Sun, Surf and Sand: The Top 10 Beautiful Beaches Near Orlando

Post originally Published January 6, 2024 || Last Updated January 6, 2024

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Sun, Surf and Sand: The Top 10 Beautiful Beaches Near Orlando - New Smyrna Beach - Picturesque and Peaceful

Sun, Surf and Sand: The Top 10 Beautiful Beaches Near Orlando

Nestled along Florida's east coast, just south of Daytona Beach, New Smyrna Beach offers a more peaceful and picturesque alternative to its lively neighbor. With 13 miles of uncrowded beaches, ancient oak hammocks, and laid-back coastal charm, New Smyrna Beach has become a favorite destination for those looking to unwind and reconnect with nature.

One of the top attractions bringing visitors to New Smyrna is its spectacular beaches. The sand here is clean, white, and free of large crowds, making it ideal for long walks, beachcombing, or just sitting back with a good book. Surfing and paddleboarding are popular pastimes, with consistent swells and gentle waves. For wildlife lovers, sea turtle nesting season from May to October provides opportunities to see loggerheads coming ashore under the cover of night to lay their eggs. The beach is also a prime birdwatching spot, with sightings of egrets, oystercatchers, terns, and other coastal species.
In addition to its beautiful beaches, New Smyrna Beach boasts remarkable biodiversity at sites like Ponce Inlet and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Here you can embark on kayaking adventures through mangrove tunnels teeming with fish, dolphins, and manatees. The Indian River Lagoon system nourishes this abundant ecosystem, which also encompasses the Turtle Mound archaeological site honoring the Timucuan Indians who once thrived in this region.

Beyond the sand and surf, New Smyrna Beach's charming downtown district along Flagler Avenue offers boutique shops, art galleries, and laid-back cafes and restaurants. Fresh seafood is abundant, with shrimp, grouper, and mahi-mahi appearing on many menus. For history buffs, a visit to the New Smyrna Museum of History provides insights into the area’s fascinating past.

What else is in this post?

  1. Sun, Surf and Sand: The Top 10 Beautiful Beaches Near Orlando - New Smyrna Beach - Picturesque and Peaceful
  2. Sun, Surf and Sand: The Top 10 Beautiful Beaches Near Orlando - Daytona Beach - Drive On The Sand
  3. Sun, Surf and Sand: The Top 10 Beautiful Beaches Near Orlando - Cocoa Beach - Surfing and Space History
  4. Sun, Surf and Sand: The Top 10 Beautiful Beaches Near Orlando - Playalinda Beach - Untouched Nature
  5. Sun, Surf and Sand: The Top 10 Beautiful Beaches Near Orlando - Clearwater Beach - Fun For All Ages
  6. Sun, Surf and Sand: The Top 10 Beautiful Beaches Near Orlando - Siesta Key Beach - America's #1 Beach
  7. Sun, Surf and Sand: The Top 10 Beautiful Beaches Near Orlando - Destin Beaches - Emerald Coast Paradise
  8. Sun, Surf and Sand: The Top 10 Beautiful Beaches Near Orlando - Ponce Inlet - Lighthouse Lovers Dream

Sun, Surf and Sand: The Top 10 Beautiful Beaches Near Orlando - Daytona Beach - Drive On The Sand

With its hard-packed sands that stay firm and smooth, Daytona Beach stands out for allowing visitors to drive right onto the beach. Cruising along the coastline in your car provides a one-of-a-kind thrill and a chance to experience the beach in an interactive new way.

As soon as you hit the sands of Daytona Beach, you'll understand why it holds the designation as the "World's Most Famous Beach." Wide and welcoming, the beach stretches over 20 miles with plenty of space for sunbathers, swimmers, surfers, and those looking to take their vehicles out for a spin. Technically, driving is permitted on designated sections totaling 10 miles in length.
Driving onto the beach costs just $10 per vehicle between sunrise and sundown. To access the beach, head to one of the approved entry points with attendants on duty. These are located at International Speedway Boulevard, Silver Beach Avenue, Seabreeze Boulevard, Oakridge Boulevard, and Dunlawton Boulevard. Once you've paid the fee, you can cruise up and down the coastline soaking up ocean views and sea breezes.

