Young Thais are drawn by the big city lifestyle
While most of Florida's beaches offer everything from volleyball nets to jet skis to free wi-fi -- there are times when a trip to the shore should just rejuvenate the soul, scrubbing away the stresses of life like sand that scrubs at the soles of bare feet.
Stumbling upon a soulful sanctuary is often its own best reward, but since there are not many hidden beaches remaining in South Florida, here are a few suggestions to jumpstart your search.
Accessible only by boat, this 1,300-acre barrier island off southwest Florida's Marco Island is also a protected refuge, so do not be surprised to see turtles, manatees or ospreys cavorting near the peninsula. On the weekends you will often find a few dozen boats anchored off its beach and sunbathers lounging in the warm waters. The strong currents here power an amazing 10-minute float downstream, and the return walk along the beach affords time for wildlife viewing.
If you do not have a boat, head to Marco’s Tigertail Beach, park and head north. Two miles later, you will find yourself on a silvery spit of sand with nothing but endless vistas and bay breezes.
While the Florida Keys offer plenty of gentle waves and wild nights, they lack a plethora of public sand beaches. Never fear: approximately halfway between Key Largo and Key West, tucked discretely under an overpass, is one of the few public beaches in the Keys. Named after local environmentalist Anne Eaton, Anne's Beach -- on Route 1 at Mile Marker 73 -- has two (tiny, but free) parking lots, a shallow swimming area, covered picnic tables and basic bathroom facilities. Best of all: this pet-friendly beach gives drivers the chance to let their pups stretch their legs along the scenic but occasionally frustrating drive from Miami to Key West.
Hoping for something more brag-worthy? Rent a "sandbar boat" for $50 from Islamorada's H2O Water Sports (84457 Overseas Highway, 1-305-394-4078) and float it out to the sand bar. Drop anchor, crack the cooler and wade in shallow warm waters with a handful of locals for the afternoon.
Blowing Rocks Preserve
Southeast Florida's Blowing Rocks Preserve encompasses a mile-long, fissure-riddled limestone outcrop. When the tide is high and there is a strong easterly, wind, water spurts up, geyser-like (call for conditions: 561-744-6668). When seas are calm, you can hike through four coastal biomes: shifting dune, coastal strand, interior mangrove wetlands and tropical coastal hammock. Entry to the preserve is $2 per person (9am to 4:30pm daily). Finding the refuge on Jupiter Island is a little tricky, as there is no signage: from Route 1, follow Bridge St to Beach St. Drive three miles; the refuge is on your right.
If you do not feel like a nature walk? Nearby Palm Beach -- the exclusive enclave of the super-rich -- has some beautiful beaches, many of which are difficult to access due to the island's seemingly infinite "no parking" signs. However, a favourite "local's only" spot is easy to access, offers free parking and is almost always empty. Follow Worth Ave east, and take a left when the road dead-ends onto A1A. Turn left on Barton Ave and park across from the church. Walk to the beach, ducking under the sea grapes (yes, you can eat the fruit). Spread out your towel and snooze adjacent to some of the most expensive real estate in the US.