Opposites Attract

By: Lisa Codianne Fowler

A romantic trip to the Space Coast includes fine dining, a stay at a quaint B&B, and even a trip to outer space.

Unlikely couples. We all know a few; I know one intimately - I'm silly, he's serious; I'm short, he's tall; I love art, he loves sports. How fitting that we spend a romantic getaway in an area of delightful dichotomies. In the Space Coast, the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge hugs the Kennedy Space Center, a happy, though unlikely marriage of state-of-the-art technology and ancient, natural wonders. Add the charm of Cocoa Village, the beauty of the beach, the excitement at Port Canaveral and the fun of Cocoa Pier and you'll discover, like we did, that variety is the spice of the Space Coast.

Our sojourn begins in historic Cocoa Village, where folks are milling about, pausing to savor the boutiques, galleries and cafés that dot the quaint European-flavored area. Anticipating an elegant dinner, we opt for a casual lunch at Norman's Raw Bar & Grill, satisfying basic food group needs such as raw oysters, steamed clams, chilled chardonnay and imported lager.

On to the Inn at Cocoa Beach, a short, scenic drive over the Indian and Banana Rivers. While we chose the inn for its beachfront views, we can't imagine this sprawling property, complete with garden pool, exercise room and gift shop, to be intimate. Until we step inside. The lobby is a small, homey living room, where evening wine and cheese socials are held. There's a cozy library, fully-stocked honor bar and a dining room that feels like a quaint diner (breakfast only). Two resident dogs sleepily look up as if to greet us.

Once in our room, we find antiques around us, the sea before us, and twinkling lights above us; the ceiling is truly out of this world. But before settling into this starry, starry night, we experience an over-the-top meal at Café Margaux.

For starters, owners Alex and Pamela Litras and their attentive staff alone make an evening here a must. Then there's the artful presentation of exquisitely creative French and European gourmet courses and meticulously paired vintage wines. Add Mrs. Litra's fine artwork gracing the walls and romantic touches throughout, and it's no wonder this special enclave consistently wins Florida Trend's Golden Spoon Award and is a Zagat top ten. We leave with a glow as rosy as the pink-hued walls and the warm, flickering candlelight.

The next morning is literally a blast. Our visit to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex includes the Rocket Garden and a new Hubble 3-D IMAX movie, and share a moving moment at the Astronaut Memorial. The NASA Art Gallery is a surprising discovery, a two-story mixed-media exhibit of amazing, space-inspired works by famous artists.

Nearby, the apparently famous Dixie Crossroads offers "seafood served in abundance with Southern hospitality." With sea-themed dining rooms, nature murals and the rock shrimp for which it is known, this unusual restaurant is an attraction in itself.

After lunch, we stroll quietly through the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Strong winds preclude a planned eco-river tour with Island Boat Lines, but we encounter birds and alligators from the boardwalk and plenty of sea life at the wildly gorgeous Canaveral National Seashore adjoining the refuge.

Evening finds us at rustic Port Canaveral, where local bands perform at laid-back eateries as fishing fleets come in and cruise ships glide by. Our final fling, however, is at the Cocoa Beach Pier next morning. Surfers, families and fun-seekers enjoy the historic landmark's restaurants, gift shops, beach rentals, surfing contests and festivals. We choose the champagne brunch at Atlantic Ocean Grille, a last look at the shoreline and a farewell toast to this eclectic coast.

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