Heading to Florida for a magical trip to Disney World and want to have a beach day? Or maybe you’re in the city of Orlando for a conference and want some beach time? I hear you and I think a day trip to the beach is a great idea. Below, you’ll find information about the closest beaches to Disney World, Central Florida, and the theme parks.
Atlantic Coast Beaches
Atlantic Coast beaches are located on the East coast of Florida and overlook the Atlantic Ocean.
You’ll likely see advertising around the Orlando area stating that Cocoa Beach is ‘Orlando’s Beach’. Cocoa Beach is the closest beach to Disney World and the city of Orlando.
Distance to Cocoa Beach: Cocoa Beach is about 60 miles east of the Walt Disney World Resort, and is an easy drive on the 528. It’s about an hour of drive time.
The Vibe: Cocoa Beach is a touristy town with lots of restaurants, bars, condos, hotels, and beach vendors.
Don’t Miss: The Cocoa Beach Pier is an 800 foot pier that extends into the Atlantic Ocean. The pier features restaurants, bars, gift shops and live music. There are also beach rentals, showers, volleyball, and lifeguards. If you want to visit the world’s largest surf shop – the famous Ron Jon Surf Shop is located in Cocoa Beach.
Good to Know: If you are hoping to catch a few waves and surf during your visit – Cocoa Beach is definitely the place to be and several surfing businesses offer lessons.
Cost: Parking charges at the pier vary. There are several city lots and streets that you can park in that may be cheaper.
The Canaveral National Seashore is a pristine barrier island without hotels, condos, or homes.
Distance to Canaveral National Seashore: Canaveral National Seashore is about 65 miles east of the Walt Disney World Resort. It’ll take you around an hour and fifteen minutes from the Walt Disney World Resort.
The Vibe: Canaveral National Seashore is perfect for nature lovers who want to experience the beach without the buildings.
Good to Know: There are three beaches that make up the Canaveral National Seashore: Apollo Beach, Playalinda Beach, and Klondike Beach. I recommend visiting Playalinda Beach because there is plenty of parking. Apollo Beach has limited parking available and Klondike Beach is accessible by foot and permit only. If you are lucky and time your Playlinda Beach day, you might even get to see a rocket launch from Cape Canaveral’s Kennedy Space Center.
Cost: Admission to the Canaveral National Seashore is $20 per car and is good for 7 consecutive days. Canaveral National Seashore has recently become cashless, so you need to use a credit card or tap with Apple or Google Pay.
New Smyrna Beach
North from the Canaveral National Seashore is New Smyrna Beach. This small town beach has a cultural and artsy side to it.
Distance to New Smyrna Beach: New Smyrna Beach is about 70 miles east of the Walt Disney World Resort. From Orlando, you’ll take I-4 East. I-4 is known to have traffic and ongoing construction. It’s about an hour and a half drive time.
The Vibe: New Smyrna Beach has a less touristy feel than nearby beaches – but not quite a quaint, small town feel. You can drive your car right on several parts of New Smyrna Beach. If you are toting small kids or a large family – not having to haul everything from the parking lot to your car is great.
Good to Know: New Smyrna Beach is unofficially known as the shark attack capital of the world. Be shark aware while swimming.
Cost: Costs vary at different locations. To drive your car on New Smyrna Beach, expect to pay $20.
Farther north from the above beaches is Daytona Beach. If you are a car lover, you’ll want to visit Daytona Beach due to it’s deep rooted automobile history.
Distance to Daytona Beach: Daytona Beach is about 72 miles from the Walt Disney World Resort. Again, from Orlando, you’ll take I-4 East. I-4 can be difficult to navigate during peak travel times due to congestion and construction.
The Vibe: Compared with the beaches listed above, Daytona Beach is a car loving beach with a party atmosphere. At one time, it was known for outlandish college spring break behavior.
Good to Know: Like New Smyrna Beach, you can drive directly on the packed sand beaches of Daytona Beach. If that isn’t your thing, check the Daytona Beach Boardwalk and Pier. From the boardwalk and pier you can fish, eat, watch live entertainment, or simply sightsee and watch for marine mammals and sea turtles.
Cost: Parking costs $20 to drive on the beach per day; while Daytona Beach Pier parking is hourly through pay kiosks. Flat rate parking at private lots for the day can be found within walking distance to the pier.
Gulf Coast Beaches
Gulf Coast beaches are located on the west coast of Florida and overlook the Gulf of Mexico or Tampa Bay.
