By Lauren Tjaden
72 miles of shimmering beaches stretch across Florida’s Space Coast, a diverse ecosystem that promises mysterious wetlands, lush forests and abundant lakes, rich with wildlife that includes docile manatees, ancient sea turtles and unparalleled birding.
A multitude of parks, trails, eco-attractions and nature tours highlight the area’s ecological treasures, making the locale perfect for nature lovers.
Read on to discover different ways you can enjoy a low-impact, Earth-friendly getaway on Florida’s Space Coast.
Watching a mother sea turtle lay her eggs on the beach by the light of the moon; seeing the water come alive with light on a bioluminescent kayaking tour; and riding the waves on a surfboard are only a few of the Earth-friendly experiences Florida’s Space Coast delivers. Here are some favorites.
Talk to the animals
Melbourne’s Brevard Zoo promotes wildlife conservation through education and participation-- which means hands-on fun for your posse. You can get up-close-and-personal with stingrays, goats and feathered friends in the zoo’s Keeper Chats; let a giraffe nibble a snack from your fingers in an animal feeding; or cool off with your little ones with a splash in the Indian River Play Lagoon. Explore the property on a kayak tour, train ride, or even on an aerial adventure, where you can indulge in thrills with a canopy walk or zipline at Treetop Trek.
You’re always welcome at the Sea Turtle Preservation Society (STPS) Sea Turtle House in Indialantic as well as their kiosk at Port Canaveral, where you can check out sea turtle displays and learn about how to you can share the beach with this endangered species and help make sea turtle nesting season a success.
Besides educating the public, the group rescues both hatchlings and adult sea turtles, hosts a monthly beach clean-up, and conducts nest surveys. Their mission couldn’t be more important, because Space Coast beaches and the Indian River Lagoon are prime nesting and foraging sites for loggerhead, green, and leatherback sea turtles-- and a mind-blowing 90% of sea turtle eggs in the U.S. are laid in the Sunshine State.
An unforgettable way to get involved is to go on a Turtle Walk, a guided group tour to observe nesting loggerhead sea turtles, held several nights a week during May, June, and July at three different locations in South Brevard County.
The Brevard County Environmentally Endangered Lands (EEL) Program alongside their partner, the Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC), also gives guided sea turtle walks in the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge several nights a week in June and July.
Wildlife and Wetlands
Thanks to Brevard County’s Environmentally Endangered Lands (EEL) Program, Wildlife Refuges and Sanctuaries abound on Florida’s Space Coast.
Offerings include standouts like Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge in Indialantic, which holds bragging rights as the second-largest loggerhead sea turtle nesting location in the world. You can watch mother sea turtles lay their eggs each June and July on guided night-tours, and laugh at hatchlings scrambling from their nests during turtle dig programs offered in August and early September.
Another must-visit is the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, home to record numbers of endangered and threatened species. Its Manatee Observation Deck offers the perfect place to take a gander at the slow-moving sea cows; Black Point Wildlife Drive , a seven-mile dike road, offers views of a vast variety of birds in addition to possible sightings of alligators, river otters and bobcats. Activities include hiking, fishing, birdwatching, and hunting.
Indian Mound Station Sanctuary in Titusville is home to a protected bald eagle nesting site as well as a Native American burial mound; Barrier Island Center in Melbourne Beach hosts events that include seahorse feedings, touch-a-terrapin, and crafting workshops.
Enormously popular as a birding and eco-tourism destination, the Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands, more commonly known as the Viera Wetlands, is a photographer’s dream. The entire perimeter of the central lake—about a mile-- is sown with Florida wildflowers, providing an explosion of color against an idyllic backdrop. You can explore it on foot or via bicycle, and often in your car; however, wet conditions sometimes prohibit vehicles. If you’re in town in April, make sure to catch the annual Viera Wetlands Nature Festival, complete with exhibits, family activities and an art contest.
Indian River Lagoon
Nestled between the barrier islands of Florida’s east coast and the mainland, the 156-mile-long Indian River Lagoon encompasses the Banana River, the Indian River, and the Mosquito Lagoon. Esteemed as an Outstanding Florida Water and an Estuary of National Significance, it’s one of the most biologically diverse estuaries in North America. Home to 2,200 animal species and 2,100 plant species, it’s nicknamed “the cradle of the ocean,” providing a safe haven for unnumerable species. Its coastal beaches attract the highest number of nesting sea turtles in the Western Hemisphere.
Beaches and Parks
The Space Coast beckons outdoor enthusiasts with 117 county parks (and numerous other parks), 44 beach accesses, and a staggering 16,500 managed-acres of Environmentally Endangered Lands. You can explore the magical trails at Enchanted Forest Sanctuary; let the kids burn off steam at the well-designed Cocoa Beach Skate Park; or go fishing for the big one in the Atlantic Ocean, the Indian River Lagoon or the Intracoastal Waterway.
