Florida has always been my go-to vacation destination.
I will admit that I am spoiled by proximity, having lived in Georgia most of my lifetime. I am often guilty of taking the beautiful Sunshine State for granted.
Florida is known for its theme parks in and around the Orlando area. In fact, Central Florida is a hub for world-class entertainment and innovation.
But it is also a place of natural beauty with endless miles of shoreline. Specifically, the state of Florida has 1,350 miles of coastline and 825 miles of accessible beaches.
And Florida is the only state that borders both the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. As a result, no matter where you are in the state, you are never more than about 60 miles from beautiful beaches and saltwater.
Therefore when planning a trip to Central Florida’s theme parks – like Walt Disney World or Universal Studios – you might choose to include a day or two at the beach to relax in the Florida Sunshine.
Conversely, you might plan a week at the beach with a day trip to one of Orlando’s theme parks.
Either way, in this article, I’ve put together a guide of what are, in my opinion, the best beaches in the state, ranked by proximity to Orlando, FL.
How far is Orlando from the beach?
Orlando is approximately 60 miles (about an hour drive) from the Atlantic coast and 90 miles from the Gulf Coast. Both are close enough for a day trip to the beach in between action-packed theme park days.
What is the closest beach to Orlando?
1. Cocoa Beach
Cocoa Beach is one of the closest beaches to Orlando, FL. It’s about 60 miles to the east on the Atlantic coast.
If you’re driving south into Orlando, you’ll see billboards advertising Cocoa Beach and its Ron Jon Surf Shop flagship store.
You’ll also see billboards advertising vasectomies – parents who have experienced road trips with their darling children will understand why.
Cocoa Beach is known for its surfing thanks to its reputation for shallow waters and consistent waves.
You may also want to check out the Cocoa Beach Pier, which stretches 800 feet over the Atlantic Ocean and features a variety of dining options, gift shops and live music.
If you’re very lucky, you might even spot a few sea turtles.
Plus, Cocoa Beach is located just five miles from Cape Canaveral, and less than 15 miles from the Kennedy Space Center.
2. New Smyrna Beach
Located approximately 60 miles from Orlando on the Atlantic Coast, we have New Smyrna Beach.
New Smyrna is known as the locals’ beach for folks that live in the Orlando area. It’s a great low-key option known for its surfing and its historical district. It’s also home to the 175’ Ponce de Leon lighthouse, which is the tallest in the state.
While in town, you might also want to check out the Canaveral National Seashore – part of the National Park System – located nearby.
3. Daytona Beach
Also located just 60 miles from Orlando, there’s Daytona Beach.
Daytona Beach hosts NASCAR’s Daytona 500 each year at Daytona International Speedway in February, which kicks off the racing season.
Daytona Beach’s hard-packed sand means that driving is permitted in designated areas along the beach.
4. Clearwater Beach
You’ll have to drive a bit further to dip your toes in the turquoise water of the Gulf of Mexico.
But for those who don’t mind a bit of extra time in the car, Clearwater Beach, St. Pete Beach, and Madeira Beach are all about 90 miles to the west of Orlando.
West Coast water can be warmer than the water at Atlantic beaches. If you visit in the spring, the long drive might be worth it if you want to swim.
Clearwater is known for its calm ocean waters. It’s a great spot for watersports like parasailing and paddleboarding.
And Clearwater Beach is located less than two miles from the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
5. St. Pete Beach
St. Pete Beach is on a barrier island to the southeast of Clearwater. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy exploring Shell Key Preserve, which is only accessible by boat. History Buffs might prefer to visit Historic Fort DeSoto, which was built in 1898 during the Spanish American War.
6. Madeira Beach
Finally, there’s Madeira Beach, also located over 100 miles from Orlando. Madeira Beach features two miles of white sand beaches and is home to a boardwalk with plenty of shops and restaurants.
Madeira Beach is quieter, making it an ideal destination for those seeking a simple, quiet day with their toes in the sand.
But what is the best beach to visit near Orlando?
It really comes down to preference.
From the above-mentioned list, Cocoa Beach, New Smyrna Beach, and Daytona Beach on the East Coast are the most popular beaches near Orlando.
Each is an easy drive, clocking in at a little over an hour. Therefore, these beaches are great options for a day trip to break up your theme park vacation.
If you’re spending a week at one of these beaches, Orlando’s theme parks are close enough for a day trip to the park of your choice.
Although you might prefer visiting the Gulf of Mexico with its warmer, bright blue waters. If so, Clearwater Beach, St. Pete Beach, and Madeira Beach are the closest Gulf beaches to Orlando.
But the drive will be closer to 90 minutes.
What popular Florida beaches are a bit further from Orlando?
If you’re in the mood for a real road trip, there are several other great beaches in Florida, still within driving distance of Orlando, but a bit further out.
7. West Palm Beach
West Palm Beach is approximately 180 miles from Orlando. Its climate is mild year-round, making it a popular winter destination.
In addition to its gorgeous beaches, West Palm Beach has a downtown area with shopping, restaurants, nightlife.
It also hosts spring training for four Major League Baseball teams each year. The list includes The Washington Nationals, St. Louis Cardinals, Houston Astros, and Miami Marlins.
8. Miami Beach
Miami Beach is a 240-mile drive from Orlando. It is a distinct island city just east of Miami. Miami Beach is famous for its wide, palm-lined beaches and vibrant nightlife.
9. South Beach
And nearby South Beach – arguably the most famous beach in the United States, or at least South Florida – has especially distinct vintage architectural features with pastel-colored Art Deco buildings.
The city of Miami is considered the core of the 8th largest metropolitan area in the U.S. And as you can imagine, Miami has just about everything any large city has to offer: restaurants, arts and culture, shopping, you name it.
The two cities are connected by a series of bridges.
10. Destin Beach
Destin has gorgeous blue water and white sand beaches. It’s known for shopping as well as its excellent seafood restaurants.
Destin is in the panhandle of Northwest Florida. It’s a 420-mile drive from Orlando. In other words, If you want to spend part of your Florida vacation in Destin, plan to devote a full day to the drive.
11. Panama City Beach
Panama City Beach is about 50 miles east of Destin, and in between these two larger cities are a series of small towns and communities along Highway 30A. Most of these communities have a small central hub with shops and restaurants surrounded by communities of two- and three-story beach houses.
Perhaps the most famous of these towns is Seaside, FL. Seaside is known for its vintage food trucks and quaint small-town vibe. Many visitors park their cars and ride bikes or walk for the duration of their visit.
Are you looking for the perfect spot for your next beach trip? Have you been to any of these great beaches? What is your favorite? Let us know in the comments.