Top 7 things to do in Cocoa Beach and Port Canaveral, Florida

by W. Andrew Powell
Cape Canaveral and Cocoa Beach

Say hello to miles and miles of beach with a vacation to Cape Canaveral, Port Canaveral, and Cocoa Beach, Florida. Whether you want a relaxing beach vacation, or you’re leaving on a cruise from the port, there are lots of things to do in the area. It’s sunny, sandy, and there’s a lot of fun, affordable activities.

If you’re looking for some ideas of what to do in the area, read on for my favourites, and watch my video on my recent trip to the area at the bottom of the story or on YouTube.

If you’re looking for a hotel in the area, we had a great experience with the Country Inn & Suites by Radisson, Port Canaveral, and it’s a short 5 minute drive to the cruise terminals, and 15 minutes to Cocoa Beach.

Cocoa Beach and Cocoa Beach Pier

Cocoa Beach, Florida

Cocoa Beach and the Cocoa Beach Pier (401 Meade Ave, Cocoa Beach) are one of the biggest highlights in the area, and if you’re staying in Port Canaveral area, it’s a short 15 minute drive to the beach and the lively pier area.

You can also stay directly in Cocoa Beach at hotels like the Hilton Garden Inn Cocoa Beach Oceanfront, that gives you direct access to step out right onto the beach, or there are also a number of other beachside hotels.

Cocoa Beach itself has some of the finest sand you’ll find in Florida, and the beach stretches literally for miles and miles. During peak hours you can rent beach umbrellas and chairs, or bring your own, and there’s lots of parking along the side streets connected to the beach.

Swim, play some beach sports, go surfing, or just walk down to the pier; it’s a wonderful place to spend an afternoon, and if you can stay for sunset, it’s gorgeous.

Cocoa Beach Pier offers bars, restaurants, take out, dessert, shopping, and a striking view over the beach, from surf to sand.

NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex at Cape Canaveral

For the space fans, or anyone who wants to marvel at the size of the rockets that have taken mankind into space, Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex at Cape Canaveral (Space Commerce Way, Merritt Island) is a remarkable place to explore.

Just a 40 minute drive from Cocoa Beach, Kennedy Space Center gives you a peek back at the space race that took the United States to the moon, with an incredible opportunity to see the Atlantis space shuttle up close and personal.

There are dozens of rockets to see throughout the center, a chance to step back to experience the first rocket launch at the complex, and there are interactive exhibits for the kids to learn more. Plus there’s an incredible souvenir shop, restaurants, and the new Gateway experience gives you a chance to see what it might be like blasting off into space on a futuristic journey.

Ron Jon Surf Shop

Get exactly what you need for your beach or water adventure at one of the biggest and oldest surf stores in North America.

For over 60 years, Ron Jon Surf Shop (4151 N Atlantic Ave, Cocoa Beach) and their 52,000 square foot store has been equipping people for surfing, diving, swimming, and the beach, so if you’re looking for some fun gear, this is a great spot to check out.

The store has almost anything you could want for your beach trip, and they even have skateboards, towels, beach bags, and beach toys. Plus, you can show off your love for Ron Jon with branded mugs, cups, or phone cases.

The Dinosaur Store and Museum

For the dinosaur fans in the family, take them to The Dinosaur Store and Museum (250 W Cocoa Beach Causeway, Cocoa Beach), a combination of museum and store that’s fun and includes an arcade, history, and science facts.

In the museum, explore the Hall of Dinosaurs, or learn about ancient cultures, while the arcade offers skeeball and basketball hoops. Kids will also love the Reptile Run, with 25 creatures to learn about, and there’s a Nile Raft Ride for a bit of excitement.

It’s a classic road-side stop in the middle of Cocoa Beach, and the store includes souvenirs and real fossils. There are even meteorites, jewellery, and so much more. Just be prepared: the larger and rarer fossils and some other items don’t come cheap.

Parks & Camping

For an afternoon picnic or a chance to let the kids run around for a while, there are lots of great parks in Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral, and that includes one of my favourites, Manatee Sanctuary Park (701 Thurm Blvd, Cape Canaveral).

This 10-acre park includes a boardwalk along the ocean, playground, walking paths, a large pond filled with turtles, and in rare circumstances you might also catch sight of manatees feeding in the water off the park. While we were there I saw a few creatures, including an ibis, geese, the pond turtles, and some squirrels too. The park also offers picnic tables and grills, bathrooms, and free parking.

Other parks in the area include Jetty Park Pier, where you can watch the cruise ships leave and arrive in port, Banana River Park, Center Street Park, and Lori Wilson Park is right on the beach.

For campers, Jetty Park Campground is an opportunity to stay right beside the port area, with space for tents, RVs, and there are also small cabins available for rent.

Fishing & Water Sports

If you love to fish, you can pick from dozens of fishing charters that will take you out to one of Florida’s best waters. The Space Coast has lots of options, so you can try to catch some of the 500 different species of fish that live in the area.

Of course, you don’t even need to charter a boat to go fishing in the area. Many of the parks, like Jetty Park, offer great spots to go fishing, or you can also explore Cocoa Beach’s Thousand Islands, or check out further south towards Sebastian Inlet and Palm Bay.

Water sports are also available to try throughout the area, including tours to see the sea life, jet skiing, kayaking, and parasailing. For more ideas, check out visitspacecoast.com and visitflorida.com.

Plan A Cruise

Last and certainly not least, you should consider taking a cruise from Port Canaveral. The area offers cruises from five of the major cruise companies, including Carnival Cruise Line, Disney Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, and MSC Cruises.

My family and I had a fantastic Disney Cruise on the Disney Dream, before it changed ports recently, sailing from Port Canaveral to the Bahamas and Castaway Cay, and it was a fantastic trip.

We extended our vacation by spending three days in Cocoa Beach, then we departed on the cruise, and we finished with two days at one of our favourite Universal Orlando Resorts, Cabana Bay.

The great thing about cruises out of Cape Canaveral though is that you can also arrive a day before the ship departs, spend a night at a hotel, and then check out in the morning and set sail. Depending on your budget, and your departure date, Port Canaveral has a lot of options, and cruises start for as low as $200 per person.

All photos by W. Andrew Powell/The GATE except Ron Jon Surf Shop image, courtesy Leonard J. DeFrancisci.

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