Before becoming part of the United States, Florida was under the rule of Spain and briefly Great Britain. Throughout history, Florida has always been known for its lush tropics, sandy beaches and bright sunshine. Today, those pillars of Florida still reign true, especially in its barrier islands.
If you’re looking to enjoy island life, you’ll have no trouble doing so in Florida. In fact, the Sunshine State has over 4,500 islands to explore. Each Florida island has its own unique culture, vibe, and overall atmosphere. So whether you are looking for a serene and secret getaway or family fun and nightlife, you can find it on one of these beautiful Florida islands. One thing is for sure, you don’t have to travel to another country to get the vacation of your dreams. As a Florida resident and keen traveller, I have visited and grown to love these islands. These are the top 20 islands in Florida to visit.
- Florida Islands
- Top Tours
- Top 20 Islands in Florida
- 1- Marco Island
- 2- Key West
- 3- Siesta Key
- 4- Amelia Island
- 5- Sanibel Island
- 6- Captiva Island
- 7- Anna Maria Island
- 8- Bahia Honda Key
- 9- Pine Island
- 10- Key Largo
- 11- Key Biscayne
- 12- Gasparilla Island
- 13- Little Gasparilla Island
- 14- Santa Rosa Island
- 15- St. George Island
- 16- Merritt Island
- 17- Crab Island
- 18- Islamorada
- 19- Dry Tortugas
- 20- Little Palm Island
Top 20 Islands in Florida
As we know, Florida has over 4,500 islands. Deciding which one to visit may be tough with this many options. I’ve narrowed down the top 20 islands in Florida that are perfect for any tourist or resident to explore. Follow along to learn history, unique features, and the best places to stay on each island.
1- Marco Island
Marco Island is one of the most popular islands in Florida.
If you are a shell collector, you should head here.
This luxurious island is known for its impeccably soft sand, and amazing shell finds, including whelks, olive shells, scallops, and hundreds of other varieties. Try this shelling and sightseeing boat trip.
Tigertail Beach Park has a tidal lagoon, popular for kayaking and paddleboarding.
You can also find world-class golf courses and tons of shopping to keep you busy.
This developed isle is just a short drive over the bridge, 15 miles (24 km) south of the city of Naples, which is on the Gulf Coast side of Florida.
2- Key West
Key West is part of the Florida Keys archipelago.
Key West is popular because of its exciting nightlife, endless water sports and pastel-coloured architecture.
There are plenty of activities to do in Key West, including a walking tour, parasailing, and snorkelling. You’ll love this sunset champagne cruise.
This city is also Florida’s southernmost point, roughly 90 miles (144 km) north of Cuba.
3- Siesta Key
Siesta Key beach is a fan favourite for many.
It’s been voted the nation’s best beach on multiple occasions, most recently in 2020, by Trip Advisor’s Traveler’s Choice Awards.
If that doesn’t convince you that Siesta Key is one of the best islands in Florida, you’ll have to experience the pristine quartz powder sand and icy blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Travel to this destination is relatively easy, with the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport just minutes away.
This eight-mile Florida island paradise is just 6 miles (9 km) from Sarasota, about a 15-minute drive.
4- Amelia Island
Amelia Island has a rich history to be explored and was previously owned by the French, Spanish and British, giving it an eclectic feel.
One of the most popular features of Amelia Island is downtown Fernandina Beach, which has a Main Street filled with charming boutiques, restaurants, lounges and plenty of dessert options.
You’ll also find excellent resorts, spas and golf courses on the island.
Amelia Island is part of the Sea Island chain of barrier islands off Florida’s Atlantic Coast, which has beaches stretching up to South Carolina, such as Hilton Head and St. Simons Island.
Amelia Island is 33 miles (53 km) north of Jacksonville. This kayaking tour is very popular.
5- Sanibel Island
Sanibel Island is unique in its geography due to its orientation.
Most islands are situated North-South, however, Sanibel island is orientated East-West, which means visitors can expect sandy beaches with tons of gorgeous shells to collect.
Sanibel Island has even won awards for being the “Best Shelling Beach” in Florida.
In addition to being the perfect habitat for shells, you can also find sea turtles nesting here on the island during the season (May 1 – October 31).
Following the beach’s guidelines is important to preserve nature if you plan to visit the nesting turtles.
Sanibel Island is off the west coast of Florida, about 23 miles (37 km) from Fort Myers and just 8 miles (12 km) south of the next island on our list, Captiva Island. When visiting these islands, check out this sunset sailing cruise from Fort Myers.
