Cocoa Beach and environs have two well-publicized obsessions: space exploration and surfing. Lesser known assets round out the destination's standing as a multi-dimensional and affordable place to visit. For starters, there's vast protected wilderness and the fauna it attracts. City-side, museums, theater, orchestra and historic downtown villages where character rules over cookie-cutter: all add to the vivid beach scene the coast paints.
In promotional parlance, it's known as the Space Coast. The U.S. government staked claim to a huge parcel of land for NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center and a buffer to surround the zone. This creates on Merritt Island a land of startling contrasts, where eagles soar within view of space ship launchings. Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge protects not only bald eagles in its massive 140,000-acre embrace, but a host of endangered, threatened and other local natives including the manatee, wood stork and loggerhead turtle. It abuts Canaveral National Seashore, a lightly developed world of sand dunes far from civilization, save for the launching pads one can spy in the distance. Playalinda Beach is the easiest to reach, while the more adventurous visitor can acquire a backcountry hiking safety permit and trek down to Klondike Beach via foot, bike or horse, truly taking you away from it all.
Around the NASA complex, a tourist attraction has grown and continues to regularly expand and upgrade its exciting offerings. Here is the seat of the Space Coast's identity, an attraction that encompasses several campuses with launch site bus tours, IMAX theaters, a center devoted to moon exploration, an astronaut's hall of fame, space exploration history exhibits, robotized presentations, opportunities to meet real live astronauts, and sensational space simulation rides.
In the town of Titusville, NASA's impact becomes clear, as pieces of spacecraft decorate yards. Otherwise, Titusville remains quiet. Its historic downtown holds a vintage theater, antiques shops, cozy restaurants and a historical museum that displays, among other artifacts, astronaut memorabilia. The waterfront U.S. Space Walk of Fame Museum further honors heroes of the final frontier and the Valiant Air Command Warbird Museum deals with aeronautics of a different breed. Inland, the town of Christmas, as cheerful as it sounds, offers historic and nature attractions.
Cape Canaveral, home to an air force base and growing cruise ship port, occupies a barrier island fronting the south end of Merritt Island. Catch a short casino cruise or an extended getaway to the Bahamas and beyond. Its Jetty Park is a favorite for fishing off the pier.
The Ron Jon Cape Caribe Resort opened there, a spin-off of the longtime, big-name eponymous surf shop on Cocoa Beach. This 24-hour watersports cathedral brought surfing fame to the town. That and the funky, endearingly ramshackle Cocoa Pier, where waves are always the best and diners and fishermen can watch the action. Several major surfing contests center around the pier, including the NKF Pro-Am Surfing Festival over Labor Day weekend. It's a partying kind of place any weekend. A surfing school and surfing museum further Cocoa's reputation.
On the mainland, the village of Cocoa has restored its historic streets by installing specialty shops, ice cream and pizza joints, and other fun stops into the riverfront district. Brevard Museum of History and Science, an indoor-outdoor hands-on attraction, and the BCC Planetarium and Observatory provide prime-time entertainment for the family.
The city of Melbourne, likewise, has developed some of its old neighborhoods in keeping with their historical significance and individuality, particularly the district of Eau Gallie. The Brevard Zoo is divided into lands of animal origin, from Florida to Africa and Australia.
Melbourne Beach continues the coast's reputation for gnarly board rides and carefree beach play. Accommodations here are mostly of the name-brand variety and surf and beach shops make sure you're ready to hit the sand and the waves. Fishing, kayaking, airboating, horseback riding, miniature golf and go-karting complete this picture of year-round outdoor pursuits.
Name your fantasy in the great wide open and realize it on Brevard County's Space Coast.