Orlando isn’t located on the coast, but fortunately we live close enough to enjoy a day trip or weekend jaunt to some of Florida’s best beaches. No matter where you want to put your toes into the sand, on the Atlantic Ocean or along the Gulf Coast, we’ve come up with a guide to the best beaches near Orlando.
Florida has 1,197 miles of coastline and 663 miles of beaches, so it’s no wonder that Dr. Beach (Dr. Stephen Leatherman) professor and director of the laboratory for coastal research at Florida International University, often includes at least one of Florida’s beaches in his annual list of top 10 beaches throughout the country. Two of his top picks from 2017 are close enough to Orlando for a day trip: Siesta Beach in Sarasota, (#1) or Caladesi Island State Park in the Dunedin/Clearwater area (#7).
Beaches near Orlando:
FLORIDA’S EAST COAST BEACHES
Cocoa Beach – 1 hour
Cocoa Beach is the closest beach for Orlando residents, located a little less than an hour from Central Florida. It’s well known for family fun, relaxing along the beach, a location for eco-tours or for deep-sea fishing. There are area attractions, such as the Kennedy Space Center (and the possibility of a rocket launch), museums and easygoing beach nightlife. Cocoa is also near Port Canaveral, the launching area of world-class cruise ships. The 900-foot long Canaveral Pier is one of the landmarks of this area. Cocoa Beach has 72 miles of Atlantic shoreline, and features several beaches. In addition to the Canaveral National Seashore, there is the 35-acre Jetty Park at Port Canaveral, which is one of the busiest parks in the county that offers covered pavilions and picnic areas.
One of the most accessible parks is Alan Shepard Park, named for astronaut Alan Shepard. There is plenty of parking and a picnic area, plus a boathouse. Sidney Fischer Park has picnic pavilions, and showers and restrooms, making it ideal for families. Lori Wilson Park encompasses 33 acres, and includes a 3,000-plus foot boardwalk. There are six dune crossovers and picnic areas. The park is perfect for enjoying wildlife.
Other parks in the Cocoa Beach area, all of which provide dune crossovers include Cherie Down Park, Robert P. Murkshe Memorial Park, Seagull Park, Hightower Beach Park, Canova Beach Park, Howard E. Futch Memorial Park, Indialantic, Spessard Holland North and South Beach Parks, Coconut Point Park and Bonsteel Park.
Ormond Beach – 1 hour
Located just north of Daytona Beach and a little more than an hour from Orlando, Ormond Beach provides a small town experience for visitors. Ormond Beach was chosen by millionaire legend John D. Rockefeller as one of the best places to live, and it was the location of the first automobile races, giving the community the title of “Birthplace of Speed.” In addition to beach activities, Ormond Beach offers surf fishing at the 900-acre North Peninsula State Recreation Area, and tennis, a fishing pier and picnicking facilities at Ormond Bicentennial Park. This quiet and relaxing location is also the home of the Tomoka River Paddling Trail, a state-designated Florida paddling trail around Tomoka State Park.
Daytona Beach – 1 hour
Daytona Beach bills itself as “The World’s Most Famous Beach,” and its well-publicized activities, such as Bike Week and the Daytona 500 have made it one of the most popular beaches on the Atlantic coast. Just about an hour from Orlando, Daytona Beach not only offers Florida’s sun and fun, but also permits vehicles on the beach, a treat for many visitors. It boasts twenty-one miles of beachfront with 11 miles designated for vehicles. There are many activities for visiting families, including Daytona Lagoon with its speed and tube slides and free oceanfront concerts throughout the summer (complete with free fireworks) and, in August, the Lifeguard Championships.
New Smyrna Beach – 1 hour
A quieter cousin of nearby Daytona Beach, New Smyrna Beach is located about an hour from Orlando. Not only does it have beach driving in designated northern beach locations but it also has access to the Ponce de Leon Inlet where surfing championships are frequently held throughout the year. The South end of New Smyrna Beach is the north entrance to the Canaveral National Seashore, offering 24 miles of coastline. In 2010, New Smyrna Beach was named one of Dr. Beach’s “10 Best Beach Towns in Florida.” Orlando residents have also named it one of their best beaches for several years, and in 2012, it made the top 20 Surf Towns by National Geographic Magazine.
