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Secret beaches: 7 favorite secluded beaches in South Florida

It’s easy to find a beach in South Florida. It’s harder to find a secluded beach, a beach where you experience a sense of discovery and delicious isolation.

Once upon a time, South Florida was full of hidden beaches. But then we moved here – millions and millions of us.

Over many years, I’ve found these special quiet beaches in Florida, each offering a glimpse of what Florida was like back in the day.

The starfish was one of many treasures found walking Cayo Costa, which is one of my favorite secluded and quiet beaches in Florida. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
The starfish was one of many treasures found walking secluded and quiet beach on Cayo Costa State Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Several of these secluded beaches are an adventure to reach (they can only be accessed by boat or by wading across a lagoon); others are county parks and thus not known outside the region. All are that rare thing in South Florida: A wild place that hasn’t been spoiled.

Quiet beaches in Florida you must reach by boat:

St. Lucie Inlet Preserve State Park, Stuart

St. Lucie Inlet Preserve State Park can only be reached by boat, but it's worth the trouble. It's one of the most secluded and quietest beaches in Florida. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
St. Lucie Inlet Preserve State Park can only be reached by boat, but it’s worth the trouble. It’s one of the most secluded and quietest beaches in Florida. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

St. Lucie Inlet is on a barrier island, this one on the Atlantic coast. To find St. Lucie Inlet Preserve State Park in Stuart, you do have to paddle a kayak or arrive by boat, but it’s only a third of a mile across the Intracoastal.  (Want more paddling? There is a great kayak trail on and around the island.)

The secluded beach, though, is the reward. From the Intracoastal, a shaded boardwalk crosses the island and opens to a wide, wild and pristine beach that goes on and on. The state park’s beach is 2.7 miles long, but the southern boundary is with Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge, and thus the beach actually continues uninterrupted for more than five miles total. Because it’s hard to reach, this is a beach where you’re likely to find a section you don’t have to share with anyone.

Rangers will zip you across the island on a golf cart if you have beach gear and near the beach is a large covered picnic pavilion and restrooms.

More info from Florida Rambler here: St. Lucie Inlet Preserve State Park

Shell Key, A secluded beach where you can camp off Tampa Bay

quiet beaches in florida 2023 8 shell key preserve aerial Secret beaches: 7 favorite secluded beaches in South Florida
Secluded beach in Florida: Shell Key Preserve at the southern end of Tampa Bay north of Fort DeSoto Park.

Shell Key Preserve is an 1,800-acre treasure reachable only by boat at the south end of Tampa Bay. It is one of the largest undeveloped barrier island in Pinellas County’s with many mangrove islands and extensive sea grass beds, located just below the very popular Fort De Soto County Park.

The beach is secluded with pristine white sand and, not surprisingly, lots of shells. Because it is limited to boat access, Shell Key never gets very crowded.

Visitors are limited to the south end of the preserve because the rest is reserved for wildlife, including sea turtles and nesting birds.

You reach Shell Key either by kayaking or taking a shuttle boat.

To kayak, you can launch your boat from the Pinellas Bayway Kayak and SUP Launch on Tierra Verde or the Fort Desoto Boat Ramp, which is the best option for campers because it allows overnight parking.

To take the shuttle, check out Shell Creek Shuttle from Pass-a-Grille, the Dolphins Landing Island Hopper from St. Pete Beach or Hubbard’s Marina’s ferry from Fort De Soto.

Shellkey.org has a lot of useful information for planning your trip, including details on primitive camping. (All overnight camping requires a permit issued by the county and is limited to the southern public use area of Shell Key.)

There are no restrooms on the island. Dogs and alcohol are not allowed anywhere in the preserve.

Official Pinellas County website for Shell Key Preserve

Shell Key boundary map

Cayo Costa State Park: An island paradise you visit only by boat

This is my all-time-favorite secret beach, site of many wonderful visits over many years. My family stayed in the small rustic cabins built right on the sand, once operated by Florida State Parks, and it was a true tropical paradise.

