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Top 15 Secret Islands in Florida

Traveling under the radar, we find these unexpected gems — surprising even the most avid island hopper.

June 4, 2012
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Cedar Key

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Nestled in the less developed Big Bend area of the state sits Cedar Key. This rustic Gulf of Mexico fishing village and artists’ colony delivers peace and quiet.

Big Talbot Island

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Big Talbot Island will wow you with its dramatic 20-foot bluffs that define its jagged Atlantic shoreline. Paired with a sandy stretch nicknamed Boneyard Beach for the skeletons of cedar and oak trees — this state park is a nature photographer’s dream. You can stop at neighboring Little Talbot Island State Park, where salt marshes abound. Amelia Island offers luxury overnight accommodations.

Jupiter Island

Ginormous private homes with names like “T. Woods” and “C. Dion” on their mailboxes occupy the lion’s share of this private barrier island’s 3.6 miles. However, there’s plenty here to entice mere mortals beyond the gilded gates: miles of secluded white-sand beaches and the Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge, a breeding site for the Atlantic loggerhead sea turtle.

St. Vincent Island

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Undeveloped St. Vincent Island on the northwest Gulf of Mexico invites you to its sand ridges, tidal marshes and pine forests, where native white-tailed deer and endangered red wolves enjoy a life unfettered. It’s offshore from the mouth of the Apalachicola River, famous for Florida oysters. Stay at the Gibson Inn in Apalach, as the locals call it, for a weekend outdoors.

Sunset Key

This man-made island sits 500 yards from the Conch Republic — home to Sunset Key’s 40 guest cottages. Ferry over for a sunset dinner on the sands at Latitudes, for Florida lobster and locally caught yellowtail snapper, or rent a cottage for the experience of living on a private island. Boats to and from Key West run 24 hours a day for late mainland fun.

Gasparilla Island

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Cross an unassuming toll bridge onto this charming Gulf coast barrier island — home to the classic 1913 Gasparilla Inn & Club. This Boca Grande hideaway screams Old Florida. The Inn’s adorable cottages are ideal for families. Traverse the island like a local via golf carts. Visit Banyan Street for its namesake trees, and catch tarpon in season. Lunch at the funky Temptation.

Fisher Island

Follow I-395 till you reach Terminal Isle, the way to the auto-ferry headed for the historic island set on Biscayne Bay off a busy Miami Beach causeway. Just seven minutes from the mainland, this enclave is where big rollers reside and vacay. At the Fisher Island Club & Resort, stay at luxe circa-1925 cottages of the Vanderbilt estate and tee off at a seaside golf course.

Palm Island

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A three-minute ferryboat ride across the Intracoastal Waterway drops you and your car on Palm Island. (It’s the only access to this very narrow, seven-mile-long isle nestled in the Charlotte Harbor area of Southwest Florida.) The Palm Island Resort’s villas are just steps from the Gulf of Mexico. You’ll find plenty of sea- shells and birds of all sorts — like terns, pelicans, egrets and more — to watch.

Little Palm Island

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Step onto the boat, turn off your cell phone and prepare to meet true paradise. Little Palm Island is 2½ miles off Overseas Highway in Little Torch Key, near Key West, but it feels like a secluded, self- contained universe. One of the most romantic resorts by far, this exclusive experience is exactly what the doctor ordered for the overworked.

Marco Island

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Once you’ve driven over the bridge onto the six-mile-long tropical island, watch the landscape change as sea-grape trees are pruned into boxy hedges and deep-purple bougainvillea adorn entrances to high-rise resorts and condominiums. Side streets are lined with canals, and the homes here sport mailboxes resembling manatees and seahorses. The JW Marriott Marco Island offers luxury accommodations for all travelers—whether you prefer to lounge on the beach or tee-off on the green. On the edge of the Florida Everglades — Marco Island is perfect for resort lovers with a wild side.

Alligator Point

This rural beach community in the Big Bend is shaped like an alligator, hence the name. Not exactly an island, but Alligator Point’s skinny peninsula does measure about 1,000 feet wide at one point. Its unpopulated shoreline, low-rise beach houses (many rentals) and over a 100 part-time residents make this island the perfect place to escape. Now you can too!

Amelia Island

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Located north of Jacksonville, Amelia Island edges coastal Georgia. Take the Amelia River Cruise for a scenic tour of the barrier island. Beachgoers will love the surf, sea oats and sand dunes. Find sharks’ teeth along the shore and at the pier at Fort Clinch State Park. Sample true southern hospitality — stay at one of the island’s tranquil Plantation villas like the Amelia Island Club.

Merritt Island

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Come here to feel the ground rumble during a shuttle launch at Kennedy Space Center on the north end of this barrier island. On the other end of the spectrum, the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is home to some of the most impressive wildlife in Florida — featuring the state’s best birding sights and appearances by elusive Florida panthers.

Grove Island

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Past the towers of downtown Miami and the café-lined streets of Coconut Grove sits a tiny bridge leading to the lush 20-acre resort of Palmeiras Beach Club at Grove Isle. Oversize palms, canopied beds, adults-only beaches and the Bali-inspired spa will make you forget city life.

Pine Island

Drive across a bridge with a grand name — the “World’s Most Fishingest” — into Matlacha, a colorful art-gallery community that leads to Pine Island. Rest your head at Tarpon Lodge, a historic waterfront landmark built in 1926. You’ll find plenty of water activities nearby like kayak and boat rentals. If you prefer to stay on land, the Alden Pines Golf Course is right down the road.

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