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Disney World isn’t the only family vacation attraction worth visiting in Central Florida. The area also is home to some of the best beaches in Florida. That means you can maximize your Walt Disney World vacation with a day trip to the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico. Or better yet, extend your Walt Disney World vacation by spending a few days chilling at one of these awesome beaches.
This post is sponsored by VISIT FLORIDA.
Having lived in Central Florida and visited countless times as a child and with my own children, some of our favorite vacations have included a day off from the Disney parks with a day trip to the beach. And, one of my all-time favorite childhood vacations was a week at Walk Disney World followed by a week at Clearwater Beach on the Gulf Coast.
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Best Beaches a Day Trip from Walt Disney World
Orlando is located in the heart of Central Florida. So, it is easily accessible to both the Atlantic Coast on the eastern part of the state and the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa in the Western part of the state. This means some beaches are close enough to Disney World to visit as a day trip.
TravelingMom Tip: If you plan to make your beach visit a day trip, leave Orlando as early in the morning as possible. Orlando traffic, particularly in the direction of Tampa, can be very congested. Maximize your time in the sand by giving yourself plenty of time to get there.
Here are our favorite beaches close to Disney World. Many of these are also on our list of the best Florida beaches for families!
One hour from Disney World
Cocoa Beach is a great family beach if you want that full-on kitschy beach vibe. About an hour’s drive from Orlando along Florida’s Space Coast (home to the venerable Kennedy Space Center), you will find a great family beach with fun shops to get all your gear.
In addition to enjoying the sand and waves, the famous Ron Jon Surf Shop can be found here! Cocoa Beach is dubbed the East Coast Surfing Capital; a trip to Ron Jon Surf Shop’s flagship store is a must on this day trip. This is also the world’s largest Ron Jon, so it is a great place to pick up fun beach souvenirs.
Cocoa Beach Pier is where you will find plenty of bars, restaurants, and additional gift shops. It is a great day trip on an off park day on your Walt Disney World Resort vacation.
TravelingMom Tip: Before heading out, check our beach day packing list so you’ll have everything your family needs once you hit the sand.
New Smyrna Beach
One hour from Disney World
Another one of Florida’s popular beaches just an hour’s drive from Orlando is New Smyrna Beach. It might be the closest beach to Disney World depending on traffic.
New Smyrna is a favorite of TravelingMom Terri Marshall because of all of the family-friendly activities. From building sandcastles to playing in the surf, fishing and kayaking, New Smyrna Beach is a great one to add to your day trip list from Disney.
Be sure and check out Smyrna Dunes Park, a two-mile elevated boardwalk through sand dunes. And while New Smyrna works as a day trip from Disney, you can make it an overnight or extend your Disney World vacation here. There are a number of beachfront hotels and many private rentals available, some with pools and additional family amenities like shuffle board and basketball courts.
Two hours from Disney World
On the Gulf side near Tampa are more great beaches within easy driving distance to Orlando. One of our family’s favorites is Clearwater Beach.
Clearwater is about a two hour drive from Orlando, so you will want to leave early in the morning to maximize this beach day. But it is so worth it for this quintessential beach experience, and one of Florida’s most popular beaches for families.
From sitting on white sand with your toes in the Gulf of Mexico to enjoying beach shops and restaurants, Clearwater Beach has all families can ask for in a beach day (including public restrooms and lifeguards!) You will find the town to be very pedestrian friendly. And there are lots of things to do in Clearwater Beach near Pier 60.
Winter the Dolphin
ou might even spot Winter, the dolphin, who became the star of the Dolphin Tale movie! She lives with her friend Hope, star of Dolphin Tale 2, at Clearwater Marine Aquarium, which is a great thing to do if you decide to spend an overnight at one of the beachfront hotels. Make it extra special for the Winter the Dolphin fans in your family and treat them to an overnight at the new Winter the Dolphin Hotel in Clearwater.
TravelingMom Tip: If you decide to make Clearwater Beach an overnight stay, be sure to check out Fort DeSoto park. This is a highly acclaimed public park with much to do for families including spending time at the beach, kayaking, visiting the Fort, and more. The North Beach is noted for being family friendly with tidal pools with sand dollars and seashells, a pirate ship playground, and a great area for little ones to enjoy the beach.
Treasure Island Beach
Two hours from Disney World
Not far from Clearwater Beach is another great option for families called Treasure Island Beach. With the same white sand and beautiful water, but a bit less busy, it is a great day trip beach when you need a change of quiet scenery from the theme parks.
This is another location you will want to get to early to maximize your beach time if you’re planning to make this a day trip from Disney.
If you want to visit Treasure Island just for the day, there are several access points and public parking areas off of Gulf Boulevard, the main road. If you care to make it an overnight, you can enjoy one of the budget-friendly beachfront hotels that line the main road.
Plenty of beach shops and restaurants also line Gulf Boulevard. And this special beach is where you might spot sea turtles – specifically Loggerhead Turtles – in the water.
Florida Beaches to Add to a Disney Vacation
If you are interested in turning your Orlando vacation into a few days at the theme parks and a few at the beach, there are many great beaches close to Disney World that can provide a destination experience. Several of these are close enough to visit as a day trip, but we recommend spending a few days exploring these Florida towns.
