Do you ever wish you could soar like an eagle, blast off like a rocket, glide over a river marsh or paddle through mangrove tunnels? Or maybe be dazzled by bioluminescence, dine dockside on fresh seafood, relax on a beach, learn to surf, discover the wonders of sea turtles nesting, see Florida’s most beautiful birds and explore space history?
There’s a special place in Florida where you can do it all. It’s the Space Coast, stretching 72 miles along the Atlantic Ocean in Brevard County, anchored by Titusville to the north and Melbourne Beach to the south, with Port Canaveral and Cocoa Beach in between.
There is plenty of space history in this area. Think rocket launches, the mission to Mars, flights to the moon. But beyond the space program there is much more to discover including plenty of “real” natural and historic Florida.
Soar Through the Air
A unique start to your Space Coast adventure is to see it from the air aboard a vintage bi-plane with Florida Air Tours. From high above the mosaic of wildlife refuges, towns, waterways, the sea port and space port is unforgettable. Florida Air Tour excursions include flights over Merritt Island, the St. Johns River, Cocoa Beach, Port Canaveral, Kennedy Space Center--or combine the sights into an all-in-one trip.
Fresh Catch at the Port
Hungry after your flight? Port Canaveral offers plenty of fresh seafood. Enjoy a dock-fresh meal from local favorites such as Wild Ocean Seafood, Seafood Atlantic or Rusty's Seafood. Dine and watch pleasure boats cruising by, or shrimp boats bringing in the fresh catch. Afterwards, drive around one of the busiest U.S. cruise ports and tour Jetty Park. To get some real insight into the port, and also to get a taste of area culture, head to the seven-story Exploration Tower. The observation deck provides a panorama of blue skies, the vast Atlantic, cruise ships, cargo tankers, fishing vessels and pleasure boats navigating the aqua blue waterway.
Plan to spend a full day at the Kennedy Space Center chronicling more than 50 years of space history through displays and exhibits. Meet an astronaut in the Astronaut Encounter, and see the Space Shuttle Atlantis in an immersive exhibit telling the compelling story of the shuttle program. Try a simulated shuttle launch, watch a Space Station IMAX 3-D movie, and see real rockets up close and personal in the Rocket Garden. And don’t miss the Apollo/Saturn V Center featuring an authentic representation of the 1960s Apollo 8 launch. Afterwards, walk around the Saturn Center to experience the spectacle of a moon landing.
Titusville is the gateway to the Kennedy Space Center and the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Spanning 140,000 acres the refuge protects more endangered animals than any other U.S. refuge. Here you’ll see Bald Eagles, Florida Scrub Jays, gopher tortoises, alligators and manatees. Also on Merritt Island is the Canaveral National Seashore, which extends 24 miles with pristine beaches and majestic sand dunes.
Birds, Birds and More Birds
The Space Coast is located on the Atlantic flyway and is a nationally renowned birding location, with more than 300 species of birds. During January, Titusville hosts the Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival, where festival attendees mix with highly regarded birding experts as they conduct workshops and field trips. Many birders follow these trails at the Merritt Island Refuge: Black Point Wildlife Drive (for wading birds), the Bio Lab Road (for wading and shorebirds), East Gator Creek Road to Peacocks Pocket (for shorebirds and ducks), the Scrub Ridge Trail (for the endangered Florida Scrub Jay), and the Oak Hammock (for songbirds).
As the evening stars twinkle, head back to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge to experience an evening bioluminescence kayak tour. Titusville’s Day Away Kayak Tours features a nighttime paddling trip where living lights dance in the water. Mullet jump and manatees and dolphins keep you company. With each water movement, bioluminescence sparkles with emerald green flashes caused by tiny organisms that glow when stirred up. Darting fish create glowing trails, and paddle strokes produce eerie wisps of mesmerizing nightlight. Tours run from May through September.
Where the Gators Go
Climb aboard an airboat and skim over the St. Johns River marsh. Enjoy the beauty of the unique ecosystem and get a close-up view of alligators, bald eagles, blue herons, grazing horses, cattle and even hogs. Florida’s longest river is home to freshwater marshes, swamps and wetlands. Airboat Rides at Midway in the town of Christmas offer tours with knowledgeable boat captains. Experience the wondrous St. Johns River Conservation area and the cypress forest of the Tosohatchee Wildlife Management area. Or nearby, in the town of Cocoa, the Lone Cabbage Fish Camp features airboat tours. After skimming over the shallow marsh, enjoy a meal at the Lone Cabbage serving a “sampler” of fried catfish, frog legs and alligator.
Sea Turtles Crawl
From May through October, the Space Coast is the largest nesting area for sea turtles in North America. Guided evening turtle walks, carefully managed by local conservation groups, allow participants to observe mother sea turtles lumbering onto shore to dig sandy nests and deposit more than 100 eggs. It’s a magical experience, but if you miss the walks (held during the summer) consider seeing the sea turtle conservation exhibits at the Melbourne Beach Barrier Island Sanctuary located in the Archie Carr Refuge.
Cocoa Beach is considered the surfing capital of Florida. Eleven-time World Surfing Champion, and Cocoa Beach native, Kelly Slater, learned how to ride the waves here, and you can, too. Take a lesson with local outfitter Sobe Surf at the beach, offering surf board or SUP guidance from a local pro. Surfing hot spots include the nearby Second Light (for longboarders); Playalinda at the Canaveral National Seashore; or for advanced surfers, the Sebastian Inlet State Park.
While in Cocoa Beach, a must see is the historic Cocoa Beach Pier, the iconic backdrop to Florida’s east coast surfing capital. And you’ll want to visit the world-famous Ron Jon Surf Shop, the world’s largest surf shop.
Mangroves, Florida’s "trees of life,” create a unique coastal ecosystem that supports many inhabitants as nurseries for fish, oysters, crab and shrimp shelter and feed among the roots of this tropical plant. An “old Florida” mangrove tunnel in the Thousand Islands is minutes away from Cocoa Beach called “The Amazon.” Enjoy a tour with Cocoa Beach Kayaking as a naturalist guide provides insight into this magical world. You are likely to see dolphins and manatees on your way in, and once in the depths of the mangrove forest you may encounter roseate spoonbills, ibis, great herons and green herons.
The Space Coast has many accommodations, from ultra-modern to old-fashioned. If your preference is to stay near Titusville, a good choice is the Fairfield Marriott, ideally situated off I-95 with easy access to the Kennedy Space Center and Port Canaveral.
Tuckaway Shores Resort in Indialantic provides a comfy, authentic, and memorable experience full of “old” Florida charm. Reminiscent of the 1960’s, but updated for comfort, and directly on the Atlantic, you will enjoy the miles of stunning world-class beach taking you into a “no worry zone.” Another charmer is Beach Place Guesthouses located in historic Cocoa Beach. These “boutique” accommodations offer magnificent views of the Atlantic Ocean. Sea grapes line the courtyards, with outdoor sculptures and colorful artwork creating a tropical relaxing vibe.
For more information: Visit Space Coast
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