A camping expedition at Manatee Hammock will be unforgettable if you time it right—the campground not only offers a fire ring and shoreline fishing on the river, it’s also situated for a blockbuster view of space launches at Kennedy Space Center.
To indulge in the timeless pursuit of kicking back on a sandy beach and watching the waves roll in, just pick the beach that matches your mood. If you’re yearning for peace and quiet, Canaveral National Seashore, nestled on the northern coast of Brevard County, showcases miles of pristine, undeveloped shoreline, while at the southern end of Brevard, Sebastian Inlet State Recreation Area tempts surfers to ride the waves of its ‘First Peak’ and ‘Monster Hole.’ Cocoa Beach’s Lori Wilson Park, with its sparkling, gentle swells, is a favorite with families, and the dog-friendly beach Canova Beach Park in Indialantic is sure to inspire yelps of joy. For more offerings check out this list of Brevard County beach parks.
Tours, trails and once-in-a lifetime thrills like bioluminescent kayaking are some of the outdoor experiences you can enjoy on Florida’s Space Coast. Here are some popular choices.
You’ll find more Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail (GFBWT) sites in Brevard County than in any other Florida County, almost 40 of them, ideal for spotting feathered friends. Located along the Atlantic Flyway, vital for migrating birds, the GFBWT includes places like Sebastian Inlet State Park, a haven for Loons, Skimmers, Terns and Gulls; and the 200-acre, breathtakingly gorgeous Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands, featuring outstanding birding by car, foot or bicycle.
From wild to mild, a slew of tours reveal Brevard County’s unique ecosystem. Search for ‘gators and satisfy your need for speed with an airboat tour; slow down and search for exotic wildlife on a kayaking expedition; or climb aboard a biplane for an aerial tour out of Merritt Island Airport.
Officially, a Florida Trail Town is ‘a place where trail users can venture off a hiking, biking, equestrian or ‘paddling trail to enjoy the amenities and unique heritage of the community’ – which translates as good times and outdoor opportunities for your gang.
Two of the ten Florida towns that have earned this title are on the Space Coast, both worth exploring.
Titusville, heralded as the ‘only place on the planet where rockets launch, sea turtles nest and soothing sunrises give way to inviting surf,’ is one, nestled at the conjunction of three long-distance trails: Florida Coast-to-Coast Trail, East Coast Greenway, and the St. Johns River-to-Sea Loop.
The small, rural enclave of Malabar is the second, famed for the walking, bicycling and paddling trails that meander through its abundant conservation areas.
Planting sea oats! Night hikes in the Enchanted Forest Sanctuary! Kids Nature Programs! Kayaking at the Thousand Island Conservation Area! The Brevard County Environmentally Endangered Lands Program offers all of these events and more. Check out their Facebook page to see what’s happening when you’re in the neighborhood.
Ready for some action?
Ron Jon Surf School or Cocoa Beach Surf Company can teach you to surf, and there’s no better place to learn than Cocoa Beach, with its small, steady waves and shallow water.
Stand-up paddleboarding provides a peaceful, quiet way to enjoy the outdoors; A1A Beach Rentals is one option that can give you lessons.
If more adrenaline is what you’re craving, a windsurfing or kiteboarding lesson is sure to do the trick.
Indulge in the simple pleasure of riding a bike next to the beach or through a trail dappled with shade; you can rent road, mountain, beach, and even electric bicycles in many locations. The Village Cycle Shoppe in Cocoa Village invites you to pedal through the park or an off-road journey, while Bob’s Bicycles caters to freewheelers in Indian Harbor Beach and Indialantic.
Check out on and off-road trails here, and rentals here.
You’ve got plenty of other outdoor rental options to choose from too, including Segways, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, kiteboards, windsurfing boards, jet skis, surfboards, canoes, and boats of all kinds.
Runners can combine a vacation with a competition; the Space Coast Marathon and Half Marathon welcomes athletes with a stunning USATF certified waterfront courses.
A bioluminescent tour turns kayaking the Space Coast’s waterways into a magical, once-in-a-lifetime experience. In this after-dark adventure, a little-known phenomenon called bioluminescence -- where organisms create light caused by a chemical reaction -- makes anything that touches the water come alive with light. A dip of your paddle, a splash of your hand, or a fish swimming below the surface all will create a spellbinding light show. Keep your fingers crossed; if you’re lucky you may cross paths with a dolphin or manatee, glowing like underwater ghosts. Dark nights between July and September are the best times to go.
FOOD AND DINING
Sustainable and delectable come together on Florida’s Space Coast in meals that are satisfying in more ways than one.
Lionfish, an invasive species, are bad for the local marine life—but they’re oh-so-tasty to eat. You can do your part by enjoying a plate of the flakey white fish at Grills Seafood, where they’ve created a tasty recipe for it, with nearly 30,000 served. Keep an eye on their Facebook page for availability, which depends on the catch.
