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15 Best Places to go Sailing in Florida from a Local Sailor

15 Best Places to go Sailing in Florida from a Local Sailor

Looking for the best places to go sailing in Florida? You have come to the right place.

It is probably no surprise to find there are some great sailing destinations in the Sunshine State. Sailing in Florida means gliding through crystal-clear waters, basking in the golden sun, and embracing the spirit of endless nautical adventures!

In this article, I will list the absolute best sailing spots in Florida from more popular spots like sailing in the Florida Keys to hidden gems I have found from years of experience sailing in Florida.

If you love sailing like I do, you will love exploring these epic sailing spots. 

If you don’t have your own sail boat, you can book a sailing tour in Florida here.

15 Best Places to go Sailing in Florida from a Local Sailing Enthusiast

1. Shell Key Preserve

Shell Key Preserve is an untouched beauty located just north of Fort de Soto Park and south of Pass-a-grille Beach on the west coast of Florida.

Just inside of Pass-a-grille Inlet, on the north side of the island there is a patch of water off the beach that is the perfect depth to anchor a sailboat in. Weekends can get extremely crowded and you will most likely find the beach lined with center consoles and pontoon boats. On the weekdays, however, it is possible that you may be the only person on the whole island.

While walking along the pristine white beaches you may see dolphins, sand dollars, conchs, starfish, and possibly even a green sea turtle poking its head out of the water for some air, if you’re lucky. In the summer months, you may even spot a Roseate Spoonbill.

The mangroves covering the island offer tons of little tunnels and hide-outs from the harsh summer sun. During the weekend, it is not the best place to stay overnight. Pass-a-grille channel is a busy waterway and you will have to deal with incoming wakes all night from oblivious boaters.

If you decide to throw up a tent or a hammock overnight, camping is allowed on the public southern end of the island; registration is required and the permit is $6 for up to six campers.

“Leave no trace” is in force, so pack in and pack out (including your toilet facilities, as there are none provided). Please note that dogs and alcohol are not permitted. This is an important nesting area for both migratory birds and turtles, so please take care to leave the area undisturbed for them. 

shell-key-preserve sailing in florida

2. Pine Key AKA Beer Can Island, Tampa Bay

Beer Can Island, also known by locals as BCI, is a locally owned island located in the northeastern corner of Tampa Bay, Florida.

The east side of the island is perfect for anchoring a sailboat, because the water drops off to a decent depth just off the shoreline. The western side of the island is great for snorkeling and wading out because it remains relatively shallow for about a quarter of a mile.

During the summer months, the island regularly has a blow up slide for kids. They also throw events with different DJ’s and have a tiki bar open on select dates.

hey also book out the island for private parties, such as weddings, and offer transportation to the island. I love bringing my sailboat to the island overnight – first to hang out for the festivities during the day, only to retire afterward to my sailboat to eat dinner and watch the sunset.

After sunset, you may find that all your boat neighbors have left to return home, and you have the island all to yourself.


3. Gulfport

Gulfport, also known as the Gateway to the Gulf, may be one of the most boater-friendly towns I have ever visited. It is easily accessible from the Gulf of Mexico through the Pass-a-grille Channel.

You can also access the intracoastal waterway that passes north and south right through Boca Ciega Bay, the body of water adjacent to Gulfport. There is a sizable anchorage with many welcoming and knowledgeable sailors. There are also mooring balls available from Gulfport Marina, located in the north side of Boca Ciega Bay. Gulfport is a quaint, artistic little beach town with a thriving local community.

There is a public dock for dinghies that was given to the city in a grant and is available to use for free. The downtown area is right on the water and there are a number of shops and restaurants within walking distance from the public docks.

There is a local market every Tuesday along the downtown strip with tons of unique vendors selling food, artwork, plants, etc. You can find live music every night at multiple restaurants along the waterfront. The sailing community in Gulfport is certainly something special and I recommend to any sailor in the area to stop in for a night.


4. Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park

Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park is located on the southern shores of Key Biscayne, just west of Miami, and has a quaint old-Florida feel.  It is home to the Cape Florida Light, a historic lighthouse that was used to guide sailors into port through the Florida shoals.

The east side of the park has white sandy beaches that overlook the Atlantic Ocean. To stop and stay a while, you can anchor in No Name Harbor, located on the west side of the state park. It costs $20 to anchor overnight in the harbor, or you can tie up to the seawall for the day for $8. This payment is received through an honor system box on shore.

If you stay overnight, you’ll have access to facilities such as showers, laundry and a free waste pump-out. There is a Cuban restaurant right on shore called Boater’s Grill, that overlooks the anchorage so you can keep a close eye on your boat. The bottom in the harbor is mud and there is protection from all directions, so you really don’t have too much to worry about. It is a great place to hide from storms.

It is a relatively small harbor and fills up quickly. If the harbor is full you are able to anchor outside of the harbor on the edge of Cape Florida Channel and dinghy in to use the park’s facilities if you wish.

