When I think back to the years I spent living in Central Florida, one of the things I miss most is Orlando’s accessibility to the ocean. You would think that in Costa Rica I am surrounded by beaches galore, and, while that may be true if you look at a map, my relatively isolated location in the rainforest combined with a lack of car and poor road conditions make it feel otherwise.
Florida is flanked by the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. From Orlando, dozens of beaches are accessible within a two hour drive on wide, fast-moving roads. During my recent trip to Florida, I had the opportunity to drive a 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL to St. Pete Beach for one of my best friend’s weddings. The trip brought back fond memories of my former weekend seaside escapes. Here’s a look at the best Central Florida beaches you can drive to during a trip to Orlando.
Best Central Florida Beaches
1. New Smyrna Beach
My favorite beach discovery from when I lived in Florida is New Smyrna Beach. Located on the Atlantic Coast, this beach city manages to retain a local vibe despite the tourist influence of surrounding areas. This is my favorite beach in the area for surfing as it’s usually not too crowded and there are several affordable board shops within easy walking distance of the waves.
The Breakers Ocean Front Restaurant, located right on the beach, is my go to spot for burgers, nachos and post-surfing cocktails. Nearby Flagler Avenue and Canal Street also provide great shopping if you need a break from the waves.
Driving Distance from Orlando: 56 Miles
2. Clearwater Beach
For some of Florida’s best sunsets, head to Clearwater Beach on the Gulf Coast. Here the bright aqua waters of the Gulf of Mexico and fine, white sand stretch on for miles. While relaxing on the beach here you’ll be facing West, making it the perfect spot to take in the array of colors that fill the sky as the sun sinks below the water.
Clearwater has a lot going on and there are plenty of accomodation options for all budget ranges. My favorite place to grab a bite (and a cocktail) is Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill, an open-air restaurant right on the beach. It’s eclectic atmosphere makes it a great place to meet people. Fun fact: Clearwater is also home to the headquarters of the Church of Scientology.
Driving Distance from Orlando: 108 Miles
3. Cocoa Beach
Perhaps Central Florida’s most iconic beach destination, Cocoa Beach has been a staple for Florida sun seekers since the 1950’s. Due to it’s proximity to NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center, and being the location for the TV series I Dream of Jeannie, the city gained notoriety in the 1960’s.
This beach is great for surfing and lounging alike. No visit to Cocoa Beach is complete without a stop at Ron Jon Surf Shop, in operation since 1963. In addition to surf boards, this multi-level store has everything to meet your beach needs and fun souvenirs to take back home.
Driving Distance from Orlando: 60 Miles
4. St. Augustine Beach
With a trip to St. Augustine Beach, you’ll combine sun, sand and history. Settled by the Spanish in 1565, St. Augustine is the oldest continually occupied city in the contiguous United States. The city still retains a colonial feel with many historical sights including Castillo de San Marcos, Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine and Mission of Nombre de Dios.
Near the historical city, St. Augustine Beach offers stretches of sand on the Atlantic Coast. The beach here tends to be less crowded and more family-oriented than nearby Spring Break hot spots such as Daytona Beach.
Driving Distance from Orlando: 104 miles
5. Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon
If you’re visiting Walt Disney World Resort, you don’t even need to hit a major highway to sneak in some beach time! According to the legend, a shipwreck on a pristine tropical beach led to the creation of Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park. This water park boasts one of the world’s wave pools, a lazy river, water slides and rushing rapids. There’s a salt water area where you can snorkel with fish and sharks, as well as stretches of sand for sun bathing.
While the water park may not be set on the actual ocean, it does still afford visitors the opportunity to surf. Take a group lesson or book your own private session to hit the waves early in the morning before other visitors arrive.
Driving Distance from Orlando: 18 miles
Which beach will you discover in the Mitsubishi Outlander SEL? Let me know your favorite Central Florida beach in the comments below!