Cocoa Beach, Florida - Home to Seagulls and Space Shuttles
by Ruby Bayan
A flock of huge birds glided casually over our heads as we watched a dozen seagulls swarm around a little girl tossing the contents of her bag of chips up in the air. The beach was almost crowded -- giant umbrellas, lounging chairs, and bare skin dotted the blinding white sands that stretched for miles. Cocoa Beach reminded us what Florida was all about.
This ocean-beach community along central Florida's east coast had not always been this active. In fact, for the longest time, Cocoa Beach served as a quiet retirement neighborhood, and a secluded winter refuge of many migratory animals. Then the astronauts came.
With the development of Cape Canaveral and the outer space programs, scores of astronauts, engineers, and their families merged with the community to train, take a break, or appreciate the natural wonders of Florida's Atlantic coastline. Cocoa Beach became part of the famous "Space Coast," home to seagulls, surfboards, golf courses, and launch pads.
Life's a Beach
Cocoa Beach is a six-mile string of oceanfront parks equipped with amenities and facilities that encourage travelers, vacationers, and locals to spend the day, the weekend, or the rest of their lives at the beach. The most popular beach recreation parks along this barrier island are:
- Shepard Park, named after astronaut Alan Shepard, is a two-acre beach park at the east end of SR 520. It offers one of the best spots to be at when you want to witness a space launch. The park has pavilions, barbecue grills, and parking for 300 vehicles.
- Fischer Park, a 10-acre oceanfront park and picnic grounds was named after Sidney Fischer, who served as Cocoa Beach's mayor from 1956 to 1960. This family favorite is in the central beach area, at the east side of SR A1A.
- Lori Wilson Park, operated by Brevard County, is a 32-acre beach facility also in the central beach area, 3.5 miles south of SR 520 on A1A. Its recreation facilities include a volleyball court, a playground, picnic pavilions, barbecue grills, the Johnnie Johnson Nature Center, a boardwalk, and parking for more than 270 vehicles.
- Murkshe Memorial Park, also operated by Brevard County, is likewise along SR A1A. The one-mile beach and memorial park was named after Robert P. Murkshe, who served as mayor of Cocoa Beach from 1963 to 1972. The oceanfront park features picnic facilities, a boardwalk, and parking.
Life's a Beach Country Club and More
Just in case you get tired of the sand and saltwater, Cocoa Beach offers a whole new world of recreation in the city-owned and -operated Cocoa Beach Country Club. Three nine-hole golf courses spiral along the Banana River Lagoon; 10 tennis courts are available day and night; and an Olympic-size swimming pool is always open to the public.
This 212-acre recreational complex also has open fields for softball, baseball, and soccer. Its community center, restaurants, and pavilions complete the sports and recreation experience for all members of the family.
For the hours of the day or the times of your life when you'd rather mellow out and just let the hours go by, the Cocoa Beach Pier is the best place to be. Fine dining, the fresh catch of the day, and panoramic vistas of the Atlantic Ocean are the pride of The Pier Restaurant.
Lounge around in seaside bars and grills, toss a line from the pier that juts out 800 feet into the sea, and pick up gifts at the specialty and souvenir stores. Don't know the first thing about catching fish? Grab some fishing instructions and live bait and pick a spot -- any spot on the pier is great for fishing and watching shuttle launches.
With its irresistible white sands, year-round sun, and sparkling surf, Cocoa Beach basks between the Space Complexes of Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center to the north and Patrick Air Force Base to the south -- where else in the world would you find a place that is aptly referred to as the "Friendly Frontier of Space, Recreation, and Quality Living"?
[First published at Lodging.com, 2002; also published at GoFloridaVacations.com]