Canaveral National Seashore – 1 hour
Canaveral National Seashore runs along 24 miles of beach line, about an hour from Orlando. It is unique because it not only includes a barrier island in its 58,000 acres, but also open lagoons, coastal hammock, pine flatwoods and offshore waters and is the longest stretch of undeveloped beach on Florida’s east coast. Interestingly, the seashore is part of the 156-mile Indian River Lagoon, which has been the subject of many studies and research in recent years, and is an Estuary of National Significance. In addition to waterfowl and wading birds that visit the park, it is also the location where three species of sea turtles return to deposit their eggs each year.
The seashore begins south of New Smyrna and runs south to Titusville. It includes three beaches: Apollo Beach, a remote beach, where driving on the beach is not permitted; Playalinda, a well-known nude beach; and Klondike Beach, a true wilderness and at times, solitary 20-mile beach between Apollo Beach and Playalinda Beach, which is accessible from these beaches.
Flagler Beach – 1 ½ hours
The Flagler Beach Municipal Pier that has a lifeguard station, picnic tables and a decked restaurant, making the pier and Flagler Beach worth the hour and a half trip from Orlando. Crossovers to the beach that take visitors over the dunes are available at the end of every street, and are the only legal way to get to the beach. Cutting through the dunes is not only unsafe but destroys the vital vegetation holding the sand in place.
Visitors to Flagler Beach enjoy surfing, fishing, and kayaking, as well as walking along the beach. One note: sea turtle nesting season is from May 1 to October 31 and there are restrictions for using the beach so that you don’t disturb the sea turtles and their nests. Leashed dogs may be on the beach south of S. 10th Street and north of North 10th Street.
Melbourne Beach – 1 ½ hours
Melbourne Beach, about an hour and half from Orlando, is a family beach that was first inhabited by the Ais tribe of Native Americans, who settled along the shores of the Indian River Lagoon. Despite spurts of growth over the years, Melbourne Beach remains a relaxing and distinctly small area along the Atlantic coastline. In nearby Melbourne, there are a wide range of activities for side trips, including the Brevard Zoo, surfing near the Sebastian Inlet, Good Natured River Tours on the Indian River Lagoon and Banana River and Paradise Beach and Park, north of Melbourne that is a perfect location for clear water and soft sand.
St. Augustine area beaches – less than 2 hours
St. Augustine and its beaches are just under two hours driving time away from Orlando, but the area offers several choices in beach activities. Crescent Beach in the southern part of St. Johns County is on Anastasia Island, a wildlife refuge, and is perfect for fishing, diving and boating. The Anastasia State Park is a protected bird sanctuary covering 1,700 acres and five miles of beaches. There is no driving on this beach, but it offers lifeguards, a bath house, nature trails, fishing, umbrella and beach chair rentals, among its amenities. Admission is $8 per vehicle.
St. Augustine Beach is on Anastasia Island, and has white sand beaches, and an area to play volleyball or to enjoy fishing on its pier. Vehicles are permitted, but only within designated areas. Vilano Beach offers active beach recreational opportunities, including parasailing and Sea Doo rentals, plus the opportunity to charter a deep-sea fishing boat or sailboard. Vehicles are permitted in designated areas. North (Usina) Beach has a pair of campsites, boat ramps and a picnic area.
Jacksonville area beaches – 2 1/2 hours
Jacksonville has three beach areas, Jacksonville Beach, Neptune Beach and Atlantic Beach, all of which are laid-back and perfect for activities such as surfing. Jacksonville Beach offers many events during the year, including spring and summer festivals and concerts, featuring well-known national and local bands. Neptune Beach is a relaxing small community where there is hard-packed sand—perfect for biking and, from all reports, an ideal location for surfing. Atlantic Beach is part of these friendly beach locations, but also offers the River Branch Preserve, an area featuring more than 300 acres of marshes and tidal shallow waterways that can be navigated at high tide. Plans are under way to provide more public access to this area for kayakers and those who enjoy canoeing. The three beaches are a little over two hours from Orlando.
