The 17 best Florida islands to dream away to

  • Post last modified:January 22, 2022
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The best Florida islands tick every box for amazing beach vacations. In the Sunshine State the stunning paradise islands range from forgotten islands in Northwest Florida to famous South Florida islands. Each island has its own character and there are islands in Florida for every traveler.

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Santa Rosa Island – A Northwest Florida island with mile after mile of sand dunes

Santa Rosa Island is a beach haven located not far from the Alabama border in the Florida Panhandle. The communities Pensacola Beach, Navarre Beach and Okaloosa Island together share the slice of paradise that the Northwest Florida island is.

The island is 40 miles (64 km) long with endless sandy dunes. You can drive mile after mile and all you see is white sand and the inviting blue Gulf of Mexico. The island keeps its untouched appearance thanks to the Gulf Islands National Seashore that protects large portions of the island from development.

On the very western side of Santa Rosa Island the historic Fort Pickens stands. The fort is both an historically interesting place to visit and one of the best sunset spots in the Pensacola Beach area.

Where to stay

There are many charming places to stay in the Pensacola area. Pensacola Beach offers both liveliness and peacefulness depending on where on Santa Rosa Island you base yourself.

Road and white sand dunes on Santa Rosa Island
Mile after mile of dunes on Santa Rosa Island.

St. George Island – Accenting the tranquility of the Northwest Florida islands

St. George Island just off Florida’s Panhandle between Tallahassee and Panama City is one of the best islands in Florida to unwind. The island belongs to Florida’s so called Forgotten Coast. It’s a section of the Gulf Coast that is known to be quiet, undeveloped and to some extent uninhabited.

Although St. George Island is populated and offers great comfort in hotels, restaurants and bars it’s still a quiet place. On St. George you find miles of unspoiled beaches and there are no high rises. Thankfully strict building codes protect the natural appearance of the Florida island.

In contrast to many other Florida islands there is only one road on and off St. George Island. That there is no through traffic contributes to the relaxing island atmosphere. St. George Island highlights the tranquility of the Northwest Florida islands and is one of the best Florida islands to go to if you look for a quiet time.

Boardwalk to the beach on St. George Island
St. George Island boardwalk.

Anna Maria Island – The island that for long was a Florida secret

Anna Maria Island is a 7 miles (11 km) long island situated near Bradenton. On the Florida island you from north to south find the three cities Anna Maria, Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach.

The northernmost town Anna Maria is the most quiet and secluded part of the island. That’s where you are furthest away from the connections to the mainland. But each city on the Florida island offers the signature laid-back Gulf Coast ambience.

Most importantly you also wherever you go on the island find beautiful beach spots. The lovely white beaches make it hard not to fall in love with the Florida island.

Anna Maria Island was for long a local Florida secret but when you visit you realize that the word eventually had to get out. The result of its old Florida charm and stunning shoreline is a fantastic vacation destination.

Palm tree and pier on Anna Maria Island in Florida
Anna Maria Island silhoutte.

Siesta Key – A Florida island famous for its quartz sand

Siesta Key just a short drive from Sarasota has the three beaches Siesta Beach, Crescent Beach and Turtle Beach. Among them Siesta Beach is the most famous and it even has been named the number one beach in the US.

One of the main reasons that makes Siesta Key so very appreciated is its white quartz sand. White quartz sand is very fine and keeps cooler than sand that is darker in color.

So the white sand on the Florida island both looks beautiful and feels soft and cool under your feet. The celebrated white quartz beach certainly makes Siesta Key one of the bucket list Florida islands for the beach lover.

White sand and a red lifeguard tower
The white and soft Siesta Key beach.

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    Pine Island – Not one of the beachy islands off the coast of Florida

    Pine Island is not the type of Florida island that gets a lot of attention. Southwest Florida visitors tend to pick other islands in the Fort Myers area including Sanibel Island and Captiva Island.

    That’s the case because unlike many other Florida islands there are no real beaches on Pine Island. Therefore Pine Island isn’t one of the best Florida islands if you want to have a Florida vacation on the beach.

    But if you look for an old Florida ambience Pine Island certainly is one of the best islands off the coast of Florida to visit. The island is surrounded by mangroves and has a rural character that it’s hard to find these days.

    Calm ocean in Florida
    The quiet Pine Island Sound.

    Sanibel Island – The Florida island for the nature lover

    On Sanibel Island in Southwest Florida you really live side by side with nature. Its special relation to nature makes Sanibel one of the most unique Florida islands.

