Finding Florida: Beaches

Everyone wants to vacation in a tropical climate. Lots of people want to go to the beach. Just like everything else with autism, you have to pre plan to be sure that the beach you are looking at fits the needs of your child with autism. Finding Florida: Beaches looks at the beaches we visited during our Florida studies. Autism doesn’t preclude going to the beach. It just needs preparation here in Autismland.

When we lived in Florida,we were literally 20 – 30 minutes from the beach. The summer we did 104 days of summer vacation we took many trips to Florida beaches. Unfortunately, Logan is not a fan of the beach. It’s hot, bright, and the sand sends him into sensory overload. The unpredictability of the waves causes him anxiety. His sister loves the beach. She could live there and be perfectly happy.  We compromise her love with his hate by not making Logan go with us every time. This helps keep resentment at bay for both of them.

Florida Beaches We’ve Visited

Madeira Beach

This was completely on a whim.  I happened to need to pick up something in St. Petersburg because it had sold out in our location. One doesn’t simply drive past the beach and not stop except I didn’t know the pickup location was that close to the beach. Following the signs from First Baptist Church of St. Petersburg brought us to Madeira Beach about an hour and a half before sunset. Granted, I hadn’t packed bathing suits or towels. I made the executive decision to be a yes mom, so Madison and I stopped anyway.  We went into the warm ocean in our clothes and stayed until the sun disappeared over the horizon. It was the best $3 I’ve ever spent! This spur of the moment idea would not have been possible with Logan. It’s one of our favorite Florida beaches and is perfect for autism families.

Pros to this Florida Beach:

  • Bathrooms easily accessible from the parking lot
  • Showers nearby to get rid of sand
  • Short walk to the beach so it’s easy to leave quickly
  • Easy to find parking spots
  • Parking $1.50 per hour so great for a sunset/sunrise visit and if you don’t stay long then you aren’t out a ton of $$$
  • Not overly crowded
Madeira Beach

Sand Key Park

Right down the street from Clearwater Beach is Sand Key Park.  We passed the already full parking lot of Clearwater Beach to find Sand Key Park relatively easily and quickly.  Finding a spot on the beach wasn’t hard either.  We set up quickly and ran into the water to have fun.  The waves were intense to say the least here.  The wind off the water was refreshing but also a tad strong.  The kids managed to have fun even finding a starfish and several crabs. Lots of seaweed here! Clearwater Beach may be more crowded but it’s set up better for people.


  • $5 for all day parking
  • Bathrooms and showers easily accessible
  • Lots of parking to choose from
  • Umbrellas and chairs available for rental ($25 per day)
  • Lifeguard on duty
  • Way  less crowded than Clearwater Beach


  • Waves were intense here.  Great for body surfing or boogie boarding.  Not great for swimming.
  • Lots of seaweed in the water
  • Sand consists of broken up shells which you have to walk through to get to smooth sand in water,  Bring water shoes.
  • Seagulls will steal the food right out of your hand.  They are vicious.  I would definitely keep an eye on small children with food. I would keep an eye on anyone with food.  The scene is hilarious as long as it’s not you .

Henderson Beach State Park

We stopped at this one on the way back from Alabama.  This is located in North Florida.  Destin to be exact.  Camping area, grills, pavilions, and great bathrooms.  Stone’s throw to the beach where it was the bluest water I have ever seen in the US.  The sand was white and soft.  The water was warm as usual.  Previously, we stopped down the road a ways to find there were dead fish everywhere.  None to be found here. Well maintained state park.


  • Blue water and white sand
  • Grills so you can bring food to cook
  • Picnic pavilions
  • Easy walk to the beach
  • $6 per vehicle entry fee


I can’t think of one. It was perfect!

Finding Florida: Beaches

Bowman’s Beach Regional State Park

Once a month brings a long six day weekend for Michael. We decided it would be a great idea to drive to a beach a little further from home than normal.  Madison really likes shells plus we had my 3 year old great niece and nephew.  Here’s the description on the webpage

” Bowman’s Beach offers some of the Sanibel’s best shelling, and some of the island’s most remote beach space. ”  

What could be better than that? So we drive and drive and drive.  3+ hours to get there.  In case you don’t know as we didn’t, it costs $6 to enter Sanibel Island. Yes, just to enter the island by the bridge. It’s the only way to enter the island so there really isn’t any other choice.   You can use your Sunpass or pay cash . We finally get there only to discover that there is nowhere to park. After circling the parking lot for what seems like forever, we finally snag a spot. Parking is $2 per hour. Ouch. Then there is what feels like a mile walk to the beach which is not very remote. It was packed. Seriously packed. We find a spot to drop everything . We walk over to check out the roped off sea turtle nest. Everyone goes for the water where Madison points out that there are no shells. What? Are you serious?  Yep, there is a ledge in between the shore and the water where there are shells . I was envisioning more all over the beach.  Nope. We are there for a couple of hours before a typical Florida afternoon thunderstorm rolls in. So 3 hours of driving for 2 hours at a shell less beach. Not impressed. 


Parking is expensive .  $2 per hour

The walk to the beach is long.  Really long

Not a shell beach or I’m blind

$6 to enter the island



There are spots right by the road on the water on your way to this park where you can pull over to park.  That is what we should have done in hindsight.


Cocoa Beach

Returning from our Disney cruise brought us into Port Canaveral which is right up the road from Cocoa Beach.  We had a day or two left with our friends before they returned to Michigan so we decided to stay overnight.  Of course there are lots of hotels on or near the beach.  We managed to snag one relatively inexpensive considering it was Valentine’s Day weekend.

Cocoa Beach is a beach like no other.  There are plenty of public parking although I don’t know what the price per hour to park was as we parked at the hotel.  The entire beach area along with shopping is not really geared towards families.  It’s more of an adult beach area.  It’s busiest time of year is Spring Break when the college students descend.  Of course the shops reflect that scenario.

The beach was clean as well as easily accessible.  We enjoyed walking on it finding shells and what not.  It is on the Atlantic so the water is not as warm as on the Gulf side.  The waves are always bigger as well as stronger on the Atlantic side.  It would be a great place to surf for sure.


It’s near Kennedy Space Center as well as the cruise ports.

Lots of parking.

Beach is clean and large


More geared towards adults in shops and restaurants

Be careful what time of year you visit as it is a favorite destination for college kids.


Want to see more of our Finding Florida adventures?

The many ways we find Florida without a textbook