5 Unforgettable Orlando Beaches to Catch Waves or the Sunset
Stay in Orlando for a great central location in the middle of some of the best beaches in the United States. Check out this list to plan your perfect getaway.
Orlando may be land locked, but take a short drive in any direction from this hub of central Florida activity and you will soon encounter the the perfect beaches for surfing, swimming, and sunbathing! Whether you prefer to spend your time relaxing by the Atlantic Ocean or exploring the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, Orlando provides a great home base for your beach vacation. Stay in Orlando and you’ll be equally distant from both of Florida’s coasts, making it even easier to visit multiple beaches during your next trip to this sunny city.
The most popular area beach for Orlando locals is Cocoa Beach, mostly due to its proximity and easy drive. It only takes about 40 minutes to reach Cocoa Beach from downtown Orlando, and if you prefer not to drive on the Interstate, you can just cruise down Highway 50 almost the whole way. Cocoa Beach is well known for the Kennedy Space Center, which is located at Cape Canaveral right next door to this beautiful beach. It is also iconic for its use as the setting for the television series I Dream Of Jeannie, and there are many Jeannie-inspired shops and restaurants in the area (including a froyo place called I Dream Of Yogurt).
Cocoa Beach is well known for being one of the best places to surf on Florida’s Atlantic coastline. The Canaveral Pier on the north end of the beach is usually packed full of surfers enjoying the lounges, shops, and dining that inhabit the 900-foot stretch over the ocean. Aspiring surfers can sign up for surfing lessons at various places through Cocoa Beach, and can even attend a week-long Surf Camp to learn the basics and get started on their path to watery glory.
Whether you are into the surfing scene or not, be sure to check out Ron Jon’s Surf Shop while you are in Cocoa Beach. If you drove in to central Florida, chances are good you noticed the fifty-plus Ron Jon billboards that seem to begin appearing along the interstate the moment you cross the state line. Although the advertising may be a little over the top, Ron Jon is still a very fun place to go, and is the epitome of a Florida store. Check out the multitude of surfboards, paddleboards, clothes, and beach souvenirs in this brightly colored store, and pick a few to take back home with you!
Ron Jon’s Surf Shop is located at 4151 North Atlantic Avenue in Cocoa Beach.
St. Augustine Beach
Head to the northeast of Orlando and drive for about an hour and a half to reach St. Augustine Beach, one of the most historic places in the United States. The city of St. Augustine was officially founded in 1565, although it was discovered by Ponce de Leon about fifty years before that. There is so much history to explore and discover in this city that you may be tempted to ignore the beaches altogether! But do give yourself plenty of time to spend on both sides of St. Augustine. The historical sites are excellent, but the beaches are some of the best in the state.
St. Augustine is a popular tourist destination, and it is also very popular with Orlando locals, who enjoy making day trips out to the beautiful pristine beaches this part of the state is known for. If you visit during the summer months, expect the beach to be quite crowded. Early fall is the best time to go to St. Augustine, although if you do visit some of the historic sites at that time of the year, expect to be sharing your space with school field trips from Orlando. Most of St. Augustine’s beaches are pet friendly, which is not very common of Florida beaches, so head this way if you want to give your four-legged friends a chance to play in the ocean too.
While in St. Augustine, take an hour to leave the beach and visit the old lighthouse that has become the icon of the city. The St. Augustine lighthouse can provide you with a beautiful view of the beach if you are able to make it to the top! And if you are looking for the best place to catch a sunset in central Florida, look no further than the lighthouse. For about $30 a person, you can book a Sunset Moonrise tour and hike up to the top to experience the beauty of a Florida sunset and the mystery of a full moon over the ocean.
The St. Augustine lighthouse is located at 81 Lighthouse Avenue in St. Augustine city.
Daytona Beach is almost synonymous with Florida fun in the sun. It takes less than an hour to drive from Orlando to this epitome of spring break partying, and the beach itself stretches for 23 miles along the Atlantic coast. Most of the year, Daytona is a fairly family-friendly beach, although during spring break season, it’s best to keep the kids away from this one. If you happen to be young and visiting Florida without a large family, however, definitely head to Daytona during this pivotal part of the partying year!
