So you just finished up the Orlando theme parks, and you have one or two nights to kill before you embark on a Caribbean cruise. Or you just came back from a cruise and have a couple of days to enjoy the beach before you fly home. Either way, you’re probably wondering two things: how are you going to pay for all this when the credit card bills arrive, but also, what is there to do in Cape Canaveral?
Well, actually, there’s far more to do than just hanging out on the beach-not that anything’s wrong with that-but if you have one or two days to spend in Cape Canaveral and are looking for some fun, here’s 5 possibilities for you:
If you like the beach-
- Go to Jetty Park-You can watch the fishermen reel in their catch from the jetty or just hang out on the wide sandy beach. Stay until 4, when you can see at least one cruise ship leaving the port. They are only a stone’s throw away as they ease by you in the narrow channel. If you’re staying close by, you can just walk down to the park for free, but if you approach by car, there’s an entrance fee. In addition to lifeguards there are facilities as well. Time allowance: 10 minutes to all day.
- As an alternative, go to the Cocoa Beach Pier-Yes, I know, this is technically not in Cape Canaveral. And in truth, though they call it “historic”, that doesn’t make it a thrilling thing to see. It is, however, close enough to walk to from many Cape locations, and they have entertainment nearly every night in one of the many bars and restaurants on the pier. And the beach isn’t bad either! Time allowance: 10 minutes to all day.
- It’s a long 40 minute-drive to get there, but there is an (unofficial) nude beach, or so I’ve heard (LOL) at the north end of Canaveral National Seashore. Even if you’re not a nudist, the beaches are pure, unspoiled Florida beauty. For those more modest, just pull in to the first parking lots as you enter the park and you can still enjoy a day with the family. BTW, you can combine this with a trip to the nearby Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge for an all-day venture. Time allowance: Allow a full day.
If you like wildlife-
- Watch the sea turtles nest-from May to October, you have a good chance of seeing these big creatures lumbering onto the beach at night-usually late at night. I was lucky enough once to see the tiny hatchlings the very moment they popped their heads up out of the sand and began their life’s journey. Here’s more information. Time allowance: 10 minutes to all night
- If you want to see manatees, it’s possible during the summer months to view them from the boardwalk at Manatee Sanctuary Park which is just a short drive from anywhere in Cape Canaveral…but there’s no guarantee, and you definitely will not see them in the winter, when they head for warmer waters. However, if you’re willing to drive 40 minutes north, you are almost certain to see the gentle creatures at the confluence of the Mosquito Lagoon and the Indian River in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. As an additional bonus, there is a wide variety of wildlife in this park, including alligators, bobcats, great blue herons, turtles-the usual assortment you’ll find in Florida’s wetlands. There is an extensive network of trails in the 147,000 acre park as well as special viewing sites for the manatees. You can combine a visit here with a trip to the Canaveral National Seashore for a beach/wildlife twofer. Time allowance: All day if you go to the National Seashore.
If you like fishing-There are more charters than you can shake a fishing rod at, and they come in all price ranges starting with half-day tours. All leave from Port Canaveral. The crew will clean the fish so you can take it back to the condo to cook, or some local restaurants will do the kitchen chores for you. If you brought your own gear, just walk out to Jetty Park or surf cast right from the beach! Time allowance: half day and all day tours and night shark fishing is available
If you like NASA-
- Witness a space launch-granted, this is more luck of the draw than anything, but on average a rocket goes up about every 2 weeks, so you’ve got a decent chance of seeing one. Once again, the best place to watch is from Jetty Park, unless you’re willing to drive north up to Titusville. Here is the launch schedule. Time allowance: the rockets are visible to the naked eye for about 10 minutes depending on weather conditions, but launches are delayed all the time for a variety of reasons. So they establish a “launch window”, within which if the rocket doesn’t go they normally reschedule for another day. The window is usually about 30 minutes.
- Go to Kennedy Space Center-This is a 30 minute drive, but well worth it if you’re a space geek or you just want to know more about the history of the US space program. There are plenty of exhibits, IMAX movies, interactive displays, and tours of the facilities. Time allowance: All day.
