Ride the Waves: Top 10 Sun-Soaked Beaches Near Orlando for Family Fun and Relaxation
Ride the Waves: Top 10 Sun-Soaked Beaches Near Orlando for Family Fun and Relaxation - Crescent Beach - Quaint and Quiet Near St. Augustine
Nestled just south of historic St. Augustine lies the quaint and quiet oasis of Crescent Beach. Though not as well-known as some of Florida's more famous strands, this pristine stretch of sand offers families a more serene seaside experience without the crowds and chaos.
As you make your way down the palm tree-lined route from St. Augustine, you'll feel yourself escaping the hurry of daily life. The pace slows, the development dissipates, and soon you've arrived in a small beach town that feels frozen in time. Swaying sea oats border the dunes as the sun glitters down on the Atlantic's rolling waves.
Unlike bustling beaches that line the crowded condos of Daytona and Cocoa, Crescent Beach has retained its peaceful, old-Florida charm. Free public parking abounds, allowing easy access to the shore. And since this area has avoided the high-rise frenzy, the backdrop remains refreshingly free of towering hotels that dominate other strands.
Once you've selected the perfect patch of sand, you can set up camp for a day of sun-soaked fun. Boogie boards and inner tubes tempt kids and adults alike to ride the swells, while calmer pools shelter little ones splashing at the surf's edge. Hunt for colorful shells and impressive sand dollars scattered in the tide's debris. Build majestic kingdoms and intricate sandcastles, well-fortified against the lapping waves.
As lunchtime rolls around, picnic under the shade of Australian pines and cabbage palms. Or head to nearby restaurants where you can feast on fresh local seafood—try the fried shrimp and grouper sandwiches. After refueling, retire back to your base for an afternoon snooze, lulled by the rhythmic crash of waves.
While evenings turn lively at some Florida beaches, Crescent retains its tranquil ambiance long after dark. As the sun sinks into the sea, glowing colors ripple across the evening sky. Once darkness descends, grids of stars illuminate a vast black canvas. With less light pollution than found farther south, Crescent offers prime stargazing.
Though summer swells with visitors, Crescent Beach never feels crowded. And in the off-season, you may find yourself with miles of sand all to yourself. For families seeking room to roam, Crescent Beach is the antidote to the rowdy scenes found elsewhere. Kids can explore without parents worrying about strangers or traffic. Dogs joyfully bound through surf as owners amble barefoot on the shoreline.
What else is in this post?
- Ride the Waves: Top 10 Sun-Soaked Beaches Near Orlando for Family Fun and Relaxation - Crescent Beach - Quaint and Quiet Near St. Augustine
- Ride the Waves: Top 10 Sun-Soaked Beaches Near Orlando for Family Fun and Relaxation - New Smyrna Beach - Surfing and Shark Tooth Hunting
- Ride the Waves: Top 10 Sun-Soaked Beaches Near Orlando for Family Fun and Relaxation - Cocoa Beach - Historic Surf Town Near Cape Canaveral
- Ride the Waves: Top 10 Sun-Soaked Beaches Near Orlando for Family Fun and Relaxation - Daytona Beach - Drive on the Famous Sands
- Ride the Waves: Top 10 Sun-Soaked Beaches Near Orlando for Family Fun and Relaxation - Clearwater Beach - Beautiful White Sands on the Gulf
- Ride the Waves: Top 10 Sun-Soaked Beaches Near Orlando for Family Fun and Relaxation - Siesta Key Beach - Crescent of Crystal Clear Water
- Ride the Waves: Top 10 Sun-Soaked Beaches Near Orlando for Family Fun and Relaxation - Fort De Soto Park - Camping and Kayaking Near Tampa
- Ride the Waves: Top 10 Sun-Soaked Beaches Near Orlando for Family Fun and Relaxation - Smathers Beach Key West - Iconic Florida Keys Charm
Ride the Waves: Top 10 Sun-Soaked Beaches Near Orlando for Family Fun and Relaxation - New Smyrna Beach - Surfing and Shark Tooth Hunting
Just south of Daytona Beach's high-octane hubbub, New Smyrna Beach offers a funky, freewheeling vibe perfect for families seeking an old-school Florida experience. While its waves lure legions of die-hard surfers, Smyrna's shores also offer bountiful treasures for those who prefer combing the sands to riding them. Equipped with just a sieve and trusty shovel, aspiring paleontologists will delight in the prehistoric teeth that regularly wash ashore.
Unlike manicured strands farther south, Smyrna Beach retains a delightfully retro feel reminiscent of beach towns before condos crowded out family-owned stops. Kitschy souvenir shops tempt with saltwater taffy and airbrushed tees, while mom-and-pop eateries dish out steaming plates of fresh seafood. Grab a grouper sandwich and sit on the shore watching surfers ride the swells, pelicans dive for fish, and families build sandcastles framed by gently curling waves.
