The recovery of Santa Rosa Island in northwest Florida is characterized following Hurricane Katrina (September 2005), which was preceded by Hurricanes Ivan (2004) and Dennis (2005). Beach and dune recovery were quantified to the east and west of Pensacola Beach through a comparison of LiDAR data collected immediately following Hurricane Katrina and in July 2006 after almost a year of recovery. East of Pensacola Beach (the Santa Rosa Unit), the shoreline retreated by an average of 64 m during the 2004–2005 hurricane season and recovered by an average of 19 m. To the west of Pensacola Beach (the Fort Pickens Unit), the shoreline retreated by an average of 30 m, and while no significant shoreface recovery was observed, the presence of vegetation on low-profile dunes promoted backshore accretion. It is found that beachface recovery in the Santa Rosa Unit and backshore accretion in the Fort Pickens Unit occurred at the widest sections of the island where the pre-storm profile volume had been relatively large and overwash penetration was at a minimum. The narrow sections of the island (between cuspate headlands) had a smaller profile volume before the storms, leading to greater overwash penetration and in some cases island breaching in both sections, which limited the volume of sediment available for shoreface recovery. The alongshore variation in recovery is not only related to the island width, but also the offshore bathymetry, height of the pre-storm dunes and the overwash penetration. If sufficient time is allowed for the return of vegetation and the recovery of the dunes, the variations in storm impact observed during Hurricane Ivan will be reinforced during subsequent storms. In this respect, the level of impact during subsequent storms and the ability of the island to recover will depend on the frequency of storm events. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.