- By Tracey Teo For the AJC
Ask five people what their ideal Florida beach getaway looks like, and you’re likely to get five different answers, but that’s OK. The Sunshine State has such a variety of beaches, it’s easy to find one that’s right for everybody. Whether you are in search of solitude, romance or the wildest of wild parties, you don’t have to go far to find your personal paradise.
FORT LAUDERDALE — ADVENTURE
Adventurous types refuse to sit quietly under a beach umbrella, and in Fort Lauderdale, nobody expects them to. The Atlantic Ocean is just one big aquatic playground waiting for kids and kids-at-heart to bring their toys — like paddleboards and Hobie Cats.
Ways to enjoy the warm, clear water are almost endless.
Speed demons shoot across the ocean on WaveRunners, feeling the salty spray on their face, while others parasail high above the sea for a bird’s-eye view of the action on the beach.
If you’re looking for fun for your whole crew, pile on the water weenie and hang on to your sunglasses. Despite its name, this ride is not for wimps.
Those traveling with pint-sized adventure seekers can bounce around with them on a water trampoline equipped with a small water slide.
Aloha Watersports. 3030 Holiday Drive, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. 954-462-7245, alohawatersports.com
PANAMA CITY BEACH — NATURE LOVERS
This Panhandle town with a 22-mile stretch of white-powdery sand is known for its lively beach scene, but nature lovers know where to find solitude and tranquility: St. Andrews State Park. A 1,200-acre pristine wilderness of beaches, marshes and pinewood forests offers a glimpse of what the area looked like before high-rise condos jammed the beach.
Hikers can choose between two nature trails: Heron Pond Trail meanders through the flatwood pine forest, while Gator Lake Trail offers scenic views of a placid lake — and maybe a gator.
Both trails are a bird watcher’s dream. Tilt your binoculars up to the treetops, and you may see white-bellied ospreys in their massive nests.
Scan the shore for wading birds, and you’re likely to get a few good shots of a long-legged great egret, famous for its snowy plumage, impaling fish with its deadly beak.
Anglers head to a fishing pier, hoping to reel in flounder, cobia, redfish and sea trout. Even if the fish aren’t biting, kicking back in a peaceful spot of spectacular natural beauty makes it time well spent.
There’s no need to leave at sunset. Camping facilities are available.
4607 State Park Lane, Panama City Beach, Fla. 850-708-6100, floridastateparks.org/park/st-andrews
MIAMI BEACH — NIGHTLIFE
South Beach, the hub of Miami Beach, is one crazy, nonstop beach party, but things really heat up after the sun goes down. There are so many nightspots, even the most experienced of club hoppers can’t party at all of them in one weekend.
Start with dinner and a show at Mango’s Tropical Café. Yeah, it’s touristy, but it’s also a blast. This landmark hot spot stages a Latin cabaret show reminiscent of 1950s supper clubs. Bronzed dancers strut their stuff, balancing mile-high feathered headdresses while shaking the beaded fringe on their microscopic skirts so vigorously, it seems possible the beads could fly across the room as if shot from a BB gun.
The buoyant rhythms of the merengue, salsa and bachata reverberate throughout the club and roll out into the street, making some passers-by decide then and there to buy tickets.
There’s an eclectic variety of shows, most featuring Latin dances, but the entertainment could include anything from belly dancing to disco.
If you’re not a Michael Jackson fan, just beat it, because there’s a popular tribute to the late “King of Pop.”
Mojitos are the beverage of choice here. Can’t decide between the mind-boggling 19 varieties? Just stick to the classic version of this rum-based, minty cocktail.
ISLAMORADA — ROMANCE
The Moorings Village and Spa in Islamorada (I-luh-muh-RAH-duh) is a secluded oasis in the Upper Keys that’s ideal for a romantic getaway.
Halfway between Miami and Key West, this lush, 18-acre property set on a former coconut plantation is imbued with Old Florida charm. Eighteen vintage-style villas are spread across palm-studded grounds blooming with delicate, vibrantly hued flowers.
It takes little effort to find an isolated spot on the private beach, an 1,100-foot stretch of snow-white sand that frames the inviting turquoise water of the Atlantic Ocean.
After you’ve taken a dip, you’ll find endless ways to while away the afternoon. Sip iced tea on your vast front porch or sway lazily in an oceanside hammock.
For the ultimate relaxation, book a spa treatment. If you can’t tear yourself away from the beach for your massage, don’t worry: The therapist will come to you.
Sunsets are a big deal here, and many couples wander across the street to the Beach Café at Morada Bay (81600 Overseas Highway, Islamorada, Fla. 305-664-0604, moradabay.com) to watch the colors of the horizon swiftly morph from searing orange to soft lavender and, finally, fade to pink before the sun sinks into the ocean.
Order a cocktail and toast the end of a wonderful day and the beginning of a quiet evening.
Fans of the Netflix series “Bloodline,” which concluded last spring, will recognize one of the Moorings Village villas as the fictional Rayburn House. A very real Hurricane Irma hit the property last fall, but it has recovered and started accepting reservations once more.
NAPLES — GOLF
For some, no beach getaway is complete without a tee time. The quiet but sophisticated oceanfront town of Naples offers the ultimate stay-and-play luxury vacation.
It’s home to the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort that overlooks two 18-hole Greg Norman-designed courses, the Gold and the Black, that are part of the adjacent Tiburón Golf Club.
The Black course meanders through a serene nature preserve, but that doesn’t mean golfers won’t feel their blood pressure rise as they navigate these narrow fairways.
For a less challenging option, play the more forgiving Gold course.
Golfers looking to improve their swing inevitably visit the resort’s Impact Zone Golf Academy, where their game is analyzed using the latest technology.
Tour Fit Golf Labs provides custom-made clubs — the perfect souvenir of your golf getaway.
The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Naples. 2600 Tiburón Drive, Naples, Fla. 239-593-2000, ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/naples
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