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Learn about the Space Coast of Florida by reading Florida's Space Coast by William Condon, WTA President and Business and Leisure Traveler. It features a mini, but thorough tour of the area, plus all you'll need to know to plan your trip including how to get there, objective information on places to stay and eat, and things to do. At the end of the article, we've provided a summary of the contact information for your easy reference. Enjoy!about the Space Coast of Florida by reading Florida's Space Coast by William Condon, WTA President and Business and Leisure Traveler. It features a mini, but thorough tour of the area, plus all you'll need to know to plan your trip including how to get there, objective information on places to stay and eat, and things to do. At the end of the article, we've provided a summary of the contact information for your easy reference. Enjoy!

Florida's Space Coast

by William Condon, WTA President and Business and Leisure Traveler

Many thoughts and images are conjured up when you think of Florida and all that it has to offer. One of these gems is what’s known as the Space Coast of Florida. It is that area from Titusville to Palm Bay and includes Merritt Island as well as the Atlantic barrier beaches of Playalinda, Cocoa, Satellite, Indian Harbor, Paradise, Indialantic, Melbourne, Melbourne Shores, Floridana and Sebastian Inlet State Park. Its territory also includes a number of beaches that are part of Patrick Air Force Base and are available to military personal and often used by the general public. It offers something for all ages.

While the most visible attraction in the area is the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, there are many other reasons to spend time exploring the Space Coast. One of the most interesting activities is to spend part of a day at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. The Space Coast encompasses over 250 square miles of wildlife refuges with Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge making up a small but highly interesting part. It is home to hundreds of animal species and more than a thousand different plants and trees. Many of the animals are on the endangered list. There are opportunities to see a variety of species of egrets, rosette spoonbills, anhinga, bald eagles, alligators, horseshoe crabs, hawks of all kinds and much, much more. The refuge offers several opportunities to view wildlife with several walking trails and lookouts. The most popular method by far to explore the refuge is via the Black Point Wildlife Drive, a 6-mile brochure-guided tour in your car. The only equipment you will need is a pair of good binoculars, preferably 10X25 or better. We used an 8X24 Zoom that worked well in that it gave a wide field of vision to locate the subject and providing an excellent viewing opportunity. Depending upon the number of people traveling with you, you may want to have more than one pair.

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The ever impressive Canaveral national seashore

Leaving the refuge, there are two additional partial day activities that are worth considering. One is the Manatee viewing area near the canal bridge off Route 3 North, and the other is a visit to Playalinda Beach at the Canaveral National Seashore. Both activities require a left turn when exiting the refuge. Turn left on Route 3 for the Manatee’s and watch for the signs as you cross the canal bridge. To reach Playalinda, turn right on Route 3 and then left at the stoplight. There is a gate that is closed within three days of a shuttle launch that prevents access, so be sure to check the shuttle launch schedule ahead of time.  Of all the beaches, Playalinda is a "must do" for beach lovers. Most of the beaches have restroom and shower facilities and many offer free parking. Playalinda has restrooms, but no showers. In many communities, you can park off A1A on a side street with meter parking, but note that restrooms and showers may be many blocks away.

Sebastian Inlet State Park is at the south end of the Space Coast, but is definitely worth visiting. There is a small maritime museum that depicts the fishing industry in the area over the past 100 years or so. You will also find a campground and fishing jetties along both sides of the inlet. A walk out on the fishing jetties is a must. The pelicans that wait for a handout from the fishermen are so tame that you can literally pat them on the head as you pass by. Further along off US Route 1, after crossing the bridge going south, is a left turn that will take you into the town of Sebastian. This is a very scenic drive of only a few miles and offers nice views and many good restaurants on the water.