While lounging lazily makes for a perfect beach day here, active families can ride bikes along the paved coastal trail, play disc golf at the shoreline course, or try paddleboarding on the Halifax River. Most beaches along Florida’s Space Coast prohibit dogs, but New Smyrna welcomes leashed canines, making it one of the few pet-friendly options. And opportunities for surf fishing abound for anglers who prefer poles to boards.
But one of Smyrna’s biggest draws is the world-class waves that regularly ride ashore. Surfers flock here from across the globe to ride the swells that result from offshore sandbars. With rideable surf throughout the year, it serves as a quintessential East Coast destination. Whether novices sticking close to shore or experts charging the swells far offshore, the consistent breaks prove ideal for wave riders of all levels.
Those more interested in natural history than hanging ten will find plenty to discover through Smyrna’s unique geology. Just offshore, fossilized reefs dating to the Pleistocene Epoch frequently unveil their treasures. As waves scour this prehistoric seabed, loads of Megalodon shark teeth wash onto the beach—much to the delight of novice paleontologists. A session of scouring the tideline often yields fossilized teeth from these gigantic ancient sharks. Sieves help sift through shell fragments and sand to uncover black or tan triangles worn smooth by the sea. Hunting here brings prehistory to life for budding scientists.
Ride the Waves: Top 10 Sun-Soaked Beaches Near Orlando for Family Fun and Relaxation - Cocoa Beach - Historic Surf Town Near Cape Canaveral
Just north of Cape Canaveral's iconic rocket launches lies the sunny shores of Cocoa Beach, a historic surf town that has lured wave riders for generations. While many know Cocoa Beach as the 1960s filming location for the hit TV show I Dream of Jeannie, this retro-cool community has a rich history that predates even America's race to the moon.
Long before NASA set its sights on the stars, Cocoa Beach gained fame as the heart of Florida's burgeoning surf culture. In the 1930s, legendary Hawaiian swimmer and Olympic gold medalist Duke Kahanamoku helped popularize the sport of surfing in the Sunshine State after giving demonstrations in nearby Melbourne Beach and Daytona.
But when heavy waves swept away the Melbourne pier, focus shifted to Cocoa Beach, which quickly gained renown for its ideal conditions. By the early 1960s, this once-sleepy stretch of coastline transformed into a veritable surf city, attracting wave riders from across the country seeking the perfect break.
Even as the space race put Cape Canaveral on the map, Cocoa Beach retained its funky surf vibe. The city became a gathering spot for surfers and hippies drawn by the groovy scene and righteous waves. Quirky beach cottages offered cheap crash pads steps from the sand, while barefoot hippies mingled with astronauts frequenting local bars and restaurants after a long day in the sky or sea.
Today the easygoing surf culture endures, withannual events like the Easter Surfing Festival continuing to draw wave riders from far and wide. On any given day, surf schools lead beginner groups in the mellow shore break, intermediate riders charge the peaks at The Pier, and experts carve complex maneuvers on outer reefs only accessible by boat.
Those more interested in sunning than surfing won't be disappointed. With over 5 miles of beach, Cocoa Beach has strands to suit every style. Sunbathers stake out spots to soak up rays, while parents build castles near the low tideline with little ones. Beachcombers comb the shore hunting for shells and sharks' teeth, kayakers explore serene canals and estuaries, and anglers reel in huge fish from surfside piers.
Ride the Waves: Top 10 Sun-Soaked Beaches Near Orlando for Family Fun and Relaxation - Daytona Beach - Drive on the Famous Sands
Miles of smooth-packed sand stand ready for tire treads at Daytona Beach, one of the few strands in the world where driving is permitted on the beach. Families can cruise along this unique shoreline in their own vehicles while breathing in the fresh ocean air. It's a one-of-a-kind experience that has made Daytona famous with road trippers and beach lovers for over a century.
As you pull off the roadway onto the ramp leading to the sand, anticipation builds. Suddenly, an endless expanse of beach opens up before you, the surf gently lapping just feet from your tires. Gliding along between the sea and shore delivers a sense of freedom and adventure found nowhere else.
Kids grin excitedly from backseats, eager to spot seabirds hunting for fish and ghost crabs scuttling across the sand. Teens Snapchat enviable shots of family vehicles cruising the surf to share with friends back home. And parents enjoy a chance to create unique lifelong memories on these iconic shores.
Miles of unobstructed views stretch ahead as you explore the strand, from Ponce Inlet's 19th century lighthouse in the south to Ormond Beach's wide waterside parks along the Halifax River in the north. Sunbathers wave as you creep by, careful not to kick up too much sand. Beach patrol keeps a watchful eye, ensuring drivers stick to the approved zones.
