Surf, sand and sun? Been there, done that. This coastal Florida town bests the others by being just a hop, skip and a rocket ride away from outer space.
You don’t have to be a scientist or a Star Trek fan to appreciate a rocket launch when you’re close to one. The sheer power of the rockets and the audacity of the people who created them are, in every sense of the phrase, awe-inspiring. Though the U.S. space-shuttle program was retired in 2011, Florida’s Cape Canaveral remains very active.
IF YOU GO...Parrish Grove Inn
536 Delannoy Ave.
Cocoa Village, Fla.
The Fat Snook
2464 S. Atlantic Ave.
Cocoa Beach, Fla.
Grills Seafood Deck & Tiki Bar
505 Glen Cheek Drive
Cape Canaveral, Fla.
Oasis Shaved Ice
17 N. Orlando Ave.
Cocoa Beach, Fla.
Earl’s Hideaway Lounge & Tiki Bar
1405 Indian River Drive
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
State Road 405, Kennedy Space Center
8225 Wickham Road
Adventure Kayak of Cocoa Beach
Victory Casino Cruises
180 Christopher Columbus Drive, Terminal B-2
Port Canaveral, Fla.
Patrick Air Force Base
STAY: Plenty of hotel options sit along the ocean in Cocoa Beach proper, but for a quiet getaway outside the city, try the 128-year-old Parrish Grove Inn, a splendid bed-and-breakfast located in Cocoa Village, on the mainland side of Merritt Island.
EAT: Seafood is always front and center in the Cocoa Beach area. For high-end cuisine, try The Fat Snook, located on a narrow southern stretch of Cocoa Beach. The small eatery balances a casual environment with an upscale dining experience, featuring fresh, Caribbean-inspired dishes and an extensive wine list. Downtown favorite Grills Seafood Deck & Tiki Bar offers standard seaside fare and a great view of cruise ships, deep-sea-fishing charters and other boat traffic arriving to port. For a sweet treat, check out Oasis Shaved Ice and its vast assortment of frozen flavors. For those who enjoy exploring beyond city limits, try Earl’s Hideaway Lounge & Tiki Bar in the nearby town of Sebastian. Founded by Earl Roberts in the 1950s, this bar and restaurant remains a perfect beach venue for live music, seafood, cold drinks and open hammocks.
DO: They don’t call this stretch of southern Florida the “Space Coast” for nothing. Cape Canaveral has witnessed some of the most dramatic events in aerospace history, and a visit to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex — one part amusement park, one part museum — anchors any space-related visit to the area. No space suit is required to take to the skies on Brevard Zoo’s Treetop Trek zip line, a half-million-dollar, elevated canopy course that has helped the zoo break attendance records. Of course, the water offers plenty of activities as well, including Adventure Kayak
of Cocoa Beach’s daily, guided kayak tours, during which participants can meet and greet dolphins, manatees and seabirds on their own turf. Or, if you’re feeling lucky (and you’re over 18), you can try your hand at poker, blackjack, craps and Vegas-style slots onboard Victory Casino Cruises, one of several shipboard casino companies that operate from Port Canaveral. Day trips leave midmorning and return in the afternoon; night cruises often return after midnight.
WATCH: There are two kinds of launches from Cape Canaveral: those conducted by the Air Force and those conducted by private space companies. The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex sells tickets (in addition to the price of admission) to private space blastoffs, with the viewing platform only a few miles from some of the launch pads. There is no public entry for Air Force launches, but interested onlookers are free to watch from public beaches around Port Canaveral and Titusville. (Patrick Air Force Base offers time-and-date details for launches.)
The best place for daytime viewing is Playalinda Beach, which is about five miles from the launch pads. For night launches, drive east on the Bennett Causeway toward Port Canaveral, then exit onto State Road 401 and follow the road until you reach the unofficial viewing area. (You’ll know you’ve reached it when you see cars parked in the grass along the road.) For those who want the view but prefer to stay in town, try the Cocoa Beach Pier at 401 Meade Ave.