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Posted on 07/22/2021 in Things to Do

7 Uniquely Florida Things to Do on the Space Coast

7 Uniquely Florida Things to Do on the Space Coast

Florida’s Space Coast offers something for every type of traveler and there are two types who enjoy the Space Coast more than others...those vacationers who love to be active while on vacation and those who want to do absolutely nothing on vacation.

For those who want to do absolutely nothing, pick a spot on our 72-mile long beach underneath an umbrella and read all the books you’ve been planning to read, watch the waves lap up onto the beach, and delight in the giggles of nearby children running in and out of the ocean. 

For vacationers who can’t sit still, the Space Coast is an ideal destination. With the many nature-based, outdoor activities the Space Coast has to offer, it’s no wonder it’s a favorite for those in the know. 

Here are 7 Uniquely Florida Things To Do on the Space Coast. 

1. Take Surf Lessons

Cocoa Beach, in the heart of the Space Coast, is known as the Surf Capital of the East Coast, so what better place to take surf lessons?. Surf schools on the Space Coast are accustomed to teaching tourists. They know that most tourists are trying surfing for the first time and will likely never take up surfing as a hobby. So they make it as fun, easy and stress-free as possible. While good balance is a must to be successful at surfing, you don’t need to be especially strong to take surf lessons. 

The surf instructors do a lot of the work during beginner surf lessons. Rather than the student having to paddle into the wave to “catch it” at just the right time, beginner surf lessons include the instructor pushing the student into the wave for the greatest chance of success. That’s not to say you won’t get tired, but you won’t be expected to paddle on the board as you would if you already knew how to surf. 

f you’re self-conscious about surfing among a group of strangers, sign up for individual surf lessons or private lessons for yourself and your family/friends. It’s a great family experience. Talk about the memories to be made!

Two of our favorite surf schools are Pure Aloha Surf School and  Brando Surf School. 

LOCAL TIP: Avoid surf schools and surf rentals located right on the beach. The gear is sub-par which makes it MUCH harder to learn to surf. 

2. Kayak Through the Mangroves
Mangroves are trees and shrubs that grow in saltwater in tropical and subtropical latitudes. Mangroves play an important role in our ecosystem; they reduce coastline erosion by serving as a barrier from storm surges, waves, and tides. They also serve as home to manatee, shrimp, crabs, and other shellfish. Many fish species, including barracuda, tarpon, and snook, shelter in the mangrove roots as juveniles and move out to the ocean as adults. 

The Thousand Islands are an area in the Indian River Lagoon that contain mangrove islands clustered together with small canal-like waterways that give visitors endless exploration opportunities. 

Cocoa Kayaking has found the perfect route through the mangroves in which vacationers see all three kinds of mangroves that grow in Florida: red, black, and white mangroves. White mangroves are found only in Florida. Black mangroves, the most common type of mangroves, are found in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. The red mangroves are native only to South and North Carolina and Florida.   

With little room on the sides and low clearance on top the mangroves form a beautiful tunnel to navigate through. They provide such a juxtaposition from the beachside restaurants and bars filled with vacationers just 5 minutes away. 

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3. See Florida Gators from the Safety of an Airboat

Two things unique to Florida rolled into one… an airboat ride and our famous alligators. People love to say they are going on this ride “for the kids” but reality is - it’s a cool activity even if you don’t have kids!  

We chose Swamp Donkey for no reason other than we liked their name. Turned out to be the right choice. Captain Charlie knew his way around the swamps and his eagle eye pointed out many hidden eyeballs (alligators) peeking up over the water line.  

In addition to the alligators, you’re likely to see many species of birds. Ibises, herons and anhinga are known to be in the area.. We saw a beautiful eagle perched on a stump growing out of the water.  

Because we were in the swamps I thought we’d need bug spray but Captain Charlie explained that the mosquitos aren’t out at the time of the airboat rides, so though you do want to put on sunscreen, you don’t need bug spray. He also encourages his customers to bring a bottle of water to sip on while out in the hot swamps.  

FUN FACT: We’re coming up on the birthing season for gators. Mid August - Mid September is the time of year when the baby alligators hatch.

4. Observe Manatees in the Wild

Florida manatee, a sub-species of the West Indian manatee, is endangered and we Floridians are very protective of our beloved “sea cows.” We invite you to observe them, but you should never chase them or provoke them in any way. In fact, it is illegal to “feed, harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, annoy, or molest manatees.” 

While manatee socially interact with other manatee, they are also just as comfortable being on their own. They tend to group together in the winter as they seek warm water but in the summer it isn’t unusual for them to travel alone in search of food. 

Speaking of food, manatee are known to eat up to 10% of their body weight daily, munching on seagrass and other water vegetation, for about eight hours a day. When not eating, manatees are usually resting; up to 12 hours a day. They are either floating near the water's surface or lying on the bottom in shallow areas, where they can hold their breath for up to 20 minutes at a time.  

The best time to see manatees is during the warmer months of mid-March to mid-November, though you may see them throughout the year. There are several ways to see the manatee. There are river boat tours that are great for all ages. It’s a relaxing way to see both manatees and dolphins. If you want to be a little closer to the manatee, the best way to see them is on a kayak or paddleboard. Again, we recommend Cocoa Kayaking. We were so happy with our trip with them to see both manatee and dolphin. Their guides are extremely knowledgeable and friendly. 

