Barrier islands are known for their unique environment and diversified landscapes that support over 35 rare, threatened, or endangered species. From the mainland to wilderness, parks, and open shores, these thin stretches of land feature some of Florida's most unspoiled and gorgeous natural sights.
The southernmost Sea Island and the state's northernmost barrier island has a lot to offer within the 13 by 4 miles area. It was named one of the nation's most romantic towns, with communities like Fernandina Beach, Amelia City, and American Beach welcoming scenery-seekers from all walks of life. The island with a truly Floridian vibe is one of the sweetest escapes in the nation for the sandy beaches and dunes, golf, resorts, boardwalks, and other recreational pursuits.
The enchanting rivers, marshes, and greenways provide endless wildlife exploration opportunities in the vicinity of pristine beaches. The vast main Beach Park is a popular place to hang out any time of year, with shores, trails, and green spaces for varied pastimes. The laidback vibe on the island comes with quaint B&Bs overlooking the beach and serene activities. There's horseback riding along the shores, dolphin-sighting, paddling through the tranquil waters, and simply soaking in the scenery.
Anastasia Island is a lesser-known 1-mile wide by 14 miles long stretch of untouched natural beauty. It is bounded on one side by the sand bars in the 1,600-acre Anastasia State Park, which is considered one of the state's best, and features the Coquina Quarry. The Matanzas Inlet to the other side comes with the Fort Matanzas Monument. The Matanzas River is great for fresh-water swimming, kayaking, fishing, or hiking along the winding path of the peaceful inland.
St. Augustine is a historically-grand city nearby with a beach scene of resorts, hotels, restaurants, and lively bars. History fans will enjoy sighting the famed St. Augustine Lighthouse, while explorers can venture through the Fort Matanzas State Park. The state's highly regarded music venue St. Augustine Amphitheatre with nearly 5,000 outdoor seats, is only half a mile from the beach. The island is also home to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm, the Maritime Museum, and an atmospheric Plaza de la Constitución.
Anna Maria Island
The gorgeous 7-mile-long Anna Maria barrier island is set south of Tampa and St. Petersburg. The Gulf of Mexico bounds it to the west, Longboat Pass to the south, Anna Maria Sound to the east, and Tampa Bay to the north. The renowned shoreline boasts sugar-white sands, turquoise waters, as well as the Gulf's blue waters. Bradenton Beach and Coquina Beach offer a variety of scenically-set activities throughout the year.
The national and international destination offers a perfect getaway for a relaxing family vacation or honeymoon. It is widely known for beautiful sunrises over Tampa Bay, gorgeous sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico, and dolphins and manatee sightings. There's an "Old Florida" vibe with history and architecture, along with quaint business districts peeking at the waters through the swaying tropical foliage. The Anna Maria Island Historical Society teaches about the original Timucuan Indian inhabitants before the Spanish arrival.
The stunning island is known for its prominent, artsy vibe in town, along with eclectic streets adorned in beautiful colors and installations. There are also many quirky restaurants, various shops, and interesting art galleries to peruse. The spectacular sunsets from Captiva Beach are world-renowned. The South Seas Island Resort offers a variety of recreations, while the Andy Rosse Lane, Whitman Lane, and Laika Lane are best for water sights with dolphins putting on a show.
Captiva is heaven for reunions, couples' getaways, and destination weddings, with many weekly-rental options on the island. The Turner Beach offers bountiful shelling and ample fishing, as well as connects to Sanibel over Blind Pass for more scenic explorations. There's also the renowned Captiva Cruises with various destinations, including shelling excursions at the secluded Cayo Costa State Park.
Gasparilla is a gorgeous Gulf barrier island in southwest Florida. It is a quaint tourist destination since the early 20th century, adorned in Old Florida charm and locals riding golf carts. Boca Grande is the island's largest town and home to the Gasparilla Island State Park, while Banyan Street comes lined with namesake trees. There is also the renowned classic 1913 Gasparilla Inn & Club with adorable cottages for an unforgettable stay and the funky Temptation for lunch.