6- Captiva Island
Captiva Island is smaller than Sanibel Island but just as magical.
This destination is perfect for someone looking for a relaxing, low-key vacation.
Because of the tranquillity and dedication to preservation, you’ll find great stretches of untouched nature and wildlife on the island.
This fact makes Captiva Island a great place for bird-watching.
This tiny barrier island is just 4 miles (6 km) big, making it one of the smallest on our list.
The beaches stretch over half the island’s area, so you’ll have no trouble finding the perfect spot to soak up some rays.
7- Anna Maria Island
Anna Maria Island is home to some of the most stunning hidden and secluded beaches in Florida, such as Coquina Beach, Bean Point, and Cortez Beach.
Popular recreational activities include sailing, windsurfing, jet skiing and fishing.
This barrier island was formed about 25,000 years ago and was originally discovered by Native Americans.
The island later attracted Spanish settlers with its bountiful ecosystem.
You can uncover the intriguing history of Anna Maria Island at the Anna Maria Historical Society.
Anna Maria Island is just south of St. Petersburg and 17 miles (27 km) from the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.
8- Bahia Honda Key
Bahia Honda Key is calling your name for a secluded escape to enjoy Florida’s wildlife.
This cosy island is virtually uninhabited, home to the 524-acre Bahia Honda State Park.
The State Park features Sandspur, Loggerhead, and Calusa beaches, where you can enjoy swimming, snorkelling, shelling, scuba diving, paddling and fishing.
Bahia Honda is an island in the lower Florida Keys between Ohio Key and Spanish Harbor Key, 12 miles (19 km) west of Marathon.
9- Pine Island
Pine island is the largest island off Florida’s Gulf Coast and the 118th-largest island in the United States.
Although it’s 17 miles (27 km) long, it still offers a small-town feel and is only a 30-minute drive from bustling Fort Myers, but it feels like a different country with its laid-back atmosphere and lush tropics.
Pine island is popular for its waterways which are perfect for kayaking and canoeing.
There is also a colourful collection of art galleries on the island, gaining it the nickname “Florida’s Creative Coast.”
The island does not have a public beach, but Cape Coral and Fort Myers Beach are just a few miles away.
10- Key Largo
Key Largo is another well-known island within the Florida Keys.
You may have heard of this one because of a famous Beach Boys song that goes something like, “Key Largo, Montego. Baby why don’t we go?”
On top of being the focus of famous lyrics, Key Largo is also the Dive Capital of the World because the island is home to a 510-foot (155 m) artificial reef.
In addition to diving, Key Largo offers glass-bottom boating, swimming with dolphins and snorkelling. Check out this tour.
Key Largo is the first of the Florida Keys, making it the most convenient to get to, which is why it’s also very popular.
It’s just 16 miles (25 km) off the coast of Florida.
11- Key Biscayne
Although this has “Key” in the name, Key Biscane is not part of the Florida Keys.
This barrier island off the coast near Miami was once a coconut plantation, which was donated to become Cranston Park, a nature lovers’ paradise complete with an international tennis centre, a golf course, and hiking trails.
On the island, you can find an oasis of sandy beaches and restaurants with dreamy oceanfront views.
To get to Key Biscane, drive over the scenic Rickenbacker Causeway through historic Virginia Key.
This oasis is a 17-minute drive from the heart of downtown Miami.
12- Gasparilla Island
Gasparilla Island plays a key role in Florida folklore due to its connection to the pirate José Gaspar, where the name “Gasparilla” comes from.
Apart from its pirate ties, the island is known for its blue-green waters that cascade across pristine beaches.
The village of Boca Grande sits on the island and is home to a historic downtown with restaurants and shops.
Gasparilla Island is a barrier island in southwest Florida, United States, that sits on the border of Charlotte and Lee counties.
It’s 43 miles (69 km) south of our third island on this list, Siesta Key.
13- Little Gasparilla Island
Unlike its sister island, Little Gasparilla Island offers a minimalist vibe and lives up to its title as the “best kept secret in southwest Florida.”
The island has no bridges or paved roads and is only accessible by boat, either private or public water taxi from the town of Placida.
Because of the scarcity of people on the island, the beach is often deserted, offering you a private oasis, even in the busier summer months.
On the island, you can snorkel on the sand bar, look for sand dollars, collect coconuts and soak up the rays on the beautiful beaches.
