Blast Off with 10 Fun Things To Do in Cocoa Beach & Space Coast

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Rocket launch from Cape Canaveral, things to do Cocoa Beach
Rocket launch from Cape Canaveral as viewed from Lori Wilson Park. Photo credit: R.C. Staab

Countdown for a great time in the Cocoa Beach area and Florida’s Space Coast from Cape Canaveral to Melbourne Beach. Famous for more than 60 years as a world-renowned center for aviation and space technology, the Space Coast has been equally popular as one of Florida’s favorite East Coast beach destinations, especially the family-friendly beach town of Cocoa Beach.

Meet an astronaut at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, take a kayak tour on the nation’s most diverse estuary, get a kiteboarding or surf lesson and then join surfers on the Atlantic Ocean for the perfect beach vacation.

Just 45 miles due east of Disney and Orlando in Central Florida and right off Interstate-95, the Space Coast delivers for the whole family, not just for a day trip, quick getaway or a stop-over before your cruise ship leaves for the world’s busiest cruise stop at Port Canaveral.

An alligator partially submerged in the river, things to do Cocoa Beach
See alligators on an airboat ride. Photo credit: R.C. Staab

Airboat Ride

Just west of I-95 is Florida’s longest river, the St. Johns River, snaking between small and large lakes over the course of 300 miles. Looking for alligators – at a safe distance? Jump aboard an airboat. These flat-bottomed boats with large propellers take visitors through the swamps, marshes and open water of the river in search of turtles, birds and alligators on an usual eco-tour. The Space Coast offers these airboat tour operators on the St. Johns River:

A lion laying in the grass at Brevard Zoo, things to do Cocoa Beach
Lion at Brevard Zoo. Photo credit: R.C. Staab

Brevard Zoo

More than 900 animals representing more than 195 species from Florida, South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia have made their home at the 75-acre Brevard Zoo. See giraffes, rhinos, lions, tigers, jaguars, monkeys, apes, elephants, zebras and kangaroos.

At the Zoo, visitors can go on aerial adventures, play on splash pads and at playgrounds and learn more about the Zoo’s continuing efforts to heal and rehabilitate sick sea turtles and restore the shorelines of the Indian River Lagoon

SheBuysTravel Tip: More than 38,000 nests of Loggerhead, Leatherback and Green Turtles were counted on the beaches of Brevard County during nesting season from March 1 through October 31.  The Zoo is often the first stop for injured or stranded sea turtles so ask if any are at the zoo’s hospital.

Kayaking in Turkey Creek, things to do Cocoa Beach
Kayaking in Turkey Creek. Photo credit: R.C. Staab

Rent a Kayak

With the relatively calm waters of the wide Indian River Lagoon and tributaries such as the Banana River, Turkey Creek and the Sebastian River, the Space Coast is one of the premier adventure kayak and paddle board destinations in Florida. From the typical paddle kayak to pedal kayaks, both single and duo, visitors can be out in the water in no time looking for manatees, river otters, sea turtles and the hundreds of dolphins that call the Indian River their home.

Uncomfortable handling a kayak or paddleboard yourself?  Take a day, sunset or even a nighttime bioluminescence kayak tour.  Here are are operators in the region:

SheBuysTravel Tip: Ask about renting a pedal kayak (like a recumbent bike) which is easier to maneuver because it has a rudder and easier for long distance because two people don’t have to be in perfect sync to move forward quickly and efficiently.

Art at a Local Space Coast art show, things to do Cocoa Beach
Local Space Coast art show. Photo credit: R.C. Staab

Cocoa Village

Want to experience Florida as it was 100 years ago? Look no further than historic Cocoa Village, which was founded in 1860 on the western bank of the Indian River. With many historic buildings rehabilitated for new purposes, the Village is a center for dining, art galleries and shopping including the Historic Cocoa Village Playhouse with live plays and musicals.  Throughout the year on weekends, enjoy popular events and festivals with live music along the main drag, Brevard Avenue, with easy access from Routes 1 and 520.

