Feature: The Ultimate Guide to Florida’s Atlantic Coast

Soft sand beaches, outdoor activities and fresh seafood.

By Brooke Porter Katz | Photograph and video by Pamela Pasco

St. Augustine Beach

If the Atlantic Coast has an art and antiques capital, St. Augustine is it. Fifty-eight miles north of Daytona Beach, the oldest city in the country (est. 1565) is flush with galleries. They keep their doors open until 9 p.m. during the monthly First Friday Art Walk (832-779-2781). The town of St. Augustine Beach itself sits on the barrier island of Anastasia, home to white sand and St. Johns County Ocean Pier, where you can pick up a fishing pass, bait and gear. If you’d rather eat seafood than catch it, the beachside Salt Life Food Shack (321 A1A Beach Blvd.; 904-217-3256; lunch for two, $40*) prepares a mean yellowfin tuna burger with avocado fries, while Sunset Grille (421 A1A Beach Blvd.; 904-471-5555; lunch for two, $45) touts its popular Minorcan conch chowder. Both also serve simply cooked catches of the day. Just north is a more active shoreline: the bird sanctuary of Anastasia State Park (300 Anastasia Park Rd.; 904-461-2033; admission, $8 a vehicle). Four miles of beaches circle the reserve’s nature trails. To explore the area by water, consider renting a canoe or kayak or booking a trip with Schooner Freedom Charters (111 Avenida Menendez; 904-810-1010; sailings, from $40 a person). You may see marine life and egrets, herons, spoonbills or other birds.

New Smyrna Beach

At this low-key favorite just 15 miles south of Daytona Beach, $10 grants you permission to drive your car right onto the hardpacked (yet soft to the touch) sand. Before parking, you may want to swing by Mon Delice French Bakery (557 E. Third Ave.; 386-427-6555; lunch for two, $13) to order ham-and-brie sandwiches, quiches or custard éclairs for a seaside picnic. The main drag of Flagler Avenue—chockablock with gift shops, cute boutiques and cafés—beckons beachgoers who have swum their fill. On the northern tip of the New Smyrna Beach peninsula, the 73-acre Smyrna Dunes Park (2995 N. Peninsula Ave.; 386-424-2935) welcomes pets, if you happen to be traveling with the full gang. From the park you can see across the inlet to the fire-engine red Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse (4931 S. Peninsula Dr.; 386-761-1821; admission, $7), built in 1887. Or head south to the Apollo Beach entrance of Canaveral National Seashore (321-267-1110; admission, $10 a vehicle) and its quiet, undeveloped coastline. Nearby, bands play at JB’s Fish Camp (859 Pompano Ave.; 386-427-5747; dinner for two, $50). Many people arrive by boat to snack on steamed blue crabs and seared blackened grouper while looking out at dolphins and manatees.

Cocoa Beach

It’s no surprise that the birthplace and residence of world champion surfer Kelly Slater is one of the coast’s top spots to catch some waves—albeit relatively small and mellow ones. But that’s what makes Cocoa Beach, about 60 miles east of Orlando, great for beginners. Lessons at Ron Jon Surf School (150 E. Columbia Lane; 321-868-1980; private lessons, from $65 a person) cover everything from etiquette to paddling—and afterward you can stock up on bathing suits at Ron Jon Surf Shop (4151 N. Atlantic Ave., 321-799-8888), the world’s largest surf store and site of the Florida Surf Museum (4275 N. Atlantic Ave.; 321-720-8033; suggested donation, $2). To watch the pros in action (perhaps even Slater himself), wander to the end of Cocoa Beach Pier (401 Meade Ave.; 321-783-7549). When you’re ready for a change, the boardwalk at Lori Wilson Park (1500 N. Atlantic Ave.; 321-455-1380) extends over the dunes to a wide stretch of sand devoid of anything commercial. The park also affords views of rocket launches from nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Just south, Jazzy’s Mainely Lobster & Seafood Company (210 N. Orlando Ave.; 321-613-3993; dinner for two, $70) dishes out the bounty of the ocean. If you can’t decide what to try, the Captain’s Platter offers a taste of fried clam strips, scallops, shrimp and haddock. Three blocks away, the canary yellow and sky blue exterior of Fat Kahuna’s (8 Minutemen Causeway; 321-783-6858; dinner for two, $60) is hard to miss. Its blackened mahi-mahi earns rave reviews.

Vero Beach

The area around this 28-mile barrier island has earned the nickname Treasure Coast, thanks to its history of sunken ships and recovered fortunes—including a 2015 discovery of gold coins worth $4.5 million. Whether or not you come away with a haul, there are plenty of reasons to visit, including the killer sunrises at Sexton Plaza Beach. (You can always nap on the sand later.) Fans of Lilly Pulitzer’s bright tropical designs will find a trove nearby at The Lazy Daisy (919 Azalea Lane; 772-231-4006). When it’s time for lunch, Heaton’s Reef (3500 Ocean Dr.; 772-469-1060; lunch for two, $20)—the poolside bar and grill at Cobalt—cooks up fried-lobster tacos and a smoked-fish dip. You can walk off the meal at the 5,413-acre Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge (4055 Wildlife Way; 772-581-5557), the first federal area set aside specifically to protect wildlife. Today, endangered wood storks, white pelicans and sea turtles roam the preserve. (Vero Beach is home to a quarter of Florida’s nesting Loggerhead sea turtles.) Or take the kids to the 64-acre Environmental Learning Center (255 Live Oak Dr.; 772-589-5050; admission, $5) on the Indian River Lagoon. They’re bound to love the interactive museum (complete with a 145-gallon touch tank), pontoon boat rentals and hiking trails.