South Ponte Vedra Beach – 2 1/2 hours
South Ponte Vedra Beach may be synonymous with the PGA Tour and the Players Championship, but there is also limited beach access. Check out the huge (40 foot) dunes, some of the highest in Florida. No vehicles are allowed on the beach. At the northern end of the St. Augustine beaches is Guana River State Park, a 2,000-acre sanctuary for endangered species. There are a pair of public beach access facilities with dune crossover boardwalks, and opportunities for swimming, surfing, fishing and shelling. No pets are permitted on the beach.
Fernandina Beach – 3 hours
Just south of the Georgia/Florida border is Fernandina Beach, located on Amelia Island, a barrier island that features an interesting historic district, complete with a marina and a harbor. Along its 13 miles of sand, there are locations for driving on the beach, and for enjoying one of this beach’s favorite pastimes… horseback riding on the beach. In addition, Amelia Island offers families a great getaway, including a chance to see dolphins and manatees up close up as well as group tours on the Amelia River. Amelia Island is about three hours from Orlando, so you may want to check out a place to stay for the night.
FLORIDA’S GULF COAST BEACHES
St. Pete Beach – 2 hours
St. Pete Beach, home of Don CeSar resort and The Pier, a five-story dining and shopping mecca, is also known for its white sand beaches and sunshine that seems to never end. The St. Pete/Clearwater area has more than 35 miles of beaches, with St. Pete located south of Clearwater. St. Pete Beach is a trip of two hours, 24 minutes from Orlando. One of its attractions is Fort De Soto Park, situated on 870 acres and attracting migratory birds as well as those who love to camp, fish or swim. The actual Fort De Soto is still there, and can be visited for free. The fort’s location is on Mullet Key, and Ponce de Leon anchored off this key in 1513. Hernando De Soto came to the area in 1539, and the park was named for him. The fort was closed in 1922, but remains one of the most popular areas for those who love the warm waters of the Gulf.
Treasure Island – 2 hours
Treasure Island is connected to St. Petersburg via the Treasure Island Causeway Bridge, and is one hour and 57 minutes from Orlando. There are three beaches on Treasure Island: Sunset, Sunshine and the Mid-Island beach, which is the widest beach on the island. From the first weekend in February to the last weekend of September, there is an alcohol restriction on Sunset Beach. Visitors can move around the island via the Beach Trolley, which provides easy access to beaches along Pinellas County. On the east side of the beach is Treasure Island Beach Trail, a mile-long walkway that creates access to the heart of the hotel district of the island.
Clearwater Beach – 2 ½ hours
Clearwater Beach can be reminiscent of Old Florida, despite the growth of the area, since it has that family-friendly feel to it. Located on a barrier island, Clearwater Beach is reached via bridges from the Tampa area, and once there, visitors can enjoy a Beach Walk promenade, trolleys that move visitors to various locations on the beach, a fishing pier, and as a special treat, the Intracoastal Waterway as well as the Gulf waters. There are several activities with kids in mind, including the Captain Memo Pirate Cruise, which sails from the marina and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium that gives everyone a close up look at dolphins, sea rays and turtles. For two hours before and after sunset, head to Pier 60, where jugglers, acrobats and musicians provide unending entertainment as the sun slowly slips into the Gulf of Mexico.
Caladesi Island State Park – 2 ½ hours
Dr. Beach ranked Caladesi Island State Park and its beach number one in 2008 and this year it has the seventh spot. Part of its cache is its remoteness — Caladesi Island State Park can only be reached via water, and most people take a 15-minute ferry ride ($14) to get to the beach (In addition to the nearly two-hour drive to Clearwater Beach area). There is a four-hour limit for those going to this beach, if visitors don’t use their own boats to get there. Despite its remoteness, Caladesi still has showers, restrooms and kayak and beach chair rentals, and its low waves make it a favorite of families for enjoying the Gulf waters.
SUMMER BUCKET LIST: 42 free or cheap things to do in Orlando this summer
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