Long time no see, Disney friends! Today my blogger friend Amy is sharing her tips for a Cocoa Beach day trip! I love Cocoa Beach, and it’s super easy to get here from Orlando. There’s so much to do!
If you’re looking to get out of the Disney bubble on your vacation, one of the best ways to do it is to check out a nearby Florida town. This can be a great way to learn about the environment and the history of the area. As a resident of the Space Coast, I highly recommend making a day trip to Cocoa Beach. I have lived here for almost ten years and am always finding new things to do.
The two things Cocoa Beach is known for are the space shuttle program and surfing. If you are a fan of space or going to the beach, then this is definitely a place you will want to visit. However, there is more to the Space Coast than just that. In this guide, I will share many of the fun things to do in the area for the day or even longer!
About Cocoa Beach, Florida
A lot of people don’t think much of Cocoa Beach as a vacation destination. Part of that is because it mainly became a residential area in the 1960s. The population increased by over 1000% once the space shuttle program started here!
There are still a lot of engineers like me, working and living on the Space Coast. Part of me wants to keep it secret because I feel lucky to live in this Florida hidden gem. However, we do have some of the most pristine beaches, untouched nature preserves, and delicious restaurants that I think are worth sharing. Just make sure to keep lights off the beach at night. Loggerhead turtles nest here more than anywhere else in the world and you don’t want to disrupt them!
Other fun facts about Cocoa Beach include it being where the show I Dream of Jeanie takes place. They even have a half marathon where people dress up as Jeanie to commemorate it every year! It also is named Cocoa Beach because of the large amount of cocoa that used to be produced here.
Cocoa Beach is the main destination of the Space Coast, but Melbourne, Palm Bay, Rockledge, and Titusville also make up this area. There are a few things in this guide that stretch into those neighboring towns, as it’s all pretty close. If you want more of an idea of what to do, check out my Space Coast travel guide.
What to Do in Cocoa Beach
There are many different options for spending your time in Cocoa Beach and I have highlighted my favorites that I have experienced through the years. I wrote up a day-long itinerary below as well, but this can help you narrow down your experiences if you are short on time. Here are the things I recommend doing for a Cocoa Beach day trip.
Kennedy Space Center
The most well-known attraction in Cocoa Beach is the Kennedy Space Center. Technically, it’s actually in Cape Canaveral, about half an hour from Cocoa Beach, and one hour from Orlando. As an engineer, I love visiting KSC, as it is part museum, part experience.
If you have kids, you can easily spend the whole day here, especially with add-on tours. I usually recommend just a half-day though no matter what ages your party consists of. Try to get there right when it happens and buy the no-frills tickets. Then you can spend three or so hours checking out the rocket garden, seeing the space shuttle up close and taking the shuttle launch experience.
It costs $57 for a ticket, which can be a bit expensive for a half-day experience. However, I think there’s a lot of interesting stuff here and so everyone should experience it once. True space lovers will want to stay all day, but there is so much else to see in Cocoa Beach as well!
Beaches in Cocoa Beach
Obviously you should go to the beach if you are in Cocoa Beach. For a touristy but nice experience, check out Shepard Park. It’s right near the Ron Jon store so you can grab a souvenir or a drink at the nearby Sandbar. You can even get surfing lessons from here!
However, if you prefer a natural beach, check out the Canaveral National Seashore. It’s a farther drive, but this state park is home to some of the most gorgeous untouched beaches you can find.
The Cocoa Beach Pier
For the ultimate vacation feeling, you have to check out the Cocoa Beach Pier. I like to go here at sunset for a great view of the surfers and a nice breeze. There are a few bars along the way for a refreshment while you relax and some touristy shops as well.
Another attraction that isn’t technically in Cocoa Beach is the Brevard Zoo. This zoo may be small, but it offers so much! It even features a kayak tour around a giraffe enclosure.
Besides the giraffes, there’s an amazing variety of mammals and sea life. The kangaroo walkabout is another must-see, as well as the aquarium in a swimming pool. Kids love this zoo, but my husband and I have had some great dates here as well. For adrenaline seekers, you can check out the Treetop Trek, where you zip line over different environments!
The Space Coast is also one of the few places in the world that you can see bioluminescent sea life. This is where plankton light up the water at night! If you don’t mind staying in the area late, this is a once in a lifetime way to see bioluminescence.
I have taken a few tours and tend to have the best luck seeing it in the summer. However, you can contact your groups like BK adventure anytime and find out how the conditions are. Then once night falls, you can kayak around and see all the beautiful colors. It’s almost as magical as Disney World!
If you love the feeling of Old Florida, then definitely take a stroll through Cocoa Village. This little town right over the causeway has some amazing ocean views, as well as a variety of restaurants, bars, and shops.
If you come at night, there are tons of live music options from dueling pianos at the Biergarten to live bands at a brewery. During the day, there are lots of things going on too with different festivals and even wine walks.
Cocoa Beach Honorable Mentions
There’s plenty more to experience on the Space Coast if you are staying longer. Here are some other ideas”
- Wetlands – There are multiple nature preserves if you like seeing different wildlife and plant life. Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands is probably the best in the area. You can find some gorgeous scenery and do plenty of birdwatching.
- Titusville Space View Park – Another area where homage is paid to the space program is at this waterfront exhibit in Titusville. You can learn about the people who contributed and even hear audio from the NASA control room if there is a shuttle launch!
- SUP Eco Tour – If you love dolphins and manatees, there are tons to see around here. You can take a paddleboarding or kayaking tour through the mangroves and see all sorts of nature.
