We at floridafuntravel.com have journeyed quite a bit through the Sunshine State over the past few years. A considerable amount of that time has been on the coasts – both Atlantic and Gulf. One thing we began to notice was that each seemed to have its own name or designation.
So I decided to do a bit of research. Did you know there are actually 12 Coasts of Florida? Well, that’s what we found. The actual boundaries are not always hard and fast. In fact, there seems to be some rather blurry lines here and there. However, each of the areas is proud of who they are and what they have to offer.
It comes as no surprise that “The First Coast” is located in north Florida. It starts at the Georgia line and runs south 75 miles through St. Johns County. The First Coast is centered in St. Augustine which was settled 50 years before the Pilgrims found Plymouth Rock. But there’s also Amelia Island, Fernandina Beach, Palatka, Green Cove Springs and Ponte Vedra Beach along the way. There are many festivals such as the annual Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival and the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. There’s also the fascinating Castillo de San Marcos. That’s a castle built back in 1672 which still stands today.
The stretch from Ormond Beach down to New Smyrna Beach has been tagged as the “Surf Coast” (sometimes called The Fun Coast). New Smyrna Beach has been ranked as one of the top surfing locations in the nation. That said, it also has been dubbed the Shark Bite Capital. The area offers some of the finest wave action on the Eastern Seaboard and draws surfers from all over the world. Reportedly. the designation came in the 1970s in an attempt to capitalize on the Atlantic surf and to create a regional identity. In the 1990s. The Fun Coast was attempted when the 386 area code was adopted. It spells “fun” on the telephone keypad.
The Surf Coast sits on the northern tip of Florida’s “Space Coast”. The Space Coast runs from Titusville south to Cocoa Beach. While the Space Coast gets its name from the activities of Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center, there’s still plenty of surfing that goes on there as well. In fact, Cocoa Beach has the “Surfing Santas” each Christmas day. Like its neighbors to the north and south, the Space Coast has some of the greatest beaches on the Atlantic. We found Satellite Beach, Indiatlantic, and Melbourne Beach to be particularly nice. And, because it is Florida, they are accessible most months of the year.
Next in line is the “Treasure Coast.” That starts at Indian River running down through St. Lucie and Martin counties. It begins in Sebastian and heads south through Vero Beach, Fort Pierce, Jensen Beach, Stuart and down as far as Hobe Sound. The “treasure” in Treasure Coast refers to the eleven ships in the so-called Spanish Treasure Fleet which was lost in the Hurricane of 1715.
As the story goes, John J. Schumann Jr. and Harry J. Schultz, former publisher and editor of the Vero Beach Press Journal, reportedly coined the term shortly after salvagers began recovering Spanish treasure off the coast in 1961. The area from Indian River, St. Lucie and Martin apparently was formalized as the Treasure Coast in 2011. Appropriately, Mel Fisher’s Treasure Museum is in Sebastian.
Moving south toward the tip of the Sunshine State, you find The Gold Coast. A playground of the rich and famous, the reference to “golden” real estate values and the ritzy lifestyle of the area. It begins roughly at Riviera Beach then moves down to West Palm Beach, Lake Worth, Pompano Beach, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami-Dade County. It is the most densely populated area of the Sunshine State. Along its 65-miles of coastline, there are few natural, undeveloped beach stretches found in other areas. However, a few public beach-access areas still may be found.
Interestingly enough, the Florida Keys, at the southernmost point of the state – and the United States for that matter – does not actually have a coastal designation. It’s simply “The Keys” (or the Conch Republic). However, there are some great beaches there.
The 113-mile-long Overseas Highway connects all the islands with its 42 bridges. Included are Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine Key and the eclectic island of Key West. Some of the most popular beaches are; Harry Harris Park, Key Largo, Anne’s Beach, Lower Matecumbe Key, Coco Plum Beach, Marathon, Vaca Key, Calusa Beach, Bahia Honda State Park, Big Pine Key, and both Rest Beach and Higgs Beach in Key West.
As you turn north and head up Florida’s Gulf Coast, you hit The Paradise Coast. Beginning in Everglades City, that stretches through Marco Island, Naples and Bonita Springs. local officials describe it as “A natural and cultural gem where the Gulf of Mexico’s turquoise water meets white sand, wild islands and downtowns filled with artful treasures, culinary delights and countless other discoveries.”
