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Two Florida favorites grace 2024 list of Best Beaches in America

Both beaches are on Florida’s Gulf Coast and are perennial favorites of “Dr. Beach,” Florida International University professor Stephen Letterman, whose annual Top 10 list of Best Beaches in America is widely recognized because of its foundation in science.

Making this year’s list are Florida favorites: Caladesi Island State Park in Dunedin, ranked No. 4 in 2024, and Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, which is ranked No. 8.

Both have made the list before, and this is the second year in a row Caladesi Island has landed in the No. 4 slot.

“Caladesi Island and Delnor-Wiggins Pass state parks offer a look at some of the finest natural resources in the world,” said Florida State Parks Director Chuck Hatcher. “We take great pride in our efforts to preserve and protect these gorgeous beaches for everyone to enjoy.”

Dr. Leatherman’s list is not arbitrary. He is a scientist who adheres to 50 criteria, ranging from “beach softness” to algae to amenities and safety. It includes how crowded the beach gets, how noisy it is and whether the area is overdeveloped.

#4 — Caladesi Island State Park, Dunedin/Clearwater

best beaches in america caladesi island
Caladesi Island State Park’s beach is ranked No. 4 for the second year in a row. (Photo by Bonnie Gross)

Ranking No. 4 on Dr. Beach’s 2023 list, Caladesi Island State Park, Dunedin/Clearwater, has long been included in the best beaches in Florida list. Caladesi ranked No. 1 in the US in the 2008 list.

“The white beach is composed of crystalline quartz sand which is soft and cushy at the water’s edge, inviting one to take a dip in the sparkling clear waters,” Dr. Beach said.

“There are boardwalk trails, but my favorite is the kayak and canoe trails through the mangroves to see the large blue herons and other birds that frequent this wonderful natural area.”

Caladesi is an island, reached only by boat or a very long walk from Clearwater and here’s a Florida Rambler tip: It’s a great paddle to Caladesi. 

#8 — Delnor-Wiggins State Park, Naples

Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park
Spectacular Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park’s beach is ranked No. 8 in 2024. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, Naples.  Delnor-Wiggins is across Wiggins Pass from Barefoot Beach. It’s an unspoiled beach good for shell collecting and even good snorkeling, which is rare for Gulf beaches.

“This barrier island beach boasts of beautiful white sand beaches and crystal-clear Gulf waters,” said Dr. Beach.  “Activities include swimming, snorkeling, paddle-boarding, shelling, and fishing. 

best beaches in america delnor wiggins SP sunset Two Florida favorites grace 2024 list of Best Beaches in America
Sunset at Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, Naples, an unspoiled beach good for shell collecting and even good snorkeling, which is rare for Gulf beaches. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

“Wildlife in the park includes bald eagles, ospreys, and manatees.” 

The park is still recovering from Hurricane Ian in 2022 so some areas are still closed.    

Here’s a Florida Rambler story on Delnor-Wiggins, which reopened in May 2023, eight months after being battered by Hurricane Ian.

The Top 10 Best Beaches in America

  • 1. Duke Kahanamoku Beach, Oahu, Hawaii
  • 2. Coopers Beach, Southampton, New York
  • 3. Wailea Beach, Maui, Hawaii
  • 4. Caladesi Island State Park, Dunedin/Clearwater, Florida
  • 5. Beachwalker Park, Kiawah Island, South Carolina
  • 6. Main Beach, East Hampton, New York
  • 7. Poipu Beach, Kauai, Hawaii
  • 8. Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, Naples, Florida
  • 9. Coast Guard Beach, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
  • 10. Coronado Beach, San Diego, California

The list has included many from Florida over the years, and that makes it a good and objective way to identify the best beaches in Florida.

So here is a collection of the top-ranking beaches in Florida from 2024 and prior years.

Past Florida winners Best Beaches in America

As Dr. Beach has ranked US beaches for three decades, many of the best beaches in Florida have earned his #1 spot.

Of course, conditions can change, but it’s hard to think that a spot that was one of the best beaches in Florida a few years ago would not still be pretty wonderful.

So here’s our Dr. Beach ‘Hall of Fame’: Winners of the #1 spot for best beach over the years.

St. George State Park, Florida Panhandle

The beach on St. George Island goes on for mile after pristine mile. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Best beaches in Florida: The beach on St. George Island goes on for mile after pristine mile. It was named the #1 best beach in the US in 2023. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Dr. Beach ranked St. George State Park, Florida Panhandle as the nation’s No. 1 beach last year after repeatedly being in the top 10 in Dr. Beach’s annual lists.

If you are lucky enough to snag a campsite in this state park, it is also a great places to see stars under dark skies.

