The Best Beaches Near Orlando, Florida

Madeira Beach is one of the best spots for a seaside day trip from Orlando
Madeira Beach is one of the best spots for a seaside day trip from Orlando | © John Coletti / Getty Images
Photo of Naomi Chadderton
14 July 2021

There’s so much more to Orlando than Disney World, Magic Kingdom and Universal Studios. For a start, it offers easy access to some of Florida’s best beaches – here’s our roundup.

A city that’s not often associated with a day at the beach – chances are you’re here for the rollercoasters – Orlando is just an hour’s drive from the Atlantic coast and 90mi (145km) to the Gulf of Mexico, so it’s easy to find a pristine spot of sand to soak up the famous Florida sun. Whether you’re looking for a slice of seclusion or a thriving strand pulsing with energy, these beaches are all within two hours’ drive of Orlando.

Daytona Beach

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Daytona Beach, Florida, USA beachfront skyline.
© Sean Pavone / Alamy Stock Photo
Stretching a whopping 23mi (37km), Daytona Beach isn’t dubbed the world’s most famous beach for nothing. While you’ll want to avoid college students wreaking havoc on spring break, the atmosphere is lively year-round and there’s also a vast boardwalk with views, an arcade and all sorts of amusements for kids. It’s also a great place for car lovers who come to catch the world-famous annual Nascar race.

Anna Maria Island

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Vacationers on the beach at Anna Maria Island, Florida, United States of America
© Tim Graham / Alamy Stock Photo
One of Florida’s best-kept secrets, a 7mi (11km) strip of white sand lines Anna Maria Island – a barrier island between the turquoise Gulf of Mexico and peninsular Florida. With water that’s warm for most of the year and ultra-fine sand, beach conditions don’t get much better. Keep in mind it’s a two-hour drive from Orlando, so be sure to leave early so you can really make a day of it, but stay for the sunset – it’s easily one of the best in the area.

Clearwater Beach

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Beach near the Pier at Clearwater Beach, Gulf Coast, Florida, USA.
© Eric James / Alamy Stock Photo
The secret’s in the name here – this little slice of heaven boasts some of the clearest waters around thanks to its lovely location on the Gulf of Mexico. Two hours by car from Orlando, you’ll arrive at sugar-white sands that are soft enough to laze on for hours. But if you fancy an action-packed escape, there’s watersports, snorkeling, parasailing and jet-skiing on offer, too. The downside of great beauty is that it comes with great crowds, however, so if you don’t arrive early, parking can be a challenge.

St Pete Beach

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Don CeSar Beach Resort Hotel, St Pete Beach, Florida
© Travel Bokeh / Alamy Stock Photo
From swimming and kayaking to paddle-surfing and boogie-boarding, there’s plenty to keep visitors of all ages busy at St Pete Beach. What’s more, as it’s actually located on a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico, it offers great views of the sunrise and sunset each night. If you get tired of lazing about on its super soft sands, its historic pink palace, the Loews Don Ce Sar Hotel, is a lovely spot to soak up a nostalgic, Gatsby-like atmosphere with a cocktail in hand.

Vero Beach

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Beach near the town centre, Vero Beach, Treasure Coast, Florida, USA
© Ian Dagnall / Alamy Stock Photo
A lazy resort town distinguished by its posh downtown, quaint local cafés and the vast amount of sea turtle nests that pop up every summer along the shores and sand dunes, it will take just under two hours to reach this southeastern coastal gem. And there’s no doubt it’ll be worth it. It’s home to Disney’s Vero Beach Resort where kids can head for singalongs, campfires and a surf school; kayaking trips on the Indian River Lagoon also come highly recommended.

St Augustine Beach

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St Augustine Beach dunes in Florida, USA
© Jeffrey Isaac Greenberg / Alamy Stock Photo
The nation’s oldest city was the first permanent settlement in the United States, established back in 1565. Yes, St Augustine is steeped in history, yet these days most visitors come for St Augustine Beach, where bodyboarding, bike-riding and fishing are all popular activities. If there’s time, climb to the top of the St Augustine Lighthouse – 219 steps up – for panoramic views of the city and the ocean beyond.