    No high rises are allowed on Sanibel. New structures are not permitted to be taller than the tallest palm tree. That contributes to Sanibel’s laid-back island vibe. By a distance the island’s historic Sanibel Lighthouse at 98-feet (30 m) is its tallest building.

    At night the Florida island also gets really dark. To keep light pollution at a minimum there are no street or traffic lights on Sanibel Island. On top of that no lights at all should be visible from the beach. Artificial lights near the shoreline could disorientate the sea turtles.

    In the peaceful setting there are many beaches to enjoy on Sanibel. Above all the beaches on the Florida island are famous for its beautiful shells. Sanibel Island is among shelling enthusiasts known as the world’s shelling capital.

    Where to stay

    You can’t go wrong when you look for where to stay on Sanibel Island. East End means closer to the mainland and the iconic lighthouse, while Mid Island gives you a more central island location.

    Sanibel is an Florida island where you live side by side with nature
    Side by side with nature on Sanibel.

    Captiva Island – One of the most well-hidden Florida islands

    Captiva Island is Sanibel’s northern sister island. If you come by car you need to cross Sanibel to get to Captiva from the mainland. But if you find your way to the secluded Florida island it’s easy to be captivated.

    On Captiva Island you’re further from the mainland noice than on Sanibel. The island is also smaller with fewer hotels and things to do. In many ways it’s a downsized version of its neighbor island.

    Still it’s just because of the fact that Captiva is one of the most well-hidden Florida islands that makes it so very appreciated. In the relaxing setting it’s easy to unwind. Without other distractions you on Captiva Island can enjoy the white beaches, blue Gulf of Mexico and the most spectacular sunsets.

    Sunset on one of the most well-hidden Florida islands
    Sunset on Captiva Island.

    North Captiva Island – An island in Florida you didn’t know existed

    North Captiva Island lies north of Captiva Island and west of Pine Island. Without a road connection to the mainland it’s an island in Florida that doesn’t get much attention.

    But it’s still relatively easy to get to the remote Florida island. A ferry runs from the neighboring Pine Island and it takes you to North Captiva Island in just roughly 20 minutes.

    But if you take a Gulf Coast road trip you need to let your car rest while you unwind on the isolated island. There is no car access or paved roads on the island and you either walk, bike or use a golf cart to get around.

    Most of all North Captiva Island is the perfect island in Florida if you want to spend an isolated week in the sun. However, it’s certainly not the best Florida Island if you look for liveliness and attractions.

    Marco Island – The Florida island that offers the best of both worlds

    Marco Island in the southwest corner of Florida proudly shows off its white beaches and tall island resorts. Unlike Sanibel and Captiva further north the island is developed with high rises.

    Still Marco Island has kept its appreciated small-town character and slow pace. Life truly is a beach on the Florida island. Its Tigertail Beach and South Beach are renowned as some of the best beaches in Florida.

    But if you want something else than beach days Marco Island is also one of the most conveniently located Florida islands. In just about 30 minutes you can get to Naples for exclusive shopping and dining. Or if you want to explore the Everglades it’s also roughly the same amount of time to the huge wetland.

    The bridge to Marco Island
    The bridge to Marco Island.

    Amelia Island – Wild Atlantic beauty on the tucked away Florida island

    Amelia Island is Florida’s northernmost Atlantic island. At the Georgia border the tucked away Amelia is part of the Sea Islands chain. The group of American islands stretches out along the Atlantic coast from South Carolina to Florida.

    When you visit Amelia Island you can’t miss its wild Atlantic beauty. The 13 miles (21 km) of Atlantic coastline on the Florida island offer a unique natural charm. The beaches are uncrowded and it’s easy to unwind in the untroubled surroundings.

    On top of the grand coastline there also is history to explore on Amelia. The Florida island has served under eight different flags throughout the years. In Fernandina Beach, the island’s biggest town, you find streets lined by Victorian buildings. The delightful historic district is like made for peaceful strolls.

    Key Biscayne – A scenic Florida island not far from Miami Beach

    Key Biscayne is a scenic island just south of Miami Beach. With undeniable natural beauty the Florida island tempts visitors even from the glamorous streets of Miami. The quiet beaches on Key Biscayne is really a welcome contrast to Miami’s intense South Beach.

    The Florida island has a central village and not one but two beautiful parks. Crandon Park magnificently covers the northern part of Key Biscayne. And on the southern part of the island the as pretty Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park is located. Both have the beautiful beaches and palm trees that you associate with Florida islands.

    Lighthouse on the Florida island Key Biscayne
    Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park.

