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Copyright David McRee 2011 All rights reserved. I have made every reasonable effort to ensure the information in this publication was correct at the time of writing, I do not assume and hereby disclaim any liability to any party for any loss or damage caused by errors, omissions or misleading information presented in this publication, regardless of whether such errors or omissions result from negligence, accident, or any other cause. None of the writing in this book, or any of the photographs may be reproduced in whole or in part in any media, other than reproductions falling under the protection of fair use, without the written permission of David McRee.

If you have comments or insights regarding the information presented in this book, you may contact me by email at beachhunter@beachhunter.net

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Best Beach Day Trips From Orlando and Central Florida

Visiting Orlando’s attractions? Want to take the family on a day trip to the nearest beach? This is the guide you need to pick the best beach near Orlando, whether it’s for a day trip or for an overnighter.

By David McRee

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Table of Contents About the author ........................................................................................................................... 6 Introduction .................................................................................................................................... 7 Navigation ........................................................................................................................................ 7 Gulf Beach or Atlantic Beach? .................................................................................................. 8 Pros and Cons to Consider ........................................................................................................ 9 Gulf of Mexico Beaches ........................................................................................................... 9 Atlantic Beaches ..................................................................................................................... 10 ADA Access ................................................................................................................................... 12 Cocoa Beach ................................................................................................................................. 13 The Beaches / Cocoa Beach ............................................................................................... 15 Jetty Park ................................................................................................................................... 17 Cherie Down Park .................................................................................................................. 22 Cocoa Beach Pier .................................................................................................................... 24 Alan Shephard Park .............................................................................................................. 28 Sydney Fischer Park.............................................................................................................. 31 Lori Wilson Park ..................................................................................................................... 33 Canaveral National Seashore ............................................................................................ 36 Playalinda Beach .................................................................................................................... 37 Klondike Beach ....................................................................................................................... 40 Beach Driving in Volusia County (Daytona & New Smyrna) ................................... 41 Beach Wheelchairs for Disabled Access in Volusia County ..................................... 46 New Smyrna Beach ................................................................................................................... 47 The Beaches of New Smyrna ............................................................................................. 48 Smyrna Dunes Park ............................................................................................................... 49 Flagler Park............................................................................................................................... 54 27th Avenue Park .................................................................................................................... 58 Mary McLeod Bethune Beach Park................................................................................. 61 Apollo Beach / Canaveral National Seashore............................................................. 64 4


Daytona Beach............................................................................................................................. 67 Daytona Beach Accesses Overview .................................................................................... 71 Main Street Pier ...................................................................................................................... 72 Breakers Oceanfront Park .................................................................................................. 76 Sun Splash Park ...................................................................................................................... 78 Frank Rendon Park................................................................................................................ 81 Sunglow Fishing Pier ............................................................................................................ 84 lighthouse point park at Ponce Inlet .............................................................................. 86 Clearwater, St. Pete BEACHES OVERVIEW ..................................................................... 89 Clearwater Beach ....................................................................................................................... 90 Sand Key Park.............................................................................................................................. 95 Pass-A-Grille Beach ................................................................................................................... 99 Fort Desoto County Park ...................................................................................................... 103

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR Who am I to be writing a book about Florida Beaches? Well, I was born in Bradenton, Florida and have been going to the beach in Florida all my life. In 2005 I self-published a guide to the beaches of Florida’s southwest coast, covering the beaches from Dunedin to Marco Island. It’s called Florida Beaches: Finding Your Paradise on the Lower Gulf Coast. In July 2007, VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s official tourism promotion folks, hired me to be the “beaches and surf expert” for their website. I spent two years traveling to different islands and beaches around Florida, writing articles, taking photos, shooting video, blogging, and answering a lot of questions about beaches on the Q&A section of the web site. Since 2005, I’ve been maintaining and growing a web site about Florida beaches, called BeachHunter.net. It gets close to 100,000 unique visitors each month for most of the year and has over 2,000,000 page views each year. In 2009 I started a blog, BlogTheBeach.com, where I write about topics of interest to Florida Beach lovers. I’ve also been fortunate to have met some great folks who have taught me even more about Florida islands and beaches. I certainly don’t know everything there is to know about Florida beaches (no one does), but I have the answers to the most common questions that visitors ask, and I can help you determine which beach is the best for you and your family. 6


INTRODUCTION I’ve written this guide specifically for people who have come to Florida to spend time in Orlando (usually to bring the family to Disney World), and who want to take a day or two to visit a nearby beach. I know you don’t have much time, and you don’t want to spend a week researching beaches, so I’ve done the legwork for you. I have a lot of experience with Florida beaches and I’ve made numerous trips over the years to each of the beaches in this book. I will tell you the pros and cons of each beach, so you can make the best choice. I will be focusing on the main beach accesses, which have areas for parking. However, I’ll also be mentioning, in a very general way, what your options are for accommodations in each of the areas, just in case you decide to make it an overnight beach trip. Every possible beach access is not mentioned in this book, just the major ones. I will specifically name the ones that I most

recommend.