Here are some of our favorites.
One hour east of Disney World
Another one of the best beaches close to Disney World, Cape Canaveral Beach is certainly close enough to Disney to be done as a day trip. But we recommend adding a few days there — at least one day at the beach and another at Kennedy Space Center (which our family loves). You might even be able to see a rocket launch, depending on the day.
Cape Canaveral Beach has lovely sand, water, restaurants and fun things to do with kids. It is also very close to cruise ports, including where many of the Disney Cruise ships dock. That makes it a great spot to stay between your Walt Disney World Resort vacation and Disney Cruise.
If you decide to spend an overnight or extend your Disney vacation at Cape Canaveral Beach, you may want to check out the Holiday Inn Club resort. It’s a great family resort with a four story waterslide, lazy river, beach access and family restaurants.
Disney’s Vero Beach Resort
Two hours southeast of Disney World
Many people love to spend a few days at Walt Disney World and then a few days at their Disney Vacation Club property, Disney’s Vero Beach Resort. We have done this many times. In fact, our honeymoon was spent doing just that!
Our family loves Disney’s Vero Beach Resort because it is a family-friendly beachfront experience on a quiet but beautiful stretch of the Atlantic Ocean side of Florida. It offers gorgeous sand, beautiful water, a great pool and plenty of family-friendly dining and entertainment as only Disney can provide.
This area is very dark at night because it is home to many sea turtles. They often come up at night to lay their eggs. Additional activities at Disney’s Vero Beach Resort include onsite mini-golf, bike rentals, game room and activities, Disney characters and character breakfasts, and Cast Member led events for kids.
90 minutes northeast of Disney World
While Daytona Beach is close enough to Disney to be a day trip, we recommend staying overnight because it is a great place to explore if your family loves cars and NASCAR. While it is often thought of a Spring Break party beach, Daytona Beach actually has a lot to offer families. (And we don’t recommend going during Spring Break weeks.)
It is home to many lower-cost beachfront hotels, which helps make Daytona Beach one of the most affordable family vacation destinations in all of Florida. While most Florida beach towns have torn down older hotels to make room for pricier condos, Daytona Beach is still home to family-owned hotels and motels right on the beach.
There also are plenty of kid-friendly activities, including many free things to do in Daytona Beach, which is ideal after the expense of the theme parks. Families can take a day trip to Ponce Inlet to explore the lighthouse and science center, a walk around the Riverfront Shops and possibly catch a concert at the Daytona Bandshell.
If your family loves NASCAR – or even if you have fans of the Disney Cars movies – you can head over to the Daytona International Speedway to have a tour where the famed race takes place. Be sure and check out the Motorsports Hall of Fame.
Anna Maria Island
Two hours southwest of Disney World
One of our family’s favorite Florida beach towns is without a doubt Anna Maria Island. This incredibly family friendly island off of Tampa is well worth a few extra days after your Walt Disney World Resort vacation.
While there are a few beachfront hotels and motels, this island is largely made up of rental homes. Often you will find one with a pool for a very relaxing time after the theme parks.
In addition to Caribbean-style teal blue ocean and the softest white sand, this island in the Gulf of Mexico is perfect for families. During our trip last summer, several manatees swam past us while we waded in the crystal clear waters.
There are plenty of family-friendly restaurants and activities, like dolphin watching and bike riding, so it is one of the best beaches close to Disney World for an extended stay in Florida.
St. Augustine Beach
Two hours northeast of Disney World
Another one of our family’s favorite beaches close to Disney World and great for an extended stay is St. Augustine Beach. The beaches are miles of of coastline and have life guards on duty, which is always great for families. Typical beach activities are available like sand play, surfing, and snorkeling.
But the beautiful beaches are not the only reason to visit. The town of St. Augustine is beautiful and historic, and well worth a few days to explore on your vacation. The best things to see include the Colonial Quarter, the Pirate & Treasure Museum, the Fountain of Youth, and the Pirate Walking Tour.
Two hours southwest of Disney World
Sarasota is one of the best beaches close to Disney World if you love eco-tours and learning about marine biology and Florida wildlife. An amazing, family-friendly beach destination, there also are lots of things to do in Sarasota with kids.
Sarasota is on the Gulf of Mexico, but also on Sarasota Bay. The bay is an estuary that serves as a nursery for baby fish, sea horses, sea stars, dolphins, sea turtles, manatees, and more.
For kids like mine who love learning about nature and the world under the sea, Sarasota is a fantastic addition to their vacation to Walt Disney World Resort. It’s such an exhilarating experience to see these sea creatures up close and personal in the wild!
Sarasota also in home to the famed Ringling Circus Museum and the Mote Marine, both of which are fun for all ages.
Sarasota’s Lido Key has three beaches, a self-guided canoe trail, a multi-purpose field, and a volleyball court.
Final Thoughts on the Best Beaches Close To Disney World
Your family vacation to Walt Disney World Resort can have some extra magic with a bit of beach time added to it.
Whether you take a day trip on an off day from the theme parks or extend your family vacation to include a few days at the beach, these 10 beaches close to Disney World will certainly enhance your vacation.