I am fortunate to live in Florida. It wasn’t exactly by design, but I ended up here on the East Coast about 45 minutes’ drive south of Cape Canaveral, which was a bonus to being Oceanside. When I got here, the Challenger had just blown up and shuttle launches were scrubbed for the near future. I did get to see the next launch once the program started back up again. So, I have been lucky to watch all manner of rockets flung into space, as well as be amazed as the boosters returning to land on a postage stamp sized barge in the middle of the wide open Atlantic Ocean. I have seen the shuttle come home on a transporter that seemed to black out the sky when it flew over, and I grew up with a shuttle pilot as a friend. It’s safe to say that I love all things space. If you're visiting the Space Coast for a Launch, you must love all things space, too.
Like the weather, the space program is unpredictable and while I am spoiled by the fact that I can look out my window and watch a launch, I know there are many people who come here just to see a launch. That was the case of the Artemis rocket test flight the other day. I happened to be on the road when it was supposed to launch, so I was constantly scanning the horizon while plugged into my rocket go-to site for more information. www.rocketlaunch.live gives you all the updates. That’s how I knew the flight had been scrubbed, which meant I could settle down and enjoy the road trip and wait for the next big thing.
Now, I am waiting for them to reschedule the flight and hope I don’t forget to write it down on my calendar.
The Space Coast is a focused on the space industry, but there are other things to do here that are not spacy for those days when scrubbed missions disappoint. If you’re heading down to Cape Canaveral (Kennedy Space Center), here are some other places to explore:
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
If you’re looking for a space thrill, then the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is the place to spend a day. If you’re here for the launch, this is going to be a busy place, so you might need to put this at the end of your list of things to do.
It doesn’t matter what your level of space devotion is, there are exhibits that will excite and entertain you at the Center. You can take a day trip to the launch pad or explore for a couple of days. Just make sure you get into the visitor complex.
The U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame showcases legends from the beginning of NASA to the present day. You will ‘meet’ space pioneers like John Glenn and other Mercury astronauts. You can spend time in Mission Control, and you might even be able to chat with a real astronaut. If you want to get up close and personal with real rockets, there are plenty to see in The Rocket Garden. The Countdown Clock is an icon of American history, and it is still used today.
You can climb into a training simulator or enjoy iconic photos from deep space from the Hubble telescope.
Don’t forget to stop by the gift shop for a souvenir of your trip to the moon and back.
Canaveral National Seashore and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
Just up the road from the assembly building is a barrier island that is home to many birds who come and go from the Florida peninsula. This national park consists of dunes, lagoons and hammocks that host a large selection of Florida native animals and plants. There are five turtle species at the seashore, and other mammals like the manatee and the right whale.
You can stop at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge that is also part of this park system, and see birds like spoonbills, kingfishers and the endangered scrub jay. There are also wild hogs in the area, so keep an eye out for them, too. It is also the home of bobcats, so you might even see a cat or two.
The name Canaveral is derived from the word that means ‘place of cane’. It is the oldest recorded geographical location on the North American continent. There are nature hikes to take, and the history includes tales of its settlement and the crops they planted. Timucuan mounds are preserved.
Cocoa Beach and Cocoa Village
You might remember the name of this beach town because it was the fictitious home base for Captain Nelson of the 1960s I Dream of Jeannie tv show. Unfortunately, there is no television studio set to visit as the house never was on Cocoa Beach.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some great things to do on Cocoa Beach.
Cocoa Beach is home to annual surfing contests because its six miles of beach make it a great place to surf. Surfers gear up from iconic shops like the Ron Jon Surf Shop where you can buy surf gear, Florida souvenirs, t-shirts and other touristy things to buy that will remind you of the days of sun and sand. At Christmas, the Surfing Santas take to the waves and all you see is Santas on surfboards spreading holiday cheer.
Cocoa Village is on the mainland, and it is the quiet, more reserved partner of the Cocoa experience. You will find art shops, antique shops, breweries, restaurants and gardens. Take a walk along the streets and pop into any number of shops selling local arts and crafts. Or, stop into a café for a bite to eat and a local brew.
You can still find a hardware store that opened up in 1885 selling its wares. It’s a small village, so take a day and explore the quaintness of an old Florida village.
Mel Fisher Treasures Museum
Just down the coast from the Space Coast lies the Treasure Coast, that is aptly named for its hidden ocean treasures. The coastline is where the shipwrecks occurred, and there are still doubloons that wash up on shore to this day after a particularly fierce storm
The Mel Fisher Treasure Museum and Gift shop is located in Sebastian, Florida on U.S. Highway 1 and is the home of some of the iconic treasures that Mel Fisher brought up from some very famous shipwrecks.
Mel Fisher started as a dive shop owner in California before he became interested in sunken treasure. From there he sought out shipwrecks. In the early 1970s, he found one and it started is life’s dream to seek treasure and lost history.
In his museum, you’ll find jewelry, artifacts and gold from Spanish fleets that sunk in a storm in 1715. He recovered treasure from Nuestra Senora de Atocha that was sunk during a hurricane in 1622 off the coast of the Florida Keys. You can buy a piece of treasure from the Atocha if you wish. They offer emeralds and silver coins for purchase. I almost bought my Dad a cannonball for Christmas one year until I realized that I had no way to ship it!
There are opportunities to join a team of treasure hunters, so you might find yourself bitten by the treasure hunting bug.
You will also find fresh fruit like oranges, grapefruits and even local strawberries and blueberries.
Since you never know when another launch will happen, make sure that you have a backup plan for those scrub days.