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Which beach towns should we visit?

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Which beach towns should we visit?


My family will be in Orlando Florida for a conference and we'll be visiting Disney World with our 3 yr old. We then have 4 more days of vacation and would love some advice on which beach towns we should stay at for the rest of the vacation? We will need to get back to Orlando to fly home, so we're after something that is 3-4 hrs max away.

We want a place with beautiful beaches, white sand and good/great food. We're from Chicago and in desperate need of a nice real beach to visit!

Would you suggest St Petersburg and if yes, which side? Any thoughts on Tampa?

We're after a nice get away.

Thank you!

Saint Louis...
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1. Re: Which beach towns should we visit?

The closest, nicest place would be Clearwater Beach, Sand Key. Driving all the way to St Pete beach just adds more time in the car.

Tampa is not beachfront.

There are lots of little beachfront towns between Clearwater Beach down

to SPB. It would be about a 2 hr dr. with traffic. (Indian Rocks Beach, Madeira Beach, Treasure island)

Edited: 28 March 2011, 18:16
Dardenne Prairie...
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2. Re: Which beach towns should we visit?

I agree with greenthum. This will be my 3rd year staying in the Maderia Beach area. Love it! Johns's Pass is accross the street from where we stay. Lots of places to eat and touristy shops.

Cocoa Beach, Florida
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3. Re: Which beach towns should we visit?

The closest beach is Cocoa Beach, about 45-60 minutes on an Interstate-style highway, away from Orlando. Compared to the Gulf side, Cocoa Beach has waves to play in to the extent that you will see many surfers; any surf action is very weak on the Gulf. We love leaving our windows open at night and hearing the surf sounds.

However, the Gulf has shallower water and whiter sand, giving it a characteristic light blue color that is more striking than the darker green of the ocean. Cocoa Beach has pretty sunrises, the Gulf has pretty sunsets.

In the cooler months, the shallower water will be warmer than that on the Atlantic side. In the warmer months, the Atlantic side will have a refreshing ocean breeze.

The Kennedy Space Center is right near Cocoa Beach -- you can see the gantries and sometimes a rocket launch right from the beach. However, your 3-year old is probably too young to get much out of a visit to KSC. The famous Ron Jon Surf Shop is right there, just off the beach, and little kids love the Dinosaur Shop. Cocoa Beach is a mid-level family tourist place with dozens and dozens of restaurants and hotels of all types up and down the beach. But, it isn't as built up as some other places, with the big high rises, and the traffic is less and parking easy.

The world's second-largest cruise port is just north of Cocoa Beach by 2-3 miles. Early in the morning, you can stand on your balcony and watch the big cruise ships come into port, and later in the afternoon, watch them sail out to sea, very near the beaches. There are some restaurants at the port where you can sit within 150 yards of the ships, including the Disney Magic and the Disney Dream, and wave at the passengers on deck. The horns on the Disney ships play "When You Wish Upon a Star", a nice touch.

Ron Jon operates a resort in Cape Canaveral, just adjacent to Cocoa Beach, that has a water park, lazy river, etc. They and others have kids programs. There is a nice zoo about 25 minutes away, and airboat rides to see alligators in the swamps. Like many places, there are putt-putt courses and movie cineplexes nearby.

If you are looking for really upmarket and won't miss the ocean surf, there are some swankier resorts over on the Gulf side, also at Sarasota and even Naples, which is about 4 hours from Orlando.

Florida is a family vacation mecca, and I'm sure you will have a great time wherever you go!

Westerville, Ohio
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4. Re: Which beach towns should we visit?

Daytona Beach is also within 90 minutes. Daytona has whiter sand, clearer water and a wider flatter beach than Cocoa. Daytona is a big destination and has every restaurant option.

I frequent Melbourne Beach, 10 miles south of Cocoa. Very nice family hotels including a Doubletree and Hilton. Great restaurants that are frequently discussed in this forum.

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5. Re: Which beach towns should we visit?

Thanks everyone for your suggestions! these are great :)

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6. Re: Which beach towns should we visit?

I haven't spent much time on the southern Atlantic coast (the furthest south I got was Jacksonville/St. Augustine, which is lovely but way too far from Orlando) but it sounds like PhotoTravels has you quite well-informed on the Cocoa Beach area!

