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Escape to the Islands… Without Leaving Florida

Among Florida’s most cherished destinations lies a handful of hush-hush hideaways that savvy travelers hope the crowds will never discover. So consider this article confidential! Untouched and unfussy, these sunshine-kissed island locales offer a quiet, laidback escape for people who are looking to step away from hectic family life and into vacation paradise.

Cayo Costa

With its miles of nature trails and untouched beaches, the Gulf-side barrier island known as Cayo Costa is an outdoor lover’s utopia. Expect to spend your days discovering a whole host of wildlife including manatees, dolphins, and an extraordinary variety of birds, as well as hiking and off-road bicycling on the nature trails that crisscross the isle. This 2,426-acre state park (just north of Captiva Island) offers tent camping and no-frills overnight cabins, each sleeping up to six people. Cabins have no electricity or water but useful essentials are located within the park, including outdoor grills, restrooms, cold water showers, and potable water. Only accessible by boat, Cayo Costa depends on water taxis to ferry its guests back and forth to the “mainland.” Captiva Cruises offers ferry service to the park as well from locations in Punta Gorda, Pine Island, Fort Myers, Sanibel Island, and Captiva Island. Reservations are strongly recommended; visit FloridaStateparks.org/CayoCosta.

Cabbage Key

Rumor has it that singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett penned his famous ‘Cheeseburger in Paradise’ tune after visiting this secluded seaside escape. By boat, helicopter, or seaplane, visitors travel to Cabbage Key (CabbageKey.com) for the “private” picturesque views, stellar fishing, and beautiful nature trails. No cars are allowed on this 100-acre island located just north of Fort Meyers. But since the handful of cottages, inn, and restaurant (situated atop a 38-foot Indian shell mound and originally built in the 1930′s by the family of playwright and novelist Mary Roberts Rinehart) are all within a short stroll of each other, you won’t even need transportation. A slew of on-island activities, such as kayaking, fishing (including tournaments), and boating will fill in the hours not spent daydreaming on boat docks or munching on that famous cheeseburger in paradise. Fun fact: Editor Nancy DeVault celebrated her tenth wedding anniversary on Cabbage Key in the Tarpon Cottage!

Cedar Key

Roughly two hours north of Tampa on Florida’s Gulf coast, Cedar Key (CedarKey.org) is a small, relaxed community home to artists and writers inspired by its unsoiled environment. The island’s natural beauty and rich history as a major supplier of seafood and timber products draws many people each year to walk its historic streets, browse the shops and galleries, explore the back bayous, and enjoy the world-famous restaurants featuring seafood fresh from the local waters. The area is also home to the Cedar Key Museum State Park and Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge where you’ll find an 1850’s lighthouse on Florida’s highest coastal elevation. Families who love to hike might considering heading to the Cedar Key Railroad Trestle Nature Trail where they can spot dozens of varieties of plants and wildlife.

Key Biscayne 

Located a few miles from South Beach in Miami, this quiet and family-friendly island across the Rickenbacker Causeway wows with miles of sandy beaches and Atlantic Ocean views. Anchor a stay at The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne, a sprawling beachfront property featuring four restaurants, 20,000-square-foot of hospitality wonders, a Ritz Kids program, two outdoor heated oceanfront swimming pools, and a tennis center. While visiting this five-mile barrier island, plan to visit nearby attractions, including Crandon Park, Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, Miami Metro Zoo, Jungle Island, and the Miami Museum of Science & Planetarium. Reserve a room at RitzCarlton.com/en/Properties/KeyBiscayne/Default.htm.

Little Palm Island 

You’ll have to leave the kiddies at home for this trip (and may need to take out a second mortgage on your home!) but a trip to this exclusive, ultra-luxurious island retreat will be an unforgettable one. Little Palm Island (LittlePalmIsland.com) is discreetly tucked amidst the Florida Keys (south of Marathon) and is only reachable by boat or seaplane but, upon arrival, guests settle into one of only thirty private thatched-roof bungalows for a getaway filled with gourmet eats, spa pampering, and lots of pool or beachside nothingness.

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