Yeah! Summer vacation season is knocking on our door! Several years ago I made such a trip to Orlando and we got to a point where we said that we needed to take a day off and hit the beach. Orlando has tons to explore but we know families (and have been that family) where repeated days of itineraries can put everyone at their breaking point. So if you are in the area and need a daybreak, the beach is closer than you may realize. The options below are some of our favorites….Atlantic beaches are listed first, followed by Gulf coast beaches. Fear not if you didn’t bring beach supplies! Head to your nearest Publix for a beach towel, drinks, snacks and that really all you will need! You’ll also notice most restaurants I mention are oceanfront because…beaches. 😉
The above pic is part of a long term yet to be determined Pinterest project. Which sand is from which beach? Read on to find out!
Closest beach – Cocoa Beach, 1 hour 10 minutes
Cocoa Beach is the closest beach to Orlando so its the first one that comes to mind if you need a quick getaway. The drive there takes you past Cape Canaveral and Port Canaveral. Popular spots in the area are the Cocoa Beach Pier and Ron Jon’s Surf Shop (with a Starbucks in the same complex). We park at Lori Wilson Park which has free parking with restrooms with showers. For lunch, Coconuts on the Beach is a walkup from the beach with oceanfront views. I also love Longboards Tiki Beach Grille, located right next to Lori Wilson Park, in the Hilton Cocoa Beach. Located outside, they often have local musicians play, outdoor fire pits, and I love that you can come in your beachwear perhaps after you’ve just watched a launch from Cape Canaveral. Did I mention they have a Starbucks in this Hilton? Just sayin. The sand from Cocoa is shown in the top left corner of the above pic.
New Smyrna Beach – A bit nicer and farther, a local favorite, 1 hour, 20 minutes
Cocoa is nice but if we are picking an Atlantic Beach day trip, it will typically be to New Smyrna. The sand is softer and has a more clean look than Cocoa and the area has a bit less of a touristy feel. We head to 27th Ave Beachfront Park, but there are many options here. This has parking, public showers, picnic pavilions, and a playground. For dinner, head to the Breakers Restaurant which is located on the beach with parking off Flagler Avenue. I should caution there are quite a bit of sharks that hang at New Smyrna. It’s known as the “Shark Attack Capital of the World.” Statistically there are a ton of people and a ton of sharks at New Smyrna. Luckily no shark attacks here have been fatal which probably explains why the people just keep swimming there. The sand from New Smyrna is shown in the top middle in the sand picture.
Favorite Atlantic getaway – Vero Beach- Treasure Shores, 2 hours
This one is two hours from Orlando so you may want to consider an overnight here or just plan to rotate driving duties. Treasure Shores is an ideal beach with amazing crystal waters and soft plentiful sand. There is public parking and restroom/outdoor showers but no lifeguards. This means you often have a picture perfect beach all to yourself. For a larger family like ours, it’s nice not to have to scan the crowds to make sure all kids are accounted for all day long. The sand from Treasure Shores is shown in the top right of the sand pic.
Favorite Gulf beach – Siesta Beach, 2 hours
If we have visitors to Orlando and they can handle the drive, the #1 beach I take them to is Siesta Beach. Located on the Gulf coast, Siesta Beach was named TripAdvisor’s 2017 Best Beach in the US. This expansive beach gives off an almost Caribbean feel in it’s beauty. Given it’s reputation, you need to arrive early. While there is an expansive parking area, it’s always quite busy. With the superfine white sand composition, the sand is always cool which means no sad crying children to carry due to hurt feet! There is free parking, a concession area, playgrounds, and outdoor showers. The sand from Siesta is show in the bottom left of the sand pic. When I took the picture it amazed me just how the texture was so much better than the other beaches – supersoft and fine, not grainy at all like the other beaches.
Another Gulf gem – Clearwater Beach, 90 minutes
A smidge closer than Siesta Beach is Clearwater Beach. Equally as beautiful, Clearwater has miles of beaches. Hit up Sand Key Park which has restrooms, showers, grills, playgrounds and more. My favorite restaurants are those right on the beach and two options here are Frenchys and Palm Pavilion. But if you are in need of really good food, there is a Skyline Chili 15 minutes from the beach. So no debate…just head on over there YUM.
St. Augustine Beach – multi day beach getaway, 2 hours
If you are looking to split your time between Orlando and a beach location, St. Augustine is a wonderful spot. The beaches are pristine and there are plenty of family fun options. Sites to see are the Castillo de San Marcos, St. Augustine Lighthouse, and the St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum. Delicious food can be found at Mojo Old City BBQ, Cellar 6, and my absolute favorite, the Ice Plant. The sand from St. Augustine is shown in the middle right of the sand pic.
No matter what, each of these beaches are sure to be a blast! And as a mystery beach, I added a 6th sand sample in my sand pic. The bottom right sand was from Hilton Head. Just wanted to thrown in an outsider to give you a different perspective!