I've stayed lots and lots of times on the Gulf side because my grandparents had a condo there for decades, and can confirm the beautiful white sand beaches with plenty of fun places to eat and shop nearby. While Tampa isn't on the water, it's not far from St. Pete Beach and they have some fun attractions like the Salvador Dali museum and the Tampa Zoo (with a manatee rescue program). You wouldn't want to stay in Tampa but maybe take a day trip in from the beach. I think Clearwater also has a manatee rescue center that you can visit. John's Pass in Madeira Beach, as Kaub mentioned, has a boardwalk with great shops & restaurants and a small marina where you can pay to go for a boat ride (on a pirate ship, if you like) or even rent a boat yourself for the day, or half the day. The boardwalk is also a great place to just hang out and watch dolphins! Nearby "Pirate's Cove" is a pretty sweet miniature golf course too, if you're into that sort of thing. They have live alligators in a big pen that you can feed!

A little further south, just south of St Pete Beach, is a historic district called Pass-a-Grille with more fun restaurants and a unique shopping district, GREAT place to rent a bike for the day. They have a little marina too that offers fishing excursions and sunset cruises. We loved the little restaurants on the bay! St Pete Beach has some pretty great beach bars right on the Gulf; we loved the Undertow for its huge beer selection, delicious chicken wings, beach games, and amazing view of the water. It gets a little crazy on weekend nights but it's tons of fun.

On nearby Tierra Verde there is a really big, fabulous state park called Fort de Soto. It's a WONDERFUL place to spend a day! They have multiple beaches, fishing piers, bike rentals, canoe and kayak rentals, and just miles and miles of natural beauty. It's only a few miles from St Pete Beach and very much worth a visit. Just a few small road tolls to get there, and no admission fee! On the way back to your hotel, stop at Billy's Stone Crab for fabulous seafood treats and friendly service.

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7. Re: Which beach towns should we visit?

Hi vevo,

When you ask about "which side" of St Petersburg, I'm guessing you mean the city on the mainland, or the (separate and distinct) barrier-island town of St Pete Beach. St Petersburg has a lovely downtown waterfront, but SPB is the place with the beach! We have four+ miles of white sand beach, many different beachfront lodging options (large resorts, small hotels, condos), and plenty of family-friendly restaurants. And ice cream stands!

And, actually, it takes no longer to drive to SPB than Clearwater Beach, because more of the miles are on the highway as opposed to city streets. (I know it doesn't sound right but Mapquest it!)

I agree that Fort DeSoto Park would be a nice place to visit . They have an award-winning beach (North Beach, often dotted with shells), fishing piers, and bike trails and rentals. They even have surrey-type bikes that are very popular for families with little ones. BTW, the tolls are a .50 road toll, and a .35 park entrance toll, for which you will need exact change.


If you are not theme-parked-out, your little one might enjoy the new Sesame Street prescool area at Busch Gardens, too.


For further info about previously mentioned places:





With regards to the Salvador Dali Museum in St Petersburg, I would skip that with a three year old. Not only would s/he likely be bored, but much of Dali's work is adult-themed, and the guides will skip much of their usual speech if there is a child in the group.

Good luck finding a spot! Let us know where you end up :-)

Orlando, Florida
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8. Re: Which beach towns should we visit?

The Gulf Coast beaches are the best in the country... they are definitely worth the additional drive.

The beaches near St. Petersburg/Clearwater are about 1.5 hours from Orlando. Clearwater Beach, Sand Key, Madeira Beach, and St. Pete Beach are wonderful beach towns.

My favorite beaches are near Sarasota (about 2 hours from Orlando). Siesta Key and Lido Key have incredible beaches, and a wonderful casual atmosphere. Sarasota itself is a spectacular city, with wonderful shopping, dining, and attractions.

Chelmsford, United...
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9. Re: Which beach towns should we visit?

Daytona has a fantastic little town by the beachfront - it has bars & restaurants & a small waterpark.

We didnt realise how long the beachfront was there - I think its 16 miles or something like that so we hired a quad bike to explore the whole beach front & had a fantastic time - highly recommend :)

10. Re: Which beach towns should we visit?

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