Ocean Friendly Restaurants Program
Situated just steps away from the Indialantic Boardwalk, Islands Fish Grill is celebrated for mouth-watering concoctions like shrimp and scallops tossed in orange-mango cream sauce over fettuccine, as well as other dishes featuring fresh, local fish.
The Tiny Turtle in Cocoa Beach invites you to sample Puerto Rican dishes with a hint of Caribbean; you’re welcome to come as you are, wearing flip-flops, a tank top or a business suit.
Melbourne’s Backwater was created so everyone can sit down and eat Southern food together: one menu item is ‘Gator Gumbo,’ made from wild-caught Florida alligator, butternut squash, okra and red beans.
The one thing these diverse Space Coast eateries have in common is that they meet the criteria of Surfrider Foundation’s Ocean Friendly Restaurants Program, and have proved their commitment to making sustainable choices for our oceans by reducing plastic use.
Here’s where you can find more Ocean Friendly restaurants, many which offer vegetarian and vegan options.
Shuck and Share
Bonefish Willy Riverfront Grille, a historic Melbourne eatery nestled among towering palm trees; the Sunset Waterfront Bar & Grill, touted for fab food and a prime view of Cocoa Beach’s waterfront; and River Rocks, located on the Indian River Lagoon with expansive views and an upscale chef inspired menu, are but three of the Brevard restaurant members of the Shuck and Share program.
In this Marine Discovery Center project, instead of sending oyster shells to landfills, member restaurants across Central Florida have collected more than 3.5 million pounds of shells which are employed in oyster gardening and reef-building programs by Brevard Zoo’s Restore Our Shores.
U-Pick Farms, Honey and Farmers Markets
Plump blueberries, ripe strawberries, muscadine grapes and bunches of fun are some of the bounty you’ll discover at the Space Coast’s Pick Your Own Farms. Most farms are only open seasonally and may close due to weather, so call before you visit.
The bees are busy in Brevard making delectable local raw honey; here are local stores where you can find it.
For fresh-picked local produce, pay a visit to one of the farmer's markets.
Campgrounds where you can let the sound of the surf lull you to sleep and resorts committed to conserving and protecting Florida’s natural resources are some of the green places to stay in Brevard County.
Tent, RV and cabin camping is plentiful and outstanding on Florida’s Space Coast, where you can spend a night under the stars or near the waves. Wildly beautiful Sebastian Inlet State Park tantalizes visitors with spectacular surfing, unspoiled beaches and soul-soothing campsites; while Jetty Park Campground provides an oasis by the ocean where you can spot wildlife and marine—and sometimes, cruise ships, submarines, and rocket launches. Manatee Hammock Campground is another popular offering, boasting a pool and shoreline fishing as well as a shady, secluded hammock of pines close to urban amenities. These campgrounds are just the tip of the sandbar; check out more options here.
Florida Green Lodging
The Courtyard Cocoa Beach is a mere 200 yards from the Atlantic Ocean and just minutes from the area’s attractions, while the Hampton Inn Cocoa Beach serves up beachside bliss near Port Canaveral. Both are Florida Green Lodging Designated Properties, a title bestowed on facilities that implement sound environmental practices in five areas of sustainable operations. Examples of ways these resorts stay green includes recycling in guest rooms, the lobby, vending or eating areas; energy-efficient lighting throughout the hotel; low-flow toilets, showerheads and faucets; linen and/or towel reuse programs and eco-friendly cleaning products. Here are more offerings in Brevard County.
From beach clean-ups to dune restoration and even helping with therapeutic horseback riding sessions, Brevard County guarantees a wealth of ways to give back on your getaway.
Volunteer opportunities to keep the Space Coast pristine abound—and almost anyone can help. Join the Sea Turtle Preservation Society for beach cleanups at Coconut Point Park in Melbourne Beach as well as Cherie Down Park and Beach in Cape Canaveral, or take a peek at Keep Brevard Beautiful’s calendar for beaches, parks, and roadway cleanups.
Dine and Shop Mindfully
An easy way to go green in the Sunshine State is to eat and shop at Litter Quitter businesses; they limit their use of plastics, using reusable or biodegradable options instead.
Horses and Dogs
In an innovative twist, Titusville’s SPCA of Brevard’s Adoption Center ‘Borrow a Buddy’ program lets you take out a shelter dog for the day to a restaurant, a dog beach or whatever warms your heart and makes your new best friend’s tail wag.
Become a Walk on Water Equine Assistant. The non-profit ministry is dedicated to giving children of all abilities and backgrounds the opportunity to experience and bond with horses in a safe and loving environment.
Brevard Zoo’s Restore our Shores invites you to get involved with their conservation efforts by nurturing a mangrove seedling, shell bagging or even helping to build reefs.
Habitat for Humanity of Brevard County needs you: help in their store, be a construction volunteer, or join in community service.
VolunteerMatch has almost 200 Brevard County volunteer opportunities, so you’re sure to find one that’s compatible with your schedule and interests.