Read more: Apalachicola & St. George Island: Delightful town; spectacular beach

Grayton Beach State Park, Panhandle

grayton beach best beach in america best beach in florida
Grayton Beach was the No. 1 best beach in America 2020. (Photo by Bob Rountree)

In 2020, Grayton Beach State Park in the Florida Panhandle was named the #1 beach in the US, No. 3 in 2019 and also won the No. 1 spot back in 1994.

The dunes along the mile-long beach harbor a unique collection of “dune lakes”, and you can paddle from one to the other. Sandwiched in the middle of this 2000-acre state park is the town of Grayton Beach, a tiny beachside enclave that is a throwback to yesteryear. The state park’s campground features 50 sites in two loops, and at the western side of the park are 30 two-bedroom cabins.

Read more about Grayton Beach State Park

Fort De Soto Park, Tiera Verde / St. Pete

Oyster catcher at Fort Desoto Park
Best beaches in Florida: An Oyster catcher at Fort DeSoto in one of the many examples of wildlife seen at this expansive park.

Fort De Soto Park, North Beach, St. Petersburg. This is one of our favorite places to camp. Here’s our guide to Fort De Soto, a Pinellas County park spread over five islands and 900 acres. It was named No. 1 in 2005, when Dr. Beach wrote: “North Beach at Fort DeSoto Park is a natural jewel on the finger of a sun-drenched city. It’s a long, wide, sugar-sand beach with great shelling and thriving natural dunes on the Gulf of Mexico.”

Siesta Key Beach, Sarasota

Siesta Key Beach, Sarasota. The sand at this county beach is special – it’s made of quartz, not coral. Dr. Beach crowned it #1 in 2011 and readers of TripAdvisor also named it the No. 1 beach in America in 2015.

St. Andrews State Park, Panhandle

St. Andrews State Park, Florida Panhandle. Not only does St. Andrews have the sugar white sand that makes Panhandle beaches so special, it also has good snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking and fishing off two piers. It made the No. 1 spot in 1995.

St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, Panhandle

St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, Florida Panhandle. This pure-white-sand  beach goes on and on — for 9.5 miles – and has some of the largest sand dunes in Florida. It was named #1 beach is 2002.

Best beaches in Florida that never made #1

Several beaches are always the bridesmaid: They make the top 10 list time and again, but never make it to the No. 1 spot. These include:

Barefoot Beach Preserve, Bonita Springs

Barefoot Beach in Bonita Springs
Best beaches in Florida: Barefoot Beach was ranked #2 one year, but never made it to the top of the list. It’s in Bonita Springs. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Barefoot Beach Preserve County Park in Bonita Springs. In 2014, it made it all the way to #2 on the best beaches list. The beach was blasted by Hurricane Ian in 2022 and remains closed as of this writing in May 2023.

When it reopens, it will again be great place to beachcomb, see dolphins in the water and gopher tortoises in the dunes. As a county park, it is less well-known outside the area and you reach this beach by winding through a community of multimillion dollar homes. Here’s a Florida Rambler story on Barefoot Beach.

Cape Florida State Park on Key Biscayne
Best beaches in Florida: Cape Florida State Park on Key Biscayne. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Cape Florida State Park, Key Biscayne

Cape Florida State Park, Key Biscayne. Cape Florida has made the list several times. One thing that makes Cape Florida State Park so great is the historic lighthouse, which you can climb for postcard views and to learn its fascinating history. The park also has two good restaurants. More about Cape Florida State Park.


About Dr. Beach

best beaches in america aboutdrbeach e1590082366479 Two Florida favorites grace 2024 list of Best Beaches in America
Dr. Beach

Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman is professor and director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University.

He received his Ph.D. in Environmental (Coastal) Sciences from the University of Virginia, and completed his undergraduate degree in Geosciences at North Carolina State University.

Prior to joining FIU, Leatherman was professor and director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at the University of Maryland; director of the National Park Research Unit at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; and assistant professor in the Department of Geology at Boston University.

Dr. Leatherman’s official web site: drbeach.org

Leatherman has authored or edited 16 books, including Sea Level Rise: Causes and Consequences; Barrier Island Handbook; Overwash Processes; Cape Cod: From Glaciers to Beaches; and America’s Best Beaches. He has also authored over 200 journal articles and technical reports, including articles in both Science and Nature.

Leatherman has provided expert testimony multiple times for the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives. He was also the on-screen host and co-producer of the 1992 film “Vanishing Lands”, winner of three international film awards, including the Golden Eagle.

Discover more Florida beaches in this Florida Rambler section.


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