Explore the Space Coast's Exciting Attractions beyond Port Canaveral

Whether you are visiting Port Canaveral to watch the cruise ships slide by and enjoy the great shopping, or you are gearing up to take your own cruise, set aside a few extra days to explore the exciting attractions nearby. 

There's much more to the Port Canaveral area on the Space Coast than just the ships. In fact, the areas around the port provide some of the best views and wildlife watching in all of the Space Coast. 

Rent a cabin or pop up a tent in Jetty Park, where the beaches are pristine and rarely busy. Spend a day in Kelly Park, where you can experience some of the world's best windsurfing. Climb the birdwatching tower in the Ulumay Wildlife Sanctuary for a stunning view. And plan a picnic at the Manatee Sanctuary Park. 

Go boating at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, fishing at the Jetty Park Pier and on the Banana River, golfing at the Savannahs Sykes Creek (one of the most challenging golf courses on the Space Coast), hiking at Ulumay and shopping at the Merritt Square Mall and Cocoa Beach Pier. 

If you are traveling with your family, hit up Kelly Park and Jetty Park, where the waves tend to be calmer and more kid-friendly. 

Merritt Island
Merritt Square Mall


Located right on the Banana River, this island mall is a fun, comfortable place to spend your time – and money. More than 80 brand name and specialty shops have outposts here, from Sephora inside JCPenny to Champs Sports and Aeropostale, you're sure to find all the items on your list. Anchor stores include Dillards, Macy's, JCPenney and Sears, and Merritt Square also features a 16-screen cinema, glow golf and an indoor bungie jump experience. This mall is not entirely different than a standard, chain mall in another city, but it's a solid shopping bet, if you need reliability, a staple, some new clothes or just a relaxing afternoon in the cool indoors. Here, you can also get a tattoo, massage, new sunglasses, dinner, frozen yogurt and jewelry.

Savannahs at Sykes Creek


An extra sleeve of balls may be a wise investment on this flat course, as water is a factor on 14 of Savannahs' holes. The greens are small and hard to read at times, but this is a fun, playable course. Expect to find average sized, tree-lined fairways. This southern-style course, recognized by Golf Digest as a great "Place to Play," is only minutes from Port Canaveral. It's considered one of the most challenges courses in the area. Enjoy the plantation-style clubhouse, pick up some paraphernalia in the golf shop and check the schedule for the Savannahs' regular tournaments and fundraising events.

Merritt Island
Kelly Park
Photo courtesy of Jason Crotty


Kelly Park is a fun and beautiful 15-acre destination right on the shores of the Banana River in Merritt Island, not far from the port. Spend a relaxing day at this park, grilling lunch, eating on the picnic tables, walking along the waterfront, watching for wildlife (such as the red-throated loon) and windsurfing. In fact, this area is internationally known for its excellent windsurfing. This park is especially family-friendly, with a playground, restrooms, drinking fountains, horseshoe pits and volleyball courts. Go sailboarding, stretch out on the sandy beach and enjoy the Florida sunshine and dangle your feet off the dock. Various groups offer tours that depart from Kelly Park. Space Coast River Tours offers a pontoon tour along the winding canals throughout Port Canaveral. See the cruise ships from another vantage point – and even watch a rocket launch from the boat.

Merritt Island
Banana River
Photo courtesy of Leonard J. DeFrancisci/Wikimedia Commons


The Banana River is a 31-mile-long lagoon stretching between Cape Canaveral and Merritt Island. It's the home to many marine critters, such as dolphins, manatees and stingrays, as well as plenty of waterfowl. Birdwatchers will be excited to see the occasional bald eagle, little blue heron, pelican or white ibis. It's also an excellent fishing destination, the home to everything from snappers to sea trouts to flounders. Find sizable game fish in the shallow seagrass beds. Or if you'd rather, go kayaking, duck-hunting, sailboarding, hiking along the trails and boating. The river spans swamps, oyster bars, salt marshes and 55 different spoil islands.

