This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, and Florida's Space Coast is ready for a party. With a bustling port, gorgeous beaches, fascinating wildlife and the magnificent Kennedy Space Center, there are whole new worlds to discover on this famous stretch of coastline. Why not join the celebration and maybe even meet an astronaut while you’re at it?
It’s easy to go nuts for NASA when you visit the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Starry-eyed young adventurers will love the close-up encounters with early rockets from the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs, plus space shuttles, Mars rovers and more. You can check out the launch complex on a Behind the Gates bus tour, or pop into the IMAX theater to gawk at a 3D space movie.
At the new Astronaut Training Experience, you can learn how to stage a Mars launch and landing, train for a spacewalk with a microgravity simulator, and use virtual reality to “walk” on the surface of the red planet. There’s a real-life astronaut on-site every day, ready to shake hands and pose for photos and you can even tag along on a small group tour led by an astronaut. Can’t bear to leave? You’re in luck: Kennedy Space Center hosts week-long summer camp programs, for ages seven to sixteen, and Family Overnight Adventures, which allow you to sleep beneath the floating space shuttle Atlantis.
If the timing is right, you might just be able to witness the fiery brilliance of an actual rocket launch. With a number of new commercial space operations launching rockets from Cape Canaveral — including SpaceX, Boeing and, soon, Blue Origins — the sky is busier than ever. Launch dates are notoriously uncertain and schedules can change due to weather and other unforeseen circumstances, but there are helpful websites like spacecoastlaunches.com to keep you posted and suggest some great viewing locations.
That tall structure at Port Canaveral that resembles a billowing white sail is actually the Exploration Tower, with seven floors of fun, hands-on exhibits (from buried treasure and shipwrecks to the space program), along with sweeping views of both the vast port complex and Kennedy Space Center from indoor and outdoor observation decks. Watch the giant passenger ships — it’s one of the busiest cruise ports in the world — or catch a space launch, if you’re lucky.
May through October is nesting season for loggerhead sea turtles, so it’s the best time to see a mama turtle lay her eggs or watch baby turtles hatch. The Sea Turtle Preservation Society offers evening Turtle Walks, May through July, on the beaches of the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, the world’s second largest loggerhead nesting area. Guides will tell you all about the sea turtles, the dangers facing this threatened species and how you might be able to help.
This is the place for a short dash or a long-distance cycling expedition, since the Florida Coast-to-Coast Trail, St Johns River-to-Sea Loop Trail and the East Coast Greenway Trail all converge in the town of Titusville. Borrow some wheels at the Coast to Coast Bicycle Company (conveniently located at the Titusville Visitor Center), which offers group tours and also rents bicycles and bike trailers by the hour, day and week. If you pedal out to the shore, you can make a pitstop at Space View Park with its Space Walk of Fame and American Space Museum.
Grab a paddle and float into the dark to experience the dazzling blue glow of bioluminescent dinoflagellates in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge’s Indian River Lagoon. The microscopic algae creates a magical underwater light show that you may end up sharing with blobby comb jellies, dolphins, manatees or herons. Local outfitters like A Day Away Kayak Tours offer a variety of paddling options (for guests age 5 and up), and they say the best viewing season is June through October.
By Laura Beausire