Miami Dade County.
  • St Augustine Lighthouse: It’s an area icon and offers great views from the top and a memorable climb to get there.
  • Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse & Museum: A stunning red brick lighthouse that stands at 115 ft. in height.
  • Pensacola Lighthouse and Museum: Built in 1859, this lighthouse has 177 steps and offers one of the most beautiful views on the Gulf Coast.
  • Key West Lighthouse and Keeper’s Quarters Museum: This lighthouse was built in 1847 to aid ships navigating dangerous reefs off the lower Keys.