Ulumay Wildlife Sanctuary
Photo courtesy of Brandon Trentler


The Ulumay Wildlife Sanctuary stretches across 457 acres in Merritt Island, and it's an internationally known destination for bird-watchers. Enjoy all kinds of outdoor activities here: watching wildlife (keep your eyes peeled for endangered wood storks, dolphins, pelicans and alligators), fishing, hiking, biking and kayaking. You can find various hiking trails here with great views. The trail on the dike will lead you to waterways (and great fishing spots; also try the fishing pier, called Old Humpbacked Troll Bridge). Don't miss the birdwatching tower, overlooking the lagoon. This region's history is as interesting as its landscape. Back in the 1600s, it used to be the home for several Native American villages, one named Ulumay. Officials say that no one has lived in this area since the Native Americans.

Manatee Sanctuary Park
Photo courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey


The Manatee Sanctuary Park in Cape Canaveral is one of the best, most peaceful places near the port to enjoy the outdoors. This park spans more than 10 acres of nature on the Banana River. Plan a day excursion here. Talk the half-mile trail (and even try out the exercise stations, if you want to get in an outdoor workout); walk the riverside boardwalk; pack lunch and eat it under the covered pavilion; challenge your friends to a game of horseshoes; and best of all, watch for manatees, dolphins, osprey, waterfowl, fish and more. This park is not flashy, and despite the name, it doesn't necessarily mean you will see manatees. But it's a calm place to enjoy Florida's great weather and natural habitat.

Jetty Park Beach and Campground
Photo courtesy of Bradley Buhro


Jetty Park is one of the Space Coast's best beaches, and a great place to go camping and fishing, too. With many campsites (for different types of camping, from rugged to RV), picnic tables, laundry facilities, hot showers and toilets, electric hook-ups, a playground, a small beach bar and a small shop, Jetty Park is an outdoor adventure destination – the perfect vacation within a vacation, if you're looking for a relaxing experience in Florida's natural habitat. The beach here is pristine, accented by the Jetty Park pier – a fishing hub. This is an ideal area for families, because it even offers security and lifeguards at the beach. The water is calmer than some of the other Space Coast beaches, so children enjoy playing here. Watch for dolphins and manatees.

The Cocoa Beach Pier
Photo courtesy of Flickr user RyanCrierie


Half a mile north of 520, off A1A, you'll find The Pier, an exciting extension of the city of Cocoa Beach and the Space Coast. Take in live music (the pier has welcomed the bands such as the Beach Boys and UB40), as you dine several hundred feet above the Atlantic Ocean at The Boardwalk Bar seafood restaurant. Or walk down to the end of the pier for cocktails at Rikki Tiki Tavern. Keith's Oyster Bar and Pelican's Bar and Grill offer great selections, as well. There are also gift shops, volleyball courts and fishing sites. This historical, 800-foot-long landmark is excellent for fishing, as well as playing beach volleyball and some of the best surfing in the area.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
Photo courtesy of Flickr user cyanocorax


The refuge is 140,000 acres (or 22 square miles) of wetlands inhabited by more than 1,500 types of plants and animals, including more than 300 species of birds, ghost crabs, loggerhead and green sea turtles, reptiles, raccoons and bobcats. NASA owns and maintains this treasure and offers the public many ways to experience it. Join in a guided tour or explore four different hiking trails that range from 0.25 mile to five miles long. Boating, canoeing, a manatee observation deck (with informational panels about this endangered species), coastal dunes, saltwater estuaries, fishing and nature photography make this a complete wildlife experience.

Port Canaveral
Port Canaveral
Photo courtesy of Flickr user tomsaint


Port Canaveral is one of the busiest cruise ports in the world. Even though millions of cruise passengers pass through her every year, the atmosphere remains relaxed. Located off A1A in Cape Canaveral, Port Canaveral serves as an industrial, commercial and luxury transportation hub by connecting land, sea, air and space travel. In addition to its daily import/export schedule, seven of the finest cruise terminals in the world are located here. Deep sea fishing and boat rental are also available. The Cove at Port Canaveral is a waterfront recreational area that's home to several restaurants, shops, charter boats and attractions.


Meet Aimee Heckel

Aimee Heckel’s passion for storytelling has brought her around the world as a journalist, writing award-winning articles about Haiti and Uganda. Aimee studied international journalism at the...  More About Aimee