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We locals know that the closest beach to Orlando is Cocoa Beach, and back in my pre-kid days I spent many a weekend there sunbathing in a bikini, sipping fruity concoctions and getting my shopping on at Ron Jon. Now? A bikini and Ron Jon with kids = my worst nightmare.

I’m willing to drive an extra 15 to 30 minutes to find the “perfect beach.” I use quote marks because we locals also know that the “perfect beach” is subjective. That said, I’m here today to sing the praises of one of my family’s faves, Lighthouse Point Park, a 52-acre Volusia County beach park down where Atlantic Avenue ends at the southern tip of the town of Ponce Inlet.

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Right off the bat, I should point out that, despite its name, the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse is NOT in this park, however, you do get some great views of 175-foot red tower — the tallest lighthouse in the state. (We’ve added this venue to our summer itinerary.). The park is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the Halifax River and the Ponce de Leon Inlet. A rock jetty stretches into the water offering a prime location for fishermen and various creatures. In our visits we’ve seen a family of raccoons (babies too!) taking refuge and a manatee looking for a change of scenery. We also saw an angler haul in a 3-foot permit.

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This vantage point also gives families the options of waves or no waves — kind of a big deal when you have children. The swells on the Atlantic side are known to attract surfers, so if you’re coming with older kids who happen to be daredevils, bring or rent a surfboard on the way in. At the minimum, bring a Boogie board. Looking for something calmer? Park yourself by the tranquil waters on the inlet side.

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So what makes the beach a step above so many other oceans spots?  The backdrop is natural — sand dunes and seagrass, although on the north side of the beach, separated by a boundary, is a car beach. (But having cars there isn’t all bad: On our most recent visit, a food truck advertising “Coffee + More” positioned itself nearby. Otherwise your snacking options are limited to what’s in your bag or what’s in the vending machines at the pavilion.)

Another big plus: a lifeguard. Nothing puts this mama more at ease than knowing someone’s got my back! Then there’s the fun creatures. We spotted a couple of gopher tortoises on our recent walk into the beach, and a pod of dolphins delighted my children with a nearby show.IMG_5247

The sand is soft and powdery. It’s not Siesta Key, but it’s among the best I’ve seen on Central Florida’s Atlantic Coast. Factor in convenient parking lots and potties and plentiful showers so powerful they literally blast sand out of your nooks and crannies, and it’s a mother’s dream beach spot.

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IF YOU GO: Pay your $5 (cash) at the gate and then proceed to the farthest parking lot, unless you want to walk quite a ways on the boardwalk through the dunes to the beach. Address: 5000 S. Atlantic Ave., Ponce Inlet.  Phone: 386-756-7488.

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