Little Gasparilla Island lies just north of Gasparilla Island, separated by Gasparilla Pass.
14- Santa Rosa Island
Santa Rosa Island is a long and thin barrier island housing Pensacola Beach, Navarre Beach and Okaloosa Beach.
These beaches lie on the world-renowned Emerald Coast, which many tourists flock to.
Plenty of luxury beach rentals, water activities, and upscale dining options are scattered throughout the island.
Santa Rosa Island is 30 miles (50 km) east of the Florida-Alabama border. The closest metropolitan area is Pensacola which is a 45-minute drive.
15- St. George Island
St. George Island is a 28-mile (km) barrier island hidden off the Gulf Coast of Florida, often called the “Forgotten Coast” because it is one of the last inhabited unspoiled islands in Florida.
This picturesque destination offers uncrowded beaches perfect for family-friendly activities, including swimming, fishing and paddling, shelling, castle-building and relaxing on the sugary, white sand.
If you are travelling with a furry friend, St. George is the perfect spot.
The island contains one of the few pet-friendly beaches in Florida and many vacation homes, stores and restaurants welcome dogs.
St. George Island is 6.5 miles (10 km) off the coast of Florida, accessible by County Road 300. The drive from Tallahassee is about 1 hour and 30 minutes.
16- Merritt Island
Merritt Island technically cheated its way onto this list, considering it is a peninsula, but we’ll let it slide just this once.
Merritt Island has some of the most exciting attractions in Florida, including NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
At the visitor centre, you can meet an astronaut, enjoy the automated thrills of the Shuttle Launch Experience and explore other interactive displays.
When you’re done exploring outer space, come back down to earth to check out Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, a 140,000-acre (56655 ha) nature sanctuary.
Merritt Island is situated between Cocoa Beach and Rockledge off the East Coast of Florida along the Atlantic Ocean.
17- Crab Island
Crab Island is a popular sandbar near Destin, FL. Crab Island has gained national attention and is frequently visited by celebrities.
The sandbar can be reached by boat only, and you never know whom you might bump into. Bring your own boat or rent one.
Although it is only a sandbar today, it holds the title of “island” because it was once an island many years ago before erosion and weather damage.
On a summer day, hundreds of boats are docked at Crab Island.
There are water games, boat bars and other mobile vendors such as ice cream boats and boiled peanut boats.
Crab Island is located about 1000 feet directly across from the Destin Marina. You can see the sandbar when driving over the Marler Bridge.
Another gem in the Keys, Islamorada, is nicknamed “The Village of Islands” because it is home to six of the Florida Keys, including Teatable Key, Windley Key, Plantation Key, Upper and Lower Matecumbe Keys.
The island has plenty of parks, beaches and nature preserves to enjoy. You may also like this sandbar tour.
Some of the most popular are Green Turtle Hammock Nature Preserve, Anne’s Beach, and Library Beach Park.
Top attractions are the dolphin and Theater of the Sea’s sea lion show, the History of Diving Museum and Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park.
Islamorada stretches from the West end of Tavernier Creek Bridge (about Mile Marker 90.8) to the West end of the Channel Two bridge (about Mile Marker 72.5).
19- Dry Tortugas
Dry Tortugas is a wondrous and hidden place that has a rich history.
The name “Dry Tortugas” comes from two important pieces of information about the island.
“Tortuga” means turtle in Spanish, and when Ponce De Leon discovered the island, he was amazed by the hundreds of turtles he saw.
“Dry” was added to the name to let pirates and seamen know that there was no fresh water on the island.
Dry Tortugas consists of seven tiny islands, offering excellent bird watching, snorkelling, swimming, camping, secluded beaches and historic Fort Jefferson.
It is 70 miles west of Key West and is popular as a day trip using the Yankee Freedom Ferry or book this tour.
20- Little Palm Island
Look no further than Little Palm Island if you’re in the market for a private, luxury experience.
Set on a private island accessed only by seaplane or boat, Little Palm Island is a luxe, adult-only resort that has been named on “The Best New Hotels in the World” List by Condé Nast Traveler and “Top 10 Resort Hotels in Florida – 2022” by Travel & Leisure.
The resort takes inspiration from British West Indies design and Balinese practices to create the most tranquil, lush environment, complete with spa, marina, beautiful beaches and stunning suites.
You’ll feel like a celebrity with all the pampering available at the resort.
Little Palm Island is located 5 miles (8 km) from the National Key Deer Refuge and 29 miles (46 km) from Key West International Airport.
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