If you like shopping-
Go to Ron Jon Surf Shop-OK, technically, this is in Cocoa Beach-barely. And full disclosure-I don’t really like to shop. BUT, if you do, and you want to find every brand-name of surf wear, boards, sunglasses, flip flops, and beach clothing on earth under one roof in an upscale store, you really can’t do better than this. Make sure to bring your camera so that you can pose in front of the statues out front. Bonus: go anytime-they’re open 24/7! Time allowance: Shop ’til you drop.
OK, that’s your list: 5 things to do in or around Cape Canaveral. But wait! There’s more! I’m going to add 3 bonus items, just because I love my readers!
If you like “I Dream of Jeannie”–
When I was an adolescent I thought the sexiest woman on earth was Barbara Eden from the hit TV series. Who wouldn’t like to have a gorgeous blonde prancing around in a skimpy genie outfit while calling you master? Anyway, the point is, the show was set in neighboring Cocoa Beach and, even though they didn’t film most of it there, you can find an “I Dream of Jeannie Lane” dedicated to the show at the oceanfront Lori Wilson Park. So you could take your picture in front of the sign and enjoy the beach at the same time. I’m just sayin’…or, if you’re lucky, you could see the bouncing genies as they do a half marathon.
If you have kids (or are a kid at heart)-
Golf-N-Gator-I know, I know, putt-putt golf is so…childish. That’s the point. If you have kids, they’ll enjoy the game, and if not the game, they’ll like viewing the numerous reptile species on site. They can even feed the gators! I know the old Florida family that runs this place, and they’re good folks. If you go, make sure to honk at the guy in the gator suit on the street corner out front. He’ll be waving a sign.
If you like beer-
And who doesn’t? Go to the Florida Beer Company, which is a brewery tucked away in an obscure light-industrial section of the city. They have a variety of hand-crafted brews to enjoy, served up at a (rather brightly) lit bar with helpful staff. They serve no food, but they do offer typical bar events like trivia, music, etc., plus even a brewery tour if you’re in the mood.
Now, where should you eat?
Breakfast-I’d have breakfast at Zachary’s Restaurant. This is an old family-run business with friendly staff. Expect lots of good food for very little money. It isn’t fancy-it’s a diner, but that’s what I want at 9AM. Ignore the rather mediocre reviews on Trip Advisor. They’re wrong about this one.
Lunch-You’ll be near the beach for lunch, most likely, so I’d recommend you grab the fish tacos at the Sandbar Sports Grill, which, if it were any more casual, would have to dispense with clothing altogether.
Dinner-Go to Grills. It’s right at the port, the seafood is good, the service is excellent, there’s live music every night, and the price won’t break the bank. It’s an eclectic crowd: there’s (real) bikers and bankers, rocket scientists and dropouts, singles and families. You want more? You can watch the fishing boats coming in with the day’s haul at the adjacent marina. It gets crowded, so if you hate lines, go early. As an alternative, there’s better actual food at Seafood Atlantic right next door, but the atmosphere isn’t as nice. While you’re in the port area for dinner, make time to see the nearby Exploration Tower if you can.
Hope this helps, and enjoy your holiday!
Next month, I am taking my family to Port Canaveral for the first time so that we can visit NASA. However, I had no idea that the area was also home to nesting sea turtles. Does that mean that some of the beaches will restrict visitors and that we won’t be able to access them easily?
No, there will be no restrictions to your beach access at all!
The turtles generally nest at night, so there are exterior lighting restrictions on oceanfront buildings so as not to disturb them, and of course you are not to interact with them during the time they are on the beach. This means no flash photography, maintaining a reasonable distance (50 feet should be OK), no loud noises, etc.
But you can enjoy the beach as much as usual. I would take the opportunity to try to see one of them come ashore at night-just be sure to follow the rules when encountering them, as they are easily spooked and will sometimes return to the water never to nest again for that season if a human scares them off. There is no “right” time for viewing, but generally the best hours are right at dusk and then again very late at night-after 11 or midnight. Your hotel may have someone keeping track of when a turtle is nesting. It is a long, arduous process for theses creatures so if someone sees one when it first comes ashore you could easily be watching the same animal 45 minutes later.
During the day, nesting sites are spotted and marked by local conservation groups, and you are not to go near them-but these spots are only a few feet across, and it’s a big beach. Plenty of room for everyone! 🙂