5. Book a Deep-Sea Fishing Adventure 

Whether you’re a skilled angler or have never held a fishing pole, the Space Coast charter captains have you covered. And by “covered” I don’t just mean they’ll take you to where the fish are biting. They also provide everything you need:  rod and reels, tackle, bait, the fishing license, ice, a large ice box, and they clean the fish when you catch them!  What you’ll want to bring: suntan location, hat, food and water, sunglasses, and motion sickness meds if the waves tend to bother you. 

You can book a full day, ¾ day or a half day trip. You can join other people on a scheduled fishing charter or book a private boat for yourself and family/friends.  The trip out to the fishing spot generally takes about an hour.  

Photo courtesy of Florida Fish & Wildlife

 The Space Coast is known as the Redfish Capital of the World. Used a lot in Cajun/creole recipes, redfish is a popular mild, sweet flavored fish with a medium-firm texture. Other common fish caught are Amberjack, Kingfish, Mahi Mahi, Grouper, Sailfish and yes, even Shark. 

Because fishing is so popular here, we recommend you book as early as possible. For a list of fishing charters, click here.

6. Experience Bioluminescence

Bioluminescence is one of nature’s incredible phenomena and the Space Coast is not only one of the best places in the world to witness bioluminescence, but also one of the only places in U.S. to see it. 

Bioluminescence is a chemical reaction used by marine plankton–called dinoflagellates–as a defense mechanism to ward off predators. When the water is disturbed, the non-toxic dinoflagellates emit a blue light that ripples through the water, much like fire flies on land. 

Photo courtesy: Max Pixel

 The darker the night sky, the more intense the blue of the bioluminescence becomes. Dip your hand into the river and when you take it out you’ll see dancing blue water spots slip away from your hand, as if you’re holding magic sparkles. 

You may be tired of hearing about kayaking, but kayaking is also the best way to experience bioluminescence. It is a very surreal feeling as you glide across the water in darkness with only the blue reaction in the water and the stars providing light. Outfitted with only a glow stick or a small battery-operated flashlight attached to your life vest, the first stroke of your paddle that lights up the water will undoubtedly elicit a feeling of awe. 

Only active in the summer months, the best time to experience this water phenomenon is during the new moon phase, when the sky is at its darkest. New Moon dates for the rest of the 2021 bioluminescent season are:  August 8, September 6 and October 6. 

7. Witness Sea Turtle Nesting

Sea turtles have been coming ashore to lay their eggs along the sandy Florida beaches since before Ponce De Leon was out of his diapers. Mother loggerheads crawl up the beach in the twilight hours to dig a hole in the sand and lay their eggs. Using their flippers, they cover the eggs back up, and scoot back into the ocean before the sun rises in hopes the eggs will incubate for the sixty day period, hatch and the baby sea turtles will be able to make the mad dash to the water before getting gobbled up by other animals.

Floridians, and the Florida government, take their wildlife very seriously especially with species that are deemed “threatened”. During nesting season, legally, all lights must be off on the beach. That includes flashlights, cell phone lights, headlights in parking lots pointed into the sand, literally all light from the hours of 9pm-5am.  Lights disturb the natural environment in which sea turtles lay their eggs and they will not come ashore in lighted environments. You might think “Well there’s plenty of beach stretch so can’t they just go somewhere else where it's not lit?” 

Sea Turtles, throughout all of the oceans, make long journeys to return to the same specific beach year after year to lay their eggs, so disturbing any sea turtles nesting beach on any coast is a major problem. 

So how can we view the sea turtles safely, respectfully and with no lights? Luckily, sea turtle nesting season is months long with the peak being June through August. Since there is no light on the beach your eyes will adjust and on a full moon you will have no problem watching (from a respectable distance) a mother sea turtle come ashore, lay her eggs, and return to the ocean.  

Official nesting season is March 1st to October 31st however the majority of it occurs during the months of June through August. Visit the Sea Turtle Preservation Society for more information on sea turtles and turtle walks.


Bonus. Learn about Space Exploration at the Kennedy Space Center

We can’t talk about uniquely Florida experiences without including Kennedy Space Center.  After all, it’s the Space Center that gave us our nickname AND our phone prefix (321)

After somewhat of a lull in interest in space exploration, it is hot again thanks to Branson, Bezos, and Musk privatizing space travel. And it just happens to also be the 50th anniversary of the moon landing this year.  

While you’re here, plan a trip to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. The Center is organized into Mission Zones that are grouped by chronological era.  

The “Heroes and Legends” exhibit celebrates the early days of Nasa through the 50's when the space race began through Project Mercury and Gemini. Walk amongst the rockets in the Rocket Garden before going in to see the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame and finishing off with Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo. 

If you’re looking to really dig deep into the history of the Apollo Program then Race To The Moon-Apollo/Saturn V Center is your ticket to space history. Highlights include standing under a real Saturn V rocket that was not used, Lunar Module 9, and a Command Service Module. From there you can enter the Treasures Gallery that hosts some of the most priceless artifacts from the Apollo Era. Everything from early equipment prototypes and training gear to Alan Shepard's moon dust covered spacesuit and the Apollo 14 crew capsule can be seen.

From there, continue into the STS/Shuttle era of NASA with Shuttle: A Ship Like No Other. When the shuttles were retired, Atlantis found her forever home on display at Kennedy Space Center for you to bask in all her majestic glory. 

All in all Kennedy Space Center has enough history, exhibits and bus tours to spend days experiencing so pick and choose wisely or you may have to come back twice.  

Plus - if you're here at the right time, you may just witness a rocket launch, which can be easily seen from anywhere along the Space Coast. 

If Space is your jam, you’ll enjoy reading how the Space Coast Changed the World.

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