When planning a visit to Daytona Beach, pay close attention to what else might be going on at the time. If you aren’t a fan of racing, stay far away from this beach during the Daytona 500. (If you are, by all means, buy your tickets now!) You don’t want to be trying to fight your way to a packed beach during an event you have no interest in. Visit during September to avoid pretty much every major event and still make the most of sunny, warm Florida weather. If you’re looking to come in the earlier part of the year, aim for late May, after spring break but before school is out in the area.
If you’re traveling with kids, be sure to visit Daytona Lagoon, a massive water park located right near the beach. Daytona Lagoon is full of thrilling water slides (including one with a drop of over fifty feet!) and other exciting water rides that are fun for kids as well as adults who like an adrenaline rush. Don’t worry if you have younger children in your group, though. There’s a fun play area for the tots as well as a lazy river.
Daytona Lagoon is open from mid March to mid September every year.
West of Orlando, at about an hour and a half drive time, you will encounter Clearwater Beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in the area. This chunk of beach is three miles long and full of beautiful, powder-white sand that draws crowds of families every year. Something about Clearwater Beach feels like stepping back in time a little bit, to the days when a trip to the beach was the best part of visiting Florida, and all the stores and restaurants along the way were owned by local business owners instead of larger corporations. There is still something of that in Clearwater Beach, but if you’re looking for more modern amenities, this pretty stretch of sand is only a short hop away from Tampa.
Clearwater is actually an island, so be prepared to drive over a few big bridges on your way to the beach itself. Once there, choose one side of the island to watch the activities at the marina or keep your eyes peeled for cargo ships sailing the Intracoastal Waterway. Or, if you prefer, head to the other side of the island and relax near the pier, where you can also go fishing. While there, visit Winter the dolphin at Clearwater Marine Aquarium. She is a major attraction of this little island, and has even starred in a movie about her life!
If you have kids, consider taking a trip on Captain Memo’s Pirate Cruise. This is definitely a family event, with a bar and lounge area on the deck for adults and plenty of fun for kids to play around with costumed pirate actors who supply them with water guns. Enjoy complementary wine and beer while the kids play, or pay for something a little stronger at the on-deck cash bar. A trip on Captain Memo’s Pirate Cruise lasts about two hours.
Captain Memo sails from Clearwater Beach most of the year, but does not operate between November 30 and December 18. Plan your trip accordingly.
Melbourne Beach takes a bit longer to reach than the others on this list, at about an hour and 45 minutes, but it is a fun place to visit and well worth the drive time if you can swing it. This beach is just as beautiful as its other east coast counterparts, but it is much less overcrowded than Daytona or St. Augustine. Choose Melbourne Beach for a quiet getaway far from the party life and the tourists.
If you love to fish, be sure to take some time to visit Melbourne Beach. The crystal clear waters and large reef make this an excellent place to catch unique fish, whether from the pier or from a boat. Many varieties of fish are legal to catch and keep on Florida’s east coast, but grab a list of in-season fish and shellfish just to be sure. If you accidentally hook something you shouldn’t, just put it back where it belongs.
To get a little bit of historical information in your Melbourne Beach trip, visit the McLarty Treasure Museum. This is a small museum, but at only $2 per person for admission (and free admission for kids under 6), it’s a fun way to spend an hour. View authentic Spanish treasure and items that have been reclaimed from sunken Spanish ships of centuries past, and learn all about the salvage expeditions that took place around Melbourne Beach.
The McLarty Treasure Museum is open daily from 10:00am to 4:00pm.
No matter what you’re looking for when visiting Florida’s beaches, you will have no trouble finding it around the Orlando area. Book a stay in the perfect Orlando area hotel and spend your days taking short drives to the incredible nearby beaches. Either coast can provide a perfect beach vacation during your next trip to central Florida!
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