Use this guide to explore some of the best beach destinations for surfing, kayaking, relaxing and more on Florida’s coast - all within two hours of Orlando.
With more than a dozen theme parks and year-round sunny weather, Orlando attracts visitors from around the globe and is synonymous with family vacation fun. The home of Disney World is also an easy drive to some of Florida’s best beaches located less than two hours to the east. Stretching along the Atlantic Ocean from Melbourne to Daytona Beach, nearly 100 miles of coastline beckons central Florida visitors to enjoy some sand and surf. Even better, Florida’s Space Coast, named for the nearby Kennedy Space Center, offers up plenty of artsy attractions in addition to outdoor activities.
With 33 miles of unspoiled beaches, this quiet coastal hamlet 80 miles to the southeast is ideal for relaxing on a stretch of sand you just might have all to yourself. If you prefer a more bustling atmosphere, join the fun at popular Paradise Beach Park, equipped with beach volleyball courts and picnic pavilions. For seaside nature, immerse yourself in the tranquil experience at the 258-acre Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, considered the most important area for loggerhead sea turtle nesting in the world.
After your beach time, venture across the causeway to explore the shops and sidewalk cafes of historic downtown Melbourne. The Eau Gallie Arts District features multiple art galleries and attractions, including Foosaner Art Museum and historic Rossetter House Museum and Gardens.
The most famous Space Coast beach — and one of its nicest — Cocoa Beach is a mere hour east of Orlando and offers wide stretches of sand that are ideal for relaxing under an umbrella or biking along the shore. Learn to surf with lessons from a pro (don’t worry, the waves are great for beginners) or rent a board to simply play in the water at one of the best surfing spots in the state. A short walk from the beach, you can embark on a kayak trip through the Thousand Islands Conservation Area. This patchwork of mangrove islands in the Indian River Lagoon is home to dolphins, manatees, and hosts of wading birds.
Several parks along the beach are equipped with facilities, such as Alan Shepard Park, which offers excellent views of rocket launches from nearby Kennedy Space Center. To get a closer look, take a tour of the Space Center and the American Space Museum & Space Walk of Fame, where you can zoom away on the Shuttle Launch Experience to enjoy an astronaut’s view in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit.
New Smyrna Beach
Just under 60 miles from Orlando and set along Hwy A1A is the quaint seaside town of New Smyrna Beach, known for its laid-back vibe and quiet stretches of golden sand along a wide drive-on beach. It’s another area popular with surfers, who also enjoy the even quieter Canaveral National Seashore just to the south. Smyrna Dunes Park offers picturesque views of Ponce de Leon Inlet and its beautiful lighthouse.
If you can’t get enough of the outdoors, go kayaking along the Spruce Creek Paddling Trail to take a scenic tour of marshland habitats and the site of an ancient Native American settlement. If you want to spend some time indoors, the downtown Canal Street Historic District features a host of art galleries, boutiques, and cafes.
One of the liveliest spots in the state and located an hour north of Orlando, Daytona Beach’s reputation as a fun zone is well deserved, especially during events such as bike week, the massive motorcycle rally held each March, and Spring break. The famous drive-on beach is lined with volleyball courts, eateries, and beach bars near the Main Street Pier, which features a boardwalk with a Ferris wheel, roller coaster, and other rides. Entertainment for all ages is easy to find at Daytona Lagoon, featuring everything from a water park and tidal wave pool to a video arcade, mini-golf course, and sports bar.
Daytona also has its share of nature options that go beyond the beach. Take a canoe or kayak down the Tomoka and Halifax Rivers in Tomoka State Park to view some of the 160 species of birds that call the park home.
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