St. Pete Beach and Clearwater on the Gulf of Mexico are less than two hours from Orlando. (Courtesy Visit St. Pete/Clearwater)
When people think of a Florida vacation, two ideas to come to mind: theme parks and the beach. Thanks to Orlando's central location, vacationers don't have to choose. The Atlantic coast is just an hour's drive from Orlando, and the Gulf of Mexico lies 90 miles to the west. After spending time at Walt Disney World, Universal and SeaWorld, take a day to relax at the beach and soak up our famous Florida sunshine. Here are 10 of our favorite beaches within a two-hour drive of Orlando.
Less than two hours southeast of Orlando lies the resort town of Vero Beach. The area is known for its posh downtown, gorgeous nature preserve on the Indian River Lagoon, and of course, the Atlantic Ocean. Disney even opened its own beach resort here on Florida's Treasure Coast, so if you're not ready to part ways with Mickey Mouse, you can enjoy the best of both worlds. Disney's Vero Beach Resort offers sing-alongs, campfires, kayaking adventures and even a surf school.
Orlando's closest beach is also known for its surfing culture. Cocoa is the international headquarters for Ron Jon Surf Shop, and its flagship store is the world's largest surf shop at 52,000 square feet. Open 24 hours a day, the store features everything under the sun, from T-shirts and seashells to beach bikes, paddleboards, and of course, surfboards. Try riding the waves with a lesson with the Ron Jon Surf School.
While spring breakers congregate around the Cocoa Beach Pier for beach volleyball and partying, many families like the quiet of Lori Wilson Park, where you'll find free parking, restrooms, and outdoor showers.
Ahoy! Port Canaveral is your gateway to the Caribbean on Disney Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. Whether you have a free morning before your cruise or are coming over for a day trip, there is lots to discover on the Space Coast. The Kennedy Space Center is the birthplace of the U.S. space industry, with amazing exhibits like the Saturn V rocket that sent man to the moon, the Space Shuttle Atlantis, the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame and even thrilling rocket launches you can experience in person.
The Canaveral National Seashore and the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge are ideal for spotting bald eagles, sea turtles, dolphins and manatees.
New Smyrna Beach
Just to the north of Port Canaveral is "the locals beach" for many Orlandoans. Before hitting the sand, stroll the five blocks of Flagler Avenue from the river to the ocean for Old Florida shops, local boutiques and casual eateries. Third Wave Cafe and Outriggers Tiki Bar & Grille are a few favorites. The wide, smooth sands allow for fun beach activities like riding bikes straight into the surf.
The "World's Most Famous Beach" is just an hour from downtown Orlando. Daytona Beach is all about the cars—a place to catch a world-famous NASCAR race and even drive your own car right on the beach. Free summer concerts with movies and fireworks are offered May through October at the Bandshell, and there's plenty of entertainment at the nearby boardwalk and fishing pier.
For a quieter corner, head to Ponce Inlet and climb to the top of Florida's tallest lighthouse which stands at 175 feet, built in 1835. For local shopping and dining, Beach Street in downtown Daytona is popular, and nearby Ormond Beach is home to John D. Rockefeller's former beach house in addition to local dining hotspots on Granada Boulevard.
St. Augustine Beach
Just up Interstate 95 from Daytona Beach, the charming coastal town of St. Augustine awaits. Of course, this historic European-style city is known for its Fountain of Youth and the first permanent settlement in the United States, established back to 1565. After a robust history lesson downtown, head to the beach. Popular attractions along the coast include the St. Augustine Lighthouse, the St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Marineland, where you can swim with dolphins.
Ponte Vedra Beach
Take a short, scenic drive up the ocean on the famous state Road A1A, and you'll find the upscale beach community of Ponte Vedra Beach. In 1928, the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club opened here, and today it boasts a AAA five-diamond rating with an amazing spa, golf course and oceanfront fitness facility. Or, stay at the Sawgrass by Marriott for lots of family-friendly amenities as well as exclusive golf access. Nearby is TPC Sawgrass, home to THE PLAYERS Championship every May. The clubhouse and course are open to the public. The area is also home to the GTM Research Reserve, one of the largest estuaries in the world with kayaking, bird-watching and hiking.
If you long for the calm and clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico, then appropriately named Clearwater is your paradise. Just 20 minutes from Tampa, Clearwater is popular for its family-friendly beaches and attractions. Clearwater Marine Aquarium is a must-see, with the famous movie star Winter from "Dolphin Tale," who swims with a prosthetic tail. Indian Rocks Beach is another relaxing spot for couples and families, free from high rises and crowds.
Travel south from Clearwater to arrive at the ever-popular John's Pass Village, where the calm waters of the bay meet the Gulf of Mexico. From here, set sail on a sunset cruise or a daylong fishing excursion or just stroll the wooden boardwalk and check out the waterfront shops and dining options.
St. Pete Beach
At the heart of St. Pete Beach is the historic pink palace, the Loews Don Ce Sar Hotel—built in 1928 at the heart of America's Jazz Age. It's worth a visit for dinner or cocktails to soak up the nostalgic, Gatsby-like atmosphere.
For a more natural experience, Fort De Soto is ideal. Plus, it's home to one of the only dog beaches in the area. Make time to see the Salvador Dali museum in downtown St. Petersburg on your way out of town. The building itself is a work of art, and it houses the largest collection of the legendary surrealist outside of Spain.