Last Updated on October 30, 2022 by Wandering our World

Sunshine, surf, sand, and more – if that sounds like your ideal holiday, you should be heading to Florida. But where about in the Sunshine State is best for you? And how much do the different cities and beaches differ from each other, like Cocoa Beach and Daytona Beach? Well that’s where we’re here to help!

We compare Cocoa Beach vs Daytona Beach right here. They’re the two beach cities closest to Orlando, yet despite being relatively close to each other, they have some important differences.

Amongst other things, Cocoa Beach is a little more family friendly and has lovely calm water, whilst Daytona has more of a party vibe and is great for NASCAR fans.

However luckily, they’re both destinations that we know and love! So to help you decide which is the perfect vacation spot for you, we’ll be comparing the best bits of both to really understand what makes both unique and different.

So read on to decide your next Florida beach destination!

CONTENTS:

  1. A Quick Overview
  2. How Do The Beaches & Activities Compare
  3. Where To Stay According To Your Budget
  4. How Does The Nightlife Compare
  5. Which Is The Better Choice?

Cocoa Beach vs Daytona Beach: A Quick Overview

Cocoa Beach

A well-known and well-loved beach along Florida’s famed Space Coast, Cocoa Beach prides itself on being a go to spot for families.

Only an hour away from Orlando, it has a warm and welcoming atmosphere, where there’s sunshine and adventure for everyone. The beach is family-friendly, and not far away is the Kennedy Space Centre – which is a fun and educational spot for kids. In fact as we will show you later, there’s no doubt in our mind that Cocoa Beach is a more family friendly destination than Daytona Beach.

However there’s plenty for couples to do here too, with spas, luxury hotels, and more dotting the Cocoa Beach coast.

Characterized by the Kennedy Space Centre, great fishing opportunities, fine dining, prime surf on its shores (more on that later) and long stretches of sandy shoreline, a holiday in Cocoa Beach is bound to be anything but boring.

Cocoa Beach pier
iStock.com/LunaMarina

Daytona Beach

Situated on the East Coast of Central Florida, Daytona Beach with its miles of sand and huge expanses of idyllic waters. Daytona Beach promises year long sunshine and the warmest of climates so you can truly sit back and relax.

This used to be a very popular destination, and in its heyday it was nicknamed “The World’s Most Famous Beach”. Although it’s lost some of that popularity in recent years and doesn’t quite have the same draw it used to have.

The beach still attracts plenty of visitors though, but Daytona is perhaps best known for hosting some of the world’s largest motorsports events – such as the Daytona 500.

The driving theme even extends to the beach, as driving on the beach (albeit not racing of course) is technically allowed at Daytona.

While that’s an added bonus for some as there’s no long walks from your car parking spot to the beach – you can just park there – it does cause some safety issues. Especially for kids who like to run around and have fun on the shoreline. Cocoa Beach, in comparison, doesn’t allow cars on its beach, which does make it potentially a little safer for families.

Whilst not as popular a destination as it used to be, and despite being described as ‘tacky’ by some, there’s still charm to Daytona Beach.

There’s plenty to do during the day too, such as free summer concerts, amusement arcades, pristine beaches and NASCAR racing nearby. There’s many evening activities as well, although they’re certainly more aimed towards partying and drinking.

Welcome to world's most famous beach sign in Daytona beach
iStock.com/cineman

How Do The Beaches & Activities Compare?

Both places have a unique sense of adventure and top-tier beaches! But there’s no doubt one may suit you more than the other.

The beaches of Cocoa Beach and Daytona Beach are quite similar in quality, although we do think the sand is a little whiter and more fine at Daytona.

Another thing we have noticed is that Cocoa Beach tends to have a slightly steeper beach than Daytona. That doesn’t make much of a difference if we’re honesty, but that does mean Cocoa Beach’s coastline is a little less ideal for long beach walks.

Although that said, at least on Cocoa Beach you won’t find cars parked up or driving along the beach like you do at Daytona.

Below we look at the beaches at both in more detail…

Panoramic aerial view of the beach at Daytona Beach, Florida, USA
iStock.com/Dronandy

Cocoa Beach: The Beaches

We probably don’t need to describe how special the beaches anywhere in Florida are, but what makes Cocoa Beach unique? Well, from space centre trips to eco-tours on kayaks, and deep-sea fishing to all-things-surf, Cocoa Beach pretty much has it all.

Cocoa Beach is also renowned for its calm, gentle waves, making it one of the better Florida cities to learn to surf in. With options to rent boards all over, it’s definitely one of those must-do activities when you’re here. Especially if you’ve always wanted to have a go at hitting the waves but haven’t tried yet.

In fact the Ron Jon Surf Shop in Cocoa Beach is actually the world’s largest surf shop, spanning a huge 52,000 square feet! Open 24 hours a day, the shop in itself is a cool attraction, fitted with fish, glass elevators, and indoor waterfalls – so even if you don’t fancy surfing or shopping, it’s an experience in itself.

When you need some time out from the sand and sea, the 800 foot Boardwalk at Cocoa Beach lines the Atlantic Ocean and has all sorts of shops and restaurants. That makes it the perfect place to take a break from the oceanfront while still staying at the heart of all the action. While you’re there, if you’re at all hungry, you absolutely can’t miss out on the delicious sandwiches at Atlantic Ocean Grille.

