and the Space Coast
Orlando is not the only place to visit in Florida! An easy drive from the Orlando airport takes you to the Space Coast (Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral) and the wonders of the Indian River and Vero Beach area: Atlantic Ocean, beaches, wildlife, and food.
We flew into Orlando and rented a car. Our destination was the Disney Vero Beach Resort, a few miles north of the town of Vero Beach. If you’ve got the time, taking highway A1A takes you through the old Florida coastal towns.
Staying at Disney’s Vero Beach Resort
The resort buildings were built in an old beach cottage style and the resort is right on sea turtle nesting grounds. There is a large pool area with a waterslide, miniature golf, and a well-stocked snack bar (with adult beverages.) There are activities going on at the pool led by the staff, so be prepared for the noise of fun. The lobby area includes shopping and DVD rentals. You can check out board games to play in the game parlor. There is also a spa.
The resort has four dining areas. We tried Sonya’s for breakfast. We like being able to get good Eggs Benedict on vacation! https://verobeach.disney.go.com
Of course, we were expecting seafood, but food offerings were outstanding.
Jazzy’s Mainely Lobster and Seafood: Jazzy’s is a tiny place in Cocoa Beach with a friendly and casual atmosphere. It’s a seafood market and the restaurant has just a few tables. The owner has lobster regularly flown in live from the northeast and the lobster roll was very authentic and delicious. Offerings also include clams, mussels, crab, tuna, grouper, and mahi. http://jazzysmainelylobster.com
Captain Hiram’s SandBar: Captain Hiram’s is right on the Indian River in Sebastian. With tiki décor, the bar and tables are actually in the sand. Live music happens in the evening adding to the party atmosphere. The grill menu includes clam, crab, shrimp, oysters, mahi, and other fresh fish. Conch fritters are a treat! http://www.hirams.com/the-sandbar.htm
Italian Grill: You almost miss the sign for this place, tucked in a Vero Beach strip mall off the King’s Highway. But, the parking lot is always full, and the atmosphere inside is home-y and welcoming. I was reminded of the old-timey Florida red sauce and pasta restaurants from 40 years ago. Stromboli, pizza, seafood, meatballs, chicken, veal, and of course, pasta are all on the menu. The complimentary garlic-Parmesan bread made the visit worthwhile immediately. This is a place you could come eat every day during your vacation. http://www.italiangrill.com/home
Grill’s Seafood Deck and Tiki Bar: Grill’s is dockside in Port Canaveral. It was a perfect stop for us after a day at the Kennedy Space Center. Be prepared to wait in line. If you can get a table near the docks you can watch the fishing boats come in and out. We even saw a manatee taking a fresh water break at the dock! They have live music almost every evening and the tiki bar is outside on the deck. The menu features shrimp, crab, Florida lobster, and fresh catch. Grill’s is known for their shark and lionfish (http://www.floridatoday.com/story/news/local/2015/05/04/lionfish-lunch/26895405/). http://www.grillsseafood.com
The Treasure Coast is full of protected sea turtle nesting areas. At Disney’s Vero Beach Resort, the resident wildlife specialist marks and cares for the turtle nests (they have a permit from the state to conduct public sea turtle watches.) If you get up early enough in the morning, you may be able to join in for hatchlings digging out of the next and their run to the sea. Sea turtle nesting season runs from March to October on the Atlantic coast.
The Sebastian Inlet State Park, Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, and the St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park are all in the area. At Sebastian Inlet we saw sea turtles and manatee in the water, and we got to touch hermit crabs and nine-armed sea stars. The hermit crab colony in the lagoon had every size of crab living in all kinds of shells. I had never seen them in the wild! There are plenty of species for bird watchers, too.
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is on Merritt Island, near Cocoa and Cape Canaveral. I recommend devoting a day to a visit here. After parking and paying admission, head to the back of the complex to get on the bus. The bus will give you a great view of the vehicle assembly building, crawler-transporter, the launch control center, and launch pads. You will end at the Apollo/Saturn V center. You can see the rockets and learn how they work. The capsules and the moon landers are on display. Theater presentations will help you learn about the missions. A gift shop and café are available.
Take the bus back to the main complex to see Journey to Mars, the Space Shuttle Atlantis, IMAX theater and more. There are also gift shops and food available in the main complex.
Although the exhibits are not as interactive for children as I would wish as an educator, it is still very inspiring to see the history of our space exploration and learn about the future Mars mission. If you are visiting Orlando or the Treasure Coast, it’s worth the time to take a day for the space center.
Photos by Lisa Grable, Mikayla Benigno, and Michelle Benigno.
- More Vero Beach area lodging
- Florida from Fodor’s
- History of Vero Beach
- Sea turtle species identification key
- Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge
- Sebastian Inlet State Park
- Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
I lived in Florida when I was a little girl. I love the tropical plants and the old orange grove and cattle ranch vibe you can still find there. The mixture of Spanish, Seminole, Cuban, and Disney influences make it a really interesting place to visit. What’s your favorite thing to do on Florida’s Atlantic coast?