Off to the Beach
Florida’s beaches are consistently named among the best in the world. Although there are no beaches in landlocked Orlando, it is easily possible to make a day trip to either the Atlantic coast or the more sheltered Gulf Coast.
Atlantic Coast Beaches
The Atlantic Coast beaches are the closest to Orlando, at just over an hour’s drive away. The wide stretches of sand buffeted by Atlantic waves might not be quite as picturesque as their Gulf Coast counterparts, but the sweeping vistas and bustling resorts make them well worth a visit.
Cocoa Beach is the closest beach to Orlando and can be reached in just over an hour’s drive. A five acre stretch of beach with beachfront parking, it has a wide choice of shops, activities and restaurants along the beachfront, including the 900-foot wooden pier built in 1963, Canaveral pier.
Cape Canaveral National Seashore
Beaches along the 24 miles of Canaveral National Seashore include Apollo, Playalinda and Klondike. It is a beautiful stretch of coastline without the shops and bars of Cocoa Beach or Daytona Beach. You’ll need to pack all your supplies for the day and get there early – the limited parking spaces can fill up early, especially during peak periods.
Be aware the beaches do close when there are rocket launches. On these days, park up and watch them from the nearby Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. The 57,000-acre reserve is a refuge for a variety of bird species and a nesting ground of loggerhead sea turtles.
Daytona is probably the most famous of Florida’s beaches, and a Spring Break favourite. You can drive right on to the beach in Daytona and you’ll find several days’ worth of entertainment along its length, including the Boardwalk and Pier, the Bandshell which has regular live concerts over the summer, and – to the very south – the tallest lighthouse in Florida, the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse and Museum.
New Smyrna Beach
South of the Ponce de Leon Inlet, you’ll find the 13-mile stretch of sand that is New Smyrna Beach. New Smyrna hosts a series of concerts in its beachfront park through the summer months. With white-sand beaches, and offshore rock ledges which create excellent wave breaks, it’s a perfect family beach. At its southern border is the north entrance to Canaveral National Seashore.
A slightly longer drive than Daytona, at an hour and a quarter’s drive from Orlando, the Palm Coast and the Flagler Beaches area has 19 miles of pristine, cinnamon-coloured beaches. There are lots of family-friendly events throughout the summer including Pirate Invasions and Sandcastle competitions.
Gulf Coast Beaches
The white sands of Florida’s Gulf Coast beaches make the extra drive time worth travelling – if you can, we recommend making time to visit both coastlines for a real Florida experience.
Treasure Island Beach
The closest of the Gulf Coast beaches to Orlando, Treasure Island is around a two hour’s drive away. It is an island, connected to the mainland by three bridges. It’s a great approach to this family-friendly stretch of gorgeous white sand framed by restaurants and shops with a distinctly “old Florida” vibe.
St Petes Beach
The beach at St Petes was voted the third best beach in the USA by TripAdvisor travellers in 2017. The long stretch of white sand offers plenty of attractions and water sports along its length – at parts lined with tall hotels, at others palm trees. The Corey Avenue district has a variety of funky speciality shops, galleries, and restaurants.
To the south, and just pipping St Petes Beach in the 2017 TripAdvisor Best Beach rankings, Siesta Beach on Siesta Key is a barrier island to the west of Sarasota which was voted the best beach in the USA by TripAdvisor travellers. It made number two spot on Dr Beach’s list of the best US beaches in 2016.
Clearwater Beach won the Travel Channel’s Best Family Beach award in 2014 and when you see its three miles of powdery white sand and family-friendly attractions, it isn’t hard to see why. At the end of your two-and-a-quarter-hour’s journey to Clearwater, you’re rewarded with a few bridge crossings as you approach this barrier island off the peninsula.
Caladesi & Honeymoon Island State Parks
Just north of Clearwater you’ll find two beautiful state parks: Caladesi State Park and Honeymoon Island State Park. You’ll need to take the ferry to Caladesi, whereas you can drive to Honeymoon Island; it is located at the extreme west end of State Road 586. On either island you can swim, fish, and snorkel in the warm waters of the Gulf, shell hunt along the stretches of picturesque white sands, or spot some of the wildlife along the shore, including Ospreys and other seabirds.
If you don’t fancy making the trip from Orlando to these beautiful coastal resorts, you can of course hit the water closer to home.
Whether it is in the private pool of your own vacation villa.
Or in one of Orlando’s brilliant waterparks!