The active will enjoy scenic swimming, snorkeling, fishing, as well as exploring the wilderness around the island. During winter, the ocean brings bountiful shelling opportunities to the shores. There are shady pavilions at Sandspur and near the 1890 Boca Grande Lighthouse for scenic picnics, with the latter also housing an interesting museum. The island is known for its relaxed atmosphere and Florida folklore connection to a pirate by the same name who once lived on the premises.
The subtropical paradise of Key Biscayne across the scenic Rickenbacker Causeway offers many opportunities to get active. The oasis was a Matheson family-run coconut plantation-turned destination for boating and water sports enthusiasts. It is adorned with sandy beaches, nature preserves, and Crandon Park with a three-mile stretch of white sand. There are a ton of restaurants for dining with stunning views, such as the iconic Rusty Pelican set right on the causeway. It features an elegant waterfront dining area with a view from its floor-to-ceiling windows of the marina, Biscayne Bay, and Downtown Miami's skyline.
There's also the Virginia Key along the causeway with the Historic Virginia Key Beach Park, the Virginia Key Outdoor Center, and the Miami Seaquarium. The Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park at its southern tip is a nature lover's paradise full of recreational options, including golf, tennis, kayaking, and nature trails for jogging, cycling, and rollerblading with water vistas. One can also explore the historic lighthouse, as well as relax on the beach, kayak, and fish from a charter. The Village of Key Biscayne near the island's center is quiet and laidback with Southern Florida's warm vibes, despite being proximate to Miami.
"Lost" Key is the most unspoiled, scenically perched barrier island in Florida's northwestmost corner. The gorgeous locale is mostly a grand Perdido Key State Park overlooking the calm waters of the Gulf. The park offers16 miles of stunning rolling white-sand dunes covered with sea oats. The Gulf breeze gently plays on the sands' shifting patterns, while eight pavilions are great for picnics in a memorable setting. There's also the Big Lagoon State Park across the bridge on Perdido Key's namesake mainland, with plentiful hiking and camping opportunities.
The secluded beach area is nestled on the Gulf Islands National Seashore. The white-sanded beaches and rolling dunes are beloved by swimmers and sunbathers, with surf fishing a popular activity in the area. Perdido is a habitat of diverse wildlife, including threatened and endangered species of the Perdido Key beach mouse, nesting shorebirds, and nesting sea turtles. Boardwalks from the parking lot access the beach without disturbing or damaging the fragile environment on the island.
Sanibel Island is the epitome of Old Florida under a dark sky ordinance and no traffic lights in town. The strict rules are meant to protect nesting turtles while offering tourists the most tranquil, gorgeous, and unspoiled natural getaway. Most barrier islands stretch north to south, but Sanibel's unique west to east orientation receives some true one-of-a-kind shells from the ocean.
Instead of sanded beaches, the stunning shores are made up of sand dollars and shells, with over 250 different types of seashells. It is the ultimate family destination for bountiful swimming, walking, biking, kayaking, fishing, and boating. The island's historic lighthouse is open for tours, while the renowned J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge is home to alligators, bobcats, river otters, and manatees, among other species.
The island is set along Florida's Panhandle on the stunning Emerald Coast, known for turquoise waters, luxury beach houses, and laid-back vibes for the most relaxing getaway destination. It is home to miles of undeveloped shoreline, surrounded by Pensacola Bay, Choctawhatchee Bay, the Santa Rosa Sound, and the Gulf of Mexico. It is also the setting of Fort Walton Beach and Okaloosa Island, full of natural, undisturbed beauty and pure white-sanded beaches.
"The Footprints" at the Sand Eco Trail uncover the details behind the island's natural environment, including snow-white sands and local sea turtles culture. There's also the Blue Angels Museum at Pensacola Navel Base, while the bike path along Santa Rosa Island leads to the National Gulf Shore and Navarre Beach Marine Park. Pensacola Beach is renowned for spectacular beauty, iconic sunsets, and a water tower styled like a flying saucer.
These barrier islands offer the best surf, sand, and sun, along with sunset strolls and scenery-soaking in the most unspoiled environment. The water vistas will make one feel at the edge of the earth, while many staying options and easy navigation around the islands make it easy to see all the gorgeous natural sights.