Unlike the chaotic free-for-all its name might imply, driving Daytona Beach is an orderly activity with enforceable rules. The speed limit remains a sedate 10 mph near the surfline, with faster driving permitted closer to the dunes. Those who ignore regulations risk hefty fines and getting their permit revoked. But stick to the guidelines, and cruising Daytona delivers good clean fun for the whole family.
When hunger strikes, just pull right up to one of the beachside restaurants like Sloppy Joe's or Cruisin' Cafe. No struggling to haul gear from distant parking lots here - the beach is your parking spot. Order some seafood or grab a burger, then dig your toes in the sand while dining oceanside.
Ride the Waves: Top 10 Sun-Soaked Beaches Near Orlando for Family Fun and Relaxation - Clearwater Beach - Beautiful White Sands on the Gulf
With its sugar-white sands and calm turquoise waters, Clearwater Beach on Florida's Gulf Coast has long lured sun seekers seeking a quintessential beach vacation. Just west of Tampa, this barrier island offers tranquil shores unmarred by high-rise hotels, allowing families to enjoy a soothing seaside escape.
Miles of uncrowded beach await exploration, with few signs of development beyond the iconic Clearwater Beach pier jutting into the sea. Families spread out with plenty of room, staking out patches of sand big enough for volleyballs and frisbees. Umbrellas shield sunbathers dozing in lounge chairs, while kids scamper at the surf’s edge assembling masterpiece sand creations.
The tranquil waters make swimming a delight, with gentle waves lapping the shoreline. In the distance, dolphins arc through the sparkling sea, enthralling landlubbers of all ages. Paddleboards and kayaks stand ready for easy rental, inviting you to explore the bay’s serene estuaries teeming with exotic birds.
Pier 60 provides a bustling hub of activity during the glorious sunsets that paint the evening sky. Street performers like jugglers and musicians entertain the crowds gathered to watch the glowing orb sink below the horizon. Artisans display their wares at the nightly craft festival that runs the length of the pier.
Clearwater Beach provides plenty of diversions for those seeking a break from the sand and surf. A paved bayside trail invites leisurely bike rides with beautiful views. You can also rent a sailboat or pontoon boat to cruise the Intracoastal Waterway and soak in the scenery. Families flock to Clearwater Marine Aquarium to visit Winter the Dolphin, star of the Dolphin Tale films.
While the beach stays blissfully uncrowded most of the year, spring break and summer weekends draw lively crowds ready to enjoy the scene. Beach bars like Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill serve up grouper sandwiches and tropical drinks to hungry sunbathers. Youngsters shriek with delight on the towering slides at the palm tree-shaded waterpark nearby. Festivals like the annual Sugar Sand Festival bring spectacular sand sculptures that astound art lovers and future sculptors alike.
No trip to Clearwater Beach is complete without feasting on its famed seafood. Fresh grouper, shrimp, oysters, and crab delight visitors drawn from around the world. Restaurants like Palm Pavilion Beachside Grill overlook the sea, allowing you to savor the catch of the day while breathing in the salty ocean air.
Ride the Waves: Top 10 Sun-Soaked Beaches Near Orlando for Family Fun and Relaxation - Siesta Key Beach - Crescent of Crystal Clear Water
With its powdery white sands that stay cool even at midday, Siesta Key Beach consistently ranks as one of America’s top strands year after year. This half-moon of alabaster sand arches along Florida’s Gulf Coast just south of Sarasota, inviting families to indulge in quintessential beach escapism. Those lucky enough to spend a day lounging here will quickly understand why it earns such universal acclaim.
As you make your way onto the Great White Way, as locals refer to it, prepare for sensory overload. Dazzling white quartz sand that stays 30 degrees cooler than other beaches stretches as far as the eye can see. The sea glimmers an impossibly turquoise blue that looks plucked from a tropical postcard. The breeze carries hints of salt and sunscreen mingled with scents of coconut suntan oil. Together these elements imbue Siesta Key with an intoxicating tropical essence that fosters total relaxation.
Once you’ve selected the ideal patch of sand, claim it by planting your beach umbrella like a flag. Bask in the balmy breezes as the worries of daily life evaporate. For the ultimate indulgence, book a relaxing beachside massage right on the sand. The gentle lap of waves coupled with expert kneading of tense muscles provides blissful body and mind renewal.
When hunger strikes, amble over to Mellow Mushroom for stone oven pizza and ice-cold drinks. Savor the flavors while people-watching from a balcony overlooking the beach. For fresh seafood straight from the docks, head to Siesta Key Oyster Bar and take in the live music performed nightly.
While frolicking in the surf and lazing in the sun could occupy endless hours, Siesta Key offers much more. Rent a Stand Up Paddleboard to patrol the bay in search of dolphins. Hoist a sail on a catamaran and cruise into the Gulf sunset. Wander through palm hammocks and mangroves on nature trails just steps inland. Or ride cruiser bikes along the paved Legacy Trail from Siesta Key Village up to Sarasota.
