By Oliver J Olinger
When people think of Florida tourism, they usually think about Orlando theme parks, the Florida Keys, Miami’s club scene, or airboat rides through the alligator- and mosquito-infested Everglades. But less than an hour east of Orlando you’ll find the Space Coast along Florida’s picturesque Atlantic Coast.
The Space Coast (otherwise known as Brevard County) is home to the Kennedy Space Center, the Cape Canaveral Cruise Terminals, the unique Indian River Lagoon habitat, Ron Jon’s Surf Shop, and many other exciting attractions. You can go fishing, watch a rocket launch, get a tan, or party your heart out in Brevard County. If you’re fascinated by astronomy and space travel, you love to surf, or you simply want a nice, relaxing vacation filled with fresh, ocean air and southern hospitality, then Florida’s Space Coast will satisfy your every vacation craving and leave you wanting more.
The most well known Space Coast attraction is the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Together, these two neighbors are responsible for more space launches than any other location in the world. All of the Apollo moon missions, every space shuttle launch, and countless unmanned satellite launches have left our planet’s surface from this location.
The Space Center’s visitor complex offers a full day of fun, educational activities. The first thing you’ll notice when entering the visitor center is the rocket garden, where you’ll see many of the actual rockets (not models) from the illustrious history of our nation’s space exploration program. Nearby you can take a moment to pay your respects to the Astronaut Memorial, which lists all of the fearless men and women who paid the ultimate price to further our understanding of the universe. Bus tours will bring you to the launch pads, the enormous vehicle assembly building, the Saturn V Center, and plenty of fantastic photo opportunity locations.
Also at the Kennedy Space Center is the exhilarating Shuttle Launch Experience, an Imax theater, plenty of activities for children, and opportunities to meet with real astronauts! Plus, if you’re lucky enough to visit when a rocket is scheduled to launch, you’ll witness an awe-inspiring event that few people in the world have experienced.
After you spend a day or two at the Space Center, grab your surf board and head for Cocoa Beach. Cocoa Beach is on the narrow, barrier island separating the Atlantic Ocean from the Indian River and Banana River lagoons. Here you’ll find world-renowned beaches, five-star hotels and resorts, scrumptious seafood restaurants, incredible shopping opportunities, and the castle in the middle of it all: Ron Jon’s Surf Shop.
Spend a few days soaking up some rays on the beach, swimming in the ocean with your family, surfing on the same beach were professional surfer Kelly Slater honed his talents, or taking advantage of the many amenities offered by some of the local resorts and spas. Here you will also find casino cruises which depart daily for international waters for a fun night of gambling, dining, and cocktails. If gambling isn’t your thing, you may instead decide to book a daytime fishing cruise or a short trip to unique scuba diving opportunities. Most of these cruises depart from the Cape Canaveral Cruise Terminals (just north of Cocoa Beach), where you’ll also find massive cruise vessels ready to take you to the Bahamas, Jamaica, and just about anywhere else you wish to go.
On the mainland (across the bridge from the beaches), you’ll find Historic Cocoa Village. A beautifully maintained historic area, Cocoa Village houses many fine dining opportunities, a collection of unique shops, coffee houses, parks, playgrounds, boat charter and rental businesses along the Indian River, and the Cocoa Village Playhouse. Be sure to take the time to go out on the Indian River Lagoon, an ecologically unique mix of fresh water and sea water. Here you’ll find manatees, dolphins, stingrays, alligators, and many other unique species found nowhere else in the country. You can also water ski, knee board, or jet ski in the lagoon. Or grab a fishing net and catch some mullet for a delicious, outdoor cookout. Smoked mullet is probably Brevard’s proudest culinary achievement.
A little further south you’ll find the Melbourne area and more gorgeous beaches. If you’re a baseball fan, you won’t want to miss a Brevard Manatees game at the Space Coast Stadium. Near the stadium, in Viera, Florida, the Brevard Zoo provides yet another full day of family fun. Historic Downtown Melbourne’s commercial district offers even more five-star culinary adventures and an exciting, active night life. The Foosaner Art Museum in the Eau Gallie Arts District is a great place to experience local artists, and next door to the art museum is the education/science center, which offers children an exciting learning experience.
There are plenty of hotels and resorts on this side of the county as well, especially across the lagoon in the Satellite Beach/Melbourne Beach areas. In late Spring/early Summer, if you venture out onto the South Brevard beaches at night you might catch a rare glimpse of sea turtles laying their eggs (be careful to follow the guidelines, though, as strict rules are in place for viewing these magnificent creatures).
Florida’s Space Coast definitely provides a full itinerary for even the most adventurous vacationers. In addition to everything listed above, the area is also home to dozens of golf courses, stadium and Imax movie theaters, live music venues, public parks and recreation areas, museums, art galleries, and much, much more. Brevard County has been the final embarkation point for scientific pioneers and explorers as they pushed the limits of human knowledge into outer space. The sun always shines on Brevard’s warm, inviting Atlantic beaches, and college students need look no further than Cocoa Beach for their spring break destination. Hotels, spas, great shopping, delicious cuisine, and exciting family adventures await you on Florida’s Space Coast!