The NASA Kennedy Space Center dominates Cape Canaveral, so much so that the area is known as the Space Coast. Author Jules Verne envisioned the coast of central Florida as the world's portal into space in his 1865 science-fiction tale From the Earth to the Moon
. That prediction became a reality.
But there's much more to do there than admire NASA's ingenuity. There are a string of pleasant oceanside communities, a 72-mi/115-km stretch of uncrowded beach and a first-rate national wildlife refuge to explore.
Cape Canaveral is a sprawling section of central Florida, and, thanks to the enormous amount of land required by NASA as well as huge tracts protected as a wildlife refuge, much of it remains undeveloped. However, areas open to commercial and residential development are highly prized because of their scarcity and their proximity to the beach. On the mainland, Titusville and Cocoa are bedroom communities for many NASA employees and their families. The Intracoastal Waterway separates the mainland from the barrier islands. Cape Canaveral's neighboring oceanfront cities include Cocoa Beach, Rockledge and Melbourne. Home to thousands of year-round residents, this area—especially Cocoa Beach and nearby Port Canaveral—is a favorite of vacationers for its laid-back atmosphere.
Sparsely inhabited sandy areas were about all the first Spanish explorers noticed when they arrived in the Cape Canaveral area in the 1500s. The Calusa living along the coast soon disappeared, decimated by conquest and diseases brought by Europeans. The Creek tribes slowly moved into the area from northern Florida. (They became known as the Seminoles, probably from the Creek words ishti semoli
, meaning outlanders.) The Spanish ceded Florida to the British in 1763, but Britain gave it back to Spain in 1783 in hopes of keeping it out of the hands of the U.S. Meanwhile, Native Americans struggled with the European settlers until a war in 1821 gave U.S. President Andrew Jackson the excuse he needed to relocate the tribes to areas west of the Mississippi.
Because of the area's extensive wetlands (and clouds of mosquitoes), growth was slower around Cape Canaveral than elsewhere in Florida. But in the 1950s, when the remote area was selected as the nucleus of the U.S. space program under the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, large aerospace contractors and hundreds of scientists and technicians began moving in.
The 1971 opening of nearby Orlando's Walt Disney World (only 35 mi/55 km away) sparked further interest in Port Canaveral and in Cape Canaveral's beaches.
Cape Canaveral is best known as the launchpad for the U.S. space program. But the Space Coast isn't as one-dimensional as its nickname implies. Don't miss the space center, but save time to lounge on the beach, visit the wildlife refuge and stroll through Cocoa Village.
You'll need a good map to navigate this complicated area. Look for one in the Space Coast Visitors' Guide—available at the port as well as at most hotels, restaurants and shops. It offers discount coupons for all sorts of attractions, as well as the baseball training schedule for the Washington Nationals and the shuttle launch calendar.
Most of the area's nightlife revolves around the water. The largest concentration of nightspots is in Cocoa Beach, primarily at the pier and downtown. An increasing number and variety of clubs are opening in Cocoa Village. The scene heats up as soon as the sun goes down, although daytime partying is prevalent on weekends at the beach.
The Cape Canaveral area isn't known for outstanding cuisine or cutting-edge restaurants—rock shrimp is the closest thing to a local delicacy. What the area does have is plenty of variety, with restaurants serving very affordable seafood, Greek, French and Indian cuisines.
Expect to pay within these guidelines for a meal for one, not including drinks, tax or tip: $ = less than US$10; $$ = US$10-$20; $$$ = US$21-$50 and $$$$ = more than US$50.
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