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7 best beaches near Disney World


Last updated on July 14th, 2024 at 08:57 am

The best beaches near Disney World are not on the edge of town. The closest beach is 60 miles away.

Still, when tourists come to Florida, they want to go to the beach — a real beach, not a fake beach created by Disney on a freshwater lake.

The best plan is to add a few beach days around your Disney itinerary. Day trips are doable and can break up non-stop exposure to the Mouse.

Orlando and Disney World are near the center of the state with access to Atlantic and Gulf coast beaches via expressways in three beach-bound directions via Interstate 4 (both coasts) or the Beachline Expressway (Atlantic Coast only).

The closest beaches to Disney World are on the Atlantic Coast.

Atlantic Coast beaches

Cocoa Beach

Best beaches near Orlando: Cocoa Beach
Cocoa Beach

Cocoa Beach is the surfing capital of Florida and a popular destination for the Disney World crowd. A big plus is its proximity to the Kennedy Space Center.

Tourists cluster in hotels near the pier, restaurants and Ron Jon’s Surf Shop, which is open 24 hours a day.

Locals avoid the area and go to either to Jetty Park in Port Canaveral or Coconuts Beach, about 4 miles south of the pier.

The Kennedy Space Center is a must stop if you choose to stay in Cocoa Beach, and you would be remiss if you don’t visit historic Cocoa Village, an eclectic mix of restaurants and shopping in Cocoa’s cute downtown.

But the pier area is where the action is for most visitors, and this tourism center offers plenty of amenities within walking distance.

Before you go: Beach conditions in Cocoa Beach from Surf Guru

Getting there: 65 miles from Disney World or 1 hour, 12 minutes, via the State Road 528, the Beachline Expressway.

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Canaveral National Seashore

playalinda beach
Playalinda Beach at Canaveral National Seashore. (Photo by Bob Rountree)

If you’re looking for a pristine natural beach without hotel towers, Playalinda Beach in Canaveral National Seashore is your destination. The closest lodging is 10 miles away in Titusville.

Between Titusville and the beach lie the Kennedy Space Center and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, both of which are worth an extra day, perfect complements to a Disney vacation.

As for the beach itself, it’s hard to find better on the Atlantic Coast for swimming and surf fishing.

The closest hotels, restaurants and campgrounds are in Titusville, an excellent place to park your family for a space launch. You literally can’t get any closer than this.

Check before you go: Beach conditions and alerts

Getting there: Canaveral National Seashore is 57 miles from Disney World, about 1 hour, via the State Road 528, the Beachline Expressway.

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New Smyrna Beach

new smyrna beach daytona beach
Surfer on New Smyrna Beach.

New Smyrna Beach is a straight shot northeast from Orlando on Interstate 4, then a straight shot west on State Road 44.

New Smyrna has more than 13 miles of beaches, and you can drive on most of it, parking wherever you like on the beach to sunbathe or go for a swim.

Surfers drive north on the beach to Ponce Inlet, but inlet visitors should exercise caution. While the inlet is a beautiful, undeveloped stretch of beach, this is the area where you hear about shark bites.

The beaches are safer if you go south towards the 27th Avenue Beach, which has an access ramp for cars. From 27th Avenue south, beach driving is banned but there is plenty of beachside parking.

Six miles south of the 27th Avenue Park is Bethune Beach and the north entrance to Apollo Beach at Canaveral National Seashore, seven miles of pristine beaches with natural dunes, a long-time favorite of my family. From the Visitor Center near the entrance, you can also rent a canoe and paddle among the islands in the lagoon.

Find your way to Flagler Avenue for art galleries, restaurants, beach bars and shopping in a quaint, Old Florida beach town.

Before you go: Beach conditions from Surf Guru

Getting there: New Smyrna Beach is 71 miles from Disney World, about 1 hour 15 minutes via Interstate 4.

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Daytona Beach

Driving on the beach in Daytona Beach, Florida
Driving on the beach in Daytona. (Florida Rambler photo)

There is no escaping tourists in Daytona, but if you want action, you’ll find it here. The pier area anchors a traditional boardwalk bustling with amusements, games, carnival rides, bars, restaurants and hotels.

“World Famous” Daytona Beach bills itself as the “world’s safest beach,” largely because the gradual slope of the beach is swimmer-friendly. But watch out for cars driving on the beach.