Two people fishing in the river, things to do Cocoa Beach
Fishing in the river. Photo credit: R.C. Staab

Go Fishing

The Indian River Lagoon is the widest and longest estuaries in Florida with fish literally jumping out of the water in many locations.  Combining the lagoon with the warm, clear waters of the Atlantic Ocean, the Space Coast is a fishing lover’s paradise. From the shore, from a pier, from one of its wide bridges or from a boat, fishing enthusiasts can be found reeling in redfish, trout, snook, snapper, grouper and tarpon or heading out to snag sailfish on a deep-sea charter.

Stop at the Bass Pro Shops at I-95 in Palm Bay for all your fishing needs or seek local guidance at smaller shops such as Harry Goode’s Outfitters  in downtown Melbourne.

A Ron Jon Surf Shop t-shirt, things to do Cocoa Beach
Ron Jon Surf Shop. Photo credit: R.C. Staab

Cocoa Beach Pier & Ron Jon Surf Shop

Long before there was Disney World in Orlando,  the Cocoa Beach Pier has been attracting visitors for shopping, dining and sunbathing. After a recent $3 million renovation, the Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier offers new restaurants, upgraded restrooms and a chance to eat and drink over the ocean at the Boardwalk Bar.  Just steps down to the beach, there are volleyball courts and chair and umbrella rentals for a day at the beach under the watchful eye of lifeguards.

A few blocks away is the Cocoa Beach Ron Jon Surf Shop, the world’s largest surf shop at 52,000 square feet.  Although not the first Ron Jon Surf Shop, today it’s the flagship store with surfboards, everything you’ll need for the beach, surfing or just to show off your Florida tan.  Ron Jon’s is even home to the Florida Surf Museum inside its Watersports Rental building.

At this famous surf location, what better place to take a lesson from a surf school such as Cocoa Beach Surf Company. 

One of the more unusual Cocoa Beach attractions is The Dinosaur Store where one can explore ancient cultures when Dinosaurs once roamed the earth.

Ducks in the Indian River near Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, things to do Cocoa Beach
Ducks in the Indian River near Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge. Photo credit: R.C. Staab

Nature Walks

With the largest and most diverse estuary in North America, the area around the Indian River Lagoon offers many natural reserves to observe wildlife. On the way to Cocoa Beach from the mainland, stop at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, a 140,000-acre refuge that is home to alligators, turtles, birds and deer. The Black Point Wildlife Drive is a 7-mile loop that takes visitors  through the marshes and forests of the refuge.

Thousand Islands Conservation Area is a 338-acre site located on the Banana River adjacent to Cocoa Beach and consists of a series of islands in the Indian River Lagoon. The area is home to storks, alligators, manatees, as well as rare and endangered tropical plants.

Further south is the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, where sea turtles, shorebirds and other wildlife can often be seen. There are several hiking trails in the refuge, including the Tom Stuart Causeway Trail, a 2-mile nature trail through mangroves and salt marshes with observation decks.  Stop in at the Barrier Island Center for information about tours and special events and to learn about the area’s wildlife.

If you’re looking for a place to see manatees, consider the Manatee Sanctuary Park in the City of Cape Canaveral along the Banana River with a covered riverside Boardwalk, picnic tables and grills and a covered pavilion.  Dogs are allowed on leashes, so consider this a dog-park of sorts.        

Beach in South Brevard County, things to do Cocoa Beach
Wide empty beaches in South Brevard County. Photo credit: R.C. Staab

Hit the Beach

No doubt, the most popular beach is Cocoa Beach. Your teenagers and small children will love it here  because of the nice flat beaches, dunes, tons of people-watching and abundant options for food, drinks and shopping.

Nearby but harder to access is the Canaveral National Seashore, the longest stretch of undeveloped Atlantic Coastline in Florida, part of the National Park Service.  Its beautiful beaches include Playalinda Beach at the southern tip.

Further south of Cocoa Beach, there are plentiful small community parks right along the ocean including Satellite Beach and the popular Indialantic Beach, directly east of downtown Melbourne. There is even a pet-friendly dog beach at Canova Beach Park.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Many places charge for parking so it’s helpful, on weekends, to plan in advance to download parking apps which vary community to community. Expect to pay the most to park at Cocoa Beach.

