Exploring and Learning on the Florida Space Coast
This past July we set out for a short summer get away to an area of the Florida coast we’ve never explored before. We had no idea all the exploring and learning that could be found on the Florida Space Coast. It's another incredible spot to bring roadschooling alive! And, believe it or not, for all the times we’ve been to Orlando before hitting the road, and including the past 2 winters we’ve spent Wintering in Florida, we’ve never spent any time on the Space Coast. Located about an hour east of Orlando, 72 mile stretch of beaches provided so much fun and learning for us! Cocoa Beach is the closest beach to Orlando so I'm not sure why we’ve never ventured over there before!
Nevertheless, that will change going forward because we really enjoyed our time spent in that area! We’ve spent the summer in the Nashville area so we decided to make the drive down to the Space Coast and split the drive over 2 days. As seasoned road trippers we could have powered through, and made the drive in one day, but we chose to break it up for a more enjoyable drive
We stopped over night in Atlanta and arrived in the Cocoa Florida area late Saturday afternoon. We immediately headed to our first activity of the trip- Twister Airboat Rides! As we got closer to Cocoa we hit some pretty intense rain. As Native Texans a storm doesn’t scare us but knowing we’d be spending time on the airboat ride we really hoped the rain would go away before arriving. It did and once we got there sunny skies were abundant! Twister Airboat Rides is housed at an old style Florida Fish Camp on the banks of the beautiful Saint Johns River. If you time it right (we didn’t make it in time) you can enjoy some Gator Tail, Frog Legs, Turtle or Catfish while you wait for you time on the boat.
Since we hit a storm and that slowed our drive time down we didn’t get there until almost the last boat ride of the day. Can you believe we’ve never been on an airboat ride?! After this one we will definitely be doing one again! Captain Gil loaded us right onto the boat and we set out for our fast paced ride on the Saint Johns River. Each of us were provided with headphones to cover our ears because the motor is LOUD!
As we headed out there were sunny skies ahead! Once we made it to the other side of the bridge the real fun began. The boat buzzed through the water and we took in the nature around us. We came upon a heard of cows and stopped to observe them for a bit. We saw all kinda of birds native to Florida and eventually got the real thrill of seeing a gator! Once we spotted one Captain Gil was quick to circle back around to get us as close as possible. Scary? Yes! Thrilling? Absolutely! We ended up seeing several gators but the most memorable part for us was the crazy rain that hit us mid ride. Our captain kept telling us it looked like the rain was coming but it was hard for us to gauge how quickly it would get to us. But, he wasn’t wrong. Pretty soon we were soaking wet with pounding rain pelting us as he drove us back as quickly as possible. Fortunately everyone on board was really good humored and we all had some great laughs as our Captain cracked jokes about the pointlessness of doing our hair that morning!
The rain eventually subsided and we ended up spotting the biggest gator yet! We got off the boat completely drenched but with such fun memories! The rain just made it that much more exciting! Once we dried off as much as possible we headed to Cocoa Beach. We had two 2 room suites booked at the Beachside Hotel. We’re used to take our home on wheels with us everywhere we go so this was a nice change of stay for us. One room was a king bed suite and the second room was 2 queens. Each room had a living area with a pull out sleeper sofa. Since it was just 6 of us this trip we definitely could have all stayed in the double queen suite but it was nice having the extra space split between two rooms!
What was even better was the view from the balconies! We had a perfect view to the vast ocean within walking distance from our rooms!
The hotel has been recently remodeled and has a really fun old Florida surf vibe happening. The pool is a lazy river and the proximity to the beach can’t be beat. Another really worthwhile perk of this hotel is that they have surf boards, boogie boards, beach wagons and beach chairs all available for free rentals for their guests! Seriously, thats so great! Not having to pack up those items is such a bonus!
