You’re in for a real treat when you discover Florida’s Space Coast. This unique coastal area is home to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (Cape Canaveral) and the cities of Cocoa Beach, Titusville, Melbourne, and Merritt Island.
Florida’s Space Coast has a thriving beach life, pop-culture favorites, and a booming cruise industry. I live south, in Vero Beach, and frequently visit the Space Coast for meals, shopping, and sightseeing. It is an ideal location for your next family vacation, girlfriend getaway, or road trip adventure. Plus, it won’t break the bank. Here is what I recommend doing on the Space Coast.
Note: The Space Coast’s beaches are much less crowded than others in Florida–great for social distancing!
Classic Cocoa Beach
Known as “America’s Beach”, Cocoa Beach has both historical downtown and beach areas. Cocoa Beach is spacious, with room for sunbathing, water sports, and beach volleyball. The ocean waves attract surfers, and children love building sandcastles on the sandy beach. Other popular outdoor activities in Cocoa Beach include nature and ecotourism tours, paddleboarding, and kayaking.
The Cocoa Beach Pier (a focal point of the Space Coast) is a great place for entertaining the family, with restaurants, arcade-style games, pier fishing, and shopping. Chairs and umbrellas are available for rent on the beach around the pier. Parking is easy to find.
Pelican’s Bar & Grill (with indoor and outdoor dining) offers an exceptional beach view, creative cocktails (Castaway Rum Punch!), and a wide variety of menu items. The Sea Salt and Vinegar Sidewinders (a fun version of fries) are great for starters and the Wham Bam Shrimp Tacos are perfect for sharing.
You may remember that Cocoa Beach was the setting for the popular TV series, I Dream of Jeannie. There is even a lane named after Jeannie at Lori Wilson Park, plus the town’s stores and cafes pay homage, too. Stop at the Alan Shepard Park or find the Kelly Slater iconic surf statue for great photo-ops around Cocoa Beach.
Another pop culture favorite on Florida’s Space Coast is the world-famous Ron Jon Surf Shop, open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This flagship store contains 2,000 square feet of surfer gear and everything pertaining for the beach, swimming, and skating.
Historic Cocoa Village
About twenty minutes west of Cocoa Beach, Downtown Cocoa Village is great for dining, gift and antique shopping, seeing a show at the historic Cocoa Village Playhouse, or strolling the scenic enclave. We like to go there for a day trip and enjoy a tasty lunch during our visit. The area is over 150 years old and has interesting buildings to look at, plus the neighborhood is totally walkable. You’ll find many classes to try your hand at and numerous festivals in the village, as well.
Savor a good beer at Bugnutty Brewing Company, have a filling and delicious lunch from Cryderman’s Barbecue or The Tulip Restaurant, and shop for treasures at Sand & Sea Gifts and Gallery. If you have a pet, be sure to take home a treat from Tails at the Barkery.
Cool Cape Canaveral
The most visited place on Florida’s Space Coast is the iconic Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (KSC) at Merritt Island. My family visits often, and recently, it has grown and expanded tremendously. It is a big draw for locals, tourists, and especially international visitors.
A few do-not-miss exhibits and attractions are the IMAX movies, Forever Remembered, Space Shuttle Atlantis, Journey to Mars, the Rocket Garden, and US Astronaut Hall of Fame. If time permits and the attractions are open (temporarily closed due to COVID), ride the bus to see the Saturn V Rocket and Moon Tree Garden. Don’t forget to buy your yummy space ice cream from the gift shop. You can easily spend all day at Kennedy Space Center and still not see it all.
Dine with an Astronaut (approximately 90 minutes) is so much fun, but does require an additional fee. The chef-prepared buffet-style lunch is tasty, plus you get a uniquely personal experience with a former astronaut sharing their travel stories. I had lunch with veteran astronaut Norm Thagard, who enjoyed five space missions. Be sure to drink the Tang for a walk down memory lane.
More Fun in Cape Canaveral
Port Canaveral was positioned to the world’s #1 cruise port in 2020 before COVID struck. I’m not sure how that will be affected since cruising is at a stand-still, but the cruise port has cool things to see and do that allow for more fun in Cape Canaveral. It is traditionally home to Disney, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, and Carnival Cruise Lines.
Exploration Tower (which is stunning at night time) is a seven-story beauty at Jetty Park. You’ll find several lively restaurants and tiki bars throughout the park (The Cove) and beautiful water views and cruise ship sightings as this is where they dock. The Cove also has karaoke, live music, DJs, and dancing.
