Summer Fun on the Space Coast
A chance email ended up with an invitation to be a judge at the first Cocoa Beach Uncorked, a new two-day food and wine event, so I found myself driving up I-95 early one morning (about 3.5 hours from Miami) to a big white tent on the beach. On a hot, sunny morning I tasted dishes from local restaurants with my fellow judges. These included the chief of police, who informed me that Cocoa Beach was different from other beach towns because of its open container law on the beach, and former NASA astronaut Jon McBride, who recommended the bus tour at the Space Center.
I also chatted with sous chef Kyle Hash from Crush XI (crusheleven.com) about the local farms, such as Garden Path, that supply some of the restaurants. His Cold Smoked Venison Tenderloin was excellent, and he ended up winning Best Chef. There were beers to sample from several breweries in the area, including Cocoa Beach Brewing Company, Playalinda Brewing Co., Florida Beer Company in Cape Canaveral, with tours available on weekends.
After the festival, I headed to the historic Cocoa Beach Pier, a 1962 landmark where you can eat, drink, shop and watch Florida surfers ride the waves from the 800' long pier. Cocoa Beach is Florida’s surf capital, and home to Ron Jon’s Surf Shop, now a 52,000 square-foot complex a few blocks south, open 24 hours. I headed back over the causeway to Cocoa Village, and spotted several dolphins jumping around in Indian River. Brevard Ave. and the surrounding streets are filled with shops, bars and restaurants. This particular afternoon, there was a BBQ and Blues Festival, with more than 50 professional BBQ teams leisurely awaiting the brisket judging. One of the more intriguing shops was the Magic Dove Magic Shop, attended by a live magician.
Driving along Indian River on Rockledge Dr., I admired the eclectic assortment of homes, ranging from Queen Anne to Tudor Mission. The area was popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s as Flagler’s railroad passed through and US 1 was built. Indian River citrus groves date back to the early 1800s, according to the Indian River Citrus League. Opened in 1926, Harvey’s Groves in Rockledge is the one of the oldest family-owned groves in Florida. They’re closed for the season now, but will reopen in the fall selling delicious Merritt Island navel oranges, honeybells and ruby red grapefruit.
Time and Space
You can get a closer look at Florida Queen Anne-style architecture at the Parrish Grove Inn, originally on Rockledge Dr., then floated up the Indian River on a barge to Dellanoy Ave. A charming place to spend the night, the inn is walking distance to the bars and restaurants of Cocoa Village. The next morning, grab a fresh peach ginger donut from Sugar Shack on Dellanoy and head up to the Kennedy Space Center. For the gardeners, there’s the rocket garden (OK, it’s not greens; rather spaceships showing early rocket science). At the Firing Room, relive those exciting space blasts. The bus tour takes visitors to see launch pads and the Vehicle Assembly Building, although the tour changes during days leading up to a launch. Even for those of us who are not astronaut geeks, it’s easy to spend several hours here, and of course we all love those wacky Space Dots in the exclusive Martian Rocks flavor, as well as traditional soft-serve ice cream.
Just north of the space center is the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge for sightings of deer, alligators, manatees and, if you’re fortunate, fun Florida scrub-jays or river otters. The seven-mile Black Point Wildlife Drive is the best way to tour, especially in the summer. There are also several short hikes, with the Pine Flatwoods the best bet for spotting scrub-jays.
To end your day, stop at Dixie Crossroads in Titusville, on 406 heading to I-95. This classic seafood restaurant has been around since 1983. Order the red shrimp in season or the rock shrimp – the latter really do taste like lobster.
Three Fun Summer Space Coast Activities
Bioluminescence Kayak Tours: From July 12 through Aug. 3, A Day Away Kayak Tours offers two-hour nighttime tours of the Indian River Lagoon and Mosquito Lagoon where the marine life is aglow. adayawaykayaktours.com
Christmas in July Sip and Stroll: Get a jump on the Christmas season July 29 at Historic Cocoa Village, for drinking, dining and shopping.
Rocket Launches: Here’s the summer schedule, although dates and times are always subject to change. Aug. 3: ULA Atlas V rocket launch. Aug. 31: ULA Atlas V Rocket Launch; Sept. 1, SpaceX Falcon Heavy Rocket. visitspacecoast.com