Besides the proximity to the beach the location of the hotel is right in the heart of Cocoa Beach which makes restaurants and any other places you’d like to visit super accessible. After checking in, changing into dry clothes and cleaning ourselves up a bit we headed out to find something to eat. Longdoggers was the winner for dinner and we actually ended up eating there twice during our visit because we liked it so much! The have open air seating which we always prefer and it helps to make people feel a lot more comfortable during their COVID travels. The food was great AND they had several gluten free options. Ava and I both got a veggie burger on a gluten free bun and it honestly was the tastiest veggie burger Ive had. I also enjoyed a local cider and Derek enjoyed a local craft beer. Getting to taste local brews all over the country has been so fun and I really enjoyed the Carib Pineapple cider I had there.
Our first morning there we hit the ground running and headed to the Kennedy Space Center. This is another place we’ve never visited in all of our years of visiting Florida. We got to visit the Astronaut Hall of Fame, Rocket Garden Walk, hop into the Space Shuttle Experience and check out Space Shuttle Atlantis.
The crowds were low which is a perk of COVID. Several exhibits are currently closed but I have been told they are giving return tickets to those who visit during this time.
And, for our RVing friends, they are currently waving the RV parking fee so you can pull your rig directly into the parking lot and not have to pay!
It was really cool seeing everything from the interior of shuttles to what they eat in space and how they use the bathroom, ha! Standing across the Space Shuttle Atlantis was eye opening to how bit the shuttle actually is!
After Kennedy Space Center we were pretty tired and we wanted to get in some beach time so we headed back to the hotel.
This is when we took advantage of the hotel offering free boogie board rentals.
Once in the water Audrey declared this beach to be the funnest we’ve ever visited because the waves were so great for boogie boarding. We’d eventually experience how great they are for surfing, too!
Day two provided more incredible experiences! We woke up bright and early and headed out to the American Space Museum and Space Walk of Fame in Titusville, Florida. I’ll be honest that when we arrived to the building we weren’t sure what to expect. However, we’ve been watching Mysteries at the Museum for years and know oftentimes these unimpressive buildings tend to hold the absolute best museums and treasures! We all talked about this as we walked up to the entrance and we were 100% right!! One thing we love is when we encounter someone passionate about what they do. They bubble over with their passion they’re sharing about and its almost contagious.
This is exactly how we felt about Mark who was giving us a tour. You can tell he loves what he is sharing about and that made the visit so much more engaging for the kids.
Although the museum is currently closed due to COVID they gave us a private tour and we got to see the rooms full of space memorabilia. Everything from the shuttle room firing consoles where people actually sat to launch some of the first shuttles into space to giant tire off of a shuttle.
We also loved that, outside of COVID visits, this is a very hands on museum. They want the kids to come in and touch everything and to experience what its like to be sitting at those launch screens as a shuttle is being launched or so feel the texture of a space suit. As he told the kids all about each section of the museum they got to be fully immersed in the space experience.
We all left saying in all of our travels and museum visits this was hands down one of our very favorite museums. In part because of Marks passion that we could all feel and in part because every single item came from the space program and had real history attached to it. After leaving the museum we headed to one of the most anticipated activities of the trip…..surf lessons!!
Before COVID hit we had talked about meeting some friends on the east coast of FL for a week of surf camp but then…well, it ended up being canceled and all of our summer travel plans went down the tubes.
So getting a surf lesson while on this visit to the Space Coast was much looked forward to! When we arrived at School of Surf in Cocoa Beach our instructors Calvin and Garret were waiting and ready for us. The provided the kids and Derek each with a rash guard and board and we headed for the beach.
Once at the beach they gave us a run down on how to surf. They showed us board stance and how to get onto the board once in the water. Then they headed out for the best part- riding the waves!
Derek and the kids have skateboarding experience so that definitely helped with balance and riding the board itself. But, the waves provided a vastly different board riding experience, ha! The kids did a super impressive job and had so much fun!! Derek, on the other hand, wasn’t quite as good as we all expected him to be and took in a face full of water pretty quickly. He was a good sport but we all laughed because even with all his years of skateboarding, which we had just assumed would create a good surfer, he struggled on the waves. The kids had so much fun though and can not wait to try it again when we’re back in Florida this winter!
