The third-wealthiest city in America, Palm Beach is home to 24 billionaires and looks every inch the playground for the rich and famous that it is. Palatial Greco-Roman mansions line the shore; Bentleys and Porsches cruise the wide avenues of downtown; streets look clean enough to eat off.
At a whopping 840 sq miles, Jacksonville is the largest city by area in the contiguous United States and the most populous in Florida. Sprawling along three meandering rivers, with sweeping bridges and twinkling city lights reflected in the water, it has a brash big-city charm.
Panama City Beach
While much of the Panhandle's charms spring from its mellow Old Florida roots, don't expect to find any of those vibes in Panama City Beach, an overdeveloped gulf-front pocket about 10 miles west of unremarkable Panama City. PCB (as the locals call it) has embraced a transformation from 1970s resort town to overcommercialized condo hot spot.
The name Boca Raton may mean 'mouth of the rat,' but there's nothing ratty about this proud-to-be-posh coastal town. What began as a sleepy residential community was transformed in the mid-1920s by architect Addison Mizner, who relied on his love of Spanish architecture to build the place into a fancy-pants town.
For upscale romance and the prettiest, most serene city beach in southwest Florida, come to Naples, the Gulf Coast's answer to Palm Beach. As on Sanibel and Captiva Islands, development along the shoreline has been kept residential. The soft white sand is backed only by narrow dunes and half-hidden mansions.
Islamorada (eye-luh-murr-ah-da) is also known as ‘The Village of Islands.’ Doesn’t that sound pretty? Well, it really is. This little string of pearls (well, keys) – Plantation, Upper and Lower Matecumbe, Shell and Lignumvitae (lignum-vite-ee) – shimmers as one of the prettiest stretches of the islands.
St Pete Beach & Barrier Island Beaches
Just 20 minutes from downtown St Petersburg, the legendary barrier-island beaches are the sandy soul of the peninsula. This 30-mile-long stretch of sun-faded towns and sun-kissed azure waters is the perfect antidote to city life and the primary destination of most vacationers. Winter and spring are the high seasons, particularly January through March.
Fort Myers Beach
Like Clearwater Beach and St Pete Beach, Fort Myers Beach foments a party atmosphere year-round, and spring unfolds like one long-running street festival slash fraternity bash. And yet, situated on the 7-mile-long Estero Island, Fort Myers Beach has sand and space enough to accommodate all needs and ages.
Founded by Seminoles, and later settled in the 18th and 19th centuries by African Americans and Japanese agriculturists, who farmed pineapples just east of I-95, this melting pot retooled itself for the tourist trade when the railroads chugged through Delray Beach in 1896. Local hotels and clubs turned a blind eye to prohibition laws and accommodated everyone.
History buffs adore this glorious sea island, just 13 miles from the Georgia border, which combines the moss-draped charm of the Deep South with the laid-back beach culture of Florida. It is believed the island's original inhabitants, the Timucuan Indians, arrived as early as 4000 years ago.
Melbourne & Indialantic
South of Cocoa Beach, Hwy A1A stretches along the barrier island 53 miles to Vero Beach, passing plenty of well-signed access to Atlantic beaches, state parks, small pockets of condos and long stretches of emptiness. Indialantic, a blink-and-you-miss-it beach town 16 miles south of Cocoa Beach, isn't expansive, but it sure feels homey.