NAVIGATION I do not include navigational maps in this book. I provide descriptions of the best routes to use to arrive at the beaches as well as alternatives when applicable. I am assuming that you have access to a GPS, or to a handheld phone or other device with access to Google Maps, or that you will stop and purchase up-to-date local street maps. I recommend using a GPS. Note that I include GPS coordinates of all the beach accesses in this book. Use common sense when using the coordinates I provide. I’m not immune to making mistakes, though I try very hard to be accurate.

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GULF BEACH OR ATLANTIC BEACH? When choosing which side of the state to have your day at the beach, the first consideration is driving time. The trip from Orlando to the Atlantic Ocean is about one hour. Driving from Orlando to the Gulf beaches will take nearly two hours if you don’t run into any slow-downs on Interstate 4. In my opinion, the extra drive time is worthwhile and should not prevent you from coming over to the Gulf beaches. The next consideration is what type of swimming you are looking for. If you have kids or adults interested in surfing, you’ll want to consider the Atlantic side. If you’d rather have calmer, gentler water, the Gulf side is more likely to offer that (not guaranteed, but much more likely). Third, you’ll want to think about traffic congestion, drive time, and parking issues. Generally speaking, you will run into more traffic congestion and parking limitations on the Gulf coast beaches of Pinellas County (Tampa / St. Pete) beaches than you will on the Atlantic side. Nevertheless, this should not discourage you from visiting the Gulf beaches if they better suit your overall needs. Fourth, if you have family members seriously interested in finding shells, the Gulf coast beaches are far more likely to have nice shells on the beach.

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Daytona Beach, New Smyrna Beach and Apollo Beach What’s unique about Volusia County Beaches is that on many parts of the beach cars are allowed to drive and park right on the beach.

Photo: Driving north on New Smyrna Beach between Flagler and Smyrna Dunes Park.

BEACH DRIVING IN VOLUSIA COUNTY (DAYTONA & NEW SMYRNA) Essentially, to drive on the beach, you just find a street that opens out onto the sandy beach (referred to as a “beach ramp”), pay the toll at the booth, and start driving. But as you can imagine, a large body of rules and regulations has 41


been developed over the years to protect the beach and the people on it from cars. The best information on beach driving in Volusia County can be found at http://volusia.org where they have maps and an explanation of the rules. Here are the basics: Beach driving hours: Sunrise to sunset Nov 1 – April 30. 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. May 1 – Oct 31 Beach driving fees: $5 per vehicle per day from Feb 1 through Nov 30. Dec & January you can drive on the beach for free. Seasonal passes can be purchased at the beach ramp toll booths. Speed limit is 10 miles per hour. The beach is always open and free to pedestrians and bicycles. However, there are times when access ramps may be closed to all traffic because of tides and beach conditions. The beach is usually closed to cars during high tides. You might want to check the tides or contact the beach patrol before coming to the beach if driving on the beach is important to you. If there is a low tide in the morning, then the beach ramps may be open until early afternoon. Once the tide starts coming in, cars have to leave the beach. Strong winds can either accelerate or delay the movement and height of the tides. Beaches in Volusia County are divided into 3 zones, Natural, Transition, and Urban: Natural Zones have less development and more vegetation. In order to preserve these areas, driving or parking is NOT allowed on the beach in Natural Zones. In New Smyrna Beach, no driving is allowed on the beach from 27th Avenue all the way to and including Canaveral National Seashore. Transitional Zones have some dunes and some seawalls, but not heavy crowds. Driving and parking is allowed on the beach in Transitional Zones. You must keep your vehicle at least 30 feet from the dunes or seawalls. There 42


are usually poles placed in the ground at intervals with signs that designate the areas close to the dunes where parking is not allowed. Urban Zones have intense crowds, hotels, high-rise condominiums and seawalls. Driving and parking is allowed (unless marked otherwise by signs) in Urban Zones. You must keep your vehicle at least 15 feet from the dunes or seawalls. Beach Access Overview for New Smyrna  Smyrna Dunes Park – off-beach parking, restrooms  Beachway Avenue – driving access ramp  North Beach Park – off-beach parking and access for disabled, restrooms.  Flagler Avenue – lifeguard station, free off-beach parking, restrooms, access for disabled  6th Avenue – off-beach parking  12th Avenue – off-beach parking  18th Avenue – access for disabled  24th Avenue – off-beach parking  27th Avenue – off-beach parking, access for disabled, restrooms  Matthews Ave – off-beach parking  Hiles Blvd – off-beach parking  Mary McLeod Bethune Park – off-beach parking, access for disabled, restrooms  Canaveral National Seashore Park accesses.