South Beach

If it’s a beach town with big-city buzz you’re after—including top-notch restaurants and an impressive after-hours scene—consider the southernmost tip of Miami Beach. It’s worth an early-morning wake-up call to join the 7 a.m. class with 3rd Street Beach Yoga (786-529-6423; donation-based). Yogis flow through poses from warrior one to shavasana right on the sand. Afterward you can stroll along the waterfront Lummus Park (Ocean Dr.; 305-673-7730), which stretches north from 5th to 15th Street, passing Easter-egg-hued Art Deco hotels along the way. The Miami Design Preservation League (1001 Ocean Dr.; 305-672-2014; tours, $25 a person) leads in-depth walking tours of these architectural gems. For foodies, a meal at Joe’s Stone Crab (11 Washington Ave.; 305-673-0365; dinner for two, $100) is a must. Just blocks from the shore, the legendary joint is known for its—well, the name says it all. When the sun goes down, The Regent Cocktail Club (1690 Collins Ave.; 786-975-2555; cocktails for two, $28) heats up. Libations range from the Vesper (gin, vodka, Lillet Blanc and Greek mint) to a vodka punch flavored with raspberry, almond and citrus. What could be more Miami than sitting on one of the lounge’s tufted leather couches, cocktail in hand?

RCI® affiliated resorts near the featured destinations include:
Tropic Shores 2522

Great for families, thanks to activities such as sand-art classes, karaoke night and game night. 3111 S. Atlantic Ave., Daytona Beach Shores

Dolphin Beach Club 1652

Mere steps from the beach, this small three-story resort has studio and one-bedroom units. 3355 S. Atlantic Ave., Daytona Beach Shores

Silver Beach Club Resort Condo 5048

Your private balcony affords views of the Atlantic Ocean. 1025 S. Atlantic Ave., Daytona Beach

Palm Beach Shores Resort and Vacation Villas 4856

You can spend days here at the pool, whirlpool or tiki bar. 181 Ocean Ave., Palm Beach Shores

Palm Beach Resort 0616

Situated on Lake Worth, where guests can relax on the dock or bike along the water’s edge. 3031 S. Ocean Blvd., Palm Beach

Vacation Village at  Bonaventure 4025

Classic Florida-style suites with fully appointed kitchens and a Jacuzzi in the master bath. 16461 Racquet Club Rd., Weston

Vacation Village at Weston 5773

Shares amenities with Vacation Village at Bonaventure. 16461 Racquet Club Rd., Weston

Mizner Place 7559

This centrally located resort is walkable to restaurants and shopping. 1775 Bonaventure Blvd., Weston

RCI® Tip

Did you know you can rent a car through RCI Travel®*? With a Best Rate Guarantee on flights, car rental, hotels and more, RCI Travel can save you the hassle of searching other travel providers.1

For member reviews and additional resort listings, visit RCI.com or call 800-338-7777 (Weeks) or 877-968-7476 (Points). Club Members, please call your specific Club or RCI telephone number.

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Non-RCI affiliated resorts in and near the featured destinations include:
The Collector Luxury Inn & Gardens

149 Cordova St., St. Augustine; 904-257-8994; thecollectorinn.com; doubles from $189 a night

The Riverview Hotel & Spa

103 Flagler Ave., New Smyrna Beach; 844-293-1512; riverviewhotel.com; doubles from $139 a night

Inn at Cocoa Beach

4300 Ocean Beach Blvd., Cocoa Beach; 800-343-5307; theinnatcocoabeach.com; doubles from $125 a night

Coste d’Este Beach Resort & Spa

3244 Ocean Dr., Vero Beach; 877-562-9919; costadeste.com; doubles from $151 a night

The Betsy South Beach

1440 Ocean Dr., Miami Beach; 844-862-3157; thebetsyhotel.com; doubles from $251 a night

  • *Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax, or tip.
  • **For RCI Travel terms and conditions, go to RCITravel.com/terms. RCI Travel and the RCI Best Rate Guarantee are administered and fulfilled by International Cruise & Excursion Gallery Inc. d/b/a Our Vacation Center and/or ICE, a Delaware Corporation with its principal place of business at 7720 N. Dobson Rd., Scottsdale, Arizona under contract with RCI, LLC. RCI disclaims all responsibility in connection with any third party travel services. For more information, visit the Air, Car, Cruise & More Tab on RCI.com.
  • ***For terms and conditions for the RCI Travel Best Rate Guarantee, go to RCI.com/BRG.
  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: Fall 2017