Bill-Baggs-Cape-Florida-State-Park sailing in florida

5. Fort Pierce

Fort Pierce is a great stop in southeastern Florida to drop the hook to stay and surf for a few days. If you are entering via the Atlantic Ocean, you can head west towards land through Fort Pierce Inlet. Inland of the inlet to the west there is a surf shop called Spunky’s Surf Shop.

It’s a great local surf shop that always has boards to rent, both hard tops and soft tops. If you plan to stay for a few days and want to catch a few waves Spunky’s would be a great stop to add to your trip. Once entering the harbor, you can turn south and head under the Fort Pierce Bridge.

After passing under the bridge, head east towards Faber Cove. It is better to stay towards the green channel markers on your way in to get the best depth upon entry. Once inside the basin, you have protection from pretty much every wind direction and very little fetch. You can sleep well at night knowing that the bottom is solid, clay-like mud with excellent holding.


6. Key West

Key West is one of the most sought after tourist destinations in the United States. It’s the southernmost city in the United States. It’s surrounded by a network of smaller keys.

Anchoring between Fleming Key and Dredgers Key sets you up for having the perfect balance of beauty and convenience. In between the two keys it can get a bit shoaly, so be sure to keep an eye on your depth sounder. You can dinghy into Key West and leave your dinghy at the dock for $8 a day.

If you have a decent sized dinghy motor, you could anchor on the west side of Wisteria Island. The holding is relatively good, it is just a bit of a distance from the dinghy dock on Key West.

Man O’ War Harbor just outside of the historic downtown is a popular spot to anchor due to its proximity to downtown Key West. However, it is known to have terrible holding and is often referred to as the “bowling alley” because of the amount of boats that drag when the wind picks upkey-west-florida-sailing

7. Anclote Key

Anclote Key is the northernmost barrier island on Florida’s west coast and is recognized as a preserved state park. It is located west of the ICW outside of Tarpon Springs.

You can find it by looking for the Anclote Key Lighthouse, which was deemed unnecessary and decommissioned by the Coast Guard in 1984. If you anchor on the east side of the island, which is where I would recommend to anchor, there is protection from east and west winds, although it is exposed on the north and south sides. The holding is good with a sandy mud bottom.

Be sure to keep your eyes out for crab pots, they are littered throughout the water. There is a decent amount of fishing boat traffic early in the morning, so if you overnight there you may have to deal with some powerboat wakes. It is a preserved state park, so be sure to be respectful of the island and to leave no trace.


8. Blowing Rocks Preserve, Jupiter Island

If you’re looking for something a little more out-of-this-world, Blowing Rocks Preserve is unlike any other tourist destinations in Florida. It is home to the largest Anastasia limestone outcropping on Florida’s east coast.

It is owned by the Nature Conservancy and might be Florida’s best kept secret. Park entry costs If you would like to stay on anchor, there is an anchorage called Hell Gate, that is located between Blowing Rocks Marina and Jupiter Pointe Marina, just west of the Intracoastal Waterway.

Be wary of your depth sounder, some areas in the anchorage can get as shallow as 5 feet during low tide. You are able to dinghy into Paddling the Pointe and leave your dinghy at the dock there to run to shore.

Or, if you feel like having a bit more comfort, both marinas on either side have transient slips that you can rent out for the next to have access to showers, fuel, pump-outs, and laundry. Blowing Rocks Marina also has a marina store where you can buy ice, bait, tackle, beer, and more.

Jupiter Island

9. Dry Tortugas National Park

About seventy miles south of Key West, you’ll come across a small archipelago of coral islands known as the Dry Tortugas National Park.

It is the westernmost portion of the Florida Keys. The Dry Tortugas are known for their bountiful marine life and large population of tropical birds. Due to its impressive bird population, bugs are not an issue while staying at the park. The large Fort Jefferson sits on Garden Key, although it was never finished or completely armed.

There is a 46 square-mile Research Natural Area (RNA) in the northwest corner of the park. Within the RNA, you are not permitted to remove any marine wildlife or anchor, although six mooring balls have been installed for public use.

Be sure to fully stock up your vessel before heading there, as there are no amenities and no provisioning available within the national park. Anchoring southeast of Fort Jefferson provides you with the best protection and holding with a depth of 10-15 feet. Be sure to look for a sandy area to drop the hook in.  It is best to enter the harbor from the west, as it is the most well marked passage to the anchorage.


10. Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge

Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge is located south of Marco Island and north of the Everglades, and is home to countless tiny islands, hence the name. It is for sure one of the best places to go sailing in Florida.

I would only recommend visiting this refuge if you have a motorized dinghy, most of the area is too shallow to bring a sailboat through, but the amount of exploring you can do on a dinghy is impressive. Having said that, be sure to keep a close eye on your transducer to avoid the shifting shoals.

A centralized location to anchor for your stay is north of Tiger Key in West Pass. Here you will find great holding with a fine, sandy bottom. On Tiger Key there is a white sandy beach that is accessible during low tide.

From your boat you can explore all of the tiny islands surrounding you on your dinghy and enjoy real, untouched wildlife. The bugs in the wildlife refuge are not something to joke around with, and this trip is most enjoyably taken with bug screens and ample bug repellant. This area is recognized as a lucrative fishing spot, particularly for snook.