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Above: Beach ramp for cars, attendant booth, and typical signage.

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There are many types of beach wheelchairs. Above is one example that is typical.

BEACH WHEELCHAIRS FOR DISABLED ACCESS IN VOLUSIA COUNTY Volusia County, which includes Daytona and New Smyrna beaches, has a program called Beach Wheels that provides special wheelchairs with large inflated tires suitable for navigating soft sand. These chairs require an able bodied person to push them. According to Volusia County, these specialized wheelchairs are available free of charge at the following Lifeguard stations and parks:    

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Dunlawton Avenue beach ramp, Daytona Beach Shores (386.756.7490) Lighthouse Point Park, Ponce Inlet (386.756.7488) Flagler Avenue, New Smyrna Beach (386.424.2345) Frank Rendon Park, 2705 Atlantic Ave, Daytona Beach Shores (386.239.6414)


NEW SMYRNA BEACH Between the world-famous sands and non-stop party reputation of Daytona, and the “surfing and space” lure of Cocoa Beach, New Smyrna Beach has somehow remained lost to the outside world, or so it seems. An overall lack of hotel rooms and a preference for by-the-week-only condominium rentals has helped send weekend vacationers north to Daytona or south to Cocoa Beach. But this beach-focused island has some really sweet beaches. Unlike beaches to the north and south, New Smyrna has white quartz sand on the northern beaches and some of the best surfing waves in Florida. New Smyrna strikes me as a town owned by the locals, not by the tourists. Hotels are limited; condominiums rule the coast. The hotel I recommend is the Holiday Inn. All the rooms are suites. They are very clean, all have a view of the ocean, and the price is reasonable. I’ve stayed there twice and have always had good experiences in spite of some ongoing renovation projects. They have an excellent housekeeping staff. Good restaurants are nearby. Like Daytona, driving on the beach at New Smyrna is a continuing tradition. Also, like Daytona, not all beaches allow driving. Signs clearly indicate which beaches allow driving.

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THE BEACHES OF NEW SMYRNA The main beach accesses in New Smyrna Beach are:     

Smyrna Dunes Park Flagler Park 27th Avenue Park Mary McLeod Bethune Beach Park Apollo Beach/Canaveral National Seashore

Flagler Park – This park has a beach ramp for beach driving, several restaurants, beach equipment sales and rentals, restrooms and shopping right on a great beach. Note that as of Nov 1, 2011 the parking area and restrooms are under renovation/reconstruction. 27th Avenue Park – Excellent beach and restroom facilities and free parking. No beach rentals equipment rentals or food/drink within walking distance. Apollo Beach - If you want a remote beach, this is where you want to go.

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SMYRNA DUNES PARK GPS Coordinates: 29.065951, -80.914784 Location: 2995 North Peninsula Avenue, New Smyrna Beach, FL Directions: From Orlando, take I-4 north to S.R. 44. Continue on S.R. 44 through New Smyrna, across the South Causeway bridge. Turn left on N. Peninsula and follow all the way to the park. From A1A: Follow A1A north to Flagler Avenue. Turn left on Flagler. Turn right on N. Peninsula and drive north to the park.

Web site: http://volusia.org/parks/smyrnadunes.htm Park manager phone: 386-424-2935 Cost: Generally, $5 per vehicle. This is a huge (73 acres) beach park at the northern end of New Smyrna Beach on Ponce Inlet. There is a fee to enter the park, which has paved parking, restrooms, a covered picnic area and drink vending machines. It is a very long 49


walk to the beach across a hot dry shade-less boardwalk. Alternatively, you can drive onto the beach at the Beachway Avenue ramp (GPS: 29.051705, -80.902945), south of the park, then drive north to the park to enjoy the beach and jetty.

The northern boundary of the park is Ponce Inlet, a picturesque inlet from the Atlantic Ocean with a huge rock jetty on the Daytona side and a much smaller pair of rock jetties on the New Smyrna side. The sand in this park is beautiful white quartz crystals which is remarkably pure for this part of the state. Cars can drive on part of the beach in the park, but there is no beach ramp for cars within the park. The nearest beach ramp for cars is on Beachway Avenue, south of the park. The easiest way to reach the beach in the park is to drive out onto the beach from a beach ramp access like Beachway Avenue or Flagler Avenue and drive north on the beach until you reach the park. This is a great park for fishing, relaxing on the beach, birding (you can often get a good view of some pelagic birds like Northern gannets in the inlet), and bike riding. There are some large Florida gopher tortoises to be seen near their burrows in the large dry dunes. New Smyrna Beach jetty, just south of Ponce Inlet is one of the best surfing spots on Florida’s Atlantic coast.

