After an action-packed trip to Orlando, what’s better than a few days on the beach? From wide, white sandy strands to toddler-friendly, vehicle-free shores, these fabulous beach escapes are within three hours of Disney World. These are the best beaches near Disney World.
Set your chair in the sand for the day at Humiston Park, a lovely oceanfront spot with lifeguards, a playground, clean public restrooms and ample parking. On Saturdays, you can meet local growers and sample a variety of fresh treats at Farmer's Market Oceanside across the street, then head back to the park by sunset to catch a free seaside concert.
Other highlights include the Environmental Learning Center, where you and the kids can take a manatee sighting cruise, paddle your way along the Indian River Lagoon on a guided kayak excursion or interact with a variety of sea creatures, from spider crabs to sea urchins in a hands-on Touch Tank Encounter. If you want to try your luck at surfing, Wabasso Beach Shop, located on U.S. 1 in Sebastian, is a good place to start. For a kid-pleasing combination of wicked waves and calm waters, take the Vero Beach entrance to Sebastian Inlet State Park. Boasting 3 miles of sandy beach, which runs from Vero Beach in the south to Melbourne Beach in the north, the superior surfing spot is popular with teens, and also offers a shallow swimming cove (located at the northern end of the island) suitable for smaller children.
Recommended Hotel: Disney's Vero Beach Resort
Clearwater and St. Pete Beach
In nearby St. Pete Beach, Pass-a-Grille Beach is a favorite among the stroller set, thanks to ample metered parking and easy access via numerous beach boardwalks. If you have older kids, consider renting bikes at Merry Pier, where you can also board a shuttle to Shell Key Preserve, an undeveloped barrier island that is ideal for baking in the sun in solitude and collecting prime specimens. For a natural adventure with kids of all ages, head to North Beach at Fort De Soto State Park. Kids will have a ball exploring the pirate ship playground and playing in the shallow lagoon. A concession stand with frozen treats is located onsite.
Recommended Hotel: Sandpearl Resort
Pack some sand toys and sunscreen and set off for centrally located Lori Wilson Park. The popular 33-acre beach park features beachfront parking, a playground, a dog park and lifeguards in season.
Drive 15 miles north to Cape Canaveral, the world's second busiest cruise port, where you'll find Jetty Park, offering 5 acres of beachfront with year-round lifeguards and a fishing pier. Grab an outdoor table at Grills Seafood Deck nearby, where the kids can play while you watch the cruise ships set out. For a one-of-a-kind, glow-in-the-dark adventure off the beach, head to Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge, where, during the warm summer months, you can take the kids on a nighttime bioluminescent kayak tour.
Recommended Hotel: Courtyard by Marriott Cocoa Beach Cape Canaveral
Anna Maria Island
Connected to the mainland only since 1922, the 7-mile barrier island, situated 40 minutes south of Tampa, is comprised of three interconnected small cities: Anna Maria City, Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach. Among the six island beaches, family favorites include Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach (a life-guarded beach with water sports rentals, concessions and a playground) and Manatee Beach in Holmes Beach, a lively wide stretch with lots of amenities situated in the center of the island.
The free Manatee Trolley runs the length of the island and, for a tiny fee, connects to Longboat Key and downtown Sarasota. Day trip options include kayaking excursions on the Little Manatee River, Gulf of Mexico eco-tours with Captain Kim's Charters and Captain Kathe's Boat Tours. The latter captain is based in Cortez, a historic fishing village located just over the Bradenton Beach Bridge. If you go, be sure to stop in at the Star Fish Company, a casual waterfront favorite, featuring freshly caught specialties that you can enjoy at outdoor picnic tables. Kids and dogs are welcome.
Recommended Hotel: BridgeWalk - A Landmark Resort
For family day-trippers, one peaceful spot to park it for an afternoon is Lighthouse Point Park in Ponce Inlet. Parents will appreciate the vehicle-free scene, along with convenient amenities, including a playground, picnic areas and water sports outfitters, where you can board a banana boat, rent paddle boards and personalized water crafts, or book a parasailing excursion. Be sure to heed area warning signs, especially if you're going in deep water. Nearby, the Marine Science Center and Ponce de Leon Lighthouse Museum are nice diversions when the kids get antsy.
Recommended Hotel: Hampton Inn Daytona Beach/Beachfront