Where is the closest beach to Orlando and where do I recommend to go? That’s a question I get asked a lot. Orlando is located in the middle of the state of Florida and for that reason it has no coastline, but it is easy to get to some beautiful and fun beaches if you want to get away from the theme parks and do something different for the day.
Coming from the Venezuelan Caribbean coast and after living for a long time between St. Petersburg and then in South Florida where the beach was only minutes away, when I started to think about moving to Orlando, the idea of not having the beach as close as I’ve been used to all my life was keeping me away from moving to Central Florida. However, at the same time, knowing that I could easily take a day trip to any coast, either to the west with the Gulf of Mexico or to the east with the Atlantic Sea. Each one with its beauty and with pleasant places very close to have a great day.
Here are some beaches that you can visit from Orlando:
I love to visit this area and I don’t know how many times I have recommended going to St. Pete Beach or Clearwater Beach. Both towns are located about 1 hour 30 minutes (2 hours if traffic gets crazy) by car from Walt Disney World area. Bonus point, enjoy the sunset from this side, it is gorgeous!
Both places, because they are on the Gulf of Mexico, the water is usually a little warmer than the Atlantic coast, fewer waves, and the water is more crystal clear than in Daytona Beach and most cities on the east coast of the state. Also, the warm ocean surface temperatures is one of the factors of the red tide that is typical on this area, so just check online how bad or if there’s any red tide warning where you are planning to visit, one page to check is this one.
I think it will be a bit easier to park your car in Clearwater than it is in St. Pete, although you can find plenty of parking lots in both cities near the beach. I prefer St. Pete Beach, we even got married there, but Clearwater Beach has been named one of the most beautiful beaches in the United States.
One of my favorite places to visit between St. Pete Beach and Clearwater is John’s Pass Village and Boardwalk. If you are looking for a good place to eat, take a walk between the shops, get ice cream or even take a boat ride this area is perfect . You can also park there, walk across the street to enjoy the beach, and then head back to John’s Pass Village for lunch, dinner, or a snack before calling it a day.
In St. Petersburg you can also go to Fort De Soto Park, there’s a small fee to enter with your car ($5). The place is beautiful, it has a fort that you can explore, several points to visit the beach, you can rent kayaks or a canoe. There are even areas where you might see manatees or dolphins.
There are also plenty of trails to go for a walk or bike ride.
To rent a kayak/canoe:
1 hour: $23 individual, $30 double
2 hours: $29 individual, $40 double
4 hours: $39 individual, $55 double
$8 per hour for a beach cruiser to $27 per hour for a fancy double train bike.
From the first time we visited this place, we fell in love. Vero Beach is a small city with a beautiful beach and a place that is not so crowded since it is not a very touristy area. So it’s perfect for relaxing!
We usually visit the Sexton Plaza Beach area, which is about a 2 hour drive from Orlando. You can park right there, for free, and enjoy the beach.
Within a few steps you can reach different restaurants and local shops. My 2 favorite places to eat something that is not too expensive are Mulligan’s Beach House ($$) and Waldo’s ($$), the latter located inside The Historic Driftwood Resort, which is a very interesting hotel to visit (even if you don’t you stay there you can take a look around). Both places are in front of the beach.
Vero Beach is located on the Treasure Coast, and right in front of that area (sometimes they have a flag) you’ll see the S.S. Breconshire, a ship that sank in 1894. There are places where you can rent a kayak to get there. This is the reason why that coast is known as the treasure coast since there are many ship wrecks in the area.
If you drive a little north from that spot, you can also visit Disney’s Vero Beach Resort, which is beautiful. If you park (for free) on the west side you can walk to the resort with no problem (there is a tunnel under the road). You can’t use the pools, but you can walk around, maybe grab something quick to eat and explore something different. It also has a very good restaurant (I recommend making a reservation for that one) for breakfast and dinner: Wind & Waves Grill.
The most famous beaches
Daytona Beach and Cocoa Beach are 2 of the most famous beaches in Central Florida.
Both cities are located on the Atlantic side, which means that the sea has a lot strong waves and you will also find a large area of sand to just relax in the sun and in some areas you can even drive with your car, paying an entrance fee of course. (without car is free).
Cocoa Beach is located approximately 1 hour from Walt Disney World. Once in Cocoa Beach, you will find many areas to park. You can go to the Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier or the Shepard Park area, very close to the famous Ron Jon Surf Shop, which is huge. Also many restaurants around there.
In Daytona Beach, you can get to the pier area where you can enjoy the beach and you also have the boardwalk with some attractions and close by, Ocean Walk Shoppes with some restaurants, shops and most nights, usually on weekends, live music at the Theatre.
Near Daytona Beach, to the south, you’ll find Ponce Inlet with the tallest lighthouse in Florida (main photo) that you can climb up to and enjoy the beautiful view from on top. Right there you also have a small beach, the water is calm and with luck you can also see manatees and/or dolphins. Remember, manatees can come closer to you, they won’t do anything, they are very playful and curious, but you can’t touch them at all. However, I should mention that this beach is dog-friendly, in case that’s not your thing.
Right in front of the lighthouse there is a very nice little restaurant.
Between Cocoa and Daytona
Another option on the Atlantic side is New Smyrna Beach.
It also has a super wide sand area where cars also drive by, again, you enter for free if you park your car and just walk, but there are people who like to enter with their cars to have everything closer and more comfortable, the chairs , perhaps an awning and even a little music.
If you get to Flagler Ave. side, there are several parking lots (some spots are free), several local shops, cafes, bars, and restaurants. Sometimes you can even find art festivals which can make the parking part difficult. If not, the area is very nice to visit.
To the north of the area is Smyrna Dunes Park where you do have to pay to enter the parking lot. I love this area, especially because we can take our dogs. The water is a little calmer and so much space on the sand that you will rarely be near other people. Of course, from the parking lot you have to walk a long way to get to the beach, but it’s worth it.
Where is your favorite Florida beach located?