Flying into Orlando-Sanford International Airport near Orlando, Florida, makes for a less crowded experience -- and one with no terminal hopping -- than landing at the city's bigger airport. To add to its appeal, the smaller landing strip is also closer to many of Central Florida's best beaches, meaning there's less time between hitting the ground and hitting the sand. Cast a line right from the surf or head to the iconic pier, refurbished and reopened in 2012.
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Once home to hosting MTV's spring break extravaganzas, Daytona Beach is nicknamed "The World's Most Famous Beach." The city's sandy shore spans 23 miles of Florida's Atlantic Coast and is less than an hour drive from Sanford. It's quieter than its 1980's heyday, but still attracts crowds. Some areas even allow driving on the beach. Cast a line into the ocean from the surf or from the iconic Daytona Beach Pier, renovated and reopened in 2012. Relive the carnival atmosphere of the beach's past at the boardwalk behind the pier, which has fair games, a Ferris wheel, a roller coaster, ice cream shops and all kinds of old-school fun.
Back to Nature
Just 50 miles east of Sanford, the Canaveral National Seashore will make you feel like you're far from civilization. The natural beaches of this barrier island are untouched by developers, making it a peaceful place to stroll along the sand and divert onto the park's many short nature trails, where you can spot endless bird species. Cruickshank Trail, on the south end of the shore, is a 5-mile loop with two observation towers for great views of the natural surroundings -- and a glimpse of some of Kennedy Space Center's launch pads.
Waves and Whales
About 60 miles northeast of Sanford lies Flagler Beach, one of Central Florida's hidden gems. Some of Florida's best waves crash on Flagler Beach's 19 miles of shoreline, drawing surfers to the area. You can ride waves or watch others do so from the Flagler Beach Pier, where you can also fish. From December through March, the beach becomes grounds for whale watching, as right whales migrate to nurse their young.
Off the Mainland
Drive west a couple hours to the island beaches of Fort De Soto on Florida's West Coast. The Gulf of Mexico water here is warmer than the Atlantic, making for better swimming. Rent a bike right on the island to ride along a trail that follows a V-shaped shore or rent a kayak to paddle into the aquamarine water farther out. History buffs will want to check out the historic fort built for the Spanish-American War.