Florida has more than 4,000 islands, ranging from unoccupied hammocks to residential communities to tourist meccas. The most popular ones are vacation destinations where you will find beautiful beaches as well as beach bars and beachfront restaurants featuring breathtaking views.
We asked our USA TODAY Network colleagues around Florida to pick their favorite islands to visit for a family vacation, a weekend away or a soothing beach walk. The list we came up with includes places located on both the northern and southern ends of the Sunshine State as well as ones representing both coasts. Here they are, presented in alphabetical order.
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It’s no wonder Travel + Leisure magazine ranked Amelia Island third on its list of top islands in the continental U.S. (and No. 1 in Florida) this year.
Amelia Island, which is as far north as you can go on the Atlantic coast and still be in Florida, is a curious mix of the working town of Fernandina Beach, known for its shrimp boat fleet, and luxury hotels and resorts on the southern end. It has 13 miles of beaches, the oldest bar in Florida, a pre-Civil War brick fortress at Fort Clinch State Park and American Beach, which served as a beach resort for Blacks in the Jim Crow era.
The island has a long and convoluted history, having seen eight flags fly over it in the last 450 years or so — French, Spanish, British, the Patriots, the Green Cross of Florida, the Republic of Mexico, the Confederate States of America and the United States.
That history is celebrated today in one of the island’s signature events, the Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival, held every year on the first weekend in May in the streets of downtown Fernandina Beach. The island is also home to the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, which brings in hundreds of the world’s finest automobiles for a high-end car show and auction every spring. The Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival brings performers such as Wynton Marsalis, Renêe Fleming and PInchas Zukerman to venues around the island. — Tom Szaroleta/The Florida Times-Union
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Anna Maria Island
Home to three small cities and as many public beaches that are among the most charming in the state, Anna Maria Island places you right on the Gulf of Mexico just south of Tampa Bay and a short drive from booming downtown Bradenton. On the north end of the island you’ll find the city of Anna Maria. It’s populated by an eclectic mix of shops and restaurants on Pine Avenue as well as the city’s two historic fishing piers, which also happen to be dining and drinking destinations.
In the center of the island you’ll find the city of Holmes Beach that includes the fine-dining destination Beach Bistro, the beloved burger joints Duffy’s Tavern and Skinny’s Place, as well as the historic West Coast Surf Shop found right on Manatee Public Beach. At the southern end of Anna Maria Island, Coquina Beach backs up to a grove of Australian pines that provide shade for the picnic area and paved pathway where the Sunday market is held. It’s in the city of Bradenton Beach, which also includes Bridge Street, featuring another historic pier and a row of restaurants and bars including the first-rate seafood spot Blue Marlin. – Wade Tatangelo, Sarasota Herald-Tribune
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Key West, known locally as the “Conch Republic,” is perhaps Florida's most famous island, and it's only 4 miles long and 1.5 miles wide. It’s part of the Florida Keys archipelago, which includes other popular islands like Key Largo, Islamorada and Big Pine Key and has been portrayed in countless Hollywood hits, from "Key Largo" to "True Lies." It’s a cruise ship stop that’s 90 miles from Cuba, as noted on the island’s most popular tourist attraction, a historical marker for the Southernmost Point of the Continental U.S.
The island is known more for its coral reefs and is a destination for diving and snorkeling. It’s the way to access the remote Dry Tortugas National Park and snorkel around Fort Jefferson. Other Key West highlights include the Hemingway Home and Museum, which served as the residence of writer Ernest Hemingway in the 1930s; the Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square, with street performers and entertainers; and the Duval Street bar crawl by day or night. — Laurie K. Blandford, TCPalm/Treasure Coast Newspapers
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This island just south of Naples not only attracts tourists, but hurricanes too.
The island's rich history dates to the Calusas, who inhabited Marco and the Ten Thousand Islands. Spanish explorers arrived in the mid-1500s, and anthropologist Frank Hamilton Cushing discovered the Key Marco Cat, which is on display at the Marco Island Historical Society through 2026.
Head outdoors for a sightseeing cruise and take in dolphins, turquoise Gulf waters and a sunset.
Work up an appetite and kayak through the tunnels of mangroves in the Ten Thousand Islands.
Afterward, check out the island's unique bars and restaurants, including the Snook Inn along the Marco River. The fish tastes great and the views are even better. — Dave Osborn, Naples Daily News
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Merritt Island may not be the typical tropical resort island, though it is home to pristine Playalinda Beach. You won't find posh hotels or quaint resorts. But Merritt Island has something no place else in Florida can claim: rocket launches. It is home to Kennedy Space Center.
