Before he became Dr. Beach (www.drbeach.org), a leading environmental expert on beaches, Stephen Leatherman worked at the University of Massachusetts and did research at the Cape Cod National Seashore. Currently a professor of Earth and Environment at Florida International University, he notes that the Sunshine State has 825 miles of sandy beaches. Here are five of the best:
FORT DESOTO PARK, ST. PETERSBURG
The huge park includes a sandy beach with no rip currents, a long fishing pier, a beach area where dogs are allowed, and great bird-watching for shorebirds and waders. “Plus it has the cleanest public bathrooms I’ve ever seen,” Leatherman adds.
SIESTA KEY BEACH, SARASOTA
This crescent beach is 500-600 feet wide with some of the finest white sand in the world. The powdery sand squeaks when you walk on it. “It’s a sin to walk on the beach with your shoes on,” Leatherman cautions.
BILL BAGGS CAPE FLORIDA STATE PARK, KEY BISCAYNE
Big offshore sand bars break up the waves, making it a very safe place for children to swim. The beach covers hundreds of acres, so bring a bicycle to explore different sections. “And go to the Lighthouse Cafe for fresh fish and lobster,” he suggests.
SOUTH BEACH, MIAMI
Leatherman calls it “Manhattan on the beach,” noting that South Beach gets over 5 million visitors annually. It’s a very safe beach with lots of lifeguards and a great place to watch South Americans play beach volleyball with their feet.
ST. JOSEPH PENINSULA STATE PARK, PORT ST. JOE
A 10-mile-long barrier beach, where this blue heron (above) has perched, runs along the Gulf of Mexico on a Panhandle peninsula that protects Apalachicola Bay. There are no lifeguards, and Leatherman advises getting out of the water if a storm is brewing as the beach sometimes gets rip currents.
PATRICIA HARRIS AND DAVID LYON