Secrets from the Space Coast

ADD TO FAVORITES
When it comes to Florida's Space Coast, Kennedy Space Center (KSC) is hardly the final frontier. In the years my family has visited the Space Coast to hit KSC and the waves, we've discovered some lesser-known but equally compelling attractions that have made the 72-mile stretch of coastline one of our favorite destinations.

When it comes to Florida's Space Coast, Kennedy Space Center (KSC), the region's top-billed attraction, is hardly the final frontier. It's a must-see, though, especially if you haven't been there recently and experienced the new Shuttle Launch Experience, an attraction that simulates launch and space flight. And as far as once-in-a-lifetime experiences go, witnessing a real shuttle lift-off from the Center definitely goes to the head of the "do before you die" list.

And then, of course, there are the beaches – the other obvious reason to visit, especially if, like my family, you travel to surf. Cocoa Beach upholds the coastline's gnarly reputation because the Cocoa Beach Pier attracts the hang-ten crowd.

In the years we've visited the Space Coast to hit KSC and the waves, we've discovered some lesser-known but equally compelling attractions that have made the 72-mile stretch of Atlantic seaboard from Titusville to Sebastian Inlet one of our favorite destinations. Here's a sampling.


Good Nature

Man-made, space-age miracles aside, the Space Coast excels in the nature-made department. Host of the Annual Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival, the region has become known worldwide as a mecca for nature lovers. The reputation rests primarily on Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, a buffer zone around KSC where manatees, sea turtles, bald eagles and hundreds of other rare species thrive.

Brevard Zoo hosts naturalist-guided kayaking tours of the refuge's waterways. Or rent a kayak from a number of local outfitters to head out on your own. If you're looking for beach seclusion with your birding experience, Canaveral National Seashore spreads a tasty buffet of lightly developed sands also in the shadow of KSC.

Island Boat Lines takes you into Indian River Lagoon, a famously wildlife-rich Intracoastal body, to see dolphins, manatees and the birds of Cocoa Beach's 1,000 Islands mangrove rookery. Two secret spots for watching manatees are the Manatee Observation Deck at Merritt Island NWR and Manatee Cove Park.


Funky Old Florida Diversions


To balance its newfangled, youthful personality trademarked by spaceships and surfboards, the Space Coast presents a flip side where history and Old Florida style lend dimension. Whereas most equate Cocoa Beach-area shopping with the watersports monolith known as Ron Jon Surf Shop, I prefer to sneak off to the charming downtown toy stores, gift shops, pizza parlors and restaurants in historic Cocoa Village on the mainland. 

For a taste of the Space Coast that smacks of backwater tradition, find your way to Lone Cabbage Fish Camp for fried gator tail, catfish, frog legs and cold beer overlooking the St. Johns River. Jump aboard a zippy airboat for a tour the way locals get around. Enjoy live country music every Sunday night.

More well-known for its affordable, Old Florida cuisine, Dixie Crossroads in Titusville packs 'em in for seafood, including rock shrimp specialties.

After you've had your fill, discover the Space Coast's older brand of flight heritage at Valiant Air Command Warbird Air Museum, a collection of well-maintained military aircraft, historic photographs and other memorabilia, also in Titusville.

Small and easily digestible, a number of other little-known niche museums provide quick insight into local history. Learn more about stars and space at Brevard Community College Planetarium & Observatory in Cocoa; about the region's natural history at Brevard Museum of History & Natural Science in Cocoa; and the importance of commercial and recreational fishing to the local economy at the Fishing Museum in Sebastian Inlet State Park, whose catwalks along the inlet make a hotspot for anglers. The McLarty Treasure Museum, which showcases treasure and artifacts from an 18th-century shipwreck, is another local gem.

To learn more about exploring space and beyond on Florida's Space Coast, visit www.space-coast.com.

Sponsored listings by VISIT FLORIDA Partners

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