If you want something a bit more peaceful, we recommend escaping to the untouched sands of Lori Wilson Park. It’s sat next to the beach and has free parking, and there’s many nature trails to whisk yourself away in. It’s a lovely place to go with your family to get away from the beach action for a few hours.

Related: Brunch at the Beach: Cocoa Beach’s Best Breakfast Spots

Cocoa Beach at Sunrise,
iStock.com/dosecreative

Daytona Beach: The Beaches

Fantastic beaches: got it. Plenty to do: also got it.

But the main attraction in Daytona is the World Centre of Racing – Daytona International Speedway – where you can enjoy NASCAR. Encompassing 500 acres of land, it’ll be hard to miss if you’re in Daytona Beach, and after its recent $400 million upgrade it’s definitely worth a visit.

Back at the coast, Daytona Beach Pier features plenty of amusement rides, arcades, and places to fuel up, like Joe’s Crab Shack. And of course, 23 miles of picturesque beaches too.

The pier has had recent upgrades made to it too which is all part of Daytona Beach’s plan to upgrade and modernize. This place has been accused of being tacky and seedy by some – and living in the past by others – so there have been efforts to bring Daytona Beach back to its former glory.

Yet ultimately, from the racetrack to the beach front, you’ll find plenty of entertainment in Daytona Beach. It’s certainly not as family friendly as Cocoa Beach, but if you’re looking for fun when the sun goes down, this could be your place. As we explain next.

Daytona Beach, Florida, USA beachfront resort skyline.
iStock.com/SeanPavonnePhoto

Where To Stay According To Your Budget

Cocoa Beach

Best Budget: For a fantastic price-quality ratio it’s hard to beat Beach Place Guest House. The one bedroom apartments here sit right on the oceanfront and share a gorgeous terrace complete with hammocks and sea view. See photos and rates here.

Best Resort: You can’t get much closer to the beach than La Quinta by Wyndham. Sat beside Cocoa Beach Pier, staying here means you’ll be just a few steps from the sea and the heart of the action, but at this resort you still get a swimming pool, an on-site bar and lots more. See photos and rates here.

Daytona Beach

Best Budget: Sat right on the beach is Daytona Grande Oceanfront Resort, a four-star resort complete with restaurant, big outdoor swimming pool, a fitness centre and bar. Expect wonderful sea views for a fantastic price if staying here. See photos and rates here.

Best Resort: For a taste of luxury in Daytona Beach, Max Beach Resort is a great choice. You’ll get your own hot tub, balcony, and gorgeous sea views when staying at this four-star beachfront hotel which comes with one of the best swimming pools in the city. See photos and rates here.

Resort swimming pool with sunset
iStock.com/Soft_Light

How Does The Nightlife Compare?

Cocoa Beach and Daytona Beach have a combination of things to do and enjoy in the evening. Although as you may have already guessed, one is definitely more suited to families than the other.

Cocoa Beach: The Nightlife

A family destination first and foremost, you won’t find clubs on every corner in Cocoa Beach. This place has a more laid back evening vibe than Daytona Beach, but there’s still plenty of spots to enjoy a drink and live music.

Local favorites, and places with great vibes in general, are Coconuts on the Space Coast, and The Sand Bar. Other good spots include the sports bars Time Out and Dog N Bone British Pub.

However come April, Cocoa Beach does see flocks of spring breakers hit the shores to party all week long. During this time many people looking for a good time hit the beach – which is now one of the country’s top spring break destinations – and enjoy a whole variety of events.

Just as a quick note, alcohol is technically allowed on the beach. However any glass bottles open or not will be met with a fine.

Related: A Local’s Guide to Cocoa Beach Nightlife

A frozen strawberry margarita with the Cocoa Beach coastline in the background
iStock.com/Brittx

Daytona Beach: The Nightlife

Daytona’s wide beaches, snazzy nightclubs, clubs, bars, and pool parties make it a clear choice for anyone hoping for a more wild time. With a nightlife geared towards students and young adults, anyone looking to party hard will feel right at home here.

The vibe is generally buzzing and fast paced during the day anyway, and this only ramps up come evening. Especially along Seabreeze Boulevard where many of the best and most luxurious clubs are located.

Between its energetic has-it-all nightlife and amazing beaches, many consider Daytona Beach the ultimate party in paradise.

Photo for illustrative purposes only: iStock.com/alexkoral

Cocoa Beach vs Daytona Beach: Which Is The Better Choice?

The beaches certainly won’t disappoint in either. In both you’ll find beaches which are more crowded with tourists than others, as well as more out-of-the-way relaxing and quiet spots.

However Cocoa Beach’s coastline does tend to be slightly steeper than the beach at Daytona, whilst cars can drive on the beach at Daytona but not at Cocoa. So those are two differences that are worth mentioning.

Cocoa Beach also feels like the more family friendly option – except during Spring Break perhaps – and as a result it also happens to have a more laid-back nightlife. Daytona Beach, on the other hand, has a nightlife geared towards young adults who want to party and have fun.

And of course if you’re into NASCAR then Daytona Beach will be a great choice. But if you want to explore the vastness of outer space then Cocoa Beach’s proximity to the Kennedy Space Centre is going to be a big plus.