A trip to Florida wouldn’t be complete without some time to enjoy its famous sandy beaches. If you’re in Orlando, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to options for some fun in the sun. Culture Trip asks our local insiders for their top spots.
Melbourne Beach is home to some of Florida’s most threatened inhabitants – an extensive colony of nesting sea turtles. If you visit at night, you’ll be able to observe a range of species (including loggerheads, leatherbacks and green sea turtles) emerge from the ocean to lay their eggs, before lumbering back into the darkness. For a truly unforgettable experience, check out the Sea Turtle Preservation Society’s nightly walks. These offer a closer (but still appropriately distanced) view of the nesting turtles at Melbourne Beach, and you’ll learn lots about turtle habits, habitats and conservation efforts along the way. Remember to act responsibly and avoid using flashlights, smartphones or camera flashes, as these disrupt the turtles while they’re nesting. Recommended by local insider Korri Lacalamita
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 maybe even make friends with other hound-loving humans. Recommended by local insider Korri Lacalamita
Cocoa is Orlando’s local beach. Just an hour’s drive from the city center, it’s a popular day trip for residents and tourists. The area has all the conveniences you need for a family day out (picnic areas, restrooms, extensive parking) and a fun dining and shopping scene. The East Coast waves make Cocoa Beach a popular spot for surfers and swimmers. It’s also the gateway to the Kennedy Space Center, making the beach perfect for a relaxing late-afternoon meander after the excitement of one of Florida’s biggest tourist draws. Recommended by local insider Katie Davis
It’s impossible not to feel relaxed at Madeira Beach. If you 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, all will seem right with the world. A 1½hr drive from Orlando, it’s a little less frequented than other options – but well worth it for the relative quiet as well as the dolphin-, whale- and stingray-spotting opportunities. Take a wildlife tour, or simply enjoy watching their silhouettes moving across 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. Recommended by local insider Katie Davis
About an hour’s drive outside of Orlando stands Smyrna Dunes Park, a dog-friendly beachside nature reserve covering five different habitats (ocean, river, dunes, scrub zone and saltwater marsh). Extensive rest areas and boardwalk trails make the area perfect for days out – bring a picnic and make it a day to remember. Smyrna is also one of just three beaches in Florida where beach driving is permitted, so if you’re looking for a new experience, this should definitely be on your to-do list. Parking can get fairly competitive later on in the day, so arrive early. Recommended by local insider Korri Lacalamita