Beach Life Near Orlando

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Beach Life Near Orlando
While not on the coast itself, Orlando offers easy access to Florida’s Atlantic beaches—perfect for action-packed water sports, lazing away the day in a beachside hammock, sipping margaritas and snacking on shrimp, or even seeing a rocket launch.
By Jack Barr, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Richard Cummins/age fotostock
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    Ponce Inlet
    Just 65 miles from Orlando, Ponce Inlet is a coastal town snuggled between Daytona Beach and New Smyrna Beach. A highlight is the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse and Museum. The lighthouse keeper’s dwelling and museum exhibits offer a glimpse into what life was like in Florida in the early 1900s. The lighthouse, the second tallest in the United States, is a National Historical Landmark. Climbing its 213 stairs is a bit of a workout but well worth the effort for the incredible views of the Atlantic Ocean and for the tropical breezes.
    Photo by Richard Cummins/age fotostock
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    Cocoa Beach and Other Surf Spots
    Florida has produced some of the world's top surfers—think Cocoa Beach native Kelly Slater, crowned ASP World Tour Champion 11 times. To catch your wave, just head east from Orlando on Florida S. R. 528 (the Bee Line toll road) and it’ll drop you off in Cocoa Beach, right in the middle of the best surf beaches—from North Peninsula State Park (to the north) to Sebastian Inlet State Park (to the south). Beginners can rent a board and get schooled at Ron Jon’s in Cocoa Beach. Pros can ride the sets at the “first peak” on the north side of the jetty at Sebastian Inlet. In November, east coast and west coast surf dogs hang ten and compete in the Florida International Dog Surfing Championship at Cocoa Beach.
    Photo by John Henley/age fotostock
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    Seafront Dining
    Florida's sunshine makes for a lot of fun, but it can really work up your appetite. Relax at a seaside restaurant, enjoy fresh seafood, and sip on a few cold ones. At Coconuts on the Beach at Cocoa Beach you can sit on the beachfront deck, munch on a grouper sandwich, and tap your flip-flops to live music. Down the block, Oasis Shaved Ice offers a sweet and refreshing way to cool down. Check out the Coca Cola memorabilia while there. In Titusville—just a few miles north of Cocoa—is locals’ favorite, Dixie Crossroads. Go for corn fritters and broiled rock shrimp, served by the dozen. A local delicacy, rock shrimp tastes a lot like lobster.
    Photo by Thuy Vi Gates
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    Make the Most of Nature
    Nature lovers have plenty to get excited about in Florida, where some 30% of the land is protected for conservation and recreation purposes, much of it near Orlando. Find miles of unspoiled beaches at Cape Canaveral National Seashore, where you can spot endangered shorebirds or kayak in the Atlantic. At Sebastian Inlet State Park, go snorkeling or shelling. Opposite the beach is Indian River Lagoon, ideal for kayaking and spotting wildlife; manatees are particularly common. North Peninsula State Park, north of Daytona, has good hiking trails and bird watching. You can spot native and migratory species—look for roseate spoonbills with their deep pink plumage. Gopher tortoises—large, native land tortoises—also call the park home.
    Photo by Thuy Vi Gates
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    Cotton Candy, Carnival Rides, and Race Cars
    Daytona Beach's pier and retro boardwalk offer old-fashioned seaside amusements. Drop some quarters in the arcade and sample saltwater taffy. For a bird’s-eye view of the ocean, go for a whirl on the beachside Ferris wheel. Ocean Walk Village and the band shell provide shopping, dining, and entertainment. Daytona Beach is one of the few beaches where you can drive your car and park on the sand. On the subject of cars, nearby is the renowned Daytona International Speedway. February's headlining NASCAR racing event is the Daytona 500, preceded by speed weeks with car shows and "meet the driver" events. Festivities continue to rev up in March with Daytona Bike Week.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    New Smyrna Beach
    The golden sand of New Smyrna Beach is perfect for biking, walking, and sand sculpting. Go to Wild Side, which sits just before the beach ramp, for sandcastle-building tools as well as rental bikes, surfboards, scooters, and electric carts. A daily beach pass admits your whole crew and car right onto the beach. For a break from the shore, take a walk down historic Flagler Avenue and soak up the beach town's vibe. Stop in Nichols Surf Shop and Café (established in 1969) for a latte, and browse local art at Galleria Di Vetro. Munch on corn sprinkled with paprika lime salt at Café Verde. And be sure to check out the old-fashioned Coronado/Mainland Shuffleboard Club, established in 1937.
    Photo by Raphye Alexius/age fotostock
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    Get Out on the Water
    Central Florida offers abundant choices to get on the ocean. If you fancy learning a new water sport, Ron Jon Surf Shop in Cocoa Beach offers kiteboarding lessons that will have you up to speed in no time. If it's paddleboarding that floats your boat try outfitters like Central Florida Paddleboarding, which offers rentals, lessons, and tours in New Smyrna and throughout Orlando. Alternatively, New Smyrna Stand Up offers a romantic cheese and wine paddle at sunset. To ramp up the adrenaline, go parasailing, jet skiing, or wind surfing. Beachside vendors provide equipment and some instruction. Kids can get their feet wet by boogie boarding or skim boarding. Additionally, many marinas offer boat rentals.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Where to Get Your Surf Gear
    Orlando and the beaches offer a variety of surf shops, from over-the-top mega stores to small, locally-owned shops. Iconic Ron Jon Surf Shop, with locations in Orlando and Cocoa Beach, retails all things beach and surf—from sand pails to swimwear to surfboards. The Cocoa Beach outpost is open 24/7, 365 days a year. Other big shops include Cocoa Beach Surf Company and Maui Nix at Daytona Beach, where you can pick up a pair of shades, a rubber alligator, or a coffee mug. Be sure to check out smaller local outlets like Epic in Cocoa Beach, Quiet Flight and Nichols Surf Shop in New Smyrna Beach, and MADDOG in Daytona Beach. In addition to necessary (and not so necessary) beach gear, many shops offer surfboard rentals and lessons.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Hook, Line, and Sinker
    Recreational fishing is a Florida tradition. Catching your first snook, redfish, or kingfish is an experience that won't soon be forgotten. If you'd like to add deep sea fishing to your bucket list, one of the best ways is to charter a boat and a guide. For a family or a group it’s a relative bargain since tour operators provide the necessary gear and licenses. Deep sea and backcountry fishing guides are easy to find at most beach enclaves. Shore fishing is another saltwater angling option, though a fishing license is required and regulations apply. To avoid crowds, drop your line during the early morning or early evening. At more secluded beaches, such as Cape Canaveral’s Playalinda Beach, you can snag a spot for the day.
    Photo by John Lambert/age fotostock
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    Castles in the Sand
    If your idea of a perfect day at the beach is sitting back in a chair and burying your toes in the soft sand, then the beaches of Indialantic, Melbourne, and Satellite have got you (and your toes) covered. Although they are developed, the beaches are not crowded. A mix of beachside vacation rentals and small hotels are available, and you can enjoy the family beach vacation of yore: Just relax in your chair, nap under an umbrella, read, and watch the kids build sandcastles and frolic in the surf. For dinner, treat yourself to fresh seafood. Snag a patio table at tucked-away Bonefish Willy's Best Riverfront Grille in Melbourne. Or get shuckin' on oysters and clams at Bunky's Raw Bar in Indialantic.
    Photo by age fotostock