Whether you thrill to the rumble of a rocket launch at Kennedy Space Center or the sight of roseate spoonbills picking their way across the mud flats of the Indian River Lagoon, the Space Coast provides adventure at both ends of the spectrum: adrenaline and nature. It’s here that you can touch the stars – or at least a piece of the moon – and discover the arc of progress of manned flight into space at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, where a tour of the spaceport takes you back in time to the first steps on the moon.
A splash of your paddle through the waters of the Indian River Lagoon bring a shimmer through the water in the summer months: bioluminence, making the darting of fish and the trailing of your fingertips leave a ghostly glow behind you. With both the Indian River Lagoon and the St. Johns River defining the length of the Space Coast, there are hundreds of places to launch a kayak and fish from your craft. Outfitters provide guided trips across the waters for paddlers, by airboat, and on pontoon boats.
One of Florida’s busiest cruise ship ports, Cape Canaveral is a true cape, deflecting the worst of the storms out to sea, protecting Kennedy Space Center to the north. The small residential village has a beach community vibe. Jetty Park, adjoining Port Canaveral, attracts anglers for fine fishing and offers a campground within earshot of the pounding surf.
As the closest beach to Orlando, Cocoa Beach provides miles of shoreline for sunning along the surf. This is surfer central, where Ron Jon Surf Shop started out as a little beach shack. A string of surf shops now compete for your attention, selling surfboards and boogie boards and offering classes on how to use them. Kids and rockhounds need some serious time inside The Dinosaur Store, which has one of the world’s largest fossil collections and is now topped with a one-of-a-kind Museum of Dinosaurs and Ancient Cultures. Hotels are clustered tightly along the oceanfront to the south of the historic Cocoa Beach Pier, built in 1962. Lori Wilson Park is an excellent destination for day trippers looking for some ocean time; you’ll find both a dog park and “I Dream of Jeannie” Boulevard here.
Cocoa’s old-fashioned downtown provides a welcome break from the beach. Strummed by breezes off the Indian River Lagoon, its shaded streets are lined with an eclectic mix of eateries and shops, from art galleries to toy and magic stores, with cuisines ranging from Brazilian to Korean represented in this compact shopping district.
The north end of Merritt Island – and the entirety of Kennedy Space Center – is protected as Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. It’s here you’ll see migratory birds by the hundreds, if not thousands, during the spring and fall months. Stop at the Visitor Center first for an overview of the refuge. A slow drive down Black Point Wildlife Drive provides access to two trails excellent for birders – the Wild Birds Unlimited Trail and the Cruickshank Trail – as well as plenty of pulloffs to stop for that flock of roseate spoonbills on the mud flats. At Haulover Canal, the Manatee Observation Deck lets visitors watch manatees swim in and out of the Indian River Lagoon. Bairs Cove is your launch point for bioluminscent kayaking in the summer months. Along the Atlantic Ocean, the remote and beautiful Playalinda Beach, part of Canaveral National Seashore, is a remote place to splash in the surf.
Home of the oldest-running birding festival in Florida, the Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival, Titusville is the original county seat of Brevard County and one of its first settlements. The walkable downtown district adjoins Space View Park, a park of memorials to the many space programs that launched across the lagoon beyond the very visible Vertical Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center. As the gateway to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and the eastern terminus of the Coast to Coast Connector bicycle trail, Titusville is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts.
While Melbourne is the commercial heart of the Space Coast, it is also the heart of the arts. Musical acts frequent the Maxwell C. King Center for the Performing Arts, where you might catch a classic band like Yes or a modern traveling symphony. Designed by a Tony-winning Broadway set designer, the Henegar Center offers lively plays, educational programs, and TEDx talks. Situated downtown, it’s both part of a broader arts community and Historic Downtown Melbourne, a delightful mix of galleries, restaurants, and small shops. At the Brevard Zoo, you can do something you won’t find anywhere else: kayak through the themed animal enclosures. Cross the Indian River Lagoon into Indialantic to explore the coast for your perfect beach along miles and miles of public shoreline both north and south of Melbourne. Dozens of small oceanfront parks provide restrooms and free parking for beach access.