The Space Coast, as the area around Port Canaveral has come to be known, has become one of the top tourist destinations in Florida. The magnificent Kennedy Space Center is the embodiment of the promise that President John F. Kennedy made to the nation in the early 1960s. Even after hundreds of space explorations, shuttle launches at Cape Canaveral are still a special event.
Although it's easy to spend an entire day at the Kennedy Space Center, there is plenty more to see and do around Port Canaveral. For one, the government purchased too much land around Cape Canaveral. Instead of just selling it back, the land has been designated as wildlife refuges and nature preserves. Nature lovers will not want to miss the beautiful hikes through Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, or the gorgeous sights that surround the Canaveral National Seashore. Just south of Cape Canaveral is Cocoa Beach, which has become a surfer's nirvana. Temperate weather and bodacious waves have transformed this beach into a year-round party.
Port Canaveral is a man-made port, with lots of cruise ships using it as an entryway to ports of call throughout the Caribbean. The area around the port has been beautifully developed, with shops and restaurants dotting the waterfront. Fishing boats and gambling cruises have added to the carnival that surrounds Port Canaveral.
The best way to enjoy the Space Coast is by balancing your day. Spend the morning marveling at the technological wonders of space exploration. Then, take a picnic lunch to the nature reserves, enjoying the serenity afforded you here. Finally, top off the day by admiring the sunset from a waterfront restaurant on Cocoa Beach. Spacing out your time will allow you to fully enjoy everything that the Space Coast has to offer.
Docking & Local Transportation
Cruise ships dock at man-made Port Canaveral. Besides being a main hub for cruise ships, Port Canaveral is also the place to be for fishing boat excursions and gambling cruises. There is road access available directly from the port.
Public transportation around Port Canaveral has not kept up with the city's rising population. Buses do run, but their routes sometimes resemble an M.C. Escher painting, so sometimes it takes a long time to get to where you're going. As a result, car rental may be your best option in Port Canaveral. Hertz (1980 North Atlantic Ave., 321/783-7771) is just one of many car rental agencies operating in the area.
The Florida Space Coast Office of Tourism (2725 Judge Fran Jamieson Way, 321/637-5483, www.space-coast.com) is a great place to stock up on maps and brochures. The office will also help you plan out your itinerary for your stay in Port Canaveral.
Of course, the first place you will want to visit while in Cape Canaveral is the John F. Kennedy Space Center (NASA Parkway, 321/499-4444, www.kennedyspacecenter.com). The roads around the Space Center are closed to the public, so you will need to start your visit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. The visitor complex is extremely tourist-friendly. The Mercury Mission Control Room has been set up here, along with NASA rockets and an IMAX Theater. There is also a fascinating look at NASA's future plans for space exploration. Shuttle buses leave six times an hour for a closer look at the Space Center. If you want to see an actual shuttle launch, you should call in advance for a list of scheduled shuttle departures. Tickets are sold on a first-come, first-served basis, either at the Visitor Complex or by telephone (321/449-4444).
You will get a good understanding of what it takes to be an astronaut after visiting the Astronaut Hall of Fame. In addition to a memorial to our space explorers, the museum has a moon walk, a flight simulator and a G-Force Trainer, which will allow you to feel the pull of gravity magnified four times!
After spending a day learning about the amazing technological advancements we have made in space exploration, it feels good to get back to nature for a while. Luckily, Cape Canaveral has plenty of natural beauty to enjoy. The Canaveral National Seashore (321/267-1110, www.nps.gov/cana) is a little bit north of the Space Center. Thirteen miles of protected land are home to hundreds of birds, dolphins, manatees, and sea turtles. The Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (321/861-0667, www.fws.gov/merrittisland) is just west of Canaveral National Seashore. Spread out over 140,000 acres, the refuge has some excellent trails that make for ideal nature hikes.
Cocoa Beach is south of the Space Center. It has become a haven of sorts for surfers, who congregate on the shore all year long. If that isn't your crowd, you can enjoy the serenity of Apollo Beach, located in the Canaveral National Seashore. For a great view of the cruise ships entering and exiting Port Canaveral, head over to Jetty Park (400 E. Jetty Rd., 321/783-7111). This is also a great place to watch the sunset.
Port Canaveral offers a wide array of outdoor activities. Golfers will want to play a round at the Cocoa Beach Country Club (500 Tom Warringer Blvd., 321/868-3351). There are plenty of fishing boat excursions that leave right from Port Canaveral. Among the more popular boats is the Orlando Princess (321/784-6300, www.orlandoprincess.com). If the last thing you want to do is spend even more time on the water, just fish from the pier at Jetty Park (400 E. Jetty Rd., 321/783-7111).
Souvenir hunters will find a wide variety of space memorabilia inside the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (NASA Parkway, 321/499-4444). Ron Jon Surf Shop (4151 N. Atlantic Ave., 321/799-8888, www.ronjons.com) has everything you need to look like a true surfer guy or girl. On Merritt Island, the Merritt Square Mall (777 E. Merritt Island Causeway, 321/452-3270, www.merrittsquaremall.com) has almost one hundred upscale stores and boutiques to choose from.
Dining & Nightlife
Dixie Crossroads (1475 Garden St., 321/268-5000, www.dixiecrossroads.com) offers all kinds of artery-clogging goodness. The main word on the menu is fried, with fried fish and French fries among the best dishes. Gregory's Steak and Seafood Grille (900 N. Atlantic Ave., 321/799-2557, www.gregorysonthebeach.com) serves up healthy portions of certified Angus beef. The Alaskan king crab is another specialty here. Bernard's Surf (2 S. Atlantic Ave., 321/783-2401) is a favorite among the locals, who flock here for the fresh seafood and thick steaks.
After hours, Port Canaveral has a little something for everybody. The Brevard's Cultural Alliance's Arts Line (321/690-6819) gives you an up to date schedule of performances in the area. A lively crowd usually gathers at Oh Shuck's Seafood Bar and Grill (321/783-7549) on Cocoa Beach Pier to dance to live music. You can also enjoy a cold drink and good company at Marlins Good Times Bar and Grill (321/783-7549). If you're feeling lucky, gambling cruises leave every evening from Port Canaveral. You should have no problem finding these ships, as they advertise heavily around the port.