A big attraction is Daytona International Speedway, headquarters of NASCAR, with events year around. When races aren’t running, visitors line up for the NASCAR Experience, paying big bucks to drive on the track.

Daytona is a popular Spring Break destination for college kids, not to mention bikers on Bike Week and NASCAR fans for the Daytona 500.

Before you go: Beach conditions in Daytona Beach

Getting there: Daytona Beach is 72 miles from Disney World (1 hour 10 minutes) via Interstate 4.

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Gulf Coast beaches

Clearwater Beach

best beaches near orlando: clearwater beach
For gorgeous sunsets, try Clearwater Beach. (c) Can Stock Photo / Alanbrito

Another popular destination, Clearwater Beach bustles year around and is also popular with residents of nearby Tampa and St. Petersburg.

If you are looking for sunsets, it would be hard to find better. If you are looking for tourists, you came to the right place.

But there is an escape! An adventure!

At the north end of Clearwater Beach is one of the most precious stretches of beach on the Gulf Coast — Caladesi Island. The “island” is no longer an island unto itself. Sand plugged the channel separating it from Clearwater Beach.

But there is no place to park. You can ride a bike there, or you can walk. It’s a three-mile hike north from the Clearwater Beach pier.

Major nearby attractions to Clearwater Beach include Busch Gardens amusement park, Tampa’s Ybor City with its Cuban heritage, the sponge docks of Tarpon Springs with its Greek heritage and the fabulous Salvador Dali Museum in downtown St. Petersburg.

Check before you go: Beach conditions and web cam from Surf Guru.

Getting there: Clearwater Beach is 92 miles from Disney World, about two hours drive time. Take Interstate 4 West to State Road 60 West to the beach.

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Honeymoon Island State Park

Best beaches near Orlando: Honeymoon Island, Dunedin, beach swing
Best beaches near Orlando: Pristine Honeymoon Island is a natural choice. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Honeymoon Island State Park has a spectacular beach, a sweet name and one of those classic Florida-history stories.

It’s also a favorite beach for a populous urban area, and on a sunny May Sunday when we visited, it seemed like all 916,000 Pinellas County residents were there.

Yet the beauty of Honeymoon Island State Park is that even though it attracts crowds, you can still find beauty, solitude and nature. It’s an unusual combination of an accessible beach with lots of parking, first-rate concessions and facilities, and a natural beach with extensive areas full of wildlife.

In Dunedin, where you want to book lodging, the downtown area is anchored by the Pinellas Trail, one of Florida’s premier bicycle trails stretching 47 miles from Tarpon Springs into downtown St. Petersberg — with a spur that runs out to Honeymoon Island!

Like Clearwater, nearby offerings include Ybor City, Busch Gardens, the sponge docks of Tarpon Springs and the Dali Museum.

Before you go: Beach conditions on Surfline

Getting there: Honeymoon Island is about 96 miles from Disney World, about two hours. Take Interstate 4 West to State Road 60 West to U.S. 19 North to State Road 586 West.

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Fort De Soto & Pass-A-Grille

fort de soto park
American oystercatchers stepping out on the pristine beaches of Fort De Soto Park.

Here are two different experiences in the same neighborhood.

Fort De Soto Park offers miles of pristine sugar sand beaches on a cluster of islands at the mouth of Tampa Bay. A year doesn’t pass when it isn’t named one of the best beaches in the country.

Nearby Pass-A-Grille is an old Florida beach town with its own sprawling beach, lined by low-rise lodgings and vacation homes. This is where you want to stay when you visit the area.

There’s a lot of history here, the focal point being the remnants of Fort De Soto itself, manned by the Union during the Civil War to block the passage of supplies through Tampa Bay to the Confederacy.

The park has one of the largest public campgrounds in the state, but size doesn’t matter. It’s always booked solid.

Pass-A-Grille offers what’s becoming rare in Florida: a quaint, small-town beach enclave with low-rise lodging, cottages, B’n’Bs, vacation home rentals and little beach traffic.

Before you go: Beach conditions on Surfline

Getting there: Fort De Soto is about 102 miles from Disney World, about two hours. Take Interstate 4 West to I-275 South to the Pinellas Bayway.

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