With 825 miles of accessible beaches and an average of more than 235 days of sunshine per year, it’s no surprise that Florida is top of mind for travelers looking for a domestic beach getaway. Case in point: Tripadvisor recently released its Top 10 Beaches in the U.S. for 2022, and Florida is prominently featured toward the top of the list.
Only one Sunshine State destination made the cut, and the savviest travelers know it’s not Miami, Fort Lauderdale, or even Panama City Beach. Instead, sitting at Tripadvisor’s no. 2 spot for best beach towns in America is Siesta Beach on Siesta Key, an eight-mile-long barrier island just off the coast of Southwestern Florida.
Between the calm Gulf waters — great for families with young children — and the frequent dolphin sightings, there are plenty of reasons why beach-loving travelers flock to Siesta Key. The main attraction, however, is the powdery white-quartz sand, featured on the aforementioned Siesta Beach, as well as the island’s two other beaches.
Created over years of erosion from land masses like the Appalachian Mountains, the quartz sand had a long journey through multiple rivers before landing in the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way, that erosion continued, creating a texture of sand that leaves beachgoers feeling like they’re walking on soft white sugar. Add a bit of seawater and you have the perfectly dense building materials for an epic sand castle.
Lounging around all day on the unbelievably soft sand is a tempting offer, but for the explorers and marine life fanatics, a stop at Siesta Key’s Point of Rocks is a must. Warm, shallow waters and limestone formations jutting out from the sand make for the ideal snorkeling spot, catering to both beginners and more seasoned snorkelers. Snook, snapper, sheepshead, and nurse sharks are just some of the local fish and marine life you can find there. With some luck, you might even spot a playful dolphin or a gentle manatee.
Beyond the dreamy shores and top-notch snorkeling, Siesta Key is known as a shelling capital for those keen on finding gorgeous seashells. Travelers ready for a treasure hunt can slap on some sunscreen and scavenge the beach for the wide variety of gorgeous shells. Although you can’t go wrong with a shelling adventure at any of Siesta Key’s three beaches, Turtle Beach, at the southern end of the barrier island has a particularly impressive array of shells, including crown, horse conches, and banded tulips.
Like every good Florida beach town, Siesta Key makes sure to take care of visitors after a long day of baking in the sun. For a bit of retail therapy, visitors can head to Siesta Key Village, where they’ll find dozens of cute shops selling everything from chic beachwear to silly souvenirs, as well as other attractions. This is also the perfect spot for enjoying typical Florida cuisine — think: seafood galore — and washing it all down at one of the many laid-back bars.
Whether you’re planning a romantic getaway, a wild trip with friends, or a relaxing one with family, one of the best beaches in the U.S. surely won’t disappoint.
Jessica Poitevien is a Travel + Leisure contributor currently based in South Florida, but she’s always on the lookout for her next adventure. Besides traveling, she loves baking, talking to strangers, and taking long walks on the beach. Follow her adventures on Instagram.