11. Sanibel Island

Sanibel Island is a barrier island just south of Captiva Island on Florida’s west coast. Historians theorize that the island got its name from Jose Gaspar’s first mate, who named the island after a lover that he had to leave behind in Spain.

Sanibel Island is known for its abundance of seashells, shark’s teeth and sand dollars. It is believed that this occurs because the majority of barrier islands are oriented North and South, and Sanibel is oriented East and West. You can dinghy into Sanibel Marina which has access to showers and restaurants.

The laundry at the marina costs $2 for a wash and dry. If the weather is fair, I would recommend to anchor off of Point Ybel. Although the current can be very strong and there is little protection from heavy weather it can be a beautiful anchorage with a view of the Gulf of Mexico. On the weekends there is a lot of traffic traversing under the Sanibel Causeway Bridge.


12. Crystal River

Crystal River is home to some of Florida’s magical freshwater springs. There is a very strong current upon entering Crystal River and it is recommended that you enter during an incoming tide. Be sure to keep an eye on your charts and transducer because there are multiple shallow parts on the way in.

Anchoring in such close proximity to the freshwater springs may give you a free bottom cleaning. If you are anchored in fresh water for a decent period of time, your barnacles that grew in saltwater will die and fall off. The cool spring water also keeps your boat at a manageable temperature, even through the summer months.

You will also be in close access to springs such as Three Sisters Springs, Hidden Spring, King Spring, and a multitude of unnamed springs. King’s Bay is a great central location to anchor for the duration of your stay.

Pete’s Pier offers a bunch of amenities and facilities, including food and beverages, fuel, etc. There is also a floating dinghy dock to tie up your tender to. Be sure to always lock up your belongings as you never know what people’s intentions around you are.

Three Sisters Springs

Three Sisters Springs/ Wikipedia

13. Steinhatchee

I grew up visiting Steinhatchee every summer for its abundance of scallops during scalloping season. Scalloping season in Florida runs July through September. In order to go scalloping, you are required to hold your Florida saltwater fishing license.

During scallop season the sea grass is teeming with tons of swimming scallops. There aren’t an overwhelming amount of places to anchor in Steinhatchee, although you can anchor on the south side of Steinhatchee River south of the Steinhatchee Marina and west of Sea Hag Marina.

There is also another spot that is possible to anchor further up the river. Steinhatchee is also home to Florida’s widest waterfall, the Steinhatchee Falls. If you need a break from scalloping and would like to swim in some rejuvenating freshwater, tubing down the Steinhatchee Falls is a great way to spend the day cooling off.

You won’t find crystal clear sparkling water like you will in Crystal River, but the river is surrounded by beautiful old Florida swamp and marsh land. There are also rope swings and trees all along the river to jump off of and have a good time.

14. Augustine

St. Augustine is an extremely unique and history rich town in the northeast corner of Florida, south of Jacksonville. It is accessible by boat either via the Atlantic Ocean or the Intracoastal Waterway. If you are entering via the Atlantic Ocean, you will need to head west down the Matzanas River, south of Vilano Beach.

You will cross the Intracoastal Waterway and then have a view of Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fortification in the continental US. After this turn south and cross under the Bridge of Lions. To your west you will find the city municipal mooring field, balls cost $20/day. If you don’t feel like paying for a ball you can also anchor south of the mooring field and pay to use the dinghy dock at the marina for $13.75 a day.

The holding is good with a mud bottom, and there is a decent amount of protection from all sides. You may have some traffic during the day, causing wakes that will rock your home around. Luckily, once you get all set up and go to shore, there are plenty of different types of activities to do to fill your time during the day.

St. Augustine is likely the oldest city in the continental US and was established in 1565 by Spanish explorers. You can tour Castillo de San Marcos, explore and marvel at the architecture of Flagler College, check out the St. Augustine Aquarium, visit the Lightner Museum, spook yourself with a ghost tour, go fishing, or rent a surfboard and catch some waves at Vilano or Crescent Beach and so much more.

Sunset Cruise of St. Augustine

Sunset Cruise of St. Augustine/ Flickr

15. George Island

If you are looking for a more remote and tranquil getaway, St. George Island is for you. Located on  the panhandle, just south of the Intracoastal Waterway(ICW).

If you are arriving via the Gulf of Mexico, you should enter St. George Sound via the East Pass and then turn west along the ICW. Just before port light 6 head south towards the island and you will find a nice little pocket to anchor your boat in. From here, you can head onshore and do some relaxing exploration.

The island is covered in old driftwood lining the beach from the pine trees covering the island. St. George is also known to be a loggerhead turtle nesting ground, so be sure to be respectful and not disturb the turtles or their nests. This anchorage is primarily a fair weather anchorage, as it offers virtually no protection, except for from the south. Appalachicola is near-by, just west down the ICW in case you need to refuel and reprovision.


Author: Reilly Mulligan is a sailing enthusiast from Florida who has spent her life sailing and exploring the Sunshine State.


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