The Rocket Garden at the Kennedy Space Center, things to do Cocoa Beach
The Rocket Garden at the Kennedy Space Center. Photo credit: R.C. Staab

Kennedy Space Center

On par with Disney World and Universal Studios Orlando, the Kennedy Space Center is one of Florida’s most unforgettable places to experience. Learn about the history of space exploration, see some of the most amazing machines ever built, and experience the feeling of being on a space shuttle launch. Among the attractions are the Apollo/Saturn V Center, which houses a towering Saturn V rocket, see the real Space Shuttle Atlantis, walk in the Rocket Garden with a collection of historic rockets and explore the future of space travel at the Deep Space Launch Complex.

Plan to spend a full day at the world-famous complex.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Unlike large amusement parks, the Kennedy Space Center is very serious about limiting the number of people who can enter each day. Reservations for general admission tickets are highly recommended a few days in advance of a trip. Most activities are indoor so a perfect opportunity for a rainy day.

Rocket Launch, things to do Cocoa Beach
Rocket launch. Photo credit: R.C. Staab

Watch a Rocket Launch from the Beach

Standing on the beach, watching a rocket launch is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  Fortunately, with advances in space exploration by NASA and for-private companies, there are usually at least a half dozen opportunities each month to see rockets launch from Cape Canaveral. Although it’s possible to pay to get up close to the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center, almost any beachfront from Cape Canaveral National Seashore to Melbourne Beach provides a front-row seat.

The challenge to seeing a rocket launch is that the schedule changes frequently and a launch can be aborted at the last minute.  If it’s really high on your bucket list, plan on staying in the area for a week. Next,  follow this rocket launch site.  Be sure to check multiple times in the 24 hours leading up to the launch.

SheBuysTravel Tip: While there are many places to see the rocket launch, many people rush to Port Canaveral. Nearby but less hectic is Lori Wilson Park in Cocoa Beach, a beach park with easy beach access, picnic tables, grills and pavilions.

Dolphin in Indian River, things to do Cocoa Beach
Dolphin in Indian River. Photo credit: R.C. Staab

Space Coast Hotels

Where there are plenty of well-known brand hotels along I-95 from Titusville to Melbourne, why choose a view of the concrete when so many Space Coast hotels are along the Indian River Lagoon or the Atlantic Ocean beachfront.  

For those taking a cruise from the busiest cruise terminal in the world (that’s right!), a hotel in Port Canaveral is ideal. Among the choices are Holiday Inn Club Vacations Cape Canaveral Beach Resort, the only hotel right at the Port, the Radisson Resort at the Port, Home2 Suites, Marriott Residence Inn and Best Western Cocoa Beach Hotel & Suites. Note that the open-air Exploration Tower near Port Canaveral is closed until further notice.

Near the uber popular Cocoa Beach, along the main strip of North Atlantic Avenue, tourists can pick from La Quinta Inn & Suites by Wyndham Cocoa Beach Oceanfront, Best Western Cocoa Beach Hotel & Suites, Holiday Inn Express & Suites Cocoa Beach and Hilton Garden Inn Cocoa Beach Oceanfront, steps from the ocean water lapping at the beach.

Further south of Patrick Space Force Base on the ocean is the Radisson Suite Hotel Oceanfront, Hilton Melbourne Beach Oceanfront, Crowne Plaza Melbourne and DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Hotel Melbourne Beach Oceanfront.

For a completely different experience, stay at the new high-rise Hotel Melby in Downtown Melbourne. A mid-century vibe infiltrates the hotel.  On the roof, eat and drink at a trendy bar that overlooks the Indian River.

Where to Eat and Drink along the Space Coast

There are several concentrated areas for eating and drinking. In Cocoa Village on the mainland, you can easily walk along the main street to find dozens of restaurants. Cocoa Beach is a bit more complicated because of the heavy traffic on North Atlantic Avenue and the crowds, so best to help a plan before hopping over there just for a meal.

Downtown Melbourne has become a major dining distance for new, diverse and interesting restaurants.

With all the waterways in the area, finding a restaurant with a waterway would seem to be an easy task. Surprisingly, it’s not that easy.  Here are two great recommendations along U.S. 1 on the mainland ( neither of which take reservations):  Frigate’s Waterfront Bar & Grill and Grills Riverside Seafood Deck and Tiki Bar.

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