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If you’re planning a trip to the Florida beaches, there are a few things you need to know before you go. The fact that Florida is a peninsula and nearly surrounded by water means we have plenty of beaches. They are as varied a the state itself. However, these things remain the same no matter where you go in the state.
Learn about turtles, tides, seashells, and other wildlife on the Florida beaches. Plus tips on what you need to know before you go.
May 2, 2020 Note: Not all Florida beaches are open. Not all are even open all day. Please respect the local ordinances and stay physically distant from other families.
Gulf Side versus Atlantic Side
Ask any Floridian which side they prefer and you’ll likely get a very opinionated answer.
The gulf side is the western side of Florida adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico. The Atlantic side is the eastern side of Florida from Jacksonville to Miami. And well, the Florida Keys are truly something all to themselves.
Oh, also, not all Keys are in the Florida Keys. Keys are just another word for an island and you’ll find islands and keys up and down the Florida coastlines.
Folks will tell you the temperature is different, the sands are different, the wildlife is different, but having visited many beaches on either side, they have more similarities than differences. If you know a city you want to visit, pick a beach close to that city and go. You won’t be disappointed either way.
Speaking of islands, Florida has an intercoastal waterway that exists due to the barrier islands on either side of the state. If you’re reading a description of a hotel and it tells you it’s on the intercoastal, you’re getting the water view that’s opposite of the ocean. Think of it as a long river. Don’t get me wrong, the intercoastal is great for boating, kayaking, fishing and more. And some of them do have sandy beaches. But if you want to be on the Gulf or Atlantic, be sure you know what side of the water you’re on.
If you’ve never been to a beach that is oceanfront, be it the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic or somewhere else in the world, you need to know about tides. This just means the water level changes. Hey, I am from the beaches of Western Michigan, so I know it was new to me at one time.
Tides change daily with high tide and low tide. Depending on the beach, this can be anywhere from 5-10 feet. Knowing if the tide is going in or out is important if you like to set up camp right at the shoreline. Set it up at low tide and you’ll be underwater as high tide comes in. Set it up at high tide and the water will slowly move away from you. I use a Tides App that tells me what the high and low tide is based on my location. If you’re staying at a hotel on the beach, they’ll likely have tide times posted for your reference as well.
Despite what you see online, it’s not all white sand beaches throughout the state of Florida. While there are white sands, there are golden, brown, black, orange, beaches with shells, beaches with rocks, and more. If you’re looking for white sand, visit Siesta Key in Sarasota, or Perdido Key in the northwest.
Yes, you can surf in Florida. While we may not have the extremities that Hawaii has for surfing, or have that California surfer dude persona, Florida does have some well-known surfing spots.
Cocoa Beach is one of the most popular surfing beaches in Florida. Daytona area and Jacksonville also boast gnarley waves. Cocoa Beach is home to the famed Ron Jon Surf Shop, while Jacksonville hosts surfing competitions and offers excellent surf schools.
And even if you don’t want to do full-on surfing, the waters along both coasts are great for boogie boards or bodyboards.
Dunes, Grasses, and Plants
The beaches in Florida are not all just surf and sand. Often the dunes leading out to the beach are filled with grasses, mangroves, and plants that do more than provide a pretty distraction. These plants help protect the dunes from erosion. Often you’ll see signs not to walk on the grasses and stick to the path. Make sure you respect the signs and stay on the designated walkways or sand paths to prevent any further erosion.
Seashells are pretty much everywhere in Florida. It just depends on where you go as to what types of shells you’ll find. Sanibel Island is often considered the seashell capital of the world. It’s well worth the trip if. you can make it to Sanibel. However, even if you can’t, many beaches will have some type of shell.
Florida’s Living Beaches is one of my favorite books for discovering shells and more about the Florida beaches. It’s incredibly detailed and full of picture descriptions. I highly recommend picking this up if you’re going to spend any time along Florida’s coastline. I keep this book in my car for whenever we get to the beach.
Another key thing to know about the beaches in the sunshine state is turtle nesting. Many sea turtles are an endangered species and different turtles use Florida to nest.
Sea Turtle nests are protected areas. Marine biologists and other conservationists will survey the beaches for live nests and mark them off for their protection.
Sea Turtles found in Florida include the Loggerhead, Green, and Leatherback. Nesting and location vary by type and begin as early as March through as late as September. Hatchlings emerge from July to October.
If you are lucky enough to see a turtle nesting or her nest, do not disturb it. Additionally, at night, lights should be off or shielded so that hatchlings do not become disoriented in making their way back to the sea.
Turtles aren’t the only wildlife you’ll see along the Florida beaches. Dolphins, manatees, and dozens of birds can be spotted in both the open waters and intercoastal waterways. While sharks tend to stay in deeper waters, occasionally, they’ll come into the surf to feed. However, shark sightings from land are rare.
Again, I’d recommend Florida’s Living Beaches as a great wildlife and bird watching resource.
For an overview of everything Florida has to offer, check out these guide books from Lonely Planet.
Many hotels are offering free modifications or cancelation programs. If you are ready to book now, but change your mind, that’s okay.
I’d recommend starting your search with the hotels that have the best rewards programs. You can find my review and list here.
Additionally, I’ve done reviews and stays at the following hotels.
Read more of my reviews here.
What to Take to the Beach
I’ve created a full list of items that you need when you go to the beach. You can check it out here.
Want some fun games to take along to the beach, get my recommendations here.