Indian River Lagoon National Scenic Byway for Florida's Natural Side
The Indian River Lagoon National Scenic Byway is an educational, relaxing and family-friendly 200-mile loop beginning at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, (321) 861-0667. The nature and beauty along this roadway is something to experience firsthand
Starting from the Refuge, located east of Titusville on U.S. 1, head west/south on U.S. 1, turning east on S.R. 405 to the not-to-be-missed Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, (321) 449-4444. The Kennedy Space Center is located on more than 140,000 acres of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. This world-class facility is known not only for its advancement of space exploration, but also for its dedication to preserving the natural environment and providing a home for thousands of native wildlife species. After a full day of space, head to Titusville along S.R. 406 to feast upon succulent broiled rock shrimp at Dixie Crossroads Seafood Restaurant, (321) 268-5000.
From S.R. 405, head south on S.R. 3, just five miles past S.R. 528, to join "The Boat Lady" of Island Boat Lines, (321) 302-0544, in Cocoa Beach, to get a true appreciation for the abundant natural assets of the Indian River Lagoon Estuary System, which runs along this scenic corridor. More than 4,000 species have been identified in the lagoon, making it the most biologically diverse estuary in North America. Passengers have the opportunity to see herds of manatee, flocks of birds and playful dolphins on these daily two-hour journeys on the lagoon.
Return to S.R. 528 east that turns south to become S.R. A1A and drive approximately 40 miles to Sebastian Inlet State Park, (321) 984-4852. Sebastian Inlet includes the McLarty Treasure Museum, the site of a Spanish salvors' encampment, and also offers great snook, redfish, bluefish and Spanish mackerel fishing from the jetties, beach or the Indian River. Other activities include surfing, sun bathing, swimming, canoeing and kayaking, all near the first wildlife refuge in the U.S., Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, (772) 562-3909. Though facilities are limited at the National Wildlife Refuge, located just off S.R. A1A on Historic Jungle Trail, as part of the Centennial Celebration of Pelican Island and the National Wildlife Refuge System in 2003, a boardwalk and observation tower to view Pelican Island, two trails and restrooms were opened. Access to Pelican Island itself is not allowed, but viewing the island by boat, canoe or kayak, as offered by a number of local businesses provides excellent, up-close bird watching and photography opportunities.
Leaving Sebastian Inlet State Park, drive south on S.R. A1A about five miles to the town of Orchid, turn west on S.R. 510, then after two miles turn north on U.S. 1. Stop five miles up the road for lunch on the open-air, riverfront patio deck at Captain Hiram's, (772) 589-4345, just off U.S. 1, in Sebastian.
After a relaxing meal, drive north 20 miles on U.S. 1 and make a short detour in Melbourne to visit the Brevard Zoo, (321) 254-9453 or brevardzoo.org, among the top 10 most popular zoos in the country.
Turn off U.S. 1 on Suntree Blvd. for a half-mile, then turn right on Wickham Rd. The Brevard Zoo, among Florida's newest and most interactive zoos, is just three miles down the road, with a zoo train, free-flight aviary and "Expedition Africa" that includes giraffe feeding. It is the only zoo in the country where you can kayak around an animal exhibit.
From the Brevard Zoo, head north on I-95 to Titusville to wrap up your adventures on the Indian River Lagoon.