Take a scenic boat ride and enjoy a gambling opportunity with Victory Casino Cruises. The boat offers popular games such as Blackjack, Craps, Roulette, Poker, and 600 slot machines, all with the TITO (ticket-in, ticket-out) cashless technology.
Chartered boats and fishing are also popular at Cape Canaveral.
While I haven’t spent much time in Titusville, I have eaten at Dixie Crossroads, a popular restaurant with an emphasis on seafood and bus groups. Opened in 1983, this enormous space has an attractive menu with steak, shrimp, salad, Southern dishes, and the local, fresh catch. Titusville also has several parks, the American Police Hall of Fame & Museum, Valliant Air Command, Inc. Warbird Museum, and Canaveral National Seashore.
Melbourne has been my stomping grounds for about eight years now, and it is going through an incredible downtown boom, with many new businesses and attractions. I tend to stick around East New Haven, which is the historic part of town. The streets are lined with local shops, eateries, thrift stores, and antique shops. You can seriously spend hours just browsing.
My favorite shops are Sendala’s Boutique, Tallulah 9, Indian River Soap, Cottonways, and Coastal Cloth Baby & Co.
Kids and adults will love playing at the Andretti Thrill Park, just minutes from Historic Downtown Melbourne. This entertainment complex offers:
- Batting cages
- Laser tag
- An arcade
- Kiddie rides
- Paddle boats
- Ropes course
There are many choices of go-cart tracks. I found the Formula 1 Extreme to be the most exciting. I had not done anything like this in well over 20 years and it was so much fun!
A lesser-known gem in Melbourne is the birthplace of Door’s frontman, Jim Morrison. You can stay overnight there, too.
Melbourne’s Premier Arts District
A hidden gem in Melbourne is the Eau Gallie Arts District (EGAD). This area is between two busy state roads, right before crossing the bridge leading to A1A. Eau Gallie Arts District is comprised of antique stores, art galleries, a ballet studio, restaurants, and a few surprises. The artsy area’s mantra is to eat, drink, and buy local.
For a palate-pleasing meal, consider a tantalizing slice of pizza from FM Pizza Oven or the Rustic Chicken, Shrimp, and Sausage Jambalaya from Squid Lips Overwater Grill. After, indulge in a slice of pie from Joan’s Perfect Pie, with the best LEGO mural I’ve ever seen, full of pop-culture and historical figures.
You may want to take an art class in the Eau Gallie District at Highland Art Studios or view professional art at the Fifth Avenue Art Gallery or Foosaner Art Museum. On the first Friday of the month, come out to EGAD for free fun and live music as local vendors stay open late to host this event
More Great Dining in Melbourne
Melbourne has unique dining options, which is why I often drive 45 minutes to an hour to enjoy them. My favorite restaurants and dishes are:
- Mustard’s Last Stand (Joe Dogmaggio gourmet hotdog and Island fries)
- Meg O’Malley’s (Sausage Rolls and Parliament Bean Soup)
- Backwater (Pulled Pork Eggs Benedict)
- Bennigan’s (Monte Cristo, baby!)
- Matt’s Casbah (Warm Nutted Goat Cheese Salad)
- The Nomad Cafe & Bistro (Signature Nomad Burrito)
You can also enjoy a great craft beer, upscale baked goods, and delicious coffee in Historic Downtown Melbourne.
In nearby Viera (typically considered part of Melbourne), have fondue fun at The Melting Pot, our family’s favorite.
Where to Stay on the Space Coast
I stayed at the Inn at Cocoa Beach, compliments of Visit Space Coast. This European style inn, right on the beach, is delightful. It offers free Wifi, parking, and a spectacular breakfast. My room had a beach-chic decor with a wicker rocking chair that allowed me to relax and watch the ocean. The comfortable Queen beds had ultra-soft linens, while the balcony afforded beautiful sunrise views over the sea.
The night that I arrived, a space shuttle launch was taking place at Kennedy Space Center. Guests of the inn gathered on the rooftop patio watched the incredible nighttime launch together. Someone brought a portable radio to hear the countdown.
The Space Coast: A Family Destination
Visiting Florida’s Space Coast is always a blast. Its 72-miles of beaches are less crowded than its nearby counterparts, and every city on the Space Coast is family-friendly.
I think that these factors alone make traveling to this region of The Sunshine State a great option. Throw in the dozens of outdoor activities, historic offerings, and cultural opportunities, and you’ve hit the jackpot. Florida’s Space Coast has everything that you could want.