For many, making the trek to Florida for a Walt Disney World Vacation should also include a trip to one of the Sunshine State’s magnificent beaches. The two beaches that are the closest, Cocoa Beach and Clearwater Beach. With so much coastline you might think you could have your pick of dozens, but the truth is: there really aren’t any beaches near Orlando. You would sooner find a lakeshore than a coastline here in the middle of the state. But, you do have options, and they are not so bad indeed. Travel only 68 miles East to Cocoa Beach on the Atlantic or 92 miles West to the award winning Clearwater Beach on the Gulf of Mexico.
The nearer choice, Cocoa Beach boasts a family-friendly environment, with Kennedy NASA Space Center right by it. As with all beaches there are tons of different areas that you can park and enjoy the beach. Cocoa Beach itself is more of a relaxed beach theme, lots of surfing because you are on the Atlantic side, so as my kids say, “big waves”.
One area that isn’t technically Cocoa Beach that we enjoy is Playalinda Beach. Nestled on the shores of Canaveral National Seashores, it is operated by the National Park Service and has a fee of $20 to enter. The shores are gorgeous here. There are no vendors, chair rentals, nothing, so make sure to pack everything you need. It is also home to where you can view space launches from Kennedy Space Center. This beach is perfect for a low key beach day.
Another favorite is Cocoa Beach Pier. This is the beach town area! The pier hosts a huge restaurant called Pelican bar and grill, and my personal favorite is the Rikki Tiki Tavern at the end of the pier. The food is surprisingly amazing, and you can look at the stingrays as they swim by under the pier! They also have a quick service counter at the beginning of the pier for your grab and go needs. By the pier there are chairs, umbrellas, canopy, and surf board rentals for all your needs on your beach day! Parking at the pier is on an hour basis, prices change depending on the season and day.
Cocoa Beach is also right next to Cape Canaveral port, home to most cruise ships. Wave to the ships as you see them go by from your lounge chair!
The closest beach to the Disney area, you can do this beach in a day and head back to Mickey for dinner!
Clearwater Beach has come a long way from the 50s style bungalows and 2 story independent motels of my adolescence. Grand beach houses have replaced bungalows, beach-chic hotels with infinity pools have moved in, and the main strip, once packed with teens ‘cruising the beach,’ has been replaced by a family-friendly pedestrian beach walk. While the modernization of Clearwater Beach was met with mixed feelings from locals, vacationers looking for anything from a charming beach town to a luxury beach retreat will find it here where kitsch and class coexist.
It’s no wonder Clearwater Beach couldn’t be kept a secret. The hundreds of yards-wide powdery white sand beach stretches for miles, and the tranquil gulf of Mexico glistens beyond as far as the eye can see. Trip Advisor named Clearwater Beach the Nation’s Number One Beach twice, and it is the only Florida Beach to make the Top 25 Beaches in the World list.
Natural beauty is part of the heritage here. Take a kayak tour through the mangroves and discover the manatee. Sail the gulf as a dolphin plays in your wake. Learn all about the delicate marine ecosystems and even meet Winter the Dolphin at the world famous Clearwater Marine Aquarium. For longer vacations, I highly recommend their Summer Camps for kids.
In addition to its beauty and wildlife, Clearwater Beach also offers seaside fun for all ages. You can choose a high speed thrill ride on the Sea Screamer or celebrate with ye mateys on Captain Memo’s Pirate Cruise. There are kid-friendly water sports, parasailing, jet skiing, and fishing tours, to name just a few things to do.
After relaxing on the beach or exploring the tranquil Gulf waters all day, expect a special evening too. Relax with your toes in the sand. Take an evening stroll or dip in the pool. Enjoy the breeze on your hotel balcony. Check out the Sunsets at Pier 60 Festival and listen to live music. Most important, however you spend your evenings and wherever on the beach you are, you must pause to watch each and every sunset.
Whether you head to the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf, enjoy the natural beauty of the sand and the ocean. Both can be made a day trip or spend a night or more really relaxing at the beach.
Sit back, put your toes in the sand, and breath that ocean air!
The MousekeMoms, Lori, Jennifer and Juliana, are experienced Disney moms who dole out valuable, honest, no holds barred information on their weekly podcast to help you plan your Disneyland, Walt Disney World or Disney Cruise Line vacation.
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