What with all the epic man and mouse-made attractions in the Orlando area, it can be easy to forget that Florida also has some of the top-ranked beaches in the USA (not to mention some pretty sweet claims to fame too). And last we checked, aside from ice cream and bottled water, days at these amazing beaches can be as free as the Hawaiian Tropic-scented air. Obviously, you’re not going to want to spend your holiday on the highway trying to reach the beach, so here’s our pick of perfect day-out spots within relatively easy reach of Orlando...
We’re not about to explain what can be fun about being on a wide sweep of beach with the rolling ocean beckoning you in for a refreshing dip. If you decide to head inland, be sure to visit the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, who are dedicated to rehabilitating and rescuing sea life.
Cocoa and Daytona beaches
A picture-perfect sand/ocean combo here too, of course. Back before NASCAR was a thing, cars used to race on a loop that included the Daytona seafront road and a section of the beach. The all-American motorsport is still headquartered in the town and the nearby Daytona Speedway is well worth a tour. But even without spending a dime you can still drive your car onto the beach, if only for convenience – so park up, get your cossies from the boot and have a blast.
It’s no exaggeration to say that everyone we recommend Sarasota to comes back full of superlatives. Siesta Beach, Sarasota currently holds second place in the best beaches in the USA and, frankly, at this level of beach awesomeness, there’s barely a grain of sand between the top two spots. The town is laid back, with a thriving cultural scene, and the whole area just exudes a classy cool that costs nothing to enjoy.
St Augustine is the perfect example of a great Florida day out that might otherwise take a back seat to inverted rollercoasters and lashings of Butterbeer. It’s the first (and the longest continually inhabited) city in the USA, so it’s engrossing to wander around from the get-go. There’s a massive fortress that you can visit, a great pirate museum and, if you want to push the boat out (literally and figuratively) there are super-entertaining pirate cruises that you can take from the harbour.
The Town of Celebration
Celebration is the town that Disney built. No, really. The first phase of this new town was completed in 1996, and true to its corporate founder, it’s practically perfect in every way. Walking around Celebration is not unlike being in Back to the Future’s Hill Valley – oh so wholesome – and the centre has many buildings designed by world-famous architects. Celebration’s enduring appeal comes from its charming boutiques and eateries, and its great seasonal touches. Halloween is big thing here, and despite the lack of a wintry climate, over the Christmas holidays it ‘snows’ in the centre like clockwork, every day.
In our experience, even if you're ticking off Orlando’s legendary attractions, your holiday gets even better when you blend in some serious R&R at the beaches and a few of the locals’ favourite pastimes and places. Check out our Florida holidays to find out how you can do the Sunshine State for yourself.