Sun soaked: The best beaches on Florida’s Gulf Coast

It’s not all tar balls in Florida. Along Florida’s Gulf Coast you’ll find some of the most beautiful beaches in the south, and some so private you’d think you were on your own private island. Where are these pristine paradises? Read on, and don’t forget your sunscreen!

Indian Rocks Beach (12th Street), Florida: Grab breakfast at Crabby Bills followed by a day at this beach, where egrets strut behind the fisherman and dolphins minuet between the markers. Outdoor showers dot each public beach access and ample parking across the street means anyone can enjoy this beach. When you’re done with floating around on your noodle, dine at IRB Sushi, Guppy’s or Villa Gallaci, or catch the bands at J.D.’s and My Place.

Caladesi Island, Florida: This unspoiled sanctuary was raked America’s #1 Beach 2008. Nature trails and a family-oriented nature center grace the area, and that’s about all –well, except for the beach, of course. Caladesi Island Ferry departs from Honeymoon Island State Park to Caladesi, where you can surf, fish, shell, kayak, dock your boat at the marina and cruise the snack and gift shop.

Anna Marie Island, Florida: North of Bradenton and Sarasota, locals know to head over to the talcum powder sands outside the SandBar. By noon, yachts are moored, boat drinks are hoisted and mahi and burgers are served on the patio. Anna Marie Cottages is a stone’s throw from the pristine Gulf beaches, where savvy vacations know to book a room for the night. Head to dinner at the Waterfront or Rotten Ralphs, or down Longboat Key to the top Zagat’s pick, Euphemia Hayes. No lifeguards on duty, so these benign beaches are best for adults.

Turtle Beach, Florida
: Siesta Key is a barhopper’s haven, especially Daiquiri Deck, but this haven on Turtle Beach is for locals only. No lifeguard in sight, but free parking, picnic tables, playground, shower and restrooms, plus a nearby boat launch make it a handy weekend retreat for those who prefer reading under a beach umbrella with a cooler full of sandwiches and chips.

Nanette Wiser is a contributer.