Florida's beaches are famous. They lure the cold weather weary and put the sparkle in the Sunshine State. But the sands that edge the Atlantic from Amelia Island in the northeast south to Miami and beyond differ from those that stretch along the Gulf Coast from Fort Walton Beach in the northwest's panhandle to Marco Island on the southwest.
USA TODAY celebrates Florida's beaches with an east coast- west coast smackdown. Like all classic choices-tea or coffee, dogs or cats-each pick has its ardent proponents.
"Dr. Beach," a.k.a. Stephen Leatherman, professor and director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University, Miami, assisted us in selecting contenders in five categories.
This week's rivalry: hidden gems. Little Talbot Island State Park on the east coast faces off against Anclote Key Preserve State Park on the west coast. To cheer for your favorite beach by turning it into a champ, vote below.
Little Talbot Island State Park (Atlantic Coast)
The park's combination of five miles of white sand beach plus dunes, salt marshes and forests lures the locals. "This park is a real gem with a wide beach. It has good swimming, fishing and wildlife, "says Dr. Leatherman. You're likely to see birds, marsh rabbits and maybe river otters.
"The park offers lots of space and the water has a long shallow area." says Martha Robinson, Florida State Parks spokesperson. "People who like to wade in the water up to their ankles especially like the beach." Little Talbot Island State Park is located between Jacksonville and Fernandina Beach.
Anclote Key Preserve State Park (Gulf Coast)
Accessible only by private boat or by ferry, Anclote Key Preserve consists of four islands-Anclote Key, North Anclote Bar, South Anclote Bar and Three Rooker Island.
"Most people have never heard of this place," says Dr. Leatherman. "The beach is beautiful although not very big. The swimming is great because there aren't any waves and the water is warm and clear." Robinson recommends the Gulf side for the best swimming.
Located off Tarpon Springs, the preserve is popular with boaters and birders. Bring the binoculars to look for roseate spoonbills, bald eagles and pelicans.
So which hidden gem lures you? Cast your vote at this link. Voting ends Nov. 21 when we roll out a new Florida beach smackdown.
Candyce H. Stapen, USA TODAY