While speeds are restricted to 10 mph, gliding along the water's edge with the sand spraying up around your tires makes you feel like you're zooming along. It's an adrenaline rush tinged with nostalgia, evoking a sense of the carefree, freewheeling spirit of old-fashioned beach vacations. Park your car and set up chairs right on the beach or continue following the coast to check out beachfront hotels, restaurants, and attractions.
Some key tips for driving on the sand: air down your tires for better traction, engage four-wheel drive if you have it, and avoid soft sand. Also, be extra cautious of pedestrians and bicyclists sharing the beach access roads. And don't forget to re-inflate your tires before getting back on the highway!

While driving on the beach is a huge draw, there are plenty of other reasons Daytona Beach is a popular vacation spot. Thrill seekers can catch a race at the iconic Daytona International Speedway, while families flock to the boardwalk area with rides, games, and beachfront park facilities. The warm waters also provide surfing and swimming opportunities.
No beach getaway is complete without sampling local seafood. Daytona Beach restaurants serve up delicious dishes showcasing Florida flavors and fresh catches. Pair your meal with a cold beer or fruity cocktail and enjoy the laid-back pace of coastal living.

Sun, Surf and Sand: The Top 10 Beautiful Beaches Near Orlando - Cocoa Beach - Surfing and Space History

Cocoa Beach holds the distinction of being the closest beach to the Kennedy Space Center, placing it at the intersection between surfing culture and space history. As the small beach town grew alongside NASA operations, it embraced its unique identity as a hub for both wave-riders and star-gazers.
Perhaps due to its proximity to the space program, Cocoa Beach adopted a forward-thinking, experimental vibe that has long attracted free spirits. Surfers jumped at the chance to ride consistent, clean waves just an hour from launch pads sending rockets skyward. Drawn by warm waters and empty lineups, legends like Kelly Slater, Lisa Andersen, and Shaun Tomson all spent time pushing boundaries on their boards here.
Today, Cocoa Beach continues to offer excellent surf as Florida's surf capital. The smooth, shallow waves breaking along the sandy bottom provide a playground for catching air and carving up curls. From the Cocoa Beach Pier stretching almost 800 feet over rolling swells to sneaker sets peeling along Canaveral National Seashore, you'll find ideal conditions for longboarders and shortboarders. Surf shops renting boards and providing lessons line the compact downtown strip.
Just north, Cape Canaveral Works displays rockets from NASA's early space missions. Visitors can get a hands-on feel for the technology it took to launch the first Americans into space as the 1960s Space Race accelerated. The capsule that returned Alan Shepard safely back to Earth after his 15-minute suborbital fight can be seen up close.

Don't miss the bragging rights that come from posing beside rocket boosters so powerful, they propelled humanity to unprecedented heights. The sheer size and proximity of these recovered artifacts provide perspective on the courage required to strap into cramped spacecrafts atop controlled explosions.

Adding to the delight of space history and surf culture colliding, local bars and eateries pay homage to Cocoa Beach's cosmic connections. Orbit-themed burgers are served up from grated asteroid buns while drinks like the Apollo 13 and the Cosmonaut delight kids of all ages. Surfboards and memorabilia lining the walls immerse you fully in the mellow beach community vibe.

Sun, Surf and Sand: The Top 10 Beautiful Beaches Near Orlando - Playalinda Beach - Untouched Nature

For those seeking refuge from the typical crowds and commotion of Florida’s popular beaches, Playalinda Beach offers a peaceful escape into pristine wilderness. As the northernmost beach within Canaveral National Seashore, Playalinda provides access to the longest stretch of protected coastline in Florida’s Central Atlantic region. The result is an untouched ten-mile expanse of beach that feels far removed from all signs of development.

Upon arriving at Playalinda (Spanish for “beautiful beach”), you’ll immediately note the lack of high-rise hotels or beach shops. Instead, your view is filled with palm trees swaying over windswept dunes teeming with wildlife. Trails winding through marshes and maritime hammocks beckon you to explore remote sections of shoreline well off the beaten path. While the southern end near parking lot #1 draws more beachgoers, renown surfers, and eager anglers, a short walk north quickly transports you into isolated tranquility.
As a protected nesting habitat for sea turtles, large sections of beach are closed off during nesting and hatching season from May to October. While this limits access, it also allows visitors to observe park rangers monitoring new nests or escorting tiny hatchlings on their treacherous crawl to the sea. With prime conditions for loggerhead, green, and leatherback turtles, this conservation effort gives you the chance to take part in preserving ancient ocean dwellers.

