Great Beaches in the Orlando Area

The Sunshine State may be a relatively narrow slice of sand, swamp and concrete with water on most sides. But don't expect any sea breezes to rustle your hair at the Orlando theme parks this summer. Central Florida can be one stifling place.

The good news? It's easy enough to make like a hurricane and beeline it to the coast for some Atlantic cooling.

Exit Disney property, and less than 1.5 hours later (about 75 miles east) you'll be on the Space Coast. This is a strand of quirky beach towns that stretches 72 miles, from high-tech Cape Canaveral in the north to the sea turtle nesting grounds at Sebastian Inlet on the south end.

Here's the scoop on what to expect, so you can pick your favorite bit of beach accordingly:

Canaveral National Seashore

Nature lovers and nudists converge on the immaculate beaches at this barrier island close to Kennedy Space Center. Canaveral National Seashore boasts the longest stretch of undeveloped beachfront on Florida's east coast (24 miles of pristine coastline, to be precise). It's a glimpse of what Florida must have been like before oceanfront condos came to dominate the dunescapes.

If you head north of parking lot #13 at the park, you might get a glimpse of something else. Nude sunbathing, while officially illegal, is unofficially tolerated here. Families stick to the southern beaches, which are just as beautiful and wild. Cast a line into the surf and go shell searching on the golden sands. Or head inland to one of the nature trails and try to spot one of the park's 14 endangered residents, among them manatees and the Florida scrub jay.

Tip: Pack plenty of water and snacks- there are no concessions (nor running water) at the southern end of the park.

Cocoa Beach

Best known for Ron Jons, the neon-hued surf shop megastore that's open 24 hours on Florida State Road A1A, Cocoa Beach is your quintessential tacky-yet-lovable Florida beach town.

The rickety fishing pier here is a throw back to the 1960s. There are oceanfront bars where you can practically keep your toes in the sand while sipping on a cold Corona. And the people watching here is as good as it gets.

Tip: Escape the tourist throngs around the pier by checking out a favorite local surf break at 13th Street South.

Satellite Beach

The scene starts to mellow out as you head south of Cocoa Beach to this small seaside community of about 10,000 year-round residents. The beaches in Satellite are less crowded than those in Cocoa, and hotels tend to be a bit less expensive, too.

Tip: Lunch at the San Diego-style Tex-Mex eatery called Da Kine Diego's Insane Burritos is a must. Surf videos and movies are screened at an outdoor theater in the restaurant's garden throughout the year.

Indialantic Beach

Blink and you might miss this laid-back beach town just south of Satellite. Same blue seas and golden sands, and with fewer crowds still. You're guaranteed to get the pulse of the local vibe here.

Tip: Transplanted New Yorkers and long-time Indialantic residents swear by the slices at Bizarro's Famous New York Pizza, situated a stone's throw from the sand.

Melbourne Beach

Head here if you're into outdoor pursuits with a bit of city culture in the mix. The beach side of Melbourne is home to grassy dunes and oceanfront parks for tossing out your blanket and umbrella in the sand. Just inland over the causeway, the historic district offers antiquing and cute sidewalk cafes in turn-of-the-century surroundings.

Tip: A stuffed hammerhead shark mounted on the wall screams Florida kitsch at Pineda Crossing Bar & Grill, but the menu is all class, with Florida seafood getting the gourmet touch.

Sebastian Inlet State Park

Cocoa Beach native and world champion surfer Kelly Slater has been known to shred here. Sebastian Inlet is celebrated as Florida's top surf break, and the water is noticeably clearer and bluer than what you'd find just a few minutes north. Sea turtles nest here, anglers toss lines off the pier, and recreational boaters launch from the jetty. Pure Florida living, as good as it gets.

Tip: One of Florida's best campgrounds boasts sublime sites on an island in the India River Lagoon. The campgrounds can be found just outside of the park entrance at Long Point Park..

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