Dr. Stephen Leatherman, Professor and Director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University and best known as Dr. Beach to his many followers, has just released this year’s Best Beach in America ratings. While the top picks for 2014 include beaches from coasts all over America, four of the top 10 shorelines are in Florida. Whether they’re on the Atlantic Coast or the Gulf Coast, however, they represent the best of the state.
Dr. Leatherman’s criteria for judging the beach quality is based on both scientific data and subjective observations, on everything from the quality and type of beach material to the average temperature, cleanliness, beach slope, water current, water color, tide, and dozens of other factors.
Here’s where to go to enjoy the best beaches in the Sunshine State.
Barefoot Beach Preserve County Park, Bonita Springs
Main draw: gentle waves, shallow water, fine sand and plentiful shells make Barefoot Beach Preserve one of the most family-friendly beaches around. “The surf is gentle,” says Dr. Leatherman, “with waves generally being measured in inches.” This beach earned the second-highest spot in Leatherman’s list of top American beaches in 2014.
What to know: Barefoot Beach rocketed up from the #6 spot in Dr. Beach’s America’s Best Beaches for 2013 list. This is a county-run beach, rather than a state park, a huge undeveloped barrier island on Florida’s southwest coast. Bonus: if you’re a bird lover, bring your binoculars and a camera — you’re practically guaranteed some great wildlife shots here.
St. George Island State Park
Main draw: super-clean sand and beautiful dunes. Leatherman notes that the sand is so clean, it literally squeaks when you rub your feet on it. Stingrays frequent the shallow water, so he also advises shuffling your feet to disturb the sand a bit as you walk.
What to know: Dr. Beach rates this the third best beach in America. This is the second year in a row St. George Island has earned a well-deserved spot in the coveted top three best beaches, and with good reason. Located in North Florida, a 4-mile bridge provides access, helping to keep it pristine and free from traffic.
Cape Florida State Park, Key Biscayne
Main draw: clear, turquoise-colored waters with great views of the scenic and historic Cape Florida Lighthouse.
What to know: For two years running, Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park earned the #7 spot in Dr. Beach’s list. If you travel to Miami, this is the beach to visit if your goal is to relax and take in the ocean view. It’s nowhere near as crowded as other local beaches beaches, and it’s a great place to capture photos at sunrise. Take the lighthouse tour, offered Monday through Thursday, twice daily, for some excellent shots and great views.
Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, Naples
Main draw: “Fine white sand and millions of seashells,” complete with scenic sea oats and sand dunes, earned this beach a spot among the top ten American beaches, says Leatherman.
What to know: Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park is located on a barrier island near Naples beach, famous for its multitude of shells. You can access both the Cocohatchee River and the Gulf of Mexico from the park itself. A hard-bottom reef makes it a popular spot for diving and snorkeling.
Once again, Florida beaches are well-represented on Dr. Beach’s America’s Best Beach list. Take a stroll on the state’s best-rated seashores and see what the buzz is about!