During designated sea turtle nesting times, the beach opens at certain entry points on even or odd dates based on the day’s calendar date. That means you alternate beach access between the ends, keeping human activity distributed. Locals will know which side is open and when. You can also call ahead for updates.

Once you hit the shoreline, grab a boogie board and catch a wave or scan tidal pools for colorful coquina clams. The calmer waters make swimming a pleasure, though beware of sharp drop-offs. You’re also likely to spot dolphins frolicking in groups offshore. While the weather stays balmy year-round, the undeveloped beaches prevent crowds even during peak seasons. Prepare for biting flies and mosquitoes by packing bug repellent.

Sun, Surf and Sand: The Top 10 Beautiful Beaches Near Orlando - Clearwater Beach - Fun For All Ages

With its stunning white sands, calm waters, and lively atmosphere, Clearwater Beach offers fun in the Florida sun for visitors of all ages. Families flock here to make unforgettable memories, couples rekindle romance, and friends reconnect through days filled with sunbathing, water sports, delicious seafood, and spectacular sunsets.
Parents appreciate Clearwater Beach for its gentle surf, making it easy for kids to splash and play safely. Shallow waters by the shore stay pleasantly warm throughout the year. Young children can paddle about while older kids boogie board mild waves or try stand-up paddleboarding. Beach wheelchairs provide access for those with disabilities, allowing all to enjoy seaside recreation. Lifeguards keep vigilant watch, providing added peace of mind.
Nestled along the bustling Beach Walk are ice cream shops, pizza joints, and restaurants serving up kids’ favorites. Mini-golf courses tempt families with pirate themes, cascading waterfalls, and glow-in-the-dark adventure. Just 15 minutes away, Winter the tailless dolphin delights all ages at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, backdropped by the heartwarming story behind the Dolphin Tale movies filmed on location here.
For mom and dad, beach cabanas offer indulgent escapes with food and drink service right to your oceanfront chaise lounge. Work up an appetite paddleboarding or snorkeling, then satisfy seaside cravings with freshly caught grouper sandwiches and tropical rum cocktails. Sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico provide a romantic backdrop for strolling barefoot in the surf hand-in-hand.
Beyond the beach, downtown Clearwater’s shops and galleries beckon, along with diverse dining options from vegan cafes to high-end seafood eateries. Baseball fans take in Spring Training games at Spectrum Field, while outdoor enthusiasts explore walking paths and nature preserves in Sand Key Park’s 58 acres. Less than an hour away, Busch Gardens offers thrill rides and animal encounters for those seeking theme park adventures.
The nightlife sizzles at open-air bars with live music and dancing. Or escape to your balcony at beachfront accommodations to toast the day’s end as waves lap gently below.

Sun, Surf and Sand: The Top 10 Beautiful Beaches Near Orlando - Siesta Key Beach - America's #1 Beach

With its sugar-white quartz sand that stays cool underfoot even during the hottest days, Siesta Key Beach has earned accolades as America’s #1 Beach from renowned publications like TripAdvisor and Dr. Beach. Once you sink your toes into the powdery sand and take in views of crystal blue waters along the Gulf Coast, you’ll understand why this Sarasota beach has reached celebrity status.
The sheer width of Siesta Key Beach amazes first-time visitors. Even at high tide when beachfront real estate shrinks at other shores, there’s room for volleyball games, yoga classes, and impromptu family reunions to unfold with space to spare. Lifeguards keep watch over designated swimming areas with gentle waves ideal for kids. Rent a beach wheelchair to provide access for disabled family members—the expansive beach makes it easy to wheel through the soft sand right to the surf.

Away from the water, claim a spot and settle in for a relaxing day of reading and napping beneath umbrella shades. The sand stays so cool, you won’t burn your feet making mid-day strolls down to the snack bar. Reward your ocean air hunger with BBQ pulled pork sandwiches or cold refreshments before returning to your beach chairs. Lay back and let the sweeping seascape melt worries away.
Come late afternoon when shadows stretch long across the sand, mosey on down to the Sunset Point for front-row seats to dazzling displays of color spreading across sea and sky. There’s no better place to catch the day’s last golden rays than Siesta Key. As the burning orb sinks below the horizon, take a romantic barefoot stroll along the surf, hand-in-hand with someone special.

