Clearwater Beach

7 beaches close to Walt Disney World

Susan Barnes

Smack dab in the middle of Central Florida sits Walt Disney World®, with its theme parks and water park. There’s even a Disney-esque beach: Blizzard Beach. But when you want to get to the 1,260 miles of coastline and the beaches in the Sunshine State, it’s as easy as heading east or west on I-4 from Downtown Disney. Here are seven – like the dwarfs – nearby beaches to spend a day of fun in the sun. And just like the seven dwarfs, they each have their own vibe.

To the East – the Atlantic Ocean

Cocoa Beach (65 miles, approx. 1.25-hour drive): Drive east on the appropriately-named Beach Line from I-4 and you’ll run right into one of the world’s most famous beaches – Cocoa Beach. Just south of Kennedy Space Center, walk the 800-foot pier that stretches into the Atlantic Ocean; try your hand – or feet – at surfing on the same small-ish, consistent waves that pro surfer Kelly Slater learned; or stop by Ron Jon Surf Shop and deck yourself out like a surfer dude or dudette. 

A wide expanse of packed sand is synonymous with New Smyrna Beach. (Photo courtesy of New Smyrna Beach Area CVB)

New Smyrna Beach (71 miles, approx. 1.25-hour drive): Tucked between Cocoa Beach to the south and Daytona Beach to the north is New Smyrna Beach, a quieter beachside town that still offers all of the fun in the sun that’s found at its sister beaches. Spend the day frolicking in the surf, and then grab a bite at one of the casual beachfront restaurants that overlook the ocean.

At 175 feet, the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse, built in 1887, is the tallest in all of Florida.

Ponce Inlet (79 miles, approx. 1.5-hour drive): Across the inlet from New Smyrna Beach is Ponce Inlet and its lighthouse, the tallest in all of Florida. Climb 203 steps to the top of the 175-foot tower and take in the sweeping, panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean and surrounding landscape below.

Daytona Beach (71 miles, approx. 1.5-hour drive): Perhaps one of the most iconic beaches in all of Florida, Daytona Beach has been attracting visitors to its 23 miles of white sands, boardwalk and pier for more than 125 years. On the sand, there’s plenty of shelling, swimming and surfing to be had, and off the sand, there’s so much more.

To the West – the Gulf of Mexico

Clearwater Beach (92 miles, approx. 1.75-hour drive): From Downtown Disney, head west on I-4, through Tampa on I-275 and continue on until the road ends on the sugar-soft and white sands of Clearwater Beach. Its broad beaches, turquoise water and hotels, shops and restaurants make it one of the most popular beaches in the area. The country has noticed, too – Clearwater Beach was named #5 in the U.S. on TripAdvisor’s list of Top Beaches for 2020, and was #1 on the list in 2019, 2018 and 2016.

Visitors hit the jackpot when they arrive at Treasure Island Beach. (Photo courtesy of VisitStPeteClearwater.com)

Treasure Island (96 miles, approx. 1.75-hour drive): Tucked between St. Pete Beach and Clearwater Beach, Treasure Island is popular for offshore fishing and diving, in addition to beach time. It was home to Florida’s first residents, settled more than 10,000 years ago by Native Americans trying to escape the Ice Age that was ravaging the Northern Hemisphere. Sound familiar?

Stand up paddling at St. Pete Beach. (Photo courtesy of VisitStPeteClearwater.com)

St. Pete Beach (99 miles, approx. 1.75-hour drive): Surprisingly, St. Pete Beach is one of the few spots along the Gulf of Mexico known for surfing, not to mention its popular beaches. In fact, it’s TripAdvisor’s No. 1 beach in the U.S. in 2021!

Stay up to date on changing travel conditions; please check with local and statewide authorities for the latest guidelines.

Feature image: Clearwater Beach from the air. (Photo courtesy of VisitStPeteClearwater.com)

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