With the Atlantic Coast only an hour or so from Orlando, hitting the beach for a few days while in the area is a fabulous idea. Maybe you want to unwind from the chaos of Orlando, or maybe the family wants to hit the waves. Either way, I recommend checking out any one of these beaches. Some are totally undeveloped where you’ll find quiet, pristine land lining the Atlantic. Other spots are very much inhabited and are home to loud, rollicking beachfront bars and restaurants. All are quite close to Orlando, so you can even make it a day trip and return to Orlando in time for bed.
1. Cocoa Beach
There’s a lot of fun to be had at Cocoa Beach, located only an hour east of Orlando. Known as the surfing capital of the United States and hometown of famous surfer Kelly Slater, you can enjoy watching surfers ride the waves while you relax on the beautiful beach. Take a walk on the iconic Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier. Along with checking out the beachy shops on the pier, make your way to Pelican’s Bar and Grill and grab a stool at the bar. Perched above the water, it’s a prime place to watch the crashing waves below, and the drinks are tasty. Try a refreshing strawberry daiquiri or a Miami vice. Along with tropical drinks, they also serve all the fresh seafood dishes you’d expect, including oysters on the half shell, clam bowls, and blackened fish tacos. There are actually four different bars and restaurants on the pier, each serving the same menu. You can pick your spot based on which one feels most comfortable to you and which view you like best. There’s a lot going on down at the pier. You can even sign up for surf school right at the pier. Speaking of surfing, another must-do in Cocoa Beach is a visit to the gigantic Ron Jon beach shop, the largest surf shop in the country. This two-story mega store is absolutely gigantic with every possible surf and beach-related item you could possibly need, including very cool custom surfboards. Even if you don’t need anything, it’s impressive and worth a stop. While in Cocoa Beach, make time to head over to another beachy destination, Coconuts On The Beach. Enjoy the ocean breeze while relaxing with a cold drink and appetizers, or one of their lunch specials. We like the freshly caught peel-and-eat shrimp and their delicious fish and chips! You can dine outside near the waves, or inside in the dining room. Before heading out, spend time watching one of the frequent bands, offering live music here on most weekends.
2. Daytona Beach
With over 23 miles of white sand beaches and plenty of entertainment opportunities, Daytona Beach has a lot to offer, and it’s less than an hour from Orlando. Known for its famed beaches that you can drive right onto, Daytona offers other ways to enjoy the coastline as well. Consider a bike ride on the beach, a walk on the popular Daytona boardwalk and pier, or grab lunch at one of the many waterfront restaurants in town. Try Ocean Deck for seafood served in a fun and relaxed atmosphere on the beach. After hitting the beach, make a visit to the famed Daytona International Speedway, home of the famous Daytona 500 and other auto races. Here they offer all kinds of ways to experience Daytona racing. Sign up to drive your own car around the track and be in total control of your vehicle! If you’re not up for that much exhilaration, you may want to do a ride along where you let a professional driver take the wheel. Another option perfect for the whole family is a tour of the facility. During a tour, go behind the scenes and get the inside scoop on the track and facilities. The Speedway offers daily tours that last about an hour.
3. New Smyrna Beach
The beaches at New Smyrna Beach are noted for their beauty as well as some of the best surfing on the entire East Coast. With more than 17 miles of beaches, there are a number of public access points via city and county parks. And in certain locations, you can drive your car and park right on the beach. The saying “Fins up” takes on a whole new meaning here as New Smyrna Beach is known as the unofficial shark capital of the world! Volusia County has a 5-year annual average of nine attacks, according to the International Shark Attack File (ISAF). In 2021, the ISAF reported 17 shark attacks at New Smyrna Beach. But that doesn’t seem to deter surfers because the beaches here are some of the most popular and well-known surfing beaches on the East Coast. If you happen to have your furry family member with you, go to Smyrna Dune Park where your four-legged friend will enjoy romping around on the beach. For drinks or fresh seafood right on the beach, try Tony & Joe’s Patio or The Breaker’s.
4. Canaveral National Seashore
Located inside Canaveral National Seashore, Playalinda Beach offers over 20 miles of undeveloped beach to explore. In fact, the Canaveral National Seashore is the longest stretch of undeveloped Atlantic coastline in Florida. This barrier island is home to thousands of species of plants and animals, making it a wildlife paradise. Canaveral National Seashore and the nearby Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge were purposely set up to surround Kennedy Space Center. If you’re at Playalinda during a rocket launch, you’ll have one of the closest and most unobstructed view possible. Keep in mind that you will need to purchase a pass to enter the Canaveral National Seashore. And, if you’re in the area during turtle nesting season (May to mid-November), the National Park Service (NPS) usually hosts turtle watch programs where you can spend an evening observing and learning about sea turtles and their environment. Keep an eye on the NPS website for updates about 2022 turtle watch reservations. If you prefer to spend your time in the water, Playalinda offers world class surfing as well. Also, portions of the Playalinda Beach are known to be clothing optional. Keep this in mind as you meander up and down the beach; you may or may not see more than you bargained for!
Pro Tip: There are two entrance stations: Apollo Beach via New Smyrna and Playalinda Beach via Titusville.
5. Melbourne Beach
Sebastian Inlet State Park in Melbourne Beach, Florida, has many opportunities for beachy fun. Located about an hour and 20 minutes southeast of Orlando, Sebastian Inlet offers over 3 miles of Atlantic Coast beaches where you can enjoy sandy dunes and beautiful views. Hammock Trail is a mile-long nature trail that skirts around mangroves and other tropical plants native to Florida. Many plants are identified along the trail. Check it out if you’d like to learn more about plants natural to the Floridian habitat. If you’re ready to test the fishing waters, this area is great for fishing and there are two different jetties that extend out into the Atlantic where you can cast your line.
6. Cape Canaveral
Just an hour east of Orlando, Cape Canaveral offers numerous public beaches, all open year-round. Most have super convenient and free parking at street ends around town. There’s a good chance of seeing quite a bit of beach wildlife here, including three species of sea turtles: the loggerhead, the leatherback, and the green turtle. All three of these native species are endangered or threatened. Special care is taken during sea turtle nesting season to ensure their safety. Port Canaveral, the seaport located within Cape Canaveral, is home to a unique beach and campground, Jetty Park. The unique views you may see at Jetty Park include all the gigantic passenger cruise ships that set sail from Cape Canaveral. Plan to get there before 4 p.m. when the ships typically begin to leave.
7. Satellite Beach
Satellite Beach, a little town south of Cocoa Beach, is just right for an off-the-beaten-path beach experience. According to the city, almost half of the beachfront properties here are under public ownership, meaning that beachgoers should have easy access to a number of beaches in the area. Check out Pelican Beach if you’re looking for a quiet, uncrowded afternoon. Pelican Beach Park offers a nice shaded green space with picnic tables adjacent to the beach. Pack a lunch, head over to a shady spot, and enjoy dining al fresco right by the beach. There are bathrooms on-site and even a clubhouse with gorgeous beach views that can be rented for private parties and weddings.