Although Orlando has an abundance of beautiful, recreation-quality lakes, you’re not going to find any beachfront resorts in the metro-area—the city is smack dab in the middle of Florida, after all. The good news is, Orlando’s central location makes it super easy to visit some of Florida’s most gorgeous beaches on both its east and west coasts. In fact, the Atlantic coast is only about one hour from the City Beautiful, and the Gulf of Mexico is only 90 miles in the opposite direction.
Whether you want to stroll on the beach boardwalk, soak in the sun like a local, or even see a NASA rocket launch, there are plenty of places to kick back and enjoy the surf just outside of Orlando. Read on for our top five beach picks.
Cocoa Beach (1 Hour East of Orlando)
Cocoa Beach, the best-known beach near Orlando—and, perhaps, one of the best-known beaches in the country—is a straight shot down route 528 from the Orlando metropolitan area. This ever-popular coastal destination is home to a massive, 800-foot pier that offers restaurants, bars, shopping, and live (free!) entertainment, as well as Ron Jon Surf Shop, the world’s largest surf and water sports store. If you need some new gear, we’re sure you can find what you’re looking for in Ron Jon’s 52,000 square feet of retail space.
There’s no better beach to try your hand at surfing, parasailing, paddle boarding, skim boarding, or windsurfing—water sport shops, rentals, and lessons abound in Cocoa Beach. Plus, Cocoa Beach is one of the few public Florida beaches that’s open to dogs as long as they’re on a 6-foot leash and visit between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m., or 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Cocoa Beach can have some serious crowds—it’s a major tourist destination on Florida’s Atlantic coast—so try to visit during the week or in the off-season for a more relaxed beach-going experience.
New Smyrna Beach (1 Hour Northeast of Orlando)
If you want to check out a locals-approved beach in Florida, head to New Smyrna Beach. This super quaint enclave is renowned for its surfing spots (a rare find on the east coast!), cute, quirky shops, and delicious eats. The best part? You can drive your car on the beach’s hard-packed sand until you find the perfect spot to set up your gear.
Nearby rental shops make it easy to surf, skim, or paddleboard, but sunbathing and swimming isn’t the worst way to spend a day in NSB, either. After you’ve had your fill of sun and surf, head to historic Flagler Avenue, where you’ll find tons of local shops and eateries, like Flagler Tavern—a beloved surf ‘n’ turf spot that dates back to the 1920s!
Anastasia State Park (1 Hour, 45 Minutes Northeast of Orlando)
Located just outside of the United States’ oldest city, historic St. Augustine, Anastasia State Park offers a whopping 1,600 acres of untouched beaches, tidal marshes, and hiking and walking trails. But what makes Anastasia State Park’s beaches so unique are its gorgeous maritime hammocks, or maritime forests, that dot the coastline. These narrow bands of forest have developed on the beach’s sand dunes over centuries, and offer beachgoers some pretty primo opportunities to explore, hike, and birdwatch—not to mention, admire the forest’s abundant wildlife and super diverse ecosystems.
The park has tons of activities for beachgoers—like surfing, swimming, fishing, paddle boarding, and skim boarding—as well as historic coquina (soft limestone) quarry visitors can hike through. And if your family loves to camp, Anastasia State Park has campsites that are only a few steps away from the beach, so you can wake up to the sound of crashing waves every morning!
Clearwater Beach (1 Hour, 50 Minutes Southwest of Orlando)
Although Clearwater Beach is a slightly longer drive from Orlando—clocking in at about one hour and 50 minutes—its white sand beaches, clear, warm water, and gorgeous sunsets make it well worth the extra mileage. Florida’s Gulf coast is famous for its sunsets and catching one at Clearwater Beach certainly won’t disappoint.
If you’re looking for some post-beach activities, don’t miss Sunset at Pier 60 (yep, we told you sunset was a big deal on the Gulf coast!). There, you’ll find food, drinks, and family-friendly activities to help your crew celebrate the end of a perfect beach day—364 days per year. Alternately, head to Clearwater Point for, ahem, livelier activities. Think fun, beach-front bars, local seafood restaurants, and nightlife.
Canaveral National Seashore (1 Hour, 10 Minutes East of Orlando)
How many beaches can boast a perfect view of NASA’s Cape Canaveral launch station? This ancient barrier island doesn’t just offer a glimpse into modern space travel, either. Its 57,000 acres of pristine coastline is one of the longest in the United States and is home to incredibly diverse ecosystems, as well as endangered wildlife, like manatees and sea turtles.
Named one of the country’s quietest beaches in the country, Canaveral National Seashore features beautiful spots to swim and sunbathe, tranquil walking and hiking trails, and even the opportunity to ride horses down the beach. Sounds pretty dreamy, right? Plus, if your timing is right, you can catch a NASA shuttle launch after a day of soaking in the sun on a totally undeveloped coastline.