A visit to the Kennedy Space Center is an experience that is enjoyed by all ages. Allow a whole day if you want to do it right and plan to take one of the additional tours. The Shuttle “up close” was our choice and it didn’t disappoint us in the least. We were bused to areas that are not accessible to the general public tour and treated to a bird’s eye view of the launch pads and the preparation building. We actually pulled up to the edge of the runway where the Shuttle lands. Each afternoon you will have an opportunity to visit with an astronaut and hear a presentation as well as ask questions. This is billed as the “Astronauts Encounter.” Another terrific attraction is the “Apollo Mission” building, which houses a complete history of the Apollo missions and a full size Saturn V moon rocket - all 363 feet. Not on the grounds, but only a short distance west off SR 405 is The Astronaut Hall of Fame. Here you will discover the largest collection of personal astronaut artifacts and learn about space heroes. They also offer an interactive experience that gives you a true taste of space travel.

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Space shuttle launch at Kennedy Space Center (night launch)

There are many other attractions on or near the Florida Space Coast that are fun as well as interesting. One of the most fun adventures is to take an airboat ride off the Saint John's River. There are many operators including some with large capacity airboats. We prefer the smaller boats that carry nine passengers or less. The one we used was Grasshopper Airboat Ecotours that can be reached just before the Saint John's River off Highway 520.

A trip to the Space Coast is not complete without a visit to Historic Cocoa Village. It is situated directly on the Indian River, south and west of the Route 520 Causeway from Merritt Island and before you reach US Route 1. It has a variety of interesting shops and a number of very good places to eat. There is a lovely park right on the river that includes a playground for the children, an amphitheater, a river walk, and many benches to lounge on. It is connected to Lee Winner Park with its amenities such as docks and a boat launch. There are ample restrooms and the village is directly across the street.

Golf and tennis are two favorite pastimes in the area and there are many opportunities to enjoy either sport. The weather year round is conducive to outdoor sports and there are more than 17 public golf courses available as well as many public tennis courts. Also, it is often possible to use private facilities by checking with the club’s tennis or golf pro. There are highly rated golf courses on the Space Coast, so if you are a championship golfer, you will not be disappointed.

Finally, if you are traveling to Florida by air it is usually far less expensive to fly into Orlando and rent a car. If you are coming in the off-season or during the week, you will find it more economical to rent a car at one of the airport off site locations. All of the major rental car companies, as well as a number of local ones, pick up at the airport. During peak season you may want to check the prices at Titusville and Cocoa Beach locations. You could use one of the airport executive shuttles depending on the size of your group and length of stay and perhaps save on the rental at one of these locations.

Driving in Florida is much the same as other areas in the United States. Be sure to buckle up and some words of caution are in order. The speed limit on US RT. 95 is 70 mph in most places, but many drivers exceed that limit and there are always many accidents. We avoid RT. 95 where possible and take the local routes. Become aware of the continuous green lanes that are a real hazard to the unaware. These are most often found where a side or local road is entering a major road such as US RT. 1 on a 90-degree angle and does not cross over. The continuous green lane is on the far right, but out-of-state and foreign drivers entering from the perpendicular road have been known to cross into the continuous green lane in front of oncoming traffic. Headlights are required during periods of reduced visibility during the day and, of course, from sunset to sunrise. It is a good idea to keep them on all of the time; we do simply because of the large volume of traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian.

The Space Coast of Florida is a unique vacation destination. It offers beautiful beaches for those who like "fun in the sun," wildlife sanctuaries for those who prefer a more peaceful setting, and plenty of attractions for those who like to be "on the go."

Details

Getting there/transportation:

  • The Orlando International Airport
    Web: http://www.orlandoairports.net/
  • Airport Shuttle Services
    Busy Traveler

    Phone: (321)-453-5278
    Web: http://www.abusytraveler.com/
  • Executive Shuttle
    Phone: (321)-453-4044
  • Car Rentals (Listed alphabetically)
  • Alamo
    (800)-354-2322, use WTA discount number 679045
  • Avis
    (800)-331-1212, use WTA discount number B853102
  • Budget
    (800)-455-2848, use WTA discount number X483102
  • Hertz
    (800)-654-2000, use WTA discount number1294401
  • Enterprise
    (800)-593-0505, use WTA discount number 07A1001

Where to stay:

(Listed alphabetically)

Where to eat:

Attractions/Things to do:

More Information:

Notice: This information is current as of August 2001. It is recommended that you contact the numbers, and/or visit the web sites above to determine any changes to the information.