Top-shelf spring break destinations along Florida’s Southwest coast are taking in on the chin in 2023 as red tide smothers beaches with respiratory irritation in the wake of a destructive fall hurricane.
Destinations on the Atlantic coast and Florida’s Panhandle remain red-tide-free.
The trouble began when Fort Myers Beach (and Sanibel Island) in Southwest Florida took a direct hit from Hurricane Ian this fall, leaving its beachfront in shambles, and an outbreak of red tide, possibly caused by Ian, is plaguing the Gulf Coast from Clearwater south to Fort Myers Beach and Naples.
For the latest updates on red tide, read our updated Red Tide Report.
For today’s beach conditions across Florida, click on the button below
Recent news articles about red tide
- Aerial views of red tide blooms off Clearwater, Indian Shores, Tampa Bay Times, 3/11/2023
- Tons of dead fish from red tide are being removed from Gulf beaches before spring breakers arrive, WUSF Public Media, 3/11/2023 (Subscription-free)
- Fish kills, breathing problems and burning eyes: How red tide is impacting Pinellas beaches, Tampa Bay Times, 3/9/2023
What else to expect for 2023 Spring Break in Florida
- Higher prices for hotels are a post-pandemic reality, and it won’t get better this year. Florida’s hotels are getting top dollar, as much as $500 to $600 per night in prime destinations. Comparison shop before you book a room.
- Public campgrounds are likely already booked near beaches, but it’s worth checking for cancellations, and private RV parks are more expensive than ever. We found some as high as $150 per night to more than $200 in the Florida Keys. Still, camping may be the only option for some.
- Despite the damage caused by Hurricane Ian, some areas of Fort Myers Beach and nearby Bonita Beach may have limited hotel room availability, but it won’t be much fun as the cleanup continues.
- Spring break is returning to residential neighborhoods in many communities again this year. Vacation home rentals offer capacity that can reduce costs, but be aware that owners and rental agencies are cracking down on partiers more than ever.
When is Spring Break in Florida?
Spring Break in Florida is associated with the weeks colleges and universities take their spring semester break, and every school is different.
The staggered schedule means Florida’s Spring Break begins in late February and runs through mid-April, peaking in mid-March.
The dates don’t necessarily align with the Easter holiday, although Easter is when you are most likely to encounter families with children whose spring recess is dictated by primary and secondary school schedules. This year, Easter falls on April 9.
Top 10 Spring Break destinations in 2023
Orlando consistently tops the charts as the No. 1 Spring Break destination in Florida. The big attraction, of course, is the multiplex of theme parks with Disney World, Legoland and Universal Studios leading the way.
Orlando is also a great jumping off spot for visiting the Kennedy Space Center in Titusville and the beaches of Cocoa Beach and Daytona Beach, two popular Spring Break destinations in their own right.
If you are Orlando bound, you are probably interested in these closest beaches to Orlando and Disney World.
With more than 480 hotels and resorts in Orlando, you’ll find keen competition among them to attract guests, so spring breakers should find plenty of good deals by shopping comparison sites such as Hotels.com.
For camping near Disney World, check out Our picks within an hour’s drive. You also may find attractive camping options in Ocala National Forest. Another long shot that may be worth checking is Lake Kissimmee State Park, which is about 55 miles south of Disney World.
Hot Tip: Try something different and get away from the crowds. The world’s largest concentration of springs can be found north of Orlando, in and around Ocala National Forest. We’ve picked out 19 springs worth visiting.
Topless tolerance and Art Deco panache have propelled Miami’s South Beach to a premier Spring Break destination, but rowdy crowds in recent years have put the brakes on fun.
And you will pay top dollar for accommodations, dining and nightclubs. Bring money to spend. If you don’t have money to spend, you should consider another destination. In any case, comparison shop to find the best room rates at Hotels.com.