As the shadows grow long, gather up your beach chairs, brushes off the sand, and head up to Siesta Key Village. Here the action shifts inland while retaining a laid-back, flip-flop vibe. Bars like Gilligan’s Island Grill & Tiki Bar mix up island cocktails like the Key Lime Colada as live bands play into the night. Trendy restaurants like Tsunami serve sushi and seafood alongside evening views over Sarasota Bay. Locally-owned ice cream and coffee shops dish up sweet treats to cap off a memorable day in the sun.
Ride the Waves: Top 10 Sun-Soaked Beaches Near Orlando for Family Fun and Relaxation - Fort De Soto Park - Camping and Kayaking Near Tampa
For outdoorsy families seeking adventures beyond the beach umbrella, Fort De Soto Park outside Tampa offers camping, kayaking, and plenty of discoveries. This barrier island refuge delivers the best of the Sunshine State’s natural treasures distilled into one phenomenal park.
With over 1,000 acres to explore, Fort De Soto bursts with chances to encounter incredible wildlife just minutes from the urban bustle of St. Petersburg and Clearwater. Mangrove swamps teem with snoozing manatees. Pelicans and cormorants populate the oyster beds near the historic fort. Rare scrub jays flit through palm hammocks along the coastal oak ridges. Kayakers regularly spot dolphins frolicking as they paddle through Tampa Bay and into the Gulf of Mexico.
The park’s serene campgrounds place you at the heart of this natural wonderland. Choose from rental cabins, RV sites, or primitive tent camping along the beach or bay. Rising with the sun, you can spot osprey and herons spearing fish in the estuaries. In the evenings, rangers lead educational talks under the stars before you drift to sleep lulled by the whisper of wind through the pines.
The kayak launch gives paddlers direct access to this aquatic playground ripe for exploring. Glide through lush mangrove tunnels where pelicans perch, then pop out to patrol the open bay. The Gulf’s calm waters allow beginners to gain skills and confidence. Head offshore to scout for dolphins, then return to search for starfish in the shallows. At day’s end, haul out on Shell Key’s sugary sands for shell collecting before the return paddle.
The park also harbors 7 miles of premier beaches ideal for carefree family fun or peaceful solitude. Unfurl an umbrella on award-winning St. Pete Beach and spend the day body surfing, building sandcastles, and beachcombing. Or head over to secluded Mullet Key where you might have a whole stretch of sand to yourself save for a few shorebirds.
Ride the Waves: Top 10 Sun-Soaked Beaches Near Orlando for Family Fun and Relaxation - Smathers Beach Key West - Iconic Florida Keys Charm
No trip to the Florida Keys is complete without soaking up the sun on the iconic sands of Smathers Beach. Located on Key West’s southern shore, this mile-long strand evokes the island’s freewheeling atmosphere with crowds of lively locals and visitors enjoying beach time done the Keys way.
After turning off South Roosevelt Boulevard, get into the Key West state of mind while cruising down wide palm-lined bike paths to the beach. The lazy pace here stands in delicious contrast to the hurried mainland. Find a spot to unfurl your beach towel among the vibrant umbrellas dotting the sand. Breathe deep and let lingering stresses slip away as you stare out at the sea sparkling under the sun.
If lounging under an umbrella doesn’t fit your ideal beach day, plenty of diversions await. Rent a kayak or stand up paddleboard and explore the nearby mangrove islands teeming with herons, pelicans, and iguanas. Try your hand at kiteboarding, with lessons from experienced instructors. Swim and snorkel in the gentle surf, scanning below for tropical fish.
When hunger strikes, amble over to the beachfront café to fuel up on a Cuban sandwich or fried shrimp basket. Quench your thirst with an icy mojito or piña colada before heading back out to play. After refueling, claim some prime real estate back on the sand and relax to the sound of the sea. Let the soothing rhythm of the waves relax both mind and body after the morning’s adventures.
As mid-afternoon rolls around, meander over to the volleyball courts for a friendly match. Revel in the Keys quirkiness with games of bike polo on the hard-packed sand. Let the kids expend energy at the nautically themed playground near the historic Southernmost Point buoy.
Stick around for the iconic Keys sunset, when dramatic streaks of orange, pink and purple dance across the darkening sky. The nightly show never fails to impress, with locals and tourists alike pausing to admire the glowing display before the sun slips below the sea.
Let the good times roll into the night on Duval Street, just a short amble from the beach. Grab some beach coverups, slip on some flip-flops and head out for open-air dining, live music, and people watching at Mallory Square. Make new friends over drinks at Sunset Pier, then dance the night away at Rick’s Bar with its legendary rooftop parties.