    Key Largo – The gateway to the archipelago of South Florida islands

    The northern and first major island in the Florida Keys is Key Largo. At 33 miles (53 km) in length Key Largo is the largest segment of the Keys. The island is the gateway to the archipelago of beautiful South Florida islands.

    Key Largo is only located 67 miles (108 km) from Miami. Still it’s in stark contrast to the metropolitan melting pot. Life on the South Florida island is laid-back and peaceful. And just like all over the Keys water activities is an important part of life.

    A prime example of how rich Key Largo is in ocean beauty is John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. The park known as the first undersea park in the US offers fantastic opportunities for diving and snorkeling.

    Life on water in Key Largo
    Life on water in Key Largo.

    Islamorada – Florida Islands halfway from Miami to Key West

    If you travel by car from Miami to Key West the Islamorada islands form the halfway point. Islamorada encompasses Plantation Key, Windley Key, Upper Matecumbe Key, Lower Matecumbe Key and Tea Table Key.

    Above all Islamorada is about water activities. The waters surrounding the Florida islands are as appreciated by divers as by fishing enthusiasts. Often Islamorada is referred to as the sport fishing capital of the world.

    But if you don’t want to spend time on water or catch fish another popular thing to do in Islamorada is to feed fish. At Robbie’s visitors are welcome to feed the greedy tarpons that frequent the joint’s dock for food.

    Where to stay

    In Islamorada you find both exclusive and more simple places to stay in Florida Keys. But no matter where in Islamorada you stay you’re always close to water.

    Golden sunset in Islamorada
    Islamorada dock at sunset.

    Marathon – South Florida islands in the heart of the Keys

    A group of Florida Keys islands situated halfway from the start of the Overseas highway to Key West form the Marathon area. In Marathon you’re literally in the heart of the pretty chain of South Florida islands.

    Most of all Marathon embraces the traditional lifestyle of the Keys. The Marathon islands including Vaca Key, Fat Deer Key and Grassy Key are all great places to relax.

    Although the Florida Keys not are primarily known as a beach destination you find a very pretty beach in Marathon. Sombrero Beach is one of the very best beach spots in the Florida Keys and a great place for lazy days.

    Florida islands in both directions in Marathon, FL
    Florida islands in both directions.

    Lower Keys – The most quiet part of the Florida Keys

    The iconic Seven Mile Bridge takes you from Marathon to the Lower Keys portion of the Florida Keys. It’s a spread out region of the Keys that encompasses numerous charming Florida Islands to explore.

    Little Duck Key, Bahia Honda Key, Big Pine Key, Little Torch Key, Cudjoe Key, Upper Sugarloaf Key and Lower Sugarloaf Key are just a few of the islands in the Florida Keys region. The area is serene with fewer restaurants, bars and hotels compared to other parts of the Keys.

    If you look for the best Florida Keys to spend some quiet time you don’t need to look further. The Lower Keys region is often referred to as the quiet part of the Keys.

    Bahia Honda State Park in Florida Keys
    Bahia Honda Key.

    Key West – A Florida island with quirkiness in its DNA

    At the very southern end of US Highway 1 you find Key West. The Florida island and city is the southernmost destination of the continental United States.

    Among the Florida islands Key West stands out as the capital of quirkiness. Key West really is like its own world at its own slow pace. On the island chickens roam down the street and every evening sunset is celebrated.

    The South Florida island is also located so far south that summer really is endless in Key West. In January the daily average high temperature is a comfortable 74°F (24°C). Even at night in January the temperature on average only goes down to 64°F (18°C).

    Where to stay

    In Old Town you find the places to stay in Key West with the best access to the island’s attractions. Other options are New Town or to venture an island away to Stock Island.

    The last Florida island along US Route 1
    The quirky Key West.

    Dry Tortugas – South Florida islands even further from the mainland

    Key West is one of the South Florida islands that’s really far away from the mainland. By car you can’t go any further. But if you’re willing to go by boat or seaplane the islands in Dry Tortugas National Park sit even further away from mainland Florida.

    Dry Tortugas is located around 65 miles (108 km) west of Key West. The remote national park protects seven small and uninhabited Florida islands with true Caribbean charm.

    With sandy beaches, picturesque blue waters and rich coral reefs a day passes in no time in Dry Tortugas. But a nice break from the sun and the water is to tour Garden Key’s historic Fort Jefferson. Another impressive structure on the South Florida islands to admire is the iconic lighthouse on Loggerhead Key.

    Loggerhead Key is one of the most remote Florida islands
    The remote Loggerhead Key.

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