From past to parties, Florida beaches are nearby

All that's really required for a day at the beach is a stretch of sand and surf, but there's enough of those raw materials in Florida to enjoy an experience beyond that.

For history buffs, there are beaches in the shadows of Spanish forts and Victorian-era architecture.

For party animals, other destinations specialize in a spring-break vibe that lingers year-round.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are still-deserted shorelines and unblemished horizons enough for the end of a perfect day.

With 1,250 miles of coastline, the Sunshine State offers a beach backdrop within reach of almost any diversion.

Waves of history

Fernandina Beach: In the 17th and 18th centuries, Fernandina Beach — on Amelia Island north of Jacksonville on Florida's east coast — was a safe harbor for pirates. Its port is among the deepest on the southeast coast, once allowing pirate galleons to enter even at low tide.

French pirate Louis-Michel Aury, Captain Kidd, Jean Lafitte and José Gaspar have all inspired ghost tales tied to the town. Spirits and pirate lore remain a big attraction on horse-drawn carriages that carry tours past the Victorian homes in the Silk Stocking District.

St. Augustine Beach: As Florida celebrates the 500th anniversary of Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon's landing on the peninsula's east coast, beachcombing historians can explore 18th-century Spanish forts and 42 miles of inviting Atlantic coastline on the same day.

St. Augustine Beach is a short drive from the dining and shopping in the Colonial Quarter as well as historic attractions such as the Castillo de San Marcos, the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum, the Fort Matanzas National Monument and the Lightner Museum, a collection of Gilded Age artifacts housed in industrialist Henry Flagler's former Alcazar Hotel.

Key West: The rocky coastal areas of the Florida Keys can't compare with the gloriously soft, sugar-sand beaches further north, but the waters are renowned for diving, snorkeling and deep-sea fishing from Key Largo (the northernmost key) to the Conch Republic. There are at least half a dozen beaches in Key West, including one in 87-acre Fort Zachary Taylor State Park.

Always a destination for authors, musicians and artists, Key West long ago turned writer Ernest Hemingway's time on the island into a marketing opportunity. Despite such commercialization, a tour of the author's home on Whitehead Street is a must-do.

Only a short bicycle ride from Hemingway's home and museum is the Harry S Truman Little White House, where guided tours include the poker table where the 33rd president sipped bourbon and dealt cards with Cabinet members on working vacations. Although not open to the public, the home of playwright Tennessee Williams, at 1431 Duncan St., still draws fans.

Party Central

Panama City Beach: There are white-sand beaches at Panama City Beach, about two hours west of Tallahassee on Florida's Gulf Coast, but it takes patience to reach them in this spring-break hot spot.

When college students are in town, the 15-mile stretch of Gulf Drive in the heart of the city's resort district is jammed with vehicles. With radios blaring, most of them are packed with young men and women quite willing to stop traffic in the name of social opportunity.

Along the road, shops such as Purple Haze, Booze Express, Beatniks and Condom Knowledge bear witness to the student-friendly mindset, although there are higher-end attractions such as Ripley's Believe It Or Not!, housed in a building that looks like a sinking ship.

On the beach, the sand is inviting and the Panama City Pier offers a terrific sunset view.

Daytona Beach: Before the students flocked to Panama City Beach, spring breakers once congregated in Daytona Beach, about 50 miles northeast of Orlando. Driving on the beach, one of the well-known attributes of the World's Most Famous Beach, still remains on portions of the sand.

Along Atlantic Avenue, businesses range from mom-and-pop eateries to chain restaurants, which sit next to well-worn surf shops and souvenir stores. Night life revolves around nightclubs, restaurants and bars such as the Ocean Deck and the Bank & Blues Club, the latter a home for Florida-based and regional blues acts.