The SpaceX Falcon takes off from the Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island.
Photo by SpaceX
For a spring or summer vacation without the cost or hassle of air travel, Florida’s Space Coast could be a great option. Here are five things to explore on your trip north.
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
When it comes to all things space, the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex delivers exciting exhibits. You can take a day trip to the launch pads or spend a few days of exploration.
The U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame introduces the famous names of NASA history and provides a glimpse behind the scenes with an exhibit featuring the faces of Mission Control. The Rocket Garden lets you touch real rockets, and you can view the Countdown Clock that is still used to this day.
You can get the experience of an astronaut by climbing into a training simulator, marvel at the shuttle Atlantis in its permanent home, or enjoy a presentation on the Hubble Space Telescope’s history and photos of deep space.
Canaveral National Seashore and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
Not far from Cape Canaveral’s rockets and space shuttles is a barrier island on the National Park Service registry. The Canaveral National Seashore features dunes, hammocks and lagoons and is home to animals and plants native to Florida.
Five species of turtles live on the seashore, and local mammals include the right whale and manatee.
Nearby at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, you can see wild hogs, spoonbills, scrub jays and kingfishers. If the time is right, you might spot a bobcat. It is also a stopover for migratory birds every winter.
You can take nature hikes within the park and learn the history of the area, including settlements and crops. You can visit preserved native Timucuan mounds. Canaveral
means “place of cane.”
The seashore is also a good place to watch a rocket launch.
Cocoa Beach and Cocoa Village
Another good place to watch a rocket launch is Cocoa Beach, perhaps best known as the home of Captain Nelson in the 1960s sitcom “I Dream of Jeannie.” Cocoa Beach offers many other things to do.
With six miles of beaches, Cocoa Beach hosts numerous surfing competitions. If none is happening during your visit, you could shop for a surfboard at the famous Ron Jon Surf Shop or at least take home a shirt or a sticker. At Christmas, nothing is more festive than the surfing Santas.
Cocoa Beach pier at sunset
If you tire of the sun, fun and beach, Cocoa Village offers shops that feature local artists and craftsmen. You can take home an authentic Florida artwork or nibble on a Florida orange.
This historic town is home to a hardware store that opened in 1885. The village is small enough that you can walk through the history and shops in a day, with many small cafes and restaurants to keep you fed and hydrated along the way.
A drive south on I-95 brings you to the Brevard Zoo, where you can interact with over 900 animals from all corners of the world. The zoo has re-created their natural habitats.
You can ride a train, kayak on a river or leisurely walk the zoo. Attractions for kids include the Petting Zone and the Indian River Play Lagoon, which teaches about the natural species from the real Indian River Lagoon.
Committed to conservation, Brevard Zoo educates visitors on the ways they can help their communities care for native animals. Brevard Zoo supports Brevard County’s wildlife by restoring the shoreline, healing sick and injured sea turtles and drawing awareness to habitats like the Canaveral National Seashore and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.
Mel Fisher Treasures Museum
Just south of the Space Coast is the Treasure Coast. The Mel Fisher Treasures Museum and Gift Shop on U.S. 1 in Sebastian provides a look at the namesake treasures.
Mel Fisher was the first dive shop owner in California. He was bitten by the treasure bug and set off to search for shipwrecks, a quest that paid off in the early 1970s.
The museum houses gold, jewelry and other artifacts from several ships in the Spanish fleet that sank off the coast in 1715. It also includes treasure from the Nuestra Senora de Atocha, which sank in the Florida Keys in a 1622 hurricane. In addition to viewing treasures, you can buy a piece of history like an emerald or an Atocha silver coin.
The museum teaches preservation techniques for treasure hunters and offers a chance to join one of the Mel Fisher team’s expeditions.
The area also is ripe with fresh fruits, from the famous Indian River oranges to blueberries, strawberries and mangoes.