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Florida Beaches - The Top Ten

Finding a beach in Florida that's tailored to you and your family's tastes can be a giddying prospect, especially as this state has almost 700 miles of beautiful coastline to choose from. Do you make do with the nearest, allow time for a special road trip, or simply build your whole holiday around a particular beach? Read our guide to the ten best Florida beaches and make the right choice.

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South Beach Miami
Location: South Miami.
What: Ice-cream coloured buildings and plenty of clean, white sand for the family to enjoy during the day. At sundown the super-club neon lights take over; keep your eyes peeled for celebrities from all lists.
Activities: Historic art deco tours, rollerblading and surfing.
Eat: Head to A Fish Called Avalon (700 Ocean Drive) for delicious, locally-caught seafood with a tropical flair and more opportunities to people-watch.
Insider tip: Call it SoBe, everyone else does!
Delray Beach
Location: Palm Beach County, eight miles north of Boca Raton.
What: Charming little community with family-friendly two mile beach, one-off shops and a thriving arts scene.
Activities: Crazy golf and the Wakodahatchee Wetlands wildlife reserve for a nature fix.
Eat: Sit on the front terrace of Max's Harvest (69 NE 2nd Avenue) and enjoy their excellent farm-to-fork produce.
Insider tip: Browse the Atlantic Avenue boutiques in the early evening for hassle-free shopping.
Siesta Key
Location: Barrier island, close to Sarasota.
What: Pristine, silky-sand beaches and a very relaxed sensibility make Siesta Key suited to relaxation (or some low key bar-hopping). Nearby Sarasota takes care of any big city requirements.
Activities: Up the excitement levels with para-sailing, biking and kayaking.
Eat: Big Olaf Creamery (5208 Ocean Blvd.) is the place to go for delicious, homemade ice-cream in every flavour imaginable. Brave the lines for the toasted coconut!
Insider tip: Dress casually for everything, from brunch to dinner.
Atlantic Beach
Location: Duval County, 20 miles east of Jacksonville.
What: Un-crowded and laid-back, it's the perfect getaway for couples craving great food, friendly nightlife and plenty of quality time on the golden sand.
Activities: Body-boarding, kayaking and golfing.
Eat: Azurea at One Ocean (1 Ocean Blvd.) draws adventurous diners with its inventive seafood dishes and outstanding ocean views. Book a table for lunch when it's quieter.
Insider tip: Young-at-heart couples and outdoors-y families head north to Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park for its exceptional campsite.
Key West
Location: Southernmost tip of the Florida Keys.
What: Off the mainland coast and only 90 miles from Cuba, Key West has a clutch of small, attractive beaches. Nearby Fort Zachary Taylor Beach is the best place to witness the amber sun rise or set.
Activities: Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory, off-road biking and snorkelling.
Eat: Paseo Restaurant (1000 Eaton St) offers a true taste of the Caribbean - order the fire-roasted corn with aioli, coriander, paprika and lime to go.
Insider tip: Rent a glass-bottomed kayak for your own personal window into an underwater world of brightly-coloured fish and strange coral.
Palm Beach
Location: Palm Beach County.
What: This narrow, 14-mile island perfectly represents Florida's wealth, drawing the jet-setting social elite and those able to flash their cash. The beach is a more inclusive affair, with warm water and gentle breezes. Pack your best cozzie; this is a place to be seen!
Activities: World-class golf courses, luxury shopping and people-watching.
Eat: Buccan (350 South County Road) is an open kitchen, lounge and bar venue serving unique small plates to a friendly crowd. Its Brussels sprout Caesar salad has a growing army of fans online.
Insider tip: Visit John D. MacArthur Beach State Park to the north for an enchanting night-time sea turtle nesting walk.
Sanibel Beach
Location: Sanibel Island, southwest Florida.
What: Strewn with conch, cockle and scallop shells, this beach is a treasure trove for inquisitive kids. Gulf storms drive shells from the Caribbean and other southern seas onto the beach.
Activities: Hunting for unique shells, relaxing spa treatments and golfing.
Eat: Mad Hatter Restaurant (6467 Sanibel Captiva Road) is quiet and close to the water, ideal if you want to grab a bite without heading back to the hotel. Try the panko-fried scallops, fresh lobster or grilled filet mignon.
Insider tip: Locals say that the best shelling takes place early in the morning at low tide. That or the annual Sanibel Shell Fair & Show in March, where lifelong collections are started and displayed in equal measure.
Captiva Beach
Location: Captiva Island, southwest Florida.
What: Like Sanibel, Captiva is one of the world-renowned 'shell islands', so bone up on the state's shelling laws before picking. Although the island's natural link to Sanibel was severed in a 1926 hurricane, you can pass between the two islands via an over-water road.
Activities: Bird-watching, scuba-diving and snorkelling.
Eat: Old Captiva House at 'Tween Waters Inn (15951 Captiva Dr.) is home to the Captiva Bouillabaisse, crammed with local shrimp, grouper, clams and crab claws. Time your dinner with the sunset for a few extra brownie points.
Insider tip: Pay close attention by the waterside: dolphins are frequently spotted playing in the surf.
Clearwater Beach
Location: Pinellas County, 23 miles west of Tampa.
What: Clearwater is a great example of 'Old Florida', a swiftly-vanishing world of roadside attractions, hamburger stands and non-ironic Americana. Visitors to its three-mile beach enjoy bathwater-warm Gulf Coast water and the chance to join others and celebrate sunset at the pier.
Activities: Beach volleyball, sea fishing and jet-skiing.
Eat: Salt N Pepper Bistro (1757 Clearwater-Largo Road) is an authentic, family-run establishment with a menu crammed with French classics like onion soup, flat-iron steak and sweet crÍpes. Great stock of imported beer, too.
Insider tip: When Clearwater gets a little too busy, locals head over the Gulf Boulevard to Sand Key with some locally-caught fish, a barbeque and a few friends. Instant party!
Naples
Location: Collier County, southwest Florida.
What: Although often thought of as a retail heaven, there's plenty in Naples for beach and nature lovers. Ignore the extravagance of Millionaire's Row and enjoy a bit of family time on the clean, sugar-white sand, listed among the nation's best in TripAdvisor's Travelers' Choice Awards.
Activities: High-end shopping, sea-fishing and a few rounds of golf.
Eat: Adelheidi's Organic Sweets (505 5th Ave South) crafts the best organic frozen desserts in the locale, with unique flavours like chocolate & lavender, mango & chilli, and white rose & cardamom. Cool down with little something out of the ordinary.
Insider tip: Hop on a boat to nearby Keewaydin Island with a few savvy locals for its beautiful, footprint-free beaches.