Since 1989, Stephen Leatherman, Ph.D, aka Dr. Beach, has been rating the nation’s beaches. Leatherman is a professor and director of the laboratory for coastal research at Florida International University. As Dr. Beach, he has 50 criteria that he uses to determine where 650 of the nation’s public beaches fall on the list. Every year, newspapers and magazines publish his Top 10 list. His ratings became so popular that he has published a book, America’s Best Beaches, in which he describes beaches nationwide. Lucky for Florida residents, four of the Top 10 beaches for 2004 are in Florida.
1. The second-best beach in the nation, says Dr. Beach, is Fort De Soto Park. For those who are unaware, the “fort” part of the name designates that this is a historical place. So after building sandcastles and the like, visitors can peruse the fort and learn something, like the fact that the only four 12-inch seacoast-rifled mortars in the continental United States are located at the park, according to the Fort’s Web site. Located in Mullet Key, Fort De Soto can be accessed via Interstate 275. There are seven miles of white beaches to enjoy. Nature trails, fishing, camping and canoeing are also available. Concession stands can be found all around, so there’s no need to go hungry. Visit www.fortdesoto.com for more information.
2. Named number four on the list, Caladesi Island State Park is open from 8 a.m. until sunset every day of the year. Because it’s an island, people must take a ferry to get to this beach. Visitors aren’t limited to just swimming in the ocean there; Caladesi Island also has a three-mile nature trail, picnic areas and places to grab snacks. Located in Dunedin near Honeymoon Island, this beach is easily accessible via I-275. There are admission fees for the park and the ferry. Fees vary, so visit http://www.floridastateparks.org/caladesiisland/default.asp for more information.
3. Dr. Beach gave the honor of number seven on his list to Crescent Beach in Siesta Key. Crescent Beach is located in the Sarasota/Bradenton area. Since parking is limited in this area, Bestbeaches.org advises parking at Siesta Beach, which is in the middle of Crescent Beach, and walking from there. There are resorts available for extended stays, and if visitors like it enough, there are also apartments and condos. Visitors can go snorkeling, sailing or fishing. There are also sailing charters available. Several little stores and dining areas can be found in the vicinity.
4. Cape Florida State Park is the last state beach to grace the list, coming in at number nine. Like all state parks, it’s open from 8 a.m. until sunset. To get the best view of the beach, the Web site recommends going to the top of the beach’s lighthouse. Visitors can tour the lighthouse, which is open from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. According to the Web site, Hurricane Andrew took its toll on the beach, resulting in major restoration efforts. Closer to Miami than Tampa, Cape Florida State Park is located on Key Biscayne off of Interstate 95. There are places to picnic, but keep in mind they are subject to fees. There are also admission fees. Visit http://www.floridastateparks.org/capeflorida for additional information.
Information compiled from Dr. Beach’s Web site, www.drbeach.org by Bridgette Martin.