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Florida’s Best Boardwalks and Family Beaches
Florida blooms with great beaches, but the Atlantic shore’s sands differ from those along the Gulf Coast.
For the best boardwalks, consider Hollywood Beach Broadwalk on the east coast or Pier 60 at Clearwater Beach on the west coast. For the best family-friendly spots, try Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park on the east coast or Fort De Soto Park on the west coast.
“Dr. Beach,” otherwise known as Stephen Leatherman, professor and director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University, Miami, assisted me in researching the best Florida beaches along both coasts for a series I wrote for USA TODAY. Here’s a summary of what we found.
Stretching for 2.5 miles, the Hollywood Beach Broadwalk on the east coast is long enough for walkers, cyclists and joggers to work up a sweat. At 30-feet wide, the beach level promenade keeps outdoor enthusiasts from bumping into each other with separate lanes for bicycles and joggers. Hotels, cafes and restaurants line the route.
Although Pier 60 at Clearwater Beach is best known for fishing, the 1,080-feet pier serves much the same purpose as a boardwalk: people come to see and be seen. Magicians, stilt walkers and other street performers entertain as part of the nightly Sunsets at Pier 60 street fairs.
Dr. Leatherman likes Key Biscayne’s Bill Baggs Florida State Park for families. “The surf is gentle because there’s a big sandbar off-shore,” says Leatherman. “Families can canoe, kayak, fish, bike and also tour the lighthouse.” From the top of the lighthouse, which dates to 1825 and was rebuilt in 1845, you get a panoramic view of Miami and the ocean.
Sprawling 1,136-acre Fort De Soto Park in the west coast’s Pinellas County, is situated in Tierra Verde, south of St. Petersburg. The park unfolds as a series of five interconnected islands with nearly three miles of sands. Leatherman picks North Beach as the best spot for families. “It’s on the Gulf and has good swimming,” says Leatherman. “The water is clear and calm. Families can kayak through the mangroves, fish and boat.” Kids also like to climb the remains of the fort built in 1898-1900 for the Spanish-American war.
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