Last year, Miami Beach implemented a curfew for Spring Break, and the three causeways leading to Miami Beach from Miami proper were shut down at 10 p.m. We don’t know if those restrictions will be repeated in 2023, but expect the worst and book your room beachside.
Alternatives to consider are the Haulover Beach Park area, which has a nude beach north of Bal Harbour, or arts-oriented Coconut Grove.
Spring Break News: Will events and concerts change spring break in South Beach? Crowds will test the strategy, Miami Herald
Hot Tip: If you are looking to get off the grid, cruise out to Crandon Park on Key Biscayne, where the beach is postcard-perfect and there’s plenty of parking. North of Miami Beach, check out Oleta River State Park for kayaking, hiking and off-road bicycling.
Fort Lauderdale is a perennial favorite for Spring Break, despite efforts by the city to quell the debauchery of the 80s and 90s. In recent years, Spring Break is considerably more orderly and the crowds keep coming back, carefully managed behind barricades lining A1A.
With consistent sunshine and the warm Gulf Stream offshore, Fort Lauderdale may have the most predictably pleasant weather of any destination, and the weather so far this year has been straight out of the promotional flyer.
Never discount Fort Lauderdale’s enduring reputation as a Spring Break mecca.
Spring Break News:
- Rising prices? Tough rules? Spring Breakers don’t care — they’re headed to South Florida
- Fort Lauderdale police serve up Spring Break safety rules
Hot Tip: Increasingly, spring breakers are dispersing onto neighboring beaches in Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, Pompano Beach, Hollywood, Deerfield Beach, Boca Raton, and perhaps the most desirable hot spot, Delray Beach.
The “World’s Most Famous Beach” has long been a popular Spring Break destination and will remain so this year.
Daytona Beach is a town that likes to party, kicking off peak season with rowdy Bike Week in early March. It gets real crazy near the newly renovated Main Street Pier and boardwalk.
Expect the beach to be just as crowded in 2023 as in past years, increased beach patrols and more attention is likely be paid to the city’s prohibition of alcohol on the beach.
Spring Break News:
- Spring break history: Daytona Beach parties meant mayhem in MTV-fueled heyday, Daytona Beach News Journal
- Visiting New Smyrna Beach for spring break? Here’s what to know about the new youth curfew, Daytona Beach News Journal
Hot Tip: If you’re not into craziness of Daytona, spring breakers are gravitating to nearby New Smyrna Beach, the best little beach town with easy access to pristine Apollo Beach in Canaveral National Seashore.
Key West is Key West, party capitol at the end of the world, 24/7 at any time of the year.
And the parties kick up a notch during Spring Break as college kids swam Duval Street, crowding the beaches and bars.
But be ready to shell out the big bucks. Rooms as high as $600 to $800 per night are to be expected. Sure, you’ll find some rooms cheaper, but they’re probably already gone. Don’t give up, though, there are a lot of options for vacation rentals and rooms throughout the Lower Keys on Hotels.com.
Spring Break News: Heading to the Florida Keys for a spring trip? What to know about driving, events, sites, FLKeysNews
Hot Tip: The most underrated destination in Key West, thus the least visited, is the beautiful but unassuming beach at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. On a budget? Key West on the cheap isn’t easy, but here are tips
Cocoa Beach is the surfing capitol of Florida with sprawling beaches and dozens of beachfront hotels.
It’s also the closest beach to Disney World, Orlando International Airport and the Kennedy Space Center.
There is plenty of action on these beaches and in the air around them. This is the Space Coast, after all, and with a little luck you might see a rocket launch.
With luck, you might find a campsite or a cabin at Jetty Park. Most (but not all) of Cocoa’s hotel rooms are clustered around the pier area, which rocks during Spring Break. Compare prices on Hotels.com.
Get your beach gear and souvenirs at world famous Ron Jon’s Surf Shop, one of at least five things to discover near Cocoa Beach.
Hot Tip: Avoid the pier area and venture further south on A1A to Cocoa Beach’s real town center and “Coconuts Beach.”
