Too often, a trip forces us to choose between relaxation and culture... but a trip to Florida's Space Coast provides both in droves. Whether you want to lay out on the beach with a tropical drink or soak up some one of a kind history or even squeeze a little bit of both in, this stretch of Florida shoreline has some pretty crazy history, from NASA's earliest missions to modern shuttle launches, and it's also got that tropical Florida kitsch that makes a trip along the coast so great!
The US Space Walk of Fame Foundation & Museum is in Titusville, the northern edge of the Space Coast. It's got a riverside park filled with cool monuments and memorials to the various NASA missions and astronauts which is great to explore, and then you can head inside to the museum. It's got exhibits on the various programs, from Mercury to Apollo to the shuttle, and it's filled with anecdotes from when the astronauts of the 1960s lived in the area and little tidbits of lesser-known NASA history. You can even experience what it's like to be in mission control during a launch!
Restoring military aircraft to their original glory, the Valiant Air Command Warbird Museum has quite a fleet of beautifully resurrected planes from before WWI to today. They also have an impressive collection of artifacts and memorabilia spanning the same time periods. If you really want a thrill, you can actually go up in one of their restored planes. They have a fully restored WWII Normandy Invasion Veteran C-47 "Tico Belle". They also have airshows and events going on regularly that are a treat for aviation buffs and casual observers alike!
The main attraction on the Space Coast is the Kennedy Space Center. A visit here isn't cheap ($40 for kids and $50 for adults) but since it takes at least one full day, if not two days, to see everything here, the multi-day ticket is a great option. From massive exhibit halls dedicated to the various missions and programs (arranged in chronological order, for additional context) to the rocket garden with actual rockets from the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs (definitely take a guided tour of it if you have time!) there really is a bunch of great history here. You can sign up for an astronaut encounter which lets you enjoy lunch while hearing a talk from a real astronaut who can answer any of your questions, try out an astronaut training simulator, ride the shuttle launch experience, hear talks on what NASA is doing today, watch movies and films in state of the art theaters, explore a recreation of the ISS, see photographs from the Hubble telescope... and that's just the very tip of the iceberg.
A can't-miss experience at Kennedy Space Center is the bus tour. The facility is huge, and it's actually still used by NASA today, so it's really unique to see a working NASA Space Center. The bus tour is self-guided and included in your admission, and it lets you get to the various exhibits and features. It also cruises past the abandoned, allegedly haunted Launch Complex-34. The decommissioned launch site at Cape Canaveral is believed to be haunted by the ghosts of three astronauts who tragically died there on January 27, 1967. Astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee perished almost instantly after a fire engulfed their Apollo I capsule during training.
The United States Astronaut Hall of Fame was started by the Mercury 7 astronauts and honors the men and women who have risked their lives in the pursuit of space exploration and knowledge. Learn about the people behind famed NASA missions and explore compelling displays that tell their stories. It's pretty inspirational and definitely worth visiting if you're traveling with kids who dream of someday exploring the universe. It's part of the Kennedy Space Center, so admission is included in your ticket!
The Apollo program hosted some of the most pivotal missions in NASA history, during the Space Race of the 1960s. See the Saturn V, the enormous, 363-foot rocket that launched the crew who would land on the moon into space, watch footage of the launch in the Firing Room, and see how the Apollo 8 astronauts were able to land on the moon (and navigate on the Lunar Rover) in this stunning exhibition hall. If you only have time to learn about one NASA mission, make it this one!
Brevard Community College's Astronaut Memorial Planetarium and Observatory is a great place to put some of your newly-gained knowledge about the stars and universe to work. Catch a show or film at the Planetarium, and peer through telescopes and into the galaxy and beyond at the observatory. Hands-on exhibits demonstrate gravity, the Earth's rotation, and even let you see a real, live meteorite!
Now, it's time to relax on the beach! Cocoa Beach Pier is a perfectly retro beach and boardwalk that is sure to enchant. The 800-foot pier is great for fishing and offers some cute little restaurants and souvenir shops... and at the far end, there's the Rikki Tikki Tavern, where you can enjoy your fruity drink while watching the waves roll in. You'll also find equipment rentals, killer surfing, volleyball courts, showers, and other amenities. The old-school vibes evoke the era when astronauts were the coolest people in the country and frequented the beaches as they hung out in Florida preparing for training and missions.
A quieter little bit of shore to relax on is the Alan Shephard Beachfront Park, named for astronaut Alan Shephard, who was a crucial member of NASA during the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions. The park offers great views of NASA launches and facilities, and has a nice bathhouse, along with tons of parking. It's also easy to walk to shops and restaurants from the beach as well, so you could set up camp and spend a day here enjoying the beach!
The Air Force Space and Missile Museum commemorates some of NASA's earlier launches. Launch Complex 26 and Launch Complex 5/6 were where chimps Gordo, Able and Miss Baker were sent into space in the 1950s, paving the way for Gus Grissom and Alan Shephard to launch into space in 1961. It's a smaller museum that's loaded with detailed info that will definitely intrigue space buffs.