Ormond Beach

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Ormond Beach views in Florida, USA
© Jeffrey Isaac Greenberg / Alamy Stock Photo
A mere 61mi (98km) northeast of Orlando, Ormond Beach is home to John D Rockefeller’s former beach house. Due to its rustic nature, the sand here can be quite coarse, but not to worry – there’s plenty of fun to be had on the water, while the picturesque town, peppered with historical landmarks, dreamy homes and immaculate gardens, is definitely worth a wander. For the best local restaurants, your best bet is to start on Granada Boulevard, where you’re sure to find something to suit.

Melbourne Beach

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Aerial view of Melbourne Beach, Florida
© Mark J. Barrett / Alamy Stock Photo
Sandwiched between the Atlantic Ocean and Indian River, Melbourne Beach is one of the least crowded strips of sand near Orlando, making it ideal for a day of reflection. Take a stroll along the beautiful wooden pier – which acts as an optimal fishing spot, too – or simply take a good book and sprawl out by the ocean to enjoy some alone time. As for the water, it’s crystal-clear and you might even be lucky enough to spot a stingray or manatee.

Fort De Soto Park and Dog Park

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Small Dog at the Dog Park, Florida, USA
© Carolann Voltarel / Alamy Stock Photo

Those used to traveling with dogs know how tricky it can be to find pet-friendly beaches. Luckily for you, the clear blue waters of Fort De Soto Park and Dog Park welcome you both with open arms so your canine companion can frolic along the powdery white sands and enjoy the experience as much as you. The dedicated dog-friendly zones where you can let them off leash are extensive, clean and safe. Overall, it’s a great place to chill with your four-legged friend, play some fetch and perhaps even chat with other hound-loving humans.

Cocoa Beach

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Surfers on Cocoa Beach, Florida, USA
© Jeffrey Isaac Greenberg / Alamy Stock Photo
The closest beach to Orlando at just a 45-minute drive from downtown, Cocoa Beach is a surfer’s paradise. Not only was it once home to Kelly Slater – the most successful professional surfer of all time – it has epic waves and is the international headquarters for Ron Jon Surf Shop, whose flagship store is the world’s largest surf shop, at 52,000sqft (4,830sqm). Riding the waves not your thing? There are bikes and boogie boards to rent, sandcastles to build and the iconic Cocoa Beach Pier complete with shops, live music, restaurants and spectacular views.

Madeira Beach

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Sea oats and surf in Madeira Beach Florida on Florida's Gulf Coast
© Jeff Kinsey / Alamy Stock Photo

It’s impossible not to feel relaxed at Madeira Beach. Wander across the sand, gaze over the bay from the pier with an ice cream in hand and perhaps take a dip in the calm, brilliantly blue sea, where all will seem right with the world. A 1.5hr drive from Orlando, it’s a little less busy than other options – but well worth it for the relative quiet, as well as opportunities to spot dolphins, whales and stingrays. Take a wildlife tour, or simply enjoy watching their silhouettes in the distance. You can hire boats and jet skis from the businesses in John’s Pass, the boardwalk area opposite the beach, where you’ll also find an attractive range of boutiques and dining options.

New Smyrna Beach

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Person standing at New Smyrna Beach against cloudy sky
© Cavan Images / Alamy Stock Photo
Occupying 17mi (27km) of Florida’s Atlantic coast, New Smyrna Beach is known as the locals’ beach for many Orlandoans, who flock here for killer waves and super-smooth sands. Bordered by an adorable beach town, pop into the charming center of New Smyrna for kitsch boutiques and healthy food in a laid-back setting before making the short one-hour drive back to Orlando.

This is an updated version of an article originally by Kathryn Beeson.

Looking for more recommendations? There’s plenty of things to keep you busy, from exploring the most beautiful gardens in Orlando to enjoying natural wonders such as the best springs. Make a weekend of it and bring the whole family along; the kids will enjoy swimming with dolphins while these unusual things to do will keep everyone else entertained. If you’d rather keep the activities to a minimum, then you can enjoy a delicious meal at one of the best restaurants in Orlando.

These recommendations were updated on July 14, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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