Residents of Florida’s west coast often forget Florida is a unique patchwork of cultures and vibes with a fit for everyone. Break out of your rut , and look eastward to the surf and space capital of Florida: Cocoa Beach. With everything from a giant surf shop to beaches and piers that will make you fall in love with the ocean all over again, this area has it all.
Getting from downtown Tampa to Cocoa Beach is surprisingly easy: Take I-275 north, go east on I-4 and then take exit 72 to get on the Beach Line Expressway. The Beach Line is a toll road, but the convenience and speed are well worth the few dollars in tolls. The total trip is about 130 miles and should take just more than two hours under normal traffic conditions. The biggest delays could happen if you yield to the temptation to stop in at any of the attractions that line the I-4 corridor between Tampa and Orlando.
Cocoa Beach Pier
401 Meade Ave.
Cocoa Beach, FL 32931
The most famous landmark on Cocoa Beach is the Cocoa Beach Pier. For 50 years, the 800-foot-long pier has attracted surfers and fishermen to the shores of the Atlantic. The pier features a variety of restaurants, bars and gift shops. Whether you’re in the mood to take part or just watch other people enjoying themselves, the pier is a great place to start exploring Cocoa Beach before you hit the sand and surf for a little sun-soaked Florida fun.
Ron Jon Surfshop
4151 N. Atlantic Ave.
Cocoa Beach, FL 32931
Ron Jon bills its Cocoa Beach store as the world’s largest surf shop, and with 52,000 square feet packed with everything related to a beach lifestyle, it’s hard to argue. Ron Jon’s “One of a Kind” is open 24/7. A half block away the Ron Jon Watersport Store, it has everything you could possibly need for a perfect day at the beach, from surfboards to beach umbrellas.
Kennedy Space Center
Kennedy Space Center, FL, 32899
Price: from $47.65
For anyone with even the most casual interest in the space program, the Kennedy Space Center is a magical place. The feats of the daring young men and women with what author Tom Wolfe called “The Right Stuff” began just a few miles away from Cocoa Beach. Whether you take a bus tour and get a chance to see the gigantic Vehicle Assembly Building where skilled workers put together America’s spacecraft ranging from Apollo capsules to space shuttles from 1968 to 2011 or decide to have lunch with an astronaut, there’s something for everyone’s taste and budget.
Canaveral National Seashore
212 S. Washington Ave.
Titusville, FL 32796
Price: $5 per day
While many long-time Florida residents bemoan the urban sprawl that’s taken over much of the state, there are places that still preserve the unspoiled beauty of Florida. The Canaveral National Seashore is one of those places. The park boasts a 24-mile-long beach, the longest on Florida’s east coast. The park is an ideal chance to set your personal Wayback Machine to a time when Florida was unspoiled and perfect for swimming, snorkeling and camping.
Ponte Vedra to St. John’s/Duval County Line
Very few highways are tourist attractions in their right, but A1A is one of the exceptions. Immortalized in a Jimmy Buffett album title, A1A is a 72-mile stretch of road that runs south from Ponte Vedra to the St. John’s/Duval County Line. In 2002, the U.S. Department of Transportation designated A1A as a Scenic and Historic Coastal Byway. It’s enough to make a Parrothead (Buffett fan) want to rent a convertible, take down the top, open a (non-alcoholic) fruit punch, and play tourist by cruising slowly in the fast lane with Jimmy Buffett blaring out of the stereo.
Beachside Grill & Deli
1980 N. Atlantic Ave.
Cocoa Beach, FL
The hot, humid weather along Florida’s beaches may put you in the mood for a cool, light lunch. The Beachside Grill & Deli answers the call for a break from the heat and a refreshing sandwich. Reviewers consistently rave about the tuna salad, reasonable prices and friendly service. Located just south of the Merritt Island Causeway in the rear of the Cape Royal Office Building on North Atlantic Avenue, the Beachside Grill is a locally owned hidden treasure that’s worth a little extra effort to find.