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7 closest beaches to Disney World

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

Nevertheless, when tourists come to Florida, they want beaches. Real beaches, 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. But 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.

Best beaches near Disney World on the Atlantic Coast

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

Cocoa Beach

Best beach near Disney World: 65 miles / 1 hour, 12 minutes

Best beaches near Orlando: Cocoa Beach
Best beaches near Orlando: 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 for not trying one of a string of seafood restaurants lining the waterfront in Port Canaveral.

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

Getting there: Take the Beachline Expressway (State Road 528) straight to the beach.

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Canaveral National Seashore

The scenic choice: 57 miles / 1 hour

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.

Some parking areas on Playalinda Beach may still be closed due to damage caused last year by Hurricane Nicole. For updates, go to Current Alerts page.

Getting there: Take the 528 Beachline Expressway to State Road 407 North to Titusville.

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New Smyrna Beach

A hidden gem: 71 miles / 1 hour 15 minutes

new smyrna beach daytona beach
Surfer on New Smyrna Beach.

New Smyrna Beach is almost a straight shot from Orlando on Interstate 4, then State Road 44, but if you have time, I suggest a scenic drive through the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (via Titusville), then north to New Smyrna.

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

Find your way to Flagler Avenue for art galleries, restaurants, bars, surf and beach shops. 

Locals go south to the 27th Avenue Beach or north to Ponce Inlet to surf, but inlet visitors should exercise caution. For starters, the sand is soft near the inlet and cars often get stuck. Second, sharks feed in the inlet and sometimes nip at surfers and swimmers.

Getting there: Take Interstate 4 north to State Road 44 East, straight to the beach.

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Daytona Beach

A popular choice: 72 miles / 1 hour 10 minutes

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.

Getting there: Take Interstate 4 North all the way to the end in Daytona Beach.

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Best beaches near Orlando on the Gulf Coast

Clearwater Beach

A popular choice: 92 miles / 2 hours

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, Tampa’s Ybor City with its Cuban heritage, the sponge docks of Tarpon Springs with its Greek heritage and the fabulous Salvatore Dali Museum in downtown St. Petersburg.

Getting there: Take Interstate 4 West to State Road 60 West to the beach.

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Honeymoon Island State Park

A scenic choice: 96 miles / 2 hours

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.

Getting there: 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

Hidden gems: 102 miles / 2 hours

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.

Getting there: Interstate 4 West to I-275 South to the Pinellas Bayway.

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