When I think of Florida, two images come to mind. A day at the theme parks and a day with the wind in my hair soaking up the sun. Luckily, Orlando is centrally located in the state, so getting to beaches on the east or west coast is quick and easy. Be sure to take a day off from the theme parks and enjoy some of Florida’s coastline.
Here is a list of recommended beaches on both the East and West coasts. All are about 1-2 hours drive from Orlando.
East Coast Beaches
The Atlantic Ocean lies just about a one hour’s drive from Orlando. Here you can find a wide variety of beaches, communities, and activities for the whole family.
driving time: about 1 hour, 7 minutes
Ever dreamed of driving your car on the beach? Well, welcome to Daytona Beach, known as “The World’s Most Famous Beach”. Yes, drive in limited areas on the beach (dependent on the tides) from sunrise to sunset. Now is your time!
Daytona Beach is also home to the World Famous NASCAR and the Daytona International Speedway which is open to the public every day.
Daytona Beach is also known for its “Bike Week” each March and Biketoberfest each fall when thousands of motorcyclists come together for event-filled festivals.
Nearby is Ponce Inlet, home of Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse, Florida’s tallest lighthouse and Ormond Beach to the north has The Casements which was John D Rockefeller’s winter home in the early 1900’s.
Referred to by the locals and most Orlandoians as “the real Florida” because of its laid back attitude, New Smyrna Beach is also known for its arts and culture. The town has two historic downtown streets.
The pedestrian friendly Canal Street District has many upscale shops, specialty boutiques, and independently owned restaurants.
Flagler Avenue has more of an old Florida feel with five blocks of family run restaurants, souvenir beach shops, local boutiques as well as access to the beach.
The Marine Discovery Center offers eco-boat tours to view the lagoon’s wildlife, including manatees and dolphins.
Just to the north, Smyrna Dunes Park is a perfect location to enjoy nature. You will find elevated walkways, picnic areas, an observation tower, rolling dunes and abundant wildlife as well as fishing and swimming. $10 per vehicle. Driving time from Orlando is about 1 hour, 8 minutes.
Travel light to the beach at Jetty Park, Port Canaveral. This beach has vendors with rentals from chairs to kayaks. And they have lifeguards on duty year round. The two-story, air conditioned beach pavilion has places to grab a snack and cool off. The 1200 ft. fishing pier is a great place to take pictures of cruise ships or submarines or to spot dolphins. Driving time from Orlando: about 1 hour, 9 minutes.
Cocoa Beach is the closest beach to Orlando with a drive time of about 1 hour, 5 minutes. It is known for its surfing culture and is home to the international headquarters of Ron Jon Surf Shop. The store is open 24 hours a day. Be sure to sign up for a surfing lesson!
Watch and talk to the fisherman on the pier to see what the big catch of the day is. Sometimes you can see Manatees swimming by. There is also a couple of good restaurants to grab a bite to eat.
Spring breakers like this beach for its volleyball, surfing and partying. If you seek a quieter location, try Lori Wilson Park, where you will find free parking, bathrooms, and outdoor showers.
Vero Beach is less than 2 hours southeast from Orlando and has much to offer. Located on a barrier island across from Indian River Lagoon. Noted for its wide open beaches, Jaycee Beach is perfect for families and South Beach Park is the local’s favorite for playing volleyball. Along with the beautiful beaches, you will find airboat rides, kayak tours, fishing excursions, golf, biking, art galleries, museums and even a botanical garden.
Gulf Coast Beaches
About 90 miles west of the Orlando area, lies the Gulf of Mexico known for its warm, calm waters and great shelling. There are lots of watersport opportunities as well as natural wildlife viewing.
Clearwater Beach is named as such for, you guessed it, its clear, shallow water and white powdery sand. Just 20 minutes from Tampa (1 hour, 59 minutes. From Orlando) it is considered to be Florida’s perfect beach. Finding parking can be challenging at this popular beach so plan before you go.
Rentals of chairs, umbrellas, and cabanas are available.
Be sure to spend some time on Pier 60 fishing, playing in the playground, grabbing something to eat or viewing the famous sunset.
The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is home to Winter, the dolphin with the prosthetic tail from Dolphin Tale.
John’s Pass Village & Boardwalk at Madeira Beach
This turn of the century fishing village and boardwalk has over 100 unique retail shops and restaurants, and lots of water sports opportunities.
The Pirate Ship at John’s Pass offers daily two-hour cruises that are sure to please the whole family. Enjoy water gun battles, pirates’ games and stories, and treasure hunts. For the over 21 crowd, beer and wine are available.
Also enjoy fishing excursions and dolphin watches as well. Street parking and a multi-level parking garage are easy to find.
driving time: 1 hour 57 minutes
Treasure Island was a perfect spot for pirates to hide their goods. In the early 1900’s a group of business men got the idea to spread the word that treasure was found to help promote the area. One of the hotel owners had buried the treasure and the business men later “found” it. The name stuck.
This is home to famous Annual Sanding Ovations Master’s Cup held each November. Here ten master sculptors return to Treasure Island for the Annual Sanding Ovations Master’s Cup Competition and Music Festival. Live music, food, a craft market, and a children’s area featuring sand sculpting lessons are available. The event is free to the public.
To find your slice of paradise, beach accesses are marked with distinctive blue and orange seagull signs. The signs also indicate where there are beach parking, handicapped access, and other amenities.
Be sure to visit Sea Dog Brewing Co while there.
St Pete Beach
Voted as Trip Advisors number 3 beach in the US for 2016, the beach has the longest undeveloped stretch of public beach in the country known as Pass-a-Grille Beach. This beach is home to The Don CeSar Hotel known for its 5-star Gatsby-like atmosphere. Plan a special dinner here.
Away from the beach is the Corey Avenue District that has lots of options of restaurants and specialty retail. If the adults in your party plan a stay for the evening, go where the locals go- to the Drunken Clam- a small beach bar that serves wings and cocktails!
Nearby is the Salvador Dali Museum.
Fort De Soto Park
Attention Prison Break Fans! You might recognize this park from the famous TV series. The Fort was used in several episodes as a backdrop for the country Panama.
The Fort was built for the Spanish-American War, however, it wasn’t finished until after the war ended. Not a single hostile shot was ever fired from here!
The park is made up of five separate islands, known as keys, and is best suited for those looking to be active.
Many varieties of wildlife (pelicans, egrets, sea turtles, dolphins) call the park home. Ride, skate or jog on the paved trail or kayak/ canoe thru the mangroves. Explore the canons and jail cells of the old fort. Fish from the piers or picnic along the beaches.
Because of its location, the water is a lagoon type pool ideal for young swimmers. Maybe you will even see someone famous filming here!
driving time: 2 hours, 3 minutes
Anna Maria Island
Furthest from the Orlando area is an easy drive to Anna Maria Island. Holmes Beach is our favorite for a quick lunch and a walk along the beach to collect shells and watch the pelicans. Holmes Beach is the largest of the three communities on the island. You will not find any drive thru or high rises here! The public beach access (Manatee Public Beach) is located at the end of Manatee Avenue however, parking can be limited.
The Anna Maria Island Beach café offers breakfast, lunches, and dinners. They have the best fish sandwich on the island! Be sure to stop by the gift shop for a new trinket.
driving time: 2 hours, 17 minutes.