1. The Brevard Zoo
Feed giraffes, lorikeets and cockatiels while listening to keeper talks or purchase an admission combo for an aerial treetop-trek adventure to view the zoo from above. Little Trekkers, a scaled-down version, is geared for kids four to eight. End with a splash at the Paws on Water play area.
2. Ron Jon Surf School
Learn how to hang 10 on the same stretch of beach where 11-time world champion surfer Kelly Slater took up the sport as a grommet (that’s surfer slang for “kid”). The Ron Jon Surf School offers private and group instruction for kids as young as six.
3. Sea turtle walk
Nature-loving families take note: The Space Coast beaches are the best places in North America to view sea turtles. Nesting season runs from May through October. Book a night walk (not recommended for children under seven) at either the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge or Canaveral National Seashore.
4. Kennedy Space Center
Plan to spend a half-day here learning about the space program, from early days through to future piloted missions to Mars. The Beyond the Gates bus tour gets you close to the Cape Canaveral launch site and ends at Race to the Moon, where kids can stand under the Saturn V, the largest rocket ever flown.Grandparents can relive the events that surrounded the moon landing on July 20, 1969. Don’t miss the actual space shuttle Atlantis before strapping the kids in for liftoff at the Shuttle Launch Experience, which simulates the eight-and-a-half-minute ascent into orbit!
5. Night lights
Keep the kids up past their bedtimes to see the phenomenon known as bioluminescence. Between June and October, Banana River lights up with tiny dinoflagellates. Any movement, from the swirl of a paddle to a swimming fish, excites the organisms and causes them to emit light, which gives the water a glowing blue-green hue. Several outfitters offer tours, but at A Day Away Kayak Tours, based out of Merritt Island National Refuge near Titusville, you can book a clear-bottom kayak for a truly unique perspective.
6. Valiant Air Command
Before rockets, there were airplanes, and the Valiant Air Command Warbird Museum’s impressive collection is worth a visit, especially with older kids. See restored military aircraft, artifacts and memorabilia from pre–World War One to modern day. Explore the hangars on a tour run by ex-US service members and see an F-14 Tomcat (like the jets flown in Top Gun), or let the kids take turns sitting in the cockpit of a Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bomber.
7. Witness a launch
A new era of space discovery is happening right now, making this the best time to catch a rocket launch from Cape Canaveral. Commercial space operations such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX and United Launch Alliance are keeping the skies busy with launches every few weeks.
8. Cocoa Village
Historic Cocoa Village offer a shady respite from the sun and sand. Grab a pastry or homemade ice cream at Ossorio Bakery & Café then visit the pirate-themed Antilles Trading Company, with costumes and sea-related treasures. At the Magic Dove Magic Shop, staff are happy to help aspiring prestidigitators learn their first trick.
9. Sebastian Inlet State Park
Cocoa Beach is known for its stretch of white sand, perfect for sandcastles and playing in the waves, but for a different beach experience, head one hour south to Sebastian Inlet State Park (entrance fee is $8 US per vehicle) which is located on a barrier island between the Indian River and the Atlantic Ocean. The park’s “cove” is a protected tidal pool with a hard bottom and a gentle slope, making it an ideal spot for toddlers to splash and swim, plus manatees have been known to make an appearance.
WHERE TO STAY
1. Hilton Cocoa Beach Waterfront, Cocoa Beach
Hitting the beach is easy from this property–it’s just steps away. Located on Cocoa Beach next to Lori Wilson Park, a regional park featuring year-long lifeguards, there’s no need to pack or buy shovels and pails for sandcastle-building because the Hilton provides a great selection for free. The Longboards Tiki Beach Grille offers kid-friendly fare, the couches surrounding the fire pit is the perfect place to snuggle in the evening and the splash pad and heated pool is just big enough to cool off in after a day spent at the beach. If you are staying during a rocket launch, request an oceanfront or coastline view room (north side) and watch right from your window.
2. Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Orlando
Flying to the Space Coast? Orlando International Airport is where most Canadian families will likely start their journey, so if you need to stay a night before or after your visit, Cabana Bay keeps the coast’s retro vibe alive. Inspired by the classic Florida beach resorts of the 1950s and 60s, this prime value hotel has standard rooms or family suites with kitchenettes that sleep six, two massive pools with tons of lounge chairs for everyone, a lazy river, waterslide, water play area for the littles, bowling alley, arcade, diner food court and more. It’s almost too much to do in one day. The property is also located on-site at the Universal Orlando Resort if you decide to add a theme-park visit to your trip.
Some of the writers costs were covered by Florida’s Space Coast Office of Tourism