Sun, Surf and Sand: The Top 10 Beautiful Beaches Near Orlando - Destin Beaches - Emerald Coast Paradise

Stretching along Florida’s northwest Gulf Coast, the sugar-white sands and emerald-hued waters of Destin create picture-perfect beach escapes. Located in the Florida Panhandle region dubbed the Emerald Coast, Destin brings to life that poetic moniker through its stunning palette of blue, green, and white blending sea, shore, and sky.

Destin takes its name from its initial founder, Captain Leonard Destin, who fished bountiful waters here in the mid-1800s. Today, the legacy of boat captains and anglers persists in the fleet of fishing charter vessels still moored in the harbor. You can channel Old Florida charm by booking a half-day charter for battles with prized sport fish like cobia and tuna (seasonal restrictions apply, so verify regulations). Or spread a picnic blanket on the beach while watching charter boats return by afternoon, displaying the day’s trophy catches.

Destin’s beaches come to life like scenes from a movie set. Seaside cottages and beach mansions line roads with names evoking tropical places, from Barbados Drive to Jamaica Way. Sinking your toes into sugar-sand shores fringed by dunes and sea oats, you half expect Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall to stroll past, locked in witty conversation.

For families, Henderson Beach State Park offers protected swimming and nature trails winding beneath fragrant pines. Rent beach chairs and umbrellas or bring your own gear to claim a spot where kids can build sandcastles and splash in gentle surf. Paddleboards and kayaks are perfect for exploring the park’s coastal habitat teeming with birds and marine life. Pack a lunch to picnic beneath picnic shelters amid lush greenery.

At Destin Harbor Boardwalk, ice cream shops and seafood restaurants surround a pedestrian promenade ideal for sunset strolls after filling up on boat-to-table catch-of-the-day dishes. Nearby, kids squeal aboard kid-sized rollercoasters and spinning rides at The Track Family Recreation Center. Teens flock to Big Kahuna’s waterpark for lazy rivers, splash pads, waterslides, and wave pools.

West of Destin, Grayton Beach State Park and Topsail Hill Preserve State Park offer hiking trails through rare coastal dune lakes and magnolia forests over softly rolling landscapes. Secluded coves reward intrepid trekkers who venture far down empty stretches of snow-white sand. Collect seashells or splash in the peaceful Gulf waters tinted emerald in the shallows.

Sun, Surf and Sand: The Top 10 Beautiful Beaches Near Orlando - Ponce Inlet - Lighthouse Lovers Dream

Rising 175 feet above Florida's Atlantic Coast, the towering Ponce Inlet Lighthouse offers a beacon for lighthouse lovers seeking to scale this National Historic Landmark’s 203 steps. As the tallest lighthouse in Florida and one of the tallest in America, it rewards climbers with panoramic vistas spanning undisrupted shorelines. Its setting beside the historic town of Ponce Inlet provides opportunities to immerse in the rich maritime heritage of this barrier island south of Daytona Beach.
Constructed in 1887, the imposing red brick tower has withstood over 130 years of Atlantic storms and hurricanes. Restoration projects meticulously preserve the original lens and mechanics to maintain this fully functioning lighthouse. The grounds also encompass keeper’s quarters illustrating daily life for lighthouse operators in the early 1900s. Interpretive displays chronicle how evolution in lighting technology made the lonely outpost protecting mariners increasingly obsolete.

Julie Waller, a travel blogger and lighthouse enthusiast, relished her climb up the winding metal staircase within the tower’s cramped confines. “Huffing and puffing as we circled higher, ocean views expanded with each step until we finally emerged on the lantern level. Standing beside the massive lens and soaking in 360° views of sea and sky was worth every step!” she noted. Families can take the climb at a leisurely pace, stopping along the way to peek through porthole windows at the diminishing scenery below.
The grounds offer additional activities for lighthouse lovers. In the reconstructed keeper’s cottage, exhibits showcase equipment used maintain the light. Visitors can browse the lens exhibit to see various types employed over the decades. Outside, a boardwalk lined with interpretive panels provides scenic views. Don’t miss the opportunity to enter the base of the tower and gaze up into the dizzying height.

Active travelers appreciate Ponce Inlet for prime seaside recreation beyond the lighthouse as well. Nearby, 46 acres of unspoiled beach provide places to swim, fish, or go boating in the Halifax River. Surfers flock to the area for decent breaks, though beware of rips. The inlet's jetties offer excellent fishing from shore or by chartered boat. Rent beach cruisers from local shops and explore the quaint, laid-back town.

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