The famous live mermaids at the Weeki Wachee Springs State Park may swim for visitors' amusement and fascination, but they aren't the only ones who can enjoy a dip in the warm waters of central Florida's Gulf region. Weeki Wachee, located roughly 50 miles north of the Tampa area, in Hernando County, lies near family-friendly sands and secluded island beaches. The area's azure waters are sure to inspire visitors of all ages to release their inner mermaid.
A Local Little Treasure
At the southern end of Hernando County's 3-acre Pine Island is Alfred McKethan Park, also known as Pine Island Park. The white sands of the beach overlook the waters of Rock Island Bay just south of the island as well as the tree-lined Gulf of Mexico shores along the southwestern edge of the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge. The beach may be small but it offers plenty of activities, with picnic tables, grills, a volleyball court, playground and concession stand for beach goers to enjoy all day long.
A Wetland Wonder
The 45-acre Robert K. Rees Memorial Park, situated along the Gulf of Mexico, is set among mangroves and wetlands. Here, visitors can view dolphins and migratory birds while enjoying the 920-foot long sandy beach. The park, open all day from dawn until dusk, is in New Port Richey, located roughly 30 minutes southwest of Weeki Wachee. Visitors can take a dip in the waters along the beach's designated swimming area or tour the 650-foot long boardwalk that meanders through the park's wildlife habitats. Other amenities at the park include picnic areas and shelters, a boat ramp, freestanding showers, restrooms, fishing access and playgrounds.
A unique array of shorebirds nesting throughout the four northern barrier islands that comprise the Anclote Key Preserve State Park welcome visitors to the park's sandy, secluded beaches. The 403-acre park lies off the Gulf Coast near Tarpon Springs -- roughly 27 miles south of Weeki Wachee -- and is accessible only by ferry service or boat. When not relaxing on the sands that line the blue waters of the Gulf, visitors can tour the park's late 19th century lighthouse or observe native bald eagles and piping plovers. While overnight camping is allowed on the beach, dogs are not permitted and the beach offers no provisions.
Rare Pines and Seashell Finds
The rare virgin pines of another one of Florida's barrier islands, Honeymoon Island, are home to nesting birds, including ospreys and owls, as well as tortoises and raccoons. Just south of the Anclote Key Preserve State Park, the island's beaches are bordered by sandy dunes and lined with a vast variety of seashells thanks to the Gulf tides that wash them ashore. Visitors can fish, boat, swim and snorkel in designated areas, explore along the many walking trails located throughout the island or hit the concession stand for a snack. The park is open all year from 8 a.m. until sunset and charges an entrance fee.