Here’s the thing about Florida: You visit time and again, and you’re quite sure you know the state and its glorious sandy stretches pretty well. But there’s always a surprise waiting for those who stray from the classic Panama City–Orlando–Miami–Key West stops. From Atlantic coast enclaves that locals try to keep to themselves to subtropical islands dotting the Gulf of Mexico, from the Tampa Gulf and the Florida Panhandle, most of our picks for under-the-radar Florida beach towns won’t ring a bell, but consider that a good thing. Get away from the vacationing masses for a taste of old Florida in these spots where the simple things—sun, surf, and a no-worries attitude—still reign on these quiet beaches.
Anna Maria Island
From crème brûlée French toast for breakfast at Ginny and Jane E’s, a restaurant and beach-inspired home furnishings shop housed inside a former IGA grocery store, to pedaling a beach cruiser around the quiet residential streets, Anna Maria Island activities are as good as Florida’s Gulf Coast beach life gets. Located at the northern tip of a barrier island just offshore from swanky Sarasota, AMI, as the locals call it, is almost entirely free of chain stores and hotels. Settle in at a table with your toes in the sand at the Sandbar for beautiful sunsets and killer grouper sandwiches. And head to Beach Bums to rent toys like beach cruisers, SUPs, surrey bikes, and kayaks.