OK, so Merritt Island is really more of a peninsula, sandwiched between mainland Brevard County and the Cape Canaveral/Cocoa Beach/Satellite Beach/Indian Harbour Beach barrier island. It's connected to the mainland, and the barrier island, by thin strips of land at its northernmost points.
Check the launch schedule at floridatoday.com before visiting, but keep in mind launches frequently are scrubbed at the last second. That's OK. Stick around for a few days. Stay in Cocoa Beach or in Cape Canaveral, and plan a day at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
To experience Florida like its earliest residents, explore the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Playalinda Beach at the Canaveral National Seashore.
When the space program began in 1962, NASA claimed 140,000 acres of land, water and marshes near Cape Canaveral to build the space center. Not all that land was needed, so in 1963, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service established the refuge. The national seashore was established in 1975. Look for scrub jays, alligators and other native wildlife in the refuge, and commune with the sun on the undeveloped beaches of the seashore.
One thing to keep in mind: While the Playalinda is known for its au naturel shoreline, if you park at the northernmost end, don't be surprised to find some of the sun worshipers going au naturel, too.
To get to the Canaveral National Seashore, take Brevard County Road 402 through downtown Titusville and across the Max Brewer Bridge. On your way back, stop in the quaint historic district for craft brews at Playalinda Brewing Co. or dinner at Hoffman's Table. — Suzy Fleming Leonard, FLORIDA TODAY
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As development continues to encroach natural habitats in Florida, Sanibel Island remains an oasis in the Gulf.
Motorists who arrive on the barrier island from the Sanibel Causeway will find no high rises ahead to block their sunsets.
Instead, Sanibel looks much the same as it has for decades. Drive along the "main drag" of Periwinkle Way and, sure, you'll find a few souvenir spots.
After food and drinks, drive a few more miles and you'll find a Southwest Florida gem: the 5,200-acre J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge that's part of the U.S. National Wildlife Refuge System. It was established in the 1970s to protect one of the country's largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystems.
Sanibel and nearby Captiva Island also are known as some of the best shelling spots in the world with beaches including Bowman's and Blind Pass, which is next to the small bridge that connects the two islands.
And for shell enthusiasts, visit the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum that's home to shells from throughout the world (but mainly Florida).
Before leaving the island, at least stop by the Sanibel Lighthouse that was first lit in 1884 and was among the first north of Key West along the Gulf Coast. — Dave Osborn, Naples Daily News
Most famous for its beach routinely ranked among the country’s best and the MTV show of the same name largely set there, Siesta Key is a barrier island that places you on the Gulf of Mexico while just a short drive from culturally rich downtown Sarasota. On the north end of the key, you’ll find Siesta Beach and its sugary soft and remarkably cool sand made of quartz minerals. Located less than a mile from Siesta Beach, one of three beautiful beaches on the island, you’ll find Siesta Key Village.
In addition to containing some of the most adorable and, yes, expensive houses in the region, the village features an awesome array of restaurants, bars and shops. If you’re looking for top drinking spots and to perhaps meet a cast member from the MTV reality show “Siesta Key,” be sure to visit the Beach Club, Daiquiri Deck, Gilligan’s and Siesta Key Oyster Bar, all of which can be found along Ocean Boulevard. Big Olaf Creamery, where children of all ages have been enjoying ice cream made by local Amish experts since 1982, is another place you don’t want to miss. – Wade Tatangelo, Sarasota Herald-Tribune
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St. George Island
St. George Island isn’t like most Florida resort islands. For one thing, it’s 20-some miles long but, in most places, just a mile or so wide, so visitors can walk from the Gulf beaches to the Apalachicola Bay side in just a couple of minutes. There are almost no chain restaurants on the island — a Subway is about it — but there are loads of locally owned places for hungry visitors. There aren’t any towering beachfront condos; many rental places are condos on stilts and all of them, of course, are within walking distance of the beach.
Dr. Julian G. Bruce St. George Island State Park, which dominates the eastern end of the island, is popular with anglers, beachgoers, shell collectors, stargazers and birdwatchers and has 60 campsites with power and water, plus two large primitive camping sites for those looking to rough it.
The Cape St. George Light is in the center of the island and the island’s business district, near the foot of the four-mile bridge that connects to the mainland. A gated community on the western end of the island is home for many island residents and vacation rentals. — Tom Szaroleta/The Florida Times-Union
Source : https://www.naplesnews.com/story/lifestyle/travel/2021/10/29/florida-has-islands-galore-but-these-eight-really-stand-out/8450592002/4285