This post excerpted from an article that originally appeared in Fodors.com, December 17, 2015.
Here’s the thing about Florida: You visit time and again, and you’re quite sure you know the state and its glorious sandy stretches pretty well. But there’s always a surprise waiting for those who stray from the classic Panama City–Orlando–Miami–Key West stops. From Atlantic coast enclaves that locals try to keep to themselves to subtropical islands dotting the Gulf of Mexico, most of our picks for under-the-radar Florida beach towns won’t ring a bell, but consider that a good thing. Get away from the vacationing masses for a taste of old Florida in these spots where the simple things—sun, surf, and a no-worries attitude—still reign.
Located within roughly two hours of both Orlando and Miami, Vero Beach sits along Florida’s Treasure Coast, so named for the Spanish treasure fleets that sank here in the 1700s. After a big storm, you’ll see folks with metal directors in hand strolling along the beach, hoping to get lucky. But even luckier are the vacationers who find their ways to this subdued stretch of sand over the ticky-tacky tourist towns (Cocoa Beach and Daytona Beach) to the north. Made largely of driftwood and listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, The Driftwood Resort has great rooms for families and a fun restaurant and bar called Waldo’s fronting the ocean. For excellent Cuban food and Caribbean vibes, stop by Wave Kitchen & Bar at the stylish Costa d’Este Beach Resort & Spa, owned by Gloria and Emilio Estefan. Loggerhead turtles nest here from March through October; you can witness the action on biologist-led tours.
Insider Tip: Sebastian Inlet State Park, just north of Vero, is one of the best spots in the state for both surfing and fishing.
See a slideshow of the full list of under-the-radar beach towns here.
Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Vero Beach Guide