By Patricia Canole
Looking for a special getaway? We’ve scoured Florida from the Emerald Coast in the north to the southern tip of the peninsula to assemble an array of hidden tropical escapes. Read on to discover which one is perfect for you.
PANAMA CITY BEACH
Legendary for its 27 miles of snow white beaches and emerald green waters of the Gulf of Mexico, this resort town has the number one rated beach in America. The unusual whiteness of the sand is the result of quartz crystals washing down from the Appalachian Mountains centuries ago. The sun shines 320 days a year in this Emerald Coast city. Beachcombers will find lodging and an array of intimate restaurants. Unofficially called the “Seafood Capital of the World,” you will find the freshest fish, shrimp, and scallops here. The vibrant stretch known as the Miracle Strip offers a variety of marine parks, a zoo sheltering some of the world’s most endangered animals, and a thriving art district. Sheraton Bay Point, directly on the Gulf of Mexico, is an excellent choice for a stay and offers couples and families alike the opportunity to create their own dream trip. Treat yourselves to a picnic on the Emerald Coast’s largest private beach; it also provides plenty of activities for kids of all ages. The resort has a boardwalk and great dining options (sheratonbaypoint.com).
With a long history as one of the world’s premier resort destinations, this seaside retreat offers elegance and uncompromising natural beauty in a refined tropical atmosphere. Its unspoiled beaches stretch for 10 miles along the Gulf of Mexico. The historic Naples Fishing Pier, which reaches one-thousand feet into the aquamarine water, is a gathering spot at sunset. Naples’ shopping sensation is Tin City, a waterfront collection of unique boutiques, restaurants, and charter boats. Attractions include the Teddy Bear Museum, Caribbean Gardens, and Butterflies in Flight Gardens. Nighttime activities are abundant—from fine dining and dancing to live theater and concerts. At the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club visitors can take a barefoot stroll on the beach, watch a dramatic sunset over the Gulf, and enjoy a candlelit dinner by the ocean. The hotel has beautifully appointed rooms spread out in various buildings, orchids in every room, golf, tennis, and a state-of-the-art spa for all your pampering needs (naplesbeachhotel.com).
What could be more enjoyable than a Key West sunset? How about Sunset Key? This secluded island is just 10 minutes by boat from Key West. It is the place for those who want to experience the unique charm of Key West in relaxed sophistication. The launch transportation service between Sunset Key and Key West means you won’t miss any of the rollicking excitement of Mallory Square but can retreat to your ultimate island getaway whenever you desire. The island has a concierge office and all the essentials. Nestled among the swaying palm trees, silky white sand, and flowering gardens are superbly appointed cottages offering unparalleled privacy, service, and luxury. You can even have a personal chef make a special dinner for two! Sunset Key Cottages were designed for the sophisticated traveler who demands the very best. The party atmosphere always beckons in Key West, but you just may not want to leave this little piece of heaven (sunsetkeycottages.com).
Filled with rustic charm, this secluded 100-acre island hosts many honeymooners who want a true retreat. Created from a mound of shells left by Indians thousands of years ago, Cabbage Key is accessible only by boat. Ducks greet your arrival at the dock. Adirondack chairs dot the sprawling property, inviting you to relax under the palm trees. Boat rides to Cabbage Key are available from several points, including the beautiful nearby Captiva Island, ranked as one of the nation’s most beautiful beaches in the U.S. Cabbage Key Inn is a friendly, unassuming hideaway with six rooms and a restaurant famous for its fresh seafood and huge Jimmy Buffet-style cheeseburgers. There are also six guest cottages scattered around the property. Try the tropical Cabbage Creeper drink and watch the sunset in an unhurried atmosphere, the way Florida used to be (cabbagekey.com).
Just over the border from Georgia on the extreme northeast tip of Florida, Amelia Island offers miles of uncrowded quartz beaches sheltered by elegant dunes, perfect for romantic strolls. This small barrier island caressing the Atlantic Ocean was the state’s first resort and continues to wow visitors with its natural beauty. From charming Victorian inns and shops to working shrimp boats and horseback riding on the beach, this tiny paradise has it all. In perfect harmony with nature, Omni Amelia Island Plantation is a blend of pristine coastal wilderness and man-made luxuries. Nestled between the salt marshes of the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean, the resort’s natural seclusion provides an ideal escape. With more than 650 guest accommodations, ranging from three-bedroom villas and penthouses to deluxe ocean view hotel rooms, the 1350-acre resort offers both privacy and lots of activities. There are a multitude of pools, tennis courts, golf courses, and plenty of other recreational options (omnihotels.com).
For more information on Florida, visit (visitflorida.com).