Orlando might be best known as a theme park lover’s paradise, but being right in the middle of Florida, you’re never that far away from a beach. While most of Orlando’s best beaches are on the east coast, where the sand meets the Atlantic Ocean, you can also reach the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico within a couple of hours. The choices can be overwhelming, so here are seven of the best beaches near Orlando.

Cocoa Beach

Why Visit

If you’re looking for an easy-access beach near Orlando, Cocoa Beach is the nearest. Nicknamed the ‘Space Coast’ for its proximity to the Kennedy Space Center, this is a Florida classic, home to waves that have produced world-famous surfers. There are lots of waterfront resorts and the water is warm and swimmable – so it’s great for families and watersports enthusiasts. Meanwhile, at the end of the huge Westgate Pier is beach-shack Riki-tiki Bar, where you can grab a piña colada after a day under the sun.

Getting There

Cocoa Beach is an hour from Orlando on Florida’s east coast. It’s an easy drive on route 528. There are parking meters all over town, as well as several paid parking lots.

Vero Beach

Why Visit

Vero Beach is a quaint resort town southeast of Orlando on a barrier island at the Indian River and Atlantic Ocean. The outer beaches are of soft, white sand that meets gentle, turquoise waves. The town of Vero Beach has a nice collection of local cafes, breweries and seafood restaurants. There are plenty of local hotels and inns, or you can stay at Disney’s Vero Beach resort hotel – there are no rides, but you get a Mickey Mouse-shaped pool instead.

Getting There

Vero Beach is a little less than two hours southeast of Orlando along I-95. There is a two-hour parking limit in the oceanside business district; and there are parking lots at South Beach Park on Ocean Dr and at Easter Lily Ln.

New Smyrna Beach

Why Visit

New Smyrna is considered a ‘locals’ beach’ because it’s quieter than most of the other beaches near Orlando. The sand here is fine and packed down hard, so you can drive along it, set up a tent or even ride bikes into the surf. The town’s historic Flagler Avenue, leading up to the beach, is lined with relaxed cafes and shopping.

Getting There

New Smyrna Beach is only an hour northeast of Orlando along the Atlantic Coast. There are paid beachfront parking lots all along Atlantic Ave.

Clearwater Beach

Why Visit

Clearwater has some of the best sunsets of any beach near Orlando thanks to its west-facing sands along the Gulf Coast. The water here is warm, the sand is powdery white and there are a seemingly endless number of watersports, family activities and beach bars for sunset cocktails.

Getting There

Clearwater Beach is around a two hours’ drive southwest of Orlando. There is metered on-street parking, as well as a number of parking lots around the city, most with around five-hour limits.

Daytona Beach

Why Visit

While the town of Daytona might be best known for NASCAR racing, Daytona Beach is a lively stretch of sand that hosts concerts, food trucks, equipment rentals and a boardwalk with amusements and rides. And in keeping with the car theme, vehicles are allowed to drive on the beach too – beach racing has been popular here since the early 1900s.

Getting There

Daytona Beach is a very quick one-hour drive northeast from Orlando on I-4. There is plenty of free public parking around Daytona and you can even park on the beach itself. See the city’s website for more details.

Canaveral National Seashore

Why Visit

Just north of Kennedy Space Center you can watch NASA shuttles rocketing into space from this wild section of protected coastline. The area is a barrier island and a haven for wildlife, including at-risk species like sea turtles and bald eagles. There are miles of sandy sections to lay a beach towel with no one else in sight – or you can hike, fish and camp among backcountry lagoons and shoreline. The park remains open during NASA launches. Check the Kennedy Space Center website for more details.

Getting There

The most accessible section is at Apollo Beach along Highway A1A south of New Smyrna, a 1.5-hour drive from Orlando. A vehicle permit must be purchased at the entrance.

St Pete Beach

Why Visit

Combine glittering 1920s nostalgia with perfect white sand and beautiful sunsets, and you have St Pete Beach. The city is an excellent alternative to Miami for Art Deco architecture lovers, while the beach itself is a long strip of soft white sand lapping with warm Gulf of Mexico waters. There are plenty of watersports to try and, in the evening, numerous beachside cocktail bars to watch the sunset from.

Getting There

St Petersburg is about a two-hour drive southwest of Orlando on the Pinellas peninsula. There’s plenty of parking – mainly paid – around St Pete Beach, or you can take the ferry from Tampa or Clearwater.