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Amenities       

Restrooms Vending machines Covered picnic tables More than a mile of wooden boardwalk nature trails Fishing in all areas of the park Driving on the beach Lifeguards: Published information indicates there are NO lifeguards on duty. I have seen lifeguards here in years past, but don’t expect them. Call the park for current status if lifeguard coverage is important to you.

Rules Dogs are allowed on the beach, but must be leashed at all times. Boardwalks are closed to dogs after 10am. Dogs allowed on boardwalk 1 hour before sunset. No skateboards, rollerblades or bicycles on boardwalks. Alcohol: I’m unable to find any signage or published rules either permitting or prohibiting alcoholic beverages in the park or on the beach. The general rule in Volusia County is that no alcohol is allowed on the beaches. If drinking alcohol is important to you, call the park to learn the current rules.

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Photos of Smyrna Dunes Park

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Above: A group of birders visiting Smyrna Dunes to enjoy the wonderful birdwatching opportunities.

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FLAGLER PARK GPS coordinates: 29.038259, -80.895620 Directions: From Orlando go east on I-4 about 20 miles to County Road 44. Drive east on C.R. 44 to New Smyrna Beach. After you cross the bridge onto the island, turn left (north) on S. Peninsula Avenue and proceed to the traffic light at Flagler Ave. Turn right on Flagler and drive through the somewhat quaint downtown area a couple of blocks to the beach access. There is a free unpaved parking lot on the south side of Flagler or, conditions permitting, you can pay the fee and drive onto the beach to park (free beach driving in December and January). There are no dunes or beach vegetation at this access, just a sea wall with stairs and a ramp to the beach.

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The reasons I picked this as my recommended beach on New Smyrna are many:  It’s located in a historic downtown area with quaint shops and boutiques. You can walk from the beach and do some shopping.  It has a great casual restaurant right on the beach (The Breakers) as well as several others within walking distance, including the New Smyrna Beach Fish House. Last time I was there the fish house offered a lunch special fish sandwich with one side and a soda or iced-tea for $6.99. I like The Breakers though because it is literally right on the beach with an ocean view.  It has free off-beach parking and public restrooms with a changing area. It has outdoor rinse-off showers.  There is a beach shop across the street called “Wild Side” where you can buy anything you might need for a day at the beach.  There are vendors on the beach during the high season that rent surfboards and other beach equipment. Also, the beach shop, Wild Side, offers bike rentals, mopeds, electric cars, and stand-up paddle boards. Nichol’s Surf Shop, just up the street rents bicycles and surfboards. Another surf shop, Inlet Charley’s also rents surf boards.

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Flagler beach & lifeguard.

The Breakers Restaurant. Beach casual.

Flagler summer beach crowd & vendors.

Flagler ramp & Breakers Restaurant.

Flagler Under Renovation It is important to note that beginning November 1, 2011, through Spring 2012, the Flagler access will be under renovation. The free parking lot may be partially or fully closed and the restrooms may not be available. I would expect that they will put up portable bathrooms. You can still drive and park on the beach, weather and tide conditions permitting. The Flagler access restrooms are badly outdated and in need of upgrading, so this is a welcome renovation. The parking area is free and first-come-firstserved, but did not have marked spaces. This resulted in poor use of space. They will be fixing this and will also fix the rusted metal roof on the beach facade. 56


When you visit, if you find the beach parking closed due to a high tide and the free parking lot full or closed, then you should consider proceeding south to the 27th Avenue beach park which is the next beach access I discuss. Amenities:  Lifeguards: The beach patrol’s headquarters are located at the southern end of the Flagler access and there are lifeguard towers on the beach.  Picnic tables and grills: None. They want you to eat in the restaurants. ADA Access: This access may also have a special beach wheelchair on hand as part of their Beach Wheels Program. Call 386-424-2345 to check availability. The beach seawall is accessible to wheelchairs from the parking lot. Although the restrooms are marked as wheelchair accessible, they do not appear so to me. The step up is too high. No doubt the renovations will greatly improve access for the mobility challenged. Beach Rules:  No animals allowed on the beach.  No alcoholic beverages on the beach. (But you can order a beer or wine at The Breakers and enjoy it with a view of the ocean).  No glass containers allowed on the beach.

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Be sure to connect with me on the web:

Facebook.com/floridabeachhunter

Twitter.com/beachhunter My blog: BlogTheBeach.com My web sites:

BeachHunter.net Best-of-St-Pete-Beach.com

My Florida Gulf Beaches guidebook. Also available as an e-book.

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Download my FREE e-book on beach safety.

http://www.beachhunter.net/beachsafety.htm

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Best Beach Day Trips from Orlando & Central Florida  

Visiting Central Florida & Orlando attractions? Disney? Universal? SeaWorld? Want to take the family on a day trip to a nearby beach? This i...

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