Autumn has settled in around us and the weather is growing colder in many places. In Southwest Florida, the sun is still shining, the beaches are still bustling, and the locals (myself included!) are shivering if the temperature drops to 70º.
Whatever your interests, Southwest Florida has a beach for you. Even if you don’t have a trip to the Sunshine State in the works, who says you can’t enjoy a little eye candy of blue skies, turquoise Gulf waters, white sand and tanned bodies to keep the impending winter blues away?
Best Beach for Shelling
Bowman’s Beach on Sanibel Island is one great beach for shelling on an island known for its shell-filled beaches. In fact, Sanibel is known for having some of the best shelling beaches in the world (though it’s hard to compete with a beach comprised entirely of shells).
Visitors to the island are known for doing the “Sanibel Stoop” — bending over, butt in the air, collecting shells. Just be sure to get your Stoop on early in the morning to beat the crowds and find the best shells!
Best Beach for Fun — and Pets!
Even if you don’t have a furry friend to bring along, Brohard Paw Park in Venice, Fla., is a great place to combine beach and fun. Pups of all shapes and sizes run free along this stretch of sand, chasing balls, frisbees and each other. The dogs are all friendly and love to meet and play with new people. The human company isn’t so bad either.
Overall, the dog beach is a great place to make new friends and have a grand ol’ time. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, you can head over to Sharky’s On The Pier for some grub and libations.
Best Beach for a Vacation
Running along the beach with dogs isn’t everyone’s idea of fun. Whatever your idea of fun, Fort Myers Beach will have something for you. Fort Myers Beach is vacation central in Southwest Florida, and it has the hotels and bars to prove it.
Eat, drink, shop and have fun in the downtown area before hitting the beach for some activities. Rent a jet ski, kayak or paddleboard, go parasailing, take a boat tour, go fishing or cruise on a pirate ship. Off the beach, rent bikes or play a round of miniature golf. The beach also recently hosted a sand sculpting world championship.
If you’re looking for some seclusion, as you drive down the main drag away from downtown you’ll find plenty of small pull-offs with metered parking. Find an empty one, and you might also find an empty beach.
During certain times of the year, you might see stingrays flapping their “wings” along the shore, manatees in the shallows, turtles in the sand, or dolphins swimming out in the gulf. And like all Southwest Florida beaches, you’re sure to see plenty of birds!
For even more isolation, drive out to Lovers Key State Park, where you can take in wilderness and wildlife along a hiking trail or just relax on the quiet beach.
Best Beach to Meet the Locals (Or a Former President)
Boca Grade is a longstanding favorite beach for Southwest Florida locals. There are numerous access points to the Gasparilla Island State Park beaches, which means it’s not impossible to find a stretch of shoreline without hordes of people. The beaches are generally quieter, and the drive in will take you past some very large and expensive homes. The Bush family likes to vacation on the island, so if you’re looking to brush speedos with a former president, this might just be your chance.
Best Beach for Sand
If you’re looking for some of the softest, whitest sand in the world, then Siesta Key Beach should be your destination. This Sarasota beach has regularly been voted one of the best beaches in America and the world. The sand is so great, the beach plays host to an annual worldwide sand sculpting championship. The only downside? You most certainly won’t have this beautiful beach to yourself.
Best Beach to Escape the World
The aptly-named Stump Pass Beach State Park has an isolated, windswept feel that will transport you to another time and place. The “civilized” world fades away as you wander the empty shore littered with shells and, you guessed it, stumps. You might even get lucky and encounter manatees in the shallow water at the end of the beach.
Otherwise, watch out for nesting birds and turtles, gliding pelicans and other wildlife. There is also a hiking path that takes you through some vegetation. Unfortunately, at times, the tranquility is interrupted by the motorized watercrafts that are allowed in the water on that side of the park.
If you aren’t up for the $3 parking fee, just a few miles down the road is one of my favorite Southwest Florida beaches…
Best Hidden-Gem Beach
The lovely Blind Pass Beach, also in Englewood, has the best of everything you can find in a Southwest Florida beach. Crossing the county line from Charlotte to Sarasota County means free parking, for one, which gives it a small leg up over Stump Pass.
Now, if you’re looking for soft, white, perfect sand you’re better off heading to Siesta Key. If you’re looking for a fun, interesting, and less-crowded day at the beach, Blind Pass is a great pick. Personally, I think the shelling at Blind Pass is even better than on Sanibel. There are tons of shells (and shark teeth!) and fewer people. In fact, it’s common to share the beach with only a few others.
The shell in the photo above, I found just lying washed up on the shore, perfectly intact but thankfully with nothing living inside it. And it was big — the size of my foot!
The vast amount of shells, and the variety, makes Blind Pass a great place to spend a day. There are also incredible amounts of shark teeth. I am usually terrible at finding them — tiny black or gray triangles, yeah sure, let me find those with my not-Eagle eyes. But even I can find them at Blind Pass Beach. In fact, I have a nice lineup now of all the best ones I’ve found.
If you want to get really into it, pick up a shell sifter. I was lucky in that some fellow beachgoers offered to let me use theirs for a while, but even if you don’t have one you’ll still find plenty on the beach. Some of my best finds were just scooped out of piles of shells on the beach.
Best Beach for Sunset
If sunsets are your thing, you’re in luck! Here on Florida’s west coast, every beach has a great sunset. So come on down and enjoy the East Coast’s only west coast and all the lovely sunsets that come with it!