Florida, also known by its very appropriate nickname, "The Sunshine State," is thought of by many travelers from around the globe as the “boating (and yachting) capital of the world.” This comes as no surprise for boaters—since we know that where there’s a lot of sun and a lot of water, you’re sure to find a lot of boats.
From the Southernmost Point in the United States, to the Florida Gulf Coast, the Atlantic Ocean, and across the Panhandle, we’ve outlined the top 10 best places to boat in Florida.
1. Florida Keys
“Variety in paradise” is the best way to describe boating in The Keys. Within this 100-mile-long stretch of islands, you will find world-class offshore and inshore fishing, numerous reefs and wrecks for snorkeling and diving, tropical sandbars, and warm, gin-clear water that’s incredibly inviting. In addition, you’ll find a long list of waterfront watering holes and dining options to choose from, and diversity within each community that’s sure to satisfy the homebody or the party-goer.
2. Charlotte Harbor
Often overlooked, Charlotte Harbor feels like the Florida Keys but on a smaller scale. Loaded with islands and unspoiled, uncrowded beaches, it’s a dream location for boaters. The inshore and offshore fishing is world renowned, and this is often the setting for numerous popular fishing shows. Here, you’ll find iconic places like Boca Grande, Cabbage Key, Useppa Island, Cayo Costa, North Captiva Island, Captiva, and Sanibel Island. There isn’t a better place in Florida to find your own private anchorage.
3. Jupiter/Palm Beach
Perhaps the nicest place on the east coast of Florida is the Jupiter/Palm Beach area. This location seems to have the right mix of everything, from amazing offshore and inshore fishing, to crystal clear water and an incredibly close proximity to the Gulf Stream, as well as easy access to the northern Bahamas.
In addition, you’ll find a few sandbars for relaxing and lots of sightseeing along the Intracoastal Waterway, especially along Palm Beach and Jupiter Island. The Palm Beach Inlet is one of the safest passages on the east coast, and the Jupiter Inlet is, possibly, the most beautiful due to its crystal-clear water and famous lighthouse backdrop.
4. Tampa Bay
Tampa Bay is a fantastic place to boat that’s loaded with options. Boaters can fish the vast bay or go offshore, or day cruise to Downtown St. Pete or Downtown Tampa. They can also visit a number of spectacular islands and spend the day relaxing. Locations like Caladesi Island, Egmont Key, Passage Key, or Beer Can Island (inside Tampa Bay) offer visitors lots of choices and miles of secluded shoreline and sandbars to drop the anchor.
The high energy and active culture of this region provide additional benefits. You can even dress as a pirate and join hundreds of other boats as you invade Tampa during the annual Gasparilla Weekend.
5. Fort Lauderdale/Miami
This area is the most popular area for boating in the world. Fort Lauderdale offers an endless amount of canal-front living and sightseeing, as well as a downtown that’s really fun to visit. Here, you’ll also find everything you need to service your boat or yacht. While Fort Lauderdale doesn’t offer many inshore locations to relax, Miami does.
With its iconic skyline serving as a backdrop, Miami is a boater's paradise. Sandbars like Haulover and Nixon Beach are very popular, while South Beach and Coconut Grove offer incredible nightlife. Warm tropical waters, incredible inshore and offshore fishing, and its proximity to Bimini and the Florida Keys are major advantages of this area.
6. Crystal River
While it may not seem like it at first glance, Crystal River is definitely deserving of making this list. What makes this area so great for boaters is its variety of options and its family-friendly environment.
In Crystal River, you can spend the day fishing offshore or inshore, or you can switch gears by visiting any of the three freshwater springs within the area. The springs are perfect for swimming and snorkeling and are amazing places to visit, especially during the summer after a day of scalloping! The cool, pristine, freshwater makes for a great reprieve. In addition, your boat will love it too!
Located north of Charlotte Harbor and south of Tampa Bay, Sarasota is a great place to boat. This area offers a variety of fishing but really excels as a boating paradise because of its beautiful water, numerous sandbars, unspoiled beaches, and calm conditions.
Also, Downtown Sarasota is one of the best places for transient boaters and sailors to rent a slip or a mooring ball and explore. Here, you’ll find popular communities like Siesta Key, Longboat Key, and Anna Maria Island to the north.
Known as the “Sailfish Capital of the World”, the offshore fishing in this waterfront community speaks for itself. Equally incredible is the inshore fishing with some of the biggest snook in Florida found in these waters.
The St. Lucie Inlet is one of the best inlets on the entire east coast, and the Stuart Sandbar is a popular destination for boaters who are looking to relax. Combine great diving and convenient proximity to the Northern Bahamas, and Stuart is one of the best locations for boaters.
Located on the western panhandle of Florida, Destin is a boater's dream. Emerald-like water, unspoiled beaches and shoreline, and the world-famous “Crab Island” sandbar make it a top destination. Equally impressive inshore and offshore fishing along with numerous boat-friendly dining options make it a place that shouldn’t be missed.
10. St. John's River
Stretching from Jacksonville to east of Orlando, the St. John’s River is “Old Florida” at its finest. The 310 miles of river includes a surprising variety of options for boaters. The Jacksonville area offers quality saltwater and freshwater fishing, numerous waterfront dining options, and even game-day boating activities for professional and college sporting events.
Heading south on the St. John’s, you’ll find many lakes and coves that are perfect for freshwater fishing and watersports, as well as numerous country towns that are fun to explore. All of those great things aside, one of the best activities to do on the St. John’s is exploring one of its many freshwater springs. Boat-accessible springs, such as Silver Glen Run, Salt Springs, Juniper Springs, and Blue Spring, are all located along the banks of the St. John’s and are definitely worthy of a visit.
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Editor’s Note: This article was contributed by Chris Juall with Lazy Locations.