- Rockledge Gardens – For plant lovers, the Rockledge Gardens is a neat place to check out. They have all sorts of unique plants, as well as frequent events, like a picnic in the park.
- Airboat Ride – If you want a true Florida experience, head to Camp Holly for an airboat ride through the swamp! This is a great way to see alligators and get an adrenaline rush.
- Lighthouse Cove Mini Golf – In addition to all the top-notch golf courses of Brevard, Lighthouse Cove is a fun place for the whole family. This is probably the cutest mini golf course I have been to.
Where to Eat in Cocoa Beach
Cocoa Beach specializes in seafood, and I can never resist ordering some fresh fish when I’m out. However, there are many other restaurants for whatever mood you are in! Here are my current favorites:
- The Fat Snook – An upscale spot serving unique seafood dishes and wine.
- Rising Tide Tap and Table – Bar food with a twist and waterfront views.
- Jazzy’s Mainely Lobster – A casual fried fish spot perfect for after the beach.
- 4th Street Fillin’ Station – Fun, outdoor atmosphere with all sorts of foodie meals for brunch, lunch or dinner.
- River Road Coffee and Popsicles – An adorable cafe that has some of the best coffee in the area, as well as popsicle for a refreshment on a hot day.
- The Tiny Turtle – A tropical cafe featuring Caribbean fusion cuisine.
- Cafe Surfinista – Surf themed spot serving up açaí bowls and other fresh focused dishes.
- Fat Kahunas – A beachside seafood spot with tropical flavors.
- Paisleys Vegan Kitchen – One of Cocoa’s few vegan restaurants with sandwiches, pasta and more.
- Dirty Oar Beer Company – Local brewery with all sorts of fruity beers.
- The Fat Donkey – A favorite local spot for ice cream and other refreshing desserts.
- Cryderman’s Barbecue – The best barbecue on the Space Coast and possibly all of Florida.
- OSSORIO – Some of the best pizzas in the area, as well as some hand-rolled pastries.
Cocoa Beach Day Trip Itinerary
If you only have time to spend one day here, this itinerary is the best way to fit everything in. Keep in mind, you will probably be exhausted if you follow this to the letter, so don’t be afraid to pick and choose.
9:00 AM – Kennedy Space Center
Just like at Disney World, you want to rope drop the Kennedy Space Center and get a head start on the day. This means leaving Orlando before 8 AM, so no sleeping in! If you want to do the free lunar landing tour, make sure to do that first, then the rocket garden and the space shuttle exhibit.
12:00 PM Lunchtime
If you can pull yourself away from the Kennedy Space Center, I recommend leaving around lunchtime and getting lunch at a local spot as opposed to the basic food they have there. There are two nearby places that I recommend. First is Third Culture Kitchen. This is a fusion spot with so many amazing foodie creations. Between tacos, sandwiches and bao buns, there is something for everyone here.
However, if you happen to be in the area Thursday through Sunday and like craft beer, then the Brix Project is open for lunch then and is worth a stop. This is fun by Playalinda Brewing Company and they have tons of delicious beers as well as tasty pizzas, burgers and more.
1:00 PM – Beach Time
After lunch, it’s finally time for some sun, so head over the bridge to the main part of Cocoa Beach. I recommend parking at Shepard Park (bring quarters for meters) and checking out the beach. You can even stop in the Ron Jon shop to grab a souvenir or rent a surfboard if the waves are good!
4:00 PM – Mini Golf
If you have gotten enough sun, a game of mini golf can be a fun way to switch things up. I recommend going to Lighthouse Cove for an enjoyable game right near the beach.
For those still in a relaxing mood, the Cocoa Beach pier is a nice spot for a relaxing stroll. You can get a drink at the tiki bar or just watch the waves from above.
6:00 PM – Dinner
For dinner after the beach, I like to keep it casual and there are plenty of good options here. For a fun outdoor atmosphere, I recommend 4th Street Fillin’ Station or Rising Tide. Both have excellent beer and cocktail selections as well!
If you want to keep it cheaper, Tiny Turtle is another good option. This is a Caribbean fusion spot with all sorts of bowls and tacos perfect for after the beach. For more Cocoa Beach restaurant recommendations, check out my guide to Cocoa Beach.
8:00 PM – Bioluminescence Kayaking
For those who aren’t too tired, I highly recommend staying up later for a Bioluminescent paddle. If you want to prioritize this, you can always skip the Kennedy Space Center in the morning in favor of doing this at night. It really is an experience hard to come by anywhere else.
Depending on the time of year, you may need to have a quick dinner because it’s a bit of a drive to Canaveral National Seashore, which is the best place to see bioluminescence. Tours are usually between an hour and two hours long. If you have young kids, you can take a raft so they can see the bioluminescence as well. You may end the day tired and a bit wet, but you will have experienced Cocoa Beach to the fullest!
Take a Cocoa Beach Day Trip
If you are in the Orlando area, I encourage you to make the drive for a Cocoa Beach day trip. There is a lot to see and do just a little over an hour away. Whether you want to spend it outdoors or inside at the space center or a brewery, I think you will find this area just as charming as I do!
Have you ever been to Cocoa Beach before? If you have and are looking for a new destination to go, check out Sam’s other Disney World day trip ideas!
Amy is the creator of the popular travel blog, The Florida Travel Girl. Whether you are looking for vacation ideas or local things to do, Amy can help you have the Florida experience you desire. For more Florida vacation tips check out her blog or follow along with her adventures on Instagram.
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