Question: We will be in Orlando for a week visiting Disney World and would like to take a day trip to a nice beach. What is the best beach closest to Orlando? How far is it to Clearwater Beach on the Gulf side?
The closest beaches to Orlando are less than an hour's drive. Both Cocoa Beach and Daytona Beach are about the same distance from Orlando. Cocoa Beach has more parking available, unless you want to park out on the beach. Daytona does not have much parking because they allow cars to drive on and park out on the beach. This works out fine unless beach conditions do not permit (tide too high, sand too soft, etc). If you are going for a day trip, I'd recommend Cocoa Beach.
Clearwater beach is about two hours away from Orlando. A bit far for a day trip, especially if you have younger children, but still doable. Parking can be tight on weekends and any time during January through April, so arrive early to get a good spot. Expect to pay for parking.
I've created a special page on Beachhunter.net that compares the different beach choices, including photos and Google maps for directions here: Beaches close to Orlando.
For more in-depth discussion and a complete list of the best beaches close to Orlando, grab a copy of my e-book, Best Beach Day Trips from Orlando and Central Florida. It offers more than 100 pages of details on all the beaches as well as many color photos. You'll be amazed at how many beaches are available within an hour or two of Orlando.
Find out what the pros and cons are of Gulf vs. Atlantic; Daytona vs. New Smyrna vs. Cocoa Beach; and much more. Pick the right beach for yourself and your family. More info about the e-book.
If you don't want to buy the book, you can have access to it online for free here: Best Beach Day Trips from Orlando and Central Florida.