On our third day we woke up and headed to Barrier Island Sanctuary to experience a guided tour of the education center and trails right on site to walk through the ecosystem found right there.
Make sure and bring bug repellant because the mosquitos were abundant in certain sections of the walk. On the tour we learned the differences between the 3 sea turtles who nest in that area and we enjoyed getting an explanation for a ton of Florida nature we never knew how to identify. We also saw dozens of the giant holes made by crabs in the estuary!
For the first time ever we learned the difference between the various mangroves and how to identify them and were reminded of their importance in the overall ecosystem. It was definitely a fun educational walk for us! After this visit we grabbed a quick lunch at Pappagallo’s Pizza in Satellite Beach. Again, gluten free options AND outdoor patio dining (beach front this time) for the win!
Then we headed to the Brevard Zoo in Melbourne, Fl. It was the afternoon, it was hot and the zoo requires masks so, in all honesty, we weren’t sure what to expect with the enjoyment of our visit. I’m so glad to report that we were very impressed with this zoo!
We were especially excited about the guided kayak tour we would be taking through Africa right there in the zoo! Its funny because even though our youngest child is 8 every single one of them said they love visiting zoos. For some reason, In all of our RV travels since December 2018 we haven’t visited one single zoo. So despite the heat they were excited to get a zoo visit in! In each area there were volunteers sharing about the conservation work the zoo does and the effort to keep each animal species in as natural of a habitat as possible.
What was super cool was that kangaroos roamed freely in the Australian area so we sat and watched them up close and personal as they were lounging in the afternoon sun.
The kids each fed the giraffes and we got a really good laugh when Everett’s piece of lettuce was swiped right out of his hand by the giraffe! The bird exhibit was another favorite. The kids chose to feed the birds with little cups of nectar and we all had a really good laugh about the birds landing all over the kids bodies trying to get a taste of the liquid goodness.
After that exploration was our turn for the kayak tour with our guide Austin. How cool is it that a zoo offers this!? We kayaked through the onsite river with Austin leading the way and saw an entirely different side to the zoo! He shared all kinds of fun nature facts as we paddled down the river. If you make time to visit the Brevard Zoo the kayak tour is 100% worth taking!!
Once we left the zoo we headed back to Cocoa Beach. We noticed that the public beach access sites all along the A1A along the coast were pretty empty. Thats definitely a perk in the Florida summer season. We were all pretty famished at this point to so as soon as we cleaned ourselves up we headed to eat at Longdoggers again. After dinner we decided ice cream was in order so we walked over to the Lighthouse Mini Golf next door to our hotel and enjoyed ice cream there at the shop.
Our last morning in the area also happened to be Ava’s 16th birthday. Due to timing and other life circumstances we decided the week of our visit to be the best so our last day just happened to be her birthday. We were presented with an opportunity to join a sea turtle research group bright and early that morning and she was a trooper and said she was game. We weren’t sure what to expect but oh my goodness we’re so glad we joined!! We have been to beaches all over the US, and specifically all over Florida, and have never known the ‘clues’ to look for with nesting sea turtles. We joined Ashley with Stella Maris Research with a team who walked the beach to conduct hatchling orientation.
What that means is that we walked the beach before the crowds and they pointed out how to spot a sea turtle nest and sea turtle tracks!! The tracks were our favorite part because once we realized thats what they were all of us were super sleuths seeking out the tracks on the beach. It was so cool to realize that, in the past, what we may have thought were some sort of tire tracks were actually sea turtle tracks into the ocean!
Despite the early morning arrival after a busy week of fun activities we all got in the car and agreed it was totally worth it! Ashley and Stella Maris Research offer various walks and tours along the beach so definitely check out their website to book one when you visit!
One thing we really loved about visiting this area was all the local, mom and pop businesses we got to support. Tourism is being hit hard during COVID so every chance we got to eat or visit a locally owned place felt like we were contributing a small part in helping these families survive. Each place is taking measures to keep everyone safe while still allowing us all to enjoy life and summer vacations. And, from our point of view, thats exactly how life should be being lived right now. Safe and enjoyable!