Nothing against New Smyrna, Daytona or Cocoa – they are totally and forever our go-to beaches, our quickest way to get a fix of sun, sand and salt. But sometimes we need to treat ourselves to a little something different. Here are a few beaches so great we don't mind the extra mileage. Approximate drive times are listed, though YMMV.
Distance: 2 hours and 59 minutes
Not only do the beaches of Amelia Island offer dreamy white-sand vistas, you can rent and ride horses along the water's edge. There's also good shark's-tooth fossil hunting for the souvenir-lovers.
BLOWING ROCKS PRESERVE
Distance: 2 hours and 28 minutes
SPLOOOOOOOSH! Gusts of water spurt out of rock formations during high tide, so get the camera ready for the water blast. It ain't a bad spot for snorkeling, either: There are schools of tropical fish and sea turtles here.
CALADESI ISLAND STATE PARK
Distance: 2 hours and 24 minutes
When you can only get somewhere by boat ... well, let's just say you'll have a lot to brag about when you get home. You can have one of the best shelling experiences of your life or just drag a lounge chair to the warm waters for a relaxing afternoon.
Distance: 2 hours and 16 minutes
It might be alarming how many waves and smiles you receive on the way into Cedar Key, but that's just the way the natives roll here. If you forgot to pack a lunch, head into town for some good clam chowder.
FORT DE SOTO PARK
Distance: 2 hours and 24 minutes
Fort De Soto is vast. You can spend the whole day just playing fetch with your dog on the beach, head over to the pier for some relaxing fishing, or explore the ruins from the beach's days as a military fortification.
Distance: 2 hours and 51 minutes
You hear that noise? No? Exactly, because on Gasparilla Island seclusion is what it's all about. This barrier island can get real scenic with all the natural wildlife hanging around. Go for a stroll and check out the restored lighthouse, built in 1890.
Distance: 2 hours and 13 minutes
Holmes Beach, smack in the center of Anna Maria Island, boasts some of the most crystal-clear water Florida has to offer. The waves are just the right size and intensity for lazy sea tubing, so go ahead and float on.
LITTLE TALBOT ISLAND
Distance: 2 hours and 40 minutes
Photography majors might faint at the sight of Little Talbot. The rest of us will have our fun using the trees as a jungle gym. If you're not a tree-hugger, just spend the day rolling around in the white sand.
Distance: 3 hours and 32 minutes
Lovers Key came to prominence as a place where couples would seclude themselves for romantic rendezvous. No one's saying you can't get steamy on the dunes, but now there's plenty more to do: kayaking, fishing, hiking and bald eagle watching.
Distance: 2 hours and 35 minutes
Don't get too caught up with all the natural beauty on Singer Island, another barrier island gem tucked away on the Florida coastline. This wild, sandy spot is ideal for hiking, canoeing and paddleboarding, so drop the smartphone and go on an adventure.
Distance: 3 hours and 49 minutes
This isn't your ordinary beach: You have to either kayak/canoe through or walk around a lagoon to actually get to the beach area, but once you're there it's a sight for sore eyes. You don't even have to worry about packing a cooler, thanks to the Tigertail Beachside Cafe and their endless supply of hot dogs and chicken sandwiches.