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.
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: The ocean isn't the Space Coast's only big body of water. Take time to explore Banana River, too.
Aimee's expert tip: Fish in the shallow seagrass beds for the biggest game fish.
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.
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Go camping, fishing and enjoy the pristine beach. Jetty Park is great for families.
Aimee's expert tip: Consider renting a cabin, and ask about the specials. Sometimes you can get the fourth night free.
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. Tip: For nearly guaranteed manatee sightings, locals head to the corner of Berkley and St. Patrick streets. The canal under the bridge is a manatee superhighway!
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: This peaceful park on the river spans more than 10 acres.
Aimee's expert tip: Come here for lunch on the river. You can grill out and enjoy a peaceful picnic on the waterfront.
Playalinda Beach, in Titusville, is housed within a natural reserve, the Canaveral National Seashore. It is also known for its private, nude beach (around parking lot 13, the farthest pier). The people here tend to keep to themselves, so don't worry if that's not your thing. Enjoy 24 miles of protected coastline, including four miles of drivable beach, for a scenic driving tour of the area. Playalinda is a quiet beach, a hidden gem among local surfers, located on a thin barrier island also on the Indian River. The sand is rarely busy. Pack flip-flops because some patches of sand are a bit rough with seashells – but shell collectors and kids can find plenty of treasures here. Along with the undeveloped beauty of Playalinda, there are also not many amenities. Parking is limited, so prepare to walk. Park accordingly.
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Playalinda Beach is widely considered one of the best beaches on the Space Coast – and in Florida.
Aimee's expert tip: Parking is limited, so prepare to walk, and pack accordingly.
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.
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Although this port is busy, it's also busy with water life and beautiful views.
Aimee's expert tip: Go deep sea fishing or charter a boat. Stroll along the water and look for dolphins and fish.
The only zoo in the U.S. to offer onsite kayaking tours, Brevard Zoo features over 880 animals from around the world. Get up close and personal with a white rhino during a Rhino Encounter from noon to 1 p.m., ride the Cape to Cairo express train, feed cockatiels and lorikeets in a free flight aviary, visit with the residents at the petting zoo and splash around in the Paws On Play lagoon. Free parking, on-site cafe and gift shop, educational programs, overnight adventures, camps and the option to rent the Nyami Nyami River Lodge for special events are all offered. So if you've never seen a meerkat, tapir, siamang, jaguar, cassowary or come face to face with a giraffe, check out Brevard Zoo open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Last admission is 4:15 p.m.
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: This is more than a zoo. It offers outdoor activities, including kayaking tours and night hikes.
Aimee's expert tip: Sign up for a private group guided night hike or safari through the zoo. Night hikes come with food, drinks, special presentations, games and more. A great idea for families.
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 Oh Shucks. Or walk down to the end of the pier for classic seafood at Marlins. The Boardwalk and Atlantic Ocean Grille 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.
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Fish, watch surfers or have a drink on this busy pier.
Aimee's expert tip: Have lunch on the pier and get free entrance with your receipt.
Melbourne Beach stretches across 33 miles of gorgeous, undeveloped sand, perfect for a walk walks or a jog along the water. The waves here offer nice surfing and snorkeling, and the bars regularly bounce with live music. Melbourne is a family-friendly community, with plenty of great shopping (check out Strawbridge and New Haven avenues), delicious local restaurants, high-quality theater performances and quirky art. You can often find street parties, vendor booths, bands and festivals, including the world-famous Melbourne Art Festival, the Independent Filmmaker's Festival, Aviation Day and annual Oktoberfest. This makes Melbourne Beach more than just soft sand and waves; it's an exciting destination for outdoor entertainment, too. Nearby, go golfing, fishing, boating camping and more.
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: The locals love Melbourne Beach for its powder sand, excellent waves and undeveloped oceanside beauty.
Aimee's expert tip: Melbourne Beach tends to be less busy than Cocoa Beach, but with much softer sand.
Wickham Park is our favorite, off-the-beaten-path, non-touristy attraction on the Space Coast. This is a hotspot for college students, located adjacent to the Eastern Florida State College Melbourne campus, which means plenty of events, from a medieval festival to multicultural celebrations. Friday night is food truck night. Grab a meal to go and head for the beach, where you can spot dolphins. Wickham Park offers a ton of fun features, including but not limited to: camping (with electrical hookups), a plethora of trails, swimming, a pavilion, horse stables, multiple lakes, disc golf, volleyball, soccer fields, a dog park, amphitheater and more.
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: This large park has it all, from trails to lakes to parks. It's a one-stop outdoor mecca.
Aimee's expert tip: Plan a camping excursion here on a Friday night, so you can take advantage of Food Truck Fridays.
Located midway down the Florida east coast between New Smyrna Beach and Titusville, the 24 miles of park is home to over 1,000 species of plants and 300 species of birds, including 14 threatened or endangered species. Sea turtles nest here. This is Florida, in nature. Wild and untouched. Visitors enjoy camping (with permit), ocean beaches, surfing, fishing, boating and hunting. Rangers facilitate programs year-round on such topics as canoeing and sea turtle nesting. Take a self-guided tour along Black Point Wildlife Drive, through the marsh. Restrooms and a small bookstore also available, but don't expect picnic benches, phones, drinking fountains or stores. This is an escape from all of that.
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: This large park is one of the best places to see tropical plants and wildlife on the Space Coast.
Aimee's expert tip: Bring a picnic and take a self-guided tour along Black Point Wildlife Drive.