Tampa Bay residents know that Fort De Soto Beach is one of our top jewels. Now readers of the nationwide newspaper USA Today do as well.
In an online voting contest pitting Florida's east coast versus west coast beaches, the county park smoked its competition across the state in the best family beach category. It received 95 percent of the vote over Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park in Key Biscayne.
USA Today staged the contest by inviting "Dr. Beach," aka Stephen Leatherman, professor and director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University in Miami, to help select the destinations for each of five categories. Each week, readers voted for a pair of contenders.
Leatherman has previously named Fort De Soto his top beach in the United States in 2005. It also has been lauded by Parents magazine as the most family friendly in 2011.
"North beach is the best beach for families," Leatherman told USA Today. "It's on the gulf and has good swimming. The water is clear and calm. Families can also kayak through the mangroves, fish and boat."
Other family-friendly perks: shaded picnic areas, a fishing pier, a dog park, a fort to explore and plenty of sea shells to gather.
Other local beaches also were part of the competition.
Anclote Key Preserve State Park was named the best hidden gem beach. It's located off the coast of Tarpon Springs.
Clearwater's 1,080-foot Pier 60 was named runner-up in the best boardwalk category.
Here's the entire list:
Winner, Fort De Soto; runner-up, Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park
Best tranquil beach
Winner, Don Pedro Island State Park; runner-up, Anastasia State Park
Best party beach
Winner, Panama City; runner-up Daytona Beach
Best hidden gem beach
Winner, Anclote Key Preserve State Park; runner-up, Little Talbot Island State Park
Winner, Hollywood Beach Broadwalk; runner-up, Clearwater's Pier 60