Fort De Soto
Fort De Soto is a decommissioned military fort located on the beach. History buffs can enjoy both walking around the fort ruins and snorkeling around a small section of them in the Gulf.
Distance to Fort De Soto: Fort De Soto is 100 miles from the Walt Disney Resort. Drive time is about 2 hours with highway driving on both I-4 West and I-275 South through Tampa and St. Petersburg.
The Vibe: Fort De Soto is made up of barrier islands and encompasses more than 1,100 acres. While there are structures for bathrooms, the beaches are pristine, old Florida.
Good to Know: Fort De Soto has an off leash dog beach, so if your pet is with you – bring him or her! Unofficial Florida wrote an article on things to do at Fort De Soto, including finding sand dollars.
Cost: Admission into Fort De Soto is $5 per car. If you move your car around throughout the day, one admission covers all parking lots within the park.
St. Pete Beach & Pass-a-Grille Beach
St. Pete Beach offers a laid back beach with a nearby historic and artsy area – Pass-a-Grille Beach.
Distance to St. Pete Beach: St. Pete Beach and Pass-a-Grille Beach are around 95 miles west of the Walt Disney World Resort. Similar to driving to Fort De Soto, it’s mostly highway driving on I-4 West and I-275 South. It’s about two hours of drive time.
The Vibe: St. Pete Beach offers a laid back vibe with lots of bars and restaurants; while Pass-a-grille Beach offers the historic Don CeSar hotel and an artsy, eclectic vibe.
Good to Know: Pass-a-Grille Beach starts at the Don CeSar hotel and extends south. There are a number of boutiques and shops throughout the area.
Cost: There are a number of beach access parking lots and metered street parking. Both will charge hourly.
Like St. Pete Beach, Treasure Island is a laid back beach with a couple of notable festivals throughout the year. In January, watch for information about the Treasure Island Kite Festival. While in November, you might be able to catch the Sanding Ovations Master’s Cup – a sand sculpture competition.
Distance to Treasure Island: Treasure Island is located about 95 miles from the Walt Disney Resort. Again, it is a combination of highway driving on both I-4 West and I-275 South. Drive time is around 2 hours.
The Vibe: Similar to St. Pete Beach, Treasure Island offers a laid back vibe. Since it is less known than St. Pete Beach, you may find less crowds at Treasure Island.
Good to Know: Treasure Island Beach is wheelchair accessible. The beach has a mat that extends close to the water, making it easier for wheelchair users to navigate than other beaches.
Cost: Treasure Island Beach parking is through a pay kiosk and charged hourly.
Distance to Clearwater Beach: Clearwater Beach is located about 92 miles from the Walt Disney World Resort. Like the other Gulf Beaches, it is mostly highway driving on I-4 West and Highway 60. It’s about an hour and 45 minutes of drive time.
The Vibe: Clearwater Beach is another laid back community, made famous by white sugar sand beaches and blue waters. Clearwater Beach’s Pier 60 is a 1,000+ foot pier that extends into the Gulf of Mexico. From the pier you can fish, sightsee, and shop with vendors.
Good to Know: If you’ve seen the movie A Dolphin Tale, you’ll want to save a few hours to visit the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Unfortunately, the movie’s star dolphin Winter passed away in 2021.
Cost: Parking by meter or kiosk is available in both city parking lots and Pier 60.
Honeymoon Island State Park & Caladesi Island State Park
Honeymoon Island State Park offers many amenities often found in state parks, while Caladesi Island is truly an untouched barrier island that naturalists will love.
Distance to Honeymoon Island State Park: Honeymoon Island State Park is located around 96 miles from the Walt Disney World Resort. Drive time is about two hours and fifteen minutes, mostly on I-4 West. To get to Caladesi Island State Park, you’ll first go to Honeymoon Island State Park then catch a ferry to Caladesi Island State Park.
The Vibe: Both Honeymoon Island State Park and Caladesi Island State Park are paradise for nature lovers. You won’t find hotels, condos, or businesses on these beaches.
Good to Know: Caladesi Island State Park is only accessible by boat. It’s worth the effort to take the ferry if you are searching for a natural beach. Be sure to watch for dolphins on the quick ferry ride to Caladesi Island.
Cost: Entrance to Honeymoon Island State Park is $8 per car. The ferry to get to Caladesi Island State Park costs $16 per adult, $8 for children ages 6-12, and free for kids 5 and under.
No matter what beach you end up at, I know you’ll have a great time, because Florida has the best beaches! And, don’t forget the sunscreen.