Beach areas include the Naples Beach, Barefoot Beach Preserve, and Tigertail Beach. There also are areas accessible only by boat including Keewaydin Island and the many deserted beach islands within the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge and Everglades National Park.
Just north is the Lee Island Coast. It gets its name from Lee County. Starting at Fort Myers Beach, it heads north through Cape Coral and up to Punta Gorda. Just off Fort Myers Beach there’s Sanibel and Captiva, and Pine Island – where you’ll discover the Matlacha and Bokeelia communities. Sanibel and Captiva are known as some of the world’s best shelling beaches. In fact, it’s the location of the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum. In all, there are 50 miles of beaches. Area officials note that the barrier islands seem to be the most popular locations – both for beachcombers and boaters.
Beginning at the city of Englewood and running up the coast to Anna Maria Island is the Culture Coast. It is another stretch of wonderful coastline. There are beaches at Englewood, Blind Pass, Manasota, Venice, Nokomis and up to Siesta Key, Sarasota and Longboat Key. In fact, Siesta Key, with it’s broad white sandy beach has also been tagged as one of the world’s best beaches. The area has tagged itself the “Culture Coast” due to the location of the John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art. The 66-acre Ringling Estate in Sarasota plays home to some 21 galleries of art.
The Suncoast heads north from there – roughly 150 miles. Beginning in Bradenton to New Port Richey. There you’ll find The iconic Anna Maria Island as well as Treasure Island, Madeira Beach, Redington Beach, Indian Rocks Beach, Treasure Island, Clearwater and Tarpon Springs. Some of the most popular areas are Egmont Key, Ft. Desoto Park, Sand Key, Caladesi Island, and Honeymoon Island. Tarpon Springs, the home of all things Greek, is also the Sponge Capital of the World.
The Nature Coast begins just south of Hudson and runs through the Big Bend area of the Sunshine State. It extends along eight counties – all the way up to Saint Marks nature preserve. Destination points including Hernando Beach, Weeki Wachee Gardens, Homosassa, Crystal River, Cedar Key, Suwanee, and Steinhachee are along the way.
At one time referred to as Florida’s “Lonesome Leg”, the name “Nature Coast” reportedly was devised in 1991 as part of a marketing campaign to attract vacationers. Activities include hunting, fishing, boating, bird watching, and nature hiking. Spots for snorkeling also may be found in the rivers along the Nature Coast. The Nature Coast also has many different natural springs which also are popular for diving. These include Crystal Springs, High Springs, Rainbow Springs, and Manatee Springs.
In the Panhandle, the stretch from Alligator Point to Mexico Beach is ‘The Forgotten Coast”. This is another designation made in the early 1990s. The Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce takes credit for this one. Local officials say the area is dubbed “The Forgotten Coast” inasmuch as it is the last remaining stretch of unspoiled, pristine Gulf Coast beaches that haven’t been overrun by high rises and strip malls.
There are no major cities along The Forgotten Coast. However, you will find hamlets like Panacea, Carrabelle, Lanark Village, Cape San Blas and Port St. Joe. The adventurous might find themselves on Dog Island, St. George Island or St. Vincent Island.
Like the Nature Coast, in addition to white beaches and blue water there are opportunities for swimming, fishing, paddling and shelling. Other areas are noted for bird watching, hiking, fishing on the Forgotten Coast .
Rounding out the list is The Emerald Coast. That 100-mile stretch runs from Panama City Beach to Pensacola and the Alabama state line. Along the way you’ll find Seaside, Destin, Niceville, Fort Walton Beach, Santa Rosa Island, and Gulf Breeze. For a while it was known as “The Playground of the Gulfcoast”, “The Miracle Strip” and sometimes is referred to by the slang term “The Redneck Riviera”. The current formal designation “The Emerald Coast” was the result of a 1983 contest – won by a local high school student.
For many years it has been a popular Spring Break destination, as well as a resort used by residents of the nearby states of Alabama and Georgia. The Emerald Coast is noted for its white sands and blue green waters.
As with the rest of the Sunshine State, there’s something for nearly everyone along the 12 Coasts of Florida. From Jacksonville to the Keys to Pensacola there’s a wide range of experiences. There’s sugar sand, there are rocky beaches, there’s great shelling and natural habitat.
Swimmers can swim, anglers can fish and surfers can surf. There’s paragliding and offshore tours to see dolphins, manatees or just a fabulous Florida sunset. The 12 Coasts of Florida boasts more miles of beach than any other state in the USA.
Photos from Barry Foster and Deposit Photos