As the lockdowns are finally letting up and Disney is opening up its doors, avid Disney-goers are flocking to the theme park and are ready to enjoy a much-needed vacation. It would be best if you didn’t spend all of your time in the resort and park, though, since you’ll miss out on all the natural beauty of the sunshine state. Orlando is in a perfect location in Central Florida, allowing you to reach both the Gulf Coast and Atlantic Coast in only a few hours. Although the closest beaches to Walt Disney World are lovely, it’s also worthwhile driving a bit further out to reach other pristine beaches, especially if you want to avoid crowds. If you need a break from your vacation, visit any of these family-friendly beaches close to Disney World!
New Smyrna Beach
If you want the beauty of Daytona Beach without the insane crowds, you should visit New Smyrna Beach. Just under an hour’s drive from Orlando, this 17-mile shoreline offers pristine white sands, lovely architecture, fantastic swells for surfing, and a small beach town vibe. The community is kind and welcoming to visitors, and the local restaurants and boutiques are unique and worth a visit! It offers a bit of everything so your entire family will stay entertained. There are even pet-friendly beaches like the Smyrna Dunes Park at the northern end of the peninsula!
If you want to try your hand at surfing, you must visit Cocoa Beach as it’s considered Florida’s surfing capital. This beach has the best waves on the entire Atlantic Coast, which anyone can enjoy, from beginner to expert! You can choose from many different companies for surfing lessons, for kids and adults, although the most famous is the Ron Jon Surf Shop. If you just want to enjoy the beach, visit the family-friendly Westgate Cocoa Beach Resort, which sits right on the beach. You and your children can play in their waterpark and ride their trolley to the renowned Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier, where you can enjoy delicious food and entertainment while you sit 800 feet over the ocean and enjoy stunning 360-degree views. Cocoa Beach is just an hour away from Orlando, making it the perfect destination for a beach day trip! However, you should note that its proximity to Orlando and popularity make it one of the most visited and touristy beaches in the state.
St. Pete Beach
St. Pete Beach is most famous for the bright pink Loews Don CeSar Resort that sits on its beach. At 90-years-old, this historic five-star luxury hotel is a popular attraction, as people come to enjoy drinks at the pool or on the soft white sand. It only takes two hours to get to the renowned beach from Orlando. If you want a bit more quiet stretch of sand and more of a beach town feel, travel to the southern tip of St. Pete Beach to find Pass-a-Grille Beach instead! You are also allowed to camp out on the beach in the Fort De Soto National Park, which is just a quick ride away. There’s a reason why St. Pete Beach has been consistently ranked as one of the top beaches in the United States!
Canaveral National Seashore is located just an hour from Orlando and features unspoiled and remote beaches with warm and gentle waves, perfect for families with young children. It’s a part of the Florida National Parks system, so it remains undeveloped and has strict building regulations. With that being said, it offers no facilities, so you should bring your food and gear with you to enjoy the perfect beach day. If you come during the week, you’ll most likely have the entire beach to yourself! You’ll have to pay about $10 for entry, but the quiet is worth it.
Daytona Beach is the most well-known beach in the entire state of Florida. Daytona is known for its NASCAR races and sports competitions--events are happening all year round! The beach itself is gorgeous, offering more than 20 miles of white sand for you to enjoy as you surf, swim, or stroll the boardwalk. You are even allowed to drive your car right onto the beach, making it very convenient to carry all your gear and supplies. The Oceanfront Park always has live music, and Daytona Beach Pier has amusement rides and games, so your family will be entertained all day!
If Daytona and Vero Beach are too crowded for your taste, head out to Flagler Beach instead to enjoy the undeveloped golden sandy beaches and their fantastic wildlife! Located about two hours from Orlando, this 19-mile unspoiled coastline features the quintessential pier, grasses, and nature. It’s a family-friendly beach where you can spot wild animals throughout the year. In winter, you might spot dolphins, whales, and sea turtles!
Vero Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Florida due to its many attractions and recreational activities. It only takes an hour and a half to get to this nine-mile beach from Orlando. Your family will have endless entertainment as you can dive to shipwrecks, visit the McClarty Treasure Museum, or enjoy a U.S. National Register of Historic Places restaurant. Try kayaking or snorkeling and see how many marine life species you can find--there are around 400 different species at this beach alone! The Disney Vero Beach Resort is also top-rated for its Mickey Mouse-shaped swimming pool and various amenities.
Ormond Beach is another great beach about an hour away from Walt Disney World that doesn’t have a touristy vibe or crowds like others on this list. It’s excellent for relaxing, as it has a small beach town community with a lot of history your entire family can appreciate. Stretch out on the sand, swim in the waves, and enjoy the pavilions for a picnic. You can stop by the Tomoka State Park, too, to learn about the Native Americans who lived in the area and the natural ecosystem.
This national park is less than an hour away from Orlando and offers some of the most undeveloped and natural beaches in the region. This is the beach to visit if you want to be away from the crowds and bustle of town. It’s a part of the Canaveral National Seashore on Florida’s east coast, featuring dunes, pristine waters, and natural wildlife. The only available amenities are toilets in the parking lot, and entrance 13 permits nudity, so families should avoid that entrance and opt for the earlier ones.
Clearwater Beach is aptly named, as it is famous for its crystal clear shallow waters, white sandy beaches, and incredible vistas. It is just over a two-hour drive from Orlando, so you and your family can easily access one of the state’s most beautiful beaches. It’s even considered one of the top beaches in the entire country! You can take your time walking along the Beach Walk Promenade and Pier 60 as you explore the different artisan stalls and enjoy various live entertainment. Clearwater Marine Aquarium is also one of the most popular tourist destinations, as their dolphin, Winter, inspired the Disney movie Dolphin Tale. Stroll along Clearwater Beach for a relaxing day with your family, where you can dip your toes in the water and enjoy the colorful sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico.