Top 10 Best Beaches in the South

Endless Summer Getaways

Written by Susan Elnicki-Wade

When cold wintry winds start blowing up your britches, it’s time to follow the snowbird migratory path and head for warmer climates. Instead of shoveling snow in a puffy coat, go build sand castles in your bathing suit. With so many southern ports to explore, how will you select a spot that suits your fancy? Marinalife asked the experts — our readers — to find out which beaches rank among their favorite winter escapes for sun, sand and fun. Their choices range from secluded natural paradises to rollicking seaside resorts and family-friendly waterfronts. So, take your pick from 10 best destinations where our seasoned travelers like to flee from Jack Frost’s winter doldrums.

1. Malaquite Beach, North Padre Island, Texas

No cars, no crowds … just solitude and serenity along four miles of raw Texas coastline on a barrier island not far from Corpus Christi. Off the beaten path, Malaquite Beach is part of Padre Island National Seashore, a 113-mile haven for nature lovers, sunbathers and fishermen. Hiking trails through sand dunes and grasslands showcase a menagerie of tropical birds, sea turtles, wildlife and undeveloped waterfront beauty. Bring what you need for a getaway because the beach’s amenities only include a visitor center, gift shop, observation decks, picnic tables and campground. Where to Dock: Bluff’s Landing Marina and Lodge

2. West Beach, Gulf Shores, Alabama

If you snoozed during geography class and thought Alabama was a landlocked state, you’re in for a delightful surprise. Its 32-mile long southern tip juts out into the Gulf of Mexico and is known for lovely beaches with sugar-white sand made of quartz eroded from the Appalachian Mountains. Located on the peninsula along Mobile Bay, West Beach is a hidden gem for swimming, sunning and eating fresh local seafood.

Nearby attractions: Fort Morgan (built in 1818 and used in the Civil War), Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, Gulf Coast Exploreum (kids’ science center), Waterville USA (water park) and Adventure Island (pirate-themed amusement park). Where to Dock: Homeport Marina or Saunders Yachtworks

3. Henderson Beach State Park, Destin, Florida

East of Pensacola on Florida’s panhandle is a special place that lets you experience Florida’s coastal dune ecosystem unblemished by human development. The 6,000 feet of shoreline opened to the public in 1991 as part of the Save Our Coast land protection program. Hiking on the nature trail reveals precious indigenous plants such as scrub oaks, sand pines, dune rosemary, magnolias and wildflowers. The beach is rarely crowded, so you will find plenty of space to dig your toes into the soft white sand while you rest your eyes on the Gulf of Mexico’s emerald waters. For restaurants, shopping and cultural sites, visit the nearby town of Destin. Where to Dock: HarborWalk Marina

4. Caladesi Island State Park, Dunedin, Florida

Three miles offshore Florida’s mainland is a magical island that makes you forget about the urban bustle of Tampa and St. Petersburg just a stone’s throw away. Caladesi is only accessible by boat, but you can take a ferry from Honeymoon Island State Park or dock your boat at the 108-slip marina on the bay side. The unspoiled beaches area sanctuary for sun worshippers, beachcombers and anglers. Adventurous visitors can paddle kayaks on a trail through mangrove trees where wading birds pluck dinner from the water. Where to Dock: Caladesi Island State Park Marina

5. Siesta Beach, Sarasota, Florida

Sand as white as the snow you left behind and spectacular sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico make Siesta Beach a popular seaside destination. Visitors accompanied by children appreciate the calm waters of its gently sloping beach, lifeguards on duty year-round and snack stands with kid-friendly fare. Tennis, volleyball, softball and water sports can keep you busy. Or you can just stretch out in a lounge chair and let the soothing waves lull you into a siesta state of mind. Where to Dock: Hyatt Regency Sarasota 

6. North-End Beach, Captiva, Florida

This thin sliver of land is narrow enough at points that you can see the Gulf of Mexico to the west and Pine Island Sound on the east side at the same time. Not far from Fort Myers, this paradise is covered with lush, tropical foliage, and its 2.5 miles of beaches set the stage for watching dolphins frolic in pristine waters. The main attraction here and at its sister island, Sanibel, is a cornucopia of seashells. The islands boast nearly 400 different species, from conchs to whelks and cockles. The local lighthouse, seashell museum and manatee park promise fun for all. Where to Dock: South Seas Island Resort & Marina

7. Bahia Honda State Park, Big Pine Key, Florida

It’s hard to beat island hopping down the Florida Keys, and when you embark on a tropical crawl of these isles, be sure to include Bahia Honda Beach. The uninhabited island is located at U.S. Highway 1 Mile Marker 37 and is home to some the region’s best snorkeling and fishing. The immaculate beaches cover 524 acres of sun, sand and swaying palm trees. One of Henry Flagler’s 43 bridges for the Florida East Coast Railroad stands watch over this plush piece of heaven, and the Sand & Sea Nature Center answers questions about the amazing sea life you discover in these waters. Where to Dock: Bahia Honda State Park Marina (305-872-3210,

8. Delray Beach, Florida

By day, Delray Beach invites visitors to lavish in the sun and let the sparkling Atlantic waters indulge their aquatic whims. Surf in the waves, scuba down deep to sunken ships and colorful coral reefs, or just kick back on a beach chair with a cool beverage nestled in your hand. In the evenings, this charming resort town glows with a robust arts scene, upscale restaurants, swanky boutiques, galleries, museums, concerts and festivals. Located between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, it’s an ideal destination to satisfy all your outdoor and indoor desires. Where to Dock: The Seagate Yacht Club

9. Tahiti Beach, Elbow Cay, The Bahamas

If someone asked Neptune to design a perfect secluded beach, it’s likely to look like Tahiti. You can’t access it by car — only by boat or on foot along sandy trails — but that only heightens the sense of adventure. It’s the kind of getaway where you should pack a camera with your sunscreen and towel, because the clear blue water, sugar-white sand, palm tree groves and tropical birds are poised for postcard pictures. Beneath the waves, coral reefs encircle the island and create a vibrant habitat for turtles, fish and other sea creatures. When you’re ready to return to civilization, you can stroll to a few nearby restaurants and shops. Where to Dock: Hope Town Inn & Marina 

10. Harbour Island, Eleuthera, The Bahamas

Tiny Harbour Island is only 3.5 miles long and 1.5 miles wide, but the big surprise on this tropical paradise is pink beaches. Coral crushed by the waves gives the sand its rosy color and powder-soft texture. Snorkeling and fishing are second to none. Secluded coves along the shoreline, pineapple fields and lush tropical forests stage a magnificent backdrop. You’ll find lovely resorts, hotels and cozy restaurants tucked away from the natural beauty. Their graceful architecture was influenced by British loyalists who landed here in the 1700s. Where to Dock: Romora Bay Resort & Marina


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