In September 2022, however, obscure little Cayo Costa was in the national news when it was the very spot the eye of Hurricane Ian came ashore. Those little cabins, the campground and the docks were all destroyed and Cayo Costa closed for months. Nothing has been rebuilt.

Cayo Costa florida state parks
The beach on Cayo Costa is stunning, with white sand, bleached driftwood, shells and few people. (Photo by Bonnie Gross)

Cayo Costa is a largely undeveloped, pristine barrier island without cars, roads or development and offering nine miles of glorious beaches with clear water, wildlife and seashells.

In summer, 2024, the park is still closed except for its spectacular wild beach. The challenge is: You must visit by boat.

To reach Cayo Costa, you must have a power boat, be an experienced open-water kayaker who can paddle several miles, or buy a ticket on one of two boat operations now being offered.

The two cruise options are:

Captiva Cruises, which offers a half-day cruise for $45 for adults and $30 for kids. The three-hour trip includes a 30-minute boat ride each way. Because there is no dock on the island, the boat “lands” a few feet off the beach in knee-deep water and guests exit and enter the boat via a 4-step ladder. This trip will appeal to people staying on Sanibel or Captiva, but it’s quite a drive through those islands if you’re looking for a daytrip.

Adventures in Paradise is based at the Port Sanibel Marina, which is on the Fort Myers side of the Sanibel causeway, and thus is better suited to day trippers. Three days a week, the pontoon boat leaves at 9 a.m. and returns at 2 p.m. and there is both a captain and naturalist on board. Tickets are $79 adults adn $69 children. Participants bring lunch and swim suits. Adventures in Paradise provides a limited number of beach chairs, umbrellas, beach toys and provides the restroom on board the boat. The pontoon boat used also pulls up close to the beach and you must use a ladder to exit or enter into shallow water.

Here’s a Florida Rambler story about Cayo Costa.

Quiet beaches in county parks known mostly by locals

Quiet beaches in Florida: The pass at Clam Pass is the river like body of water on the left. You can float in or out of the pass as the tide carries you on a "lazy river" like ride.
The pass at Clam Pass is the river like body of water on the left. You can float in or out of the pass as the tide carries you on a “lazy river” like ride. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Clam Pass Park, Naples

We only discovered Collier County’s delightful Clam Pass Park in Naples because we were staying at the Naples Grande Beach Resort, for which this is the hotel beach. Though it’s little known, Clam Pass Park is public with a parking lot ($10) and a tram that crosses a boardwalk through a mangrove swamp.

Clam Pass has fine sugary sand like all Naples beaches, but what makes it especially fun is Clam Pass – the smallest, shallowest pass on the Gulf Coast.  

The pass is a narrow river-like opening in the mangroves, shallow enough an adult can stand at the center except at the highest tide. If you float in the waters of the pass, you are gently swept away by the tide. If the tide is coming in, you float into a shallow mangrove-fringed lagoon. If the tide is going out, you float out into the Gulf, which remains shallow for a great distance.  It’s a natural “lazy river” adventure, where the pull and depth of the water is safe but still fun.  (The currents in larger passes can be extremely dangerous.)

If you swim or wade across Clam Pass, the beach north extends for miles, lined with seagrape trees and foliage. This stretch is just the place for someone seeking quiet beaches in Florida. 

Since I “discovered” this beach, I must admit, its popularity has grown and it is hardly a secret any longer.

Tigertail Beach, Marco Island

Tigertail Beach on Marco Island is another Collier County Park, and it’s also an adventure to reach. A dozen years ago, this beach was an off-shore sandbar. The winds of Hurricane Wilma in 2005 piled sand on the southern end of the sandbar, and today what is called Sand Dollar Island is connected to the mainland.

Nothing but sand, sea and clouds at Tigertail Beach on Marco Island. If you walk on this sandspit along Gulf, you will be experience one of the most beautiful secluded beaches in Florida. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Nothing but sand, sea and clouds at Tigertail Beach on Marco Island. If you walk on this sandspit along Gulf, you will be experience one of the most beautiful secluded beaches in Florida. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

The park is popular with locals for its split personality. On one side of the lagoon, you pay $10 to park and come to a manicured park with changing rooms.