Clearwater continues to be a Spring Break hot spot, and that won’t change any time soon.
If you do come to Clearwater, bring your bicycle so you can enjoy one of Florida’s most appealing multi-use trails, the Pinellas Trail.
Like many other beach hot spots in Florida, Clearwater’s hotel rates are eye-opening this year, so comparison shopping is critical if you hope to save money. Here’s a link to Hotels.com for Clearwater Beach.
For the best camping near Clearwater and Tampa Bay, check out these 9 choice campgrounds.
Spring Break News: Red tide is now at Clearwater Beach and Dunedin Causeway, WUSF Public Media, 3/9/2023 (Subscription-free)
Hot Tip: The best alternate destination may be 20 miles south of Clearwater to the stunning dunes and leisurely pace of Pass-A-Grille.
Panama City Beach
‘Girls Gone Wild’ had its roots Panama City, but the city’s heyday as a premier Spring Break destination has faded in the decade since city fathers enacted laws banning alcohol on the beach during March.
With temperatures rarely rising much above the high 60s during March, this may not be the best place in Florida to soak up the sun, at least not until April.
On the other hand, if you are suffering from sub-zero snow pack, a sunny beach in the 60s could be nirvana!
Panama Beach has long been a Spring Break party town, and expect nothing less this year. Drinking is no longer permitted on the beach but that hasn’t dulled the revelry.
Because of the unpredictable weather (temps have already dipped below freezing this winter), you likely will find a few bargains on Hotels.com. Campers should consider our choices for the beach camping in Florida’s Panhandle.
Spring Break News:
- Panama City Beach police to use new K9 dogs, crime cameras to crack down on spring break drug use
- Spring Break traffic on Back Beach Rd. has drivers bumper to bumper
Sarasota Beaches: Be aware of red tide
In recent years, Spring Break has been a growing phenomena along the beaches off Sarasota, particularly Siesta Key, attracted by beautiful beaches and vibrant night life.
But there’s a spoiler in the wind and sea: Red tide.
The big unknown is where red tide algae will be blooming in the Gulf of Mexico during Spring Break. So far this winter, patches of algae blooms have been drifting erratically along the coast, leaving dead fish on beaches and reports of respiratory irritation among beach-goers.
Keep up with the latest red tide news, updated weekly in our Red Tide Report.
There are plenty of things to do near Sarasota, and we highly recommend bringing your bicycle and riding the paved multi-use Legacy Trail, which runs between Sarasota and Venice, 20 miles south.
Spring Break News:
- Red tide: Sarasota County says not enough dead fish to start cleanup, Sarasota Herald-Tribune
- Here’s what red tide looks like at Bradenton Beach in Southwest Florida right now, Bradenton Herald
Hot Tip: Book your accommodations in Sarasota proper, where the impact of red tide is unseen, and drive to safe beaches. Beaches impacted by red tide are posted.
Another rising star for spending Spring Break in Florida is Key Largo, the northernmost island in the Florida Keys and “snorkeling and diving capitol of the world.”
To suggest you can have fun here is an understatement, and the sun is always shining.
Our Visitors’ Guide to Key Largo details hundreds of things to do, including dive and snorkel tours, kayak trails and rental locations, parks and beaches on Key Largo, restaurants and bars, places to stay, places to camp, RV services and where to find groceries.
Hot tip: One of the first things you should do on arrival in Key Largo is book a 90-minute cruise on the “African Queen,” the actual steamboat used in the filming of the 1951 movie classic starring legendary actors Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart.
This article is original, produced exclusively for our readers and protected by U.S. Copyright law. Any use or re-publication without written permission is against the law.
The information in this article was accurate when published, but changes may occur.
Bob Rountree is a beach bum, angler and camper who has explored Florida for decades. No adventure is complete without a scenic paddle trail or unpaved road to nowhere. Bob co-founded FloridaRambler.com with fellow journalist Bonnie Gross 12 years ago.