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Beyond Disney: Best Space Coast Adventures for Kids



Disney World is a rite of passage for kids. It's a main reason many families head to Florida. 

But after you're exhausted from waiting in lines and broke from the ticket costs and food prices inside the park, a short drive north with your kids will be the perfect finishing touch to your vacation. The Space Coast is full of fun, educational and outdoorsy adventures for kids.

The Kennedy Space Center gives Disney a run for its money. Your kids can watch an actual rocket launch into outer space from the nearby beaches, have lunch with an astronaut, play in the kids' area, see the Astronaut Hall of Fame and watch 3-D IMAX movies.

The Brevard Zoo is another kid favorite, with more than 800 types of animals and kayaking through the zoo. Night hikes are another unique activity here. 

Animal-lovers will also enjoy the hidden gem, Jungle Adventures, where you can see animals in natural habitat. Feed the gators, take a swamp cruise in waters that are home to hundreds of alligators and even see the world's largest "alligator," which is really a gift shop and ticket counter. 

Younger kids can get their water fix at the Palm Bay Aquatic Center. See manatees, go camping and, of course, build sandcastles at any of the excellent beaches along the coast. Your kids will love it here. 

 

 


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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.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: This park is a calm place to spend the day with the kids outside.

Aimee's expert tip: Come here for lunch on the river. You can grill out and enjoy a peaceful picnic on the waterfront.

Read more about Manatee Sanctuary Park →


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Melbourne
Wickham Park
Photo courtesy of Flickr user grendelkhan


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 Things to Do with Kids because: Wickham Park is a great place to go camping with your kids. Chances are, there will be a family-friendly event while you're there.

Aimee's expert tip: Look for Movie in the Park nights, kids races, festivals and more family-friendly actvities in the park.

Read more about Wickham Park →


Sea Turtle Preservation Society
Photo courtesy of USFWS/Becky Skiba


The Space Coast is home to the second-biggest group of Loggerhead sea turtles in the world. Your visit to the Space Coast is not complete without having the unique opportunity to "meet" one of them. Spend a day volunteering with the Sea Turtle Preservation Society, and reserve a spot on one of their guided hikes through sea turtle nesting spots. Well trained guides lead these late evening walks and can answer questions and teach about the turtles' ancient history. You will also see an educational presentation and learn how you can help keep them safe. Sea turtles nest March through October, with nesting season peaking in June and July. That's an ideal time to watch them. If you are lucky, you might get to see a turtle laying her eggs on the beach. It is highly important to stay quiet and leave your flash cameras and flashlights in the hotel room. You can also occasionally spot Hawksbill and green and leatherback sea turtles.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: Teach your children about sea turtles – and even learn how you can help protect them.

Aimee's expert tip: Guided hikes book out quickly, so reserve a spot early in advance – several months, if possible.

Read more about Sea Turtle Preservation Society →


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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.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: Rent a cabin and spend quality time with your kids in the outdoors here.

Aimee's expert tip: Sign your kids up for Jetty Park's children's surf school.

Read more about Jetty Park Beach and Campground →




Ron Jon Surf Shop is the world's most famous surf shop, with a location in Cocoa Beach. You can find Ron Jon stores along the coast, from New Jersey to Maryland, but it's popular tourist attraction in the Space Coast, too. In fact, Ron Jon's Cocoa Beach location is the largest surfing shop in the world. Pick up souvenirs here, as well as some sunscreen, a new swimming suit and, of course, a surfboard. At Ron Jon's, you can find everything you need for a day at the beach. And whether you life chain stores or not, it is a Cocoa Beach landmark.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: This world-famous surf shop is more than a store; it's a fun, upbeat destination with a delicious restaurant, too.

Aimee's expert tip: Pick up everything you need for a day at the beach here, plus some fun souvenirs.

Read more about Ron Jon Surf Shop →


Florida International Dog Surfing Championship
Photo courtesy of Florida International Dog Surfing Championship Facebook page

Calling all surfing canines on the East Coast! The East Coast Dog Surfing Association presents the annual Florida Dog Surfing Championship in at Lori Wilson Park in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Yes. You read that right. Every November, the Space Coast is home to one of the quirkiest surf events of the year: a surfing competition for dogs. The event is not just limited to surfing. It also includes dock jumping, beauty (and ugly) contests, an agility competition, educational seminars and exhibitions and dog adoptions. Two-legged friends can enjoy live music, food and other funky activities. If you're lucky, you might brush paws with celebs, like the Guinness Book of World Record surf dogs, Abbie Girl.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: Dogs. Surfing. Your kid will love it. This annual surfing contest is quirky and fun for families.

Aimee's expert tip: Even if your dog can't surf, maybe she can win a trophy in the beauty pageant – or the ugly pageant.

Read more about Florida International Dog Surfing Championship →




Kids love zoos, but Jungle Adventures is event better. See rare animals in natural habitat and jungle homes. Jungle Adventures is a bit of a hidden gem and often less busy than the Brevard Zoo. Here you can see black bears, panthers, wolves, deer, tropical birds and more – including the world's largest, 200-foot-long alligator. OK, it's really just a gift shop shaped like an alligator, but kids still love it. Sign up for a guided tour, take a swamp cruise (with hundreds of alligators in the water around you), hold babies and feed the gators and more. Sign up for educational, fun classes, like learning about different animal tracks or how to help Monarch butterflies.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: Jungle Adventures will bring you up close with animals in their natural habitat, including a fun gift shop shaped like a gator.

Aimee's expert tip: Hold a baby alligator – and don't forget to get a picture.

Read more about Jungle Adventures →


Palm Bay Aquatic Center


The beaches on the Space Coast are incredible, but with warm weather year-round, the Palm Bay Aquatic Center is another popular water destination that's great for families. A highlight of the center is its zero-depth entry swimming pool, ideal for young children who may be intimidated by the ocean's waves. The pool is stocked with toys, a slide and diving boards. The pool is also handicap-accessible. If you're arriving with kids, look for designated family swim times. Want to get some exercise? Try a water exercise class, or sign your children up for swimming lessons. You can also rent the aquatic center for special events and birthday parties. After swimming when you get hungry, pack a lunch to enjoy on the picnic tables or grab a bite from the snack bar. The center also has on-site showers and restrooms, to save you a trip back to the hotel.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: The zero-depth entry swimming pool, stocked with toys, is a welcome alternative to the ocean's waves for young children.

Aimee's expert tip: Pack a lunch to enjoy on the picnic tables after a day of swimming.

Read more about Palm Bay Aquatic Center →


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Wickham Road
Brevard Zoo
Photo courtesy of Flickr user cyanocorax


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 Things to Do with Kids because: Kids love zoos, and the Brevard Zoo goes beyond what you could even dream, with on-site 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.

Read more about Brevard Zoo →


Kennedy Space Center
Photo courtesy of Kennedy Space Center


The Space Coast is named for its unique history with NASA, centered around the Kennedy Space Center. Although NASA's last shuttle launch was a few years ago, you can still catch the occasional private rocket launch here. The Kennedy Space Center is the definitive place to visit for an exciting education in America's legendary space program, and to get a glimpse into the working environment of a real space exploration facility. Take a tour, check out exhibits of historic space events, see 3-D IMAX films that bring you face to face with missions of the past, present and future, and even go vertical in the Shuttle Launch Experience. General admission includes the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, featuring astronaut memorabilia, simulators and displays.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: The space center is a kid favorite on the Space Coast, with the special Junior Astronauts area and other educational movies and activities.

Aimee's expert tip: Visit the Children's Play Dome and then have lunch with an astronaut.

Read more about Kennedy Space Center →


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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

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