Orlando may be Florida's top spot for family getaways, but the state is also famed for beaches on both Gulf and Atlantic coasts. And beyond the best-known spots, other gems await.
The famous shell-strewn beaches on these two islands are among the most beautiful in all of Florida. There are no amusement parks, no traffic lights, no billboard-lined highways, no glaring neon, and no tracts of high-rise condos. Instead, you'll find a laid-back vibe, terrific restaurants, chic shops, and 15 miles of drop-dead-gorgeous beaches.
45 minutes east of Orlando lies 72 miles of shore known as the Space Coast: the place where the moon launches blasted away from earth, and site of the shuttle launches today. The big draw is the Kennedy Space Center and the beautiful beaches. Less known are the eco-tours: this area has saltwater estuaries, marshes, and 250 sq. miles of wildlife refuges. The Space Coast also has cute towns to visit, such as Cocoa.
Amelia Island-- in the northeast near Jacksonville-- has lovely beaches, a historic fort complete with actors who play period characters, a quaint town to explore.
The Omni Amelia Island Plantation covers over a thousand acres that includes a prime beach location, and has kids' programs, family activities, and nature programs. The nearby Ritz Carlton Amelia Island offers Ritz Kids, fine dining, kiddie pool, indoor pool, and a beach where shallow lagoons are great for tots. Both properties have golf, fitness centers, etc.
Further south, the "Treasure Coast" has beautiful beaches, surfing, and coral reef in some areas.
Disney's Vero Beach Resort -- in the style of grand old beach hotels-- has 71 acres on a barrier island, a pool with 163-foot water slide, a pirate ship wet-deck, miniature golf, biking, watersports, and maybe the chance to see sea turtles. Location is two hours southeast of Disney World.
75 miles north of St. Petersburg is one of the best places to see-- and even swim with-- these large gentle creatures in a natural habitat. (November to May are the best months.)