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Nothing says summer quite like a day spent sunbathing and splashing on the beach. And if your definition of a perfect beach includes powdery white sand, calm water, family-friendly amenities, and abundant wildlife, then it’s time to start planning a trip to Florida’s St. George Island State Park. The 1,962-acre park, part of St. George barrier island off the coast of the Sunshine State, was just named the best in the U.S. by coastal expert Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, aka Dr. Beach, in his yearly ranking of America’s best beaches.
“St. George State Park boasts some of the finest, whitest sand in the world,” Leatherman told Travel + Leisure. “The park has nine miles of unobstructed, pristine beach with crystal clear and clean turquoise water.”
Part of the so-called “Forgotten Coast” of Florida that comprises beautiful and relatively under-the-radar coastal destinations southwest of Tallahassee, St. George Island feels like a different world with about 1,000 permanent residents and no large real estate or commercial developments.
The island is home to many family-owned bars and restaurants offering the freshest catch of the day, including Blue Parrot Oceanfront Café, a local favorite, treating patrons to idyllic ocean and lighthouse views. Several grocery stores and independent boutiques make up a large part of the island’s businesses. While St. George was seriously damaged by Hurricane Michael in 2018, the area’s beaches have since recovered.
Vacationers can get here by car via Brian Patton Memorial Bridge. The nearest airports are Tallahassee International Airport, about 80 miles away, and Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport in Panama City, about 100 miles northwest of St. George Island.
Since this area is so undeveloped and lacks light pollution, many visitors stay here way past sundown to enjoy some of the best stargazing conditions in the region. And during the day, its shores are buzzing with vacationers beachcombing, fishing, swimming, kayaking, birdwatching, and sunbathing. Nature enthusiasts can also reserve one of 60 campsites on its family-friendly campgrounds with a playground, electricity, and shared shower and bathroom facilities. A 2.5-mile nature trail takes visitors through scenic pine forests and native coastal scrub.
The park can be enjoyed year-round and is open daily from 8 a.m. Entrance fees start at $2 for pedestrians and go up to $6 per vehicle. Another important thing to remember is that there are no lifeguards on duty.
This is Dr. Beach’s 33rd annual ranking of the best beaches in the country, for which he considers over 50 criteria, including water and sand quality, safety, and beach management.
This year’s second and third spots go to Duke Kahanamoku Beach on Oahu, Hawaii, and Coopers Beach in Southampton, New York.
You can read Dr. Beach’s complete 2023 list of best beaches at drbeach.org.