Swim with the fishes

Beaches, springs and swimming holes worth a visit

Swim with the fishes
Alex Boeckl

Playalinda Beach at Canaveral National Seashore
Oak Hill
$3 per person
6 a.m.-8 p.m. during summer
In Spanish, "playa linda" means "pretty beach," and this is indeed one of the prettier Central Florida beaches on the Atlantic coast – save for some science and research structures and roadways, this is unspoiled seashore. Miles of it. To get there, drive east to Titusville (about an hour), then take Max Brewer Memorial Highway east-northeast, which turns into State Road 402. It's a haul to get to the beach (approximately 12 miles from Titusville), but you'll forget the drive once you've parked the car and crossed the boardwalk to the roaring waves. If you're into nude sunbathing, the furthest parking lot from the entrance is still a haven for naturists looking for a place to go about their business without a hassle. Technically, nudity is illegal here, but nobody seems to care much.

Cocoa Beach
Route 1A, Cocoa Beach
Free, except for the cost of metered parking
Public beaches, open all the time
There's nothing particularly special about Cocoa Beach, except that it's convenient to Orlando – at less than an hour, it's the closest beach to us – and tons of metered parking spots on the streets leading to the beach boardwalks make it easy to find a spot, loll in the sand for a couple of hours and get out before it's too crowded and hot. Word to the wise: Don't beach it up over by the crowded pier – keep driving down 1A until you get to First, Second or Third streets and you'll find plenty of prime spots to plant your umbrella.

Wekiwa Springs State Park
1800 Wekiwa Circle, Apopka
$6 per vehicle ($4 for single occupant vehicle)
8 a.m. until sundown, seven days a week
The upside here is that it's kind of awesome to dip into the clear, blue-greenish waters of the swimming area, which are fed by a natural warm spring that keeps temps in the 70s all year round. You're basically swimming in a giant swimming hole in the middle of the semi-tropical jungle in Central Florida, with a gorgeous, sprawling green lawn where you can set your blanket and soak in the sun. The downside: It's always crowded in summertime. Get there early or you may be turned away at the gate. Once the parking lot fills up, they stop letting anyone in.

Blue Spring State Park
2100 W. French Ave., Orange City
$6 per vehicle ($4 for single occupant vehicle)
8 a.m. until sundown, seven days a week
Same deal as Wekiwa, only this park is further away, which makes it suck even more if you get turned away at the entrance.

Smyrna Dunes Park
2995 N. Peninsula Ave., New Smyrna Beach
$5 per vehicle
Sunrise to sunset
There's nothing super remarkable about the skinny strip of beach along the Ponce Inlet – it's basic, as beaches go, and you don't get the crashing waves and pounding surf you'd have on the ocean side. But we love it here because it's one of the very few beaches in the region that's dog-friendly. Dogs aren't allowed on the boardwalks, but leashed pets are welcome to hike on paths behind the dunes to the beach access points. Walk along the shore and eventually the beach opens to a wide expanse of sand where dog-lovers flock in the summer months. Nothing beats a day at the beach with your best friend.

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