Siesta Key is America’s Best Beach; Grayton and Caladesi Make Top 10
By Janet Keeler
There’s no denying that Siesta Key Beach is America’s No. 1 beach – again.
That’s the official proclamation from Dr. Beach, who named the wide, white-sand Florida beach the best place for fun in the sun in the United States for 2017 on his annual Top 10 Beach List. Siesta Key moves up a spot in the rankings from 2016.
Siesta Key, renowned for family beach vacations, was No. 1 in 2011 also. In the past, winners could not repeat but Dr. Beach leveled the playing field in 2016, giving renewed consideration to beaches that ban smoking and make safety a priority.
Since winning in 2011, Sarasota County has spent $21 million in “making the best beach even better,” said Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota. “We didn’t sit on our laurels.”
Dr. Beach, aka Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman of Florida International University, has been ranking the nation’s beaches since 1991. His list has become a go-to guide for sun-seeking travelers looking for the best spots to spread out their towels. The professor and director of FIU’s Laboratory for Coastal Research rates America’s beaches using a 50-criteria system, among those sand softness, days of sunshine, water color, access, wildlife, lifeguards and amenities (showers, chairs, bars, etc.)
“It’s a beautiful place,” Leatherman said of Siesta Key’s beach. “There’s nothing like it in the world. The water is calm and turquoise. And it’s a very safe beach with lifeguards. The people of Sarasota have done a great job preserving this beach.”
No other state has as many beaches as Florida on Dr. Beach’s 2017 Top 10 Beach list, with three Gulf-side treasures getting his seal of approval. “Florida has 825 miles of good-quality beaches. There’s not a bad beach in the state of Florida,” he said.
Other Florida beaches in the top 10 in 2017 are Grayton Beach State Park in Northwest Florida, moving up to the fourth spot from No. 6 last year, and Caladesi Island State Park near Dunedin, ranking No. 7. Caladesi was No. 9 in 2016. Grayton was Dr. Beach’s No. 1 in 1994 and Caladesi took the top spot in 2008.
Siesta Key Beach
Siesta Key, an eight-mile-long barrier island in Sarasota County, is a glittering example of Florida’s fabulous beaches. It attracts beach lovers from all over the world with its gently sloping sugar sand, making it a perfect launch point for swimmers of all ages, especially children. Shallow water at the beach’s edge, gentle waves plus lifeguards on duty help make Siesta Key a family friendly destination.
“You can have your little ones playing at water’s edge and you don’t have to worry about them getting toppled over,” Haley said.
Volleyball players have plenty of space to set up shots, and walkers and runners get in their daily exercise while gazing at the azure waters of the Gulf of Mexico. There’s room, too, for sun worshippers who plan to park for the day under colorful umbrellas with books to read or eyes trained on the wide vista. Likewise sand castle architects.
There are nearby accommodations and a free trolley rolling up and down the island, a bonus for beachgoers toting towels, coolers and sand buckets. Expanded parking and a new playground in 2016 helped return Siesta Key to the top spot. A safer crossing from the parking lot to the beach, more shade structures plus a new two-story snack bar were part of the renovations.
It’s a well-visited beach but Leatherman said it’s easy to get some solitude on the expansive beach. “Just walk a few yards away from others and you’ll find it.”
Grayton Beach State Park
Grayton Beach, this year’s No. 4, is a special spot in the Northwest Florida. Former Gov. Bob Graham has said it’s his favorite beach in the state. Limited development has preserved the natural surroundings so that visitors can enjoy the tidal lakes and freshwater ponds there.
Sand dunes continue to dominate the landscape created by wind and salt spray. Amenities in the village of Grayton Beach or nearby Seaside make this beach attractive for both family vacations and romantic getaways.
No stop in Grayton would be complete without gumbo and music at the legendary Red Bar restaurant. Some visitors give the crab cakes a higher thumbs up than the award-winning gumbo.
Caladesi Island State Park
Caladesi Island State Park, No. 7 on the list for 2017, gets top marks for its pristine beach. The island is accessible only by private watercraft or a 20-minute ferry ride from nearby Honeymoon Island.
Surf fishing, beachcombing and bird watching are among the most popular activities at this natural wonder. A three-mile nature trail plus a marked paddling trail through the mangroves are other ways for visitors to leave the worries of the mainland behind.
Florida beaches routinely earn spots on Dr. Beach’s annual list. Here are others that have been named No. 1:
Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys, 1992
Fort DeSoto Park in Pinellas County, 2005