As part of my mission to see more of Florida this year, I’ve decided to visit as many of the National Parks as possible. I made a list in this post earlier in the year with seven of the best Florida National Parks, and the one we chose to explore first was Canaveral National Seashore. You can find Canaveral National Seashore on the east coast of Florida, northeast of Orlando, and about an hour and a half’s drive from Central Florida. It’s nestled between the busier beach towns of New Smyrna and Cocoa, and is a short drive from Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center, making it a great place to visit as part of a longer trip to the Atlantic coast.
Canaveral National Seashore is part of the barrier islands, and the beaches are very natural; this means you won’t find the beach cafes and shops that you find at the bigger beach resorts. This suited us just fine, but it’s something to consider before you go; you’ll want to bring a beach umbrella and a picnic since there will be nowhere to buy things like that on the beach. This also means that the bathrooms are very limited and the ones that we found were…basic, to say the least. Think a slightly nicer version of a port-a-potty, with no running water. Again, this was fine by us but definitely something you’ll want to know before you visit. There’s also no running water, so bring wipes and hand sanitizer. I would also recommend bringing a big jug of water to rinse sand off, since there’s no shower.
There are a number of beaches to choose from as part of the Canaveral National Seashore (the visitor center can be found on Apollo Beach), but we chose Playalinda beach, which is about seven miles from the entrance to the park. There is a small parking lot and a bathroom, then the beach is accessed via a boardwalk over the sand dunes. A word of caution: this is not stroller or wheelchair friendly, as the boardwalk ends in steps and there is really no other way over the sand dunes. We had a beach umbrella, beach chairs, a beach blanket, a cooler, and all manner of other beach paraphernalia, and trying to carry all that as well as carrying a baby and control an excitable 4-year old was a challenge! Knowing that the beach had limited facilities, we brought everything we could possibly need to keep Harrison and Gray happy – take a look at this post I wrote recently on what you might need when visiting the beach with a baby.
The beach only had a handful of people on it, and the soft white sand was absolutely perfect for little ones to dig and play. We found the surf to be a little rough, and there were signs warning of riptides, so be careful to watch the kids near the water; Harrison loved the big waves, but I was wary of the current and didn’t let him to too far out on his own. The sea was also freezing cold, but the Atlantic water always is – and the kids never care! We found some really pretty shells as we strolled along the surf, and because the beach was so quiet, there were plenty of seagulls and pelicans wandering around (watch your picnic with the seagulls, they’re pretty cheeky!) The seashore is also home to a number of species of turtle, and we were lucky enough to spot one heading into its nest on the sand dunes.
If you or the kids get tired of the beach and want to explore elsewhere, there’s plenty more to do in the area. New Smyrna Beach and Cocoa Beach are both about 45 minutes away (one to the north, one to the south) and both have some great shops and restaurants. The Kennedy Space Center is also about 15 minutes away; you can actually see the center from Playalinda beach, and the beach is closed during launches. There is a lot to do in this area, and plenty to keep everyone occupied and happy.
I’m really glad we chose this as our first stop on our Florida National Parks tour! The seashore was everything I think a National Park should be; quiet, natural, and an opportunity to see the ‘real Florida’ away from the craziness of Orlando and the theme parks. I would definitely recommend a day trip to this area if you’re visiting Central Florida and want to get away for the day to see the coast.
Take a look at my video from our trip!
Have you visited Canaveral National Seashore? How did you like it there? Let me know in the comments!