On the other side of the lagoon, you leave development behind.  A wild sandspit extends three miles north, a beach with soft white sand, scads of shells, dolphins swimming off-shore, ospreys squealing overhead and so many shore birds that it’s a stop on the Great Florida Birding Trail.

But the adventure is crossing the lagoon itself.

The lagoon is about 50 yards across and at high tide, the water comes up to about your waist or chest at the buoy that marks the cross-over point. The bottom of the lagoon is a squishy, grassy mud. You don’t sink, but you do have to overcome the “yuck” factor.

Crossing the lagoon, people hold their belongings over their heads and laugh as they feel the ooze between their toes.

If that’s not your idea of fun, you CAN walk about 20 minutes around the lagoon to the south to reach the beach. If you bring small children, consider pulling them on a beach float or renting a kayak or paddleboard. Parking/entrance fee is $10.

Barefoot Beach, Bonita Springs

Barefoot Beach is one of the Southwest Florida beaches that took a direct hit from Hurricane Ian in 2022 and it didn’t reopen for more than a year.

The beach bounced back, as beautiful as ever, but the manmade infrastructure is slower to be rebuilt. In summer 2024, you’ll still find portable restrooms and few amenities.

Barefoot Beach is a Collier County park, known mostly to locals. Another thing that makes it feel like a secret beach is the way you reach it. When you turn south on Barefoot Beach Boulevard from Bonita Beach Road SW, you’ll think you made a mistake because there is a security guard booth here. You will be waved through, however, and you will drive through a Gulf-front neighborhood of multimillion dollar homes. After about a mile and a half, you reach the preserve and the end of the road.

Barefoot Beach extends a mile along the Gulf with sea oats supporting the sand dunes and a coastal hammock of sabal palm, gumbo limbo and sea grape trees. At its southern end, you reach Wiggins pass and across the Cocohatchee River there lies Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, which was named the #8 beach in the U.S. in Dr. Beach’s annual ranking.

Here’s a Florida Rambler story on Barefoot Beach with more details.

Barefoot Beach Preserve, 505 Barefoot Beach Blvd, Bonita Springs, FL 34134

Admission is $10 and the meters only take credit cards.

Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge

quiet beaches in florida Hobe Sound NWR beach Secret beaches: 7 favorite secluded beaches in South Florida
Sea oats line five miles of wild beach at Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge, a quiet beach in Florida that I discovered on a bike ride. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

When I discovered Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge, I felt like I had won the lottery.

We were bicycling the beachfront road on ritzy Jupiter Island, which dead-ends into Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge. Nothing on the signage indicates there’s a public beach at the end of this road, and after 30-plus years of exploring Florida’s southeast, I had never heard about this beach.

So when we got there, we were stunned to discover we had stumbled onto the entrance to more than five miles of wild, broad unspoiled sandy shore.

The Hobe Sound beach extends north more than two miles where the equally pristine St. Lucie Preserve beach begins.

Parking is $5, restrooms are portapotties and there are no picnic tables or amenities. What you will find is miles of beauty and solitude.

More Florida beach adventures

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Guest

Tuesday 29th of March 2022

Please stop advertising these places that’s what makes them great not a horde of people.

Thomas Murphy

Friday 2nd of April 2021

These are nice...I think you'll find Atsenia Otie Key, just off the coast from Cedar Key, is better than any of these, however. Give it a try!

Bonnie Gross

Tuesday 6th of April 2021

I am happy you added this suggestI am fascinated by Atsena Otie, although I haven't kayaked there. (The visit at which I planned to do so, it rained the whole time.)

Stu

Wednesday 30th of December 2020

Are Boater’s allowed to anchor at the beach in the State Parks, Barefoot Beach and Clam Pass beach? I cannot find regulations for anchoring boats on these beaches. If anyone has a link it would be appreciated. Thank you.

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