Florida's 'Space Coast' Has Incredible Beaches, Food, and Dolphins — Here's How to Plan a Trip

There's more to Florida's 'Space Coast' than the space travel scene.

A family of 3 stand on Cocoa Beach Pier watching a rocket launch

Courtesy of Space Coast Office of Tourism

With 72 miles of scenic shoreline, Florida's Space Coast provides visitors with classic Sunshine State surf and sand. It's all accompanied by one particularly fascinating local industry: space travel.

Since 1962, the region has been a prominent base for NASA operations, with the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex drawing roughly 1.5 million visitors each year. While the wonders of the cosmos are a major draw for tourists, there’s no shortage of incredible attractions and activities here, too, like kayaking, wildlife-watching, and surfing.

A family visits the Kennedy Space Center in Florida

Courtesy of Space Coast Office of Tourism

For newcomers looking to discover the activities available across the Space Coast shore, Cocoa Beach offers a wealth of accommodations, dining venues, and attractions — all packed into one scenic city. Visitors can stroll along the pier or play a few rounds of mini-golf, while The Dinosaur Store museum features a spectacular collection of prehistoric fossils and statues.

But when it comes to outdoor adventure, it’s best to head straight to the sparkling shore. There’s no better teacher than the School of Surf. Operating just a few steps away from the sandy shoreline, this local academy provides an array of different courses for visitors to enjoy, with itineraries targeting anyone from first-time participants to seasoned surf aficionados. It offers both one- and two-hour lessons, and even seasonal week-long camps.

A small child takes surf lessons in the ocean off of Florida's Space Coast

Courtesy of Space Coast Office of Tourism

For a more relaxed perspective on the surrounding region, a leisurely paddle along the Cocoa Beach shoreline is the perfect activity — a fact that local tour operator Fin Expeditions knows all too well. The excursions invite guests to experience the abundant natural beauty of the Banana River firsthand. The river is home to a variety of native marine creatures, with Fin Expeditions’ highly educated staff at the ready to point out dolphins, manatees, and all sorts of native birds. While a daylight tour of the area’s tangled mangrove forests is an incredible way to spend the afternoon, the company also specializes in evening and night excursions ranging from sunset paddles to bioluminescence tours.

If you’d like to keep the physical activity at a minimum, Canaveral Tours offers excursions ranging from airboat rides to voyages highlighting the region’s most iconic lighthouses. And for animal lovers, in particular, the Wildlife Group Tour is the way to go. This six-hour excursion brings guests into the heart of Florida’s Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, a sprawling seaside preserve that’s renowned for its diverse ecosystems. The park’s many marshes serve as a paradise for birders, packed full of eye-catching species like wood ducks, surf scoters, and roseate spoonbills. Alligators and even the occasional bobcat can also be found along the way.

Cape Canaveral lighthouse

Courtesy of Space Coast Office of Tourism

Once you’ve enjoyed a successful excursion with Canaveral Tours — and maybe a quick stop at Playalinda Brewing Company to toast to the trip — visitors can find a particularly idyllic birding destination back in Cocoa Beach in the form of Manatee Sanctuary Park. In spite of its small size, this 10-acre coastal preserve is home to a treasure trove of creatures. During a stroll along the central pond, guests can marvel at great blue herons, cormorants, and the peculiar-looking Florida softshell turtle, while the sparkling waters just past the park are a haven for sea ducks, saltwater fish, and, of course, Florida’s native manatees.

Visitors can gain further insight into the state’s biodiversity with a trip to Brevard Zoo. Opened in 1994, this AZA-accredited attraction is a major force for wildlife conservation in the region, operating breeding and species preservation programs for native Floridian creatures like the Perdido Key beach mouse and the frosted flatwood salamander. While guests can look at the resident African lions, the Brevard Zoo is also known for its kayaking tours that offer visitors a fascinating perspective on the local giraffes, lemurs, and rhinos along the park’s river.

A group of 4 people kayak through the Brevard zoo while seeing giraffes

Courtesy of Space Coast Office of Tourism

When it comes to dining, Florida’s Atlantic shoreline is home to a spectacular seafood scene, and the Space Coast is no exception. For old-school Florida flavors, Fish Camp Grill has catfish bites, fried gator tail, and jambalaya — all served inside a massive space complete with taxidermied wildlife and baby alligators on display.

That said, Florida is far from the only state represented across Cocoa Beach. Further south, Jazzy’s Mainely provides diners with a more New England spin on dining. Think northeast classics like clam chowder, whole-bellied clams, and two different varieties of lobster rolls. And if you’re in need of a break from seafood, the family-owned La Catrina has mastered the art of Mexican cuisine, with green chile burritos, Mazatlán-style quesadillas, and shrimp fajitas all gracing the menu.

While Space Coast visitors are welcome to explore Florida’s rich legacy of spacefaring and even catch a rocket launch in real-time, no trip is complete without discovering the spectacular natural beauty found all across the region.

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