The fastest-growing city in Brevard County is right next to the inviting coastal community of Melbourne. Served by Melbourne Orlando International Airport (MLB), which has just been given a lot of investment, the entire area is on the up.
West Melbourne is a mostly residential city, but that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to do nearby. In just ten minutes from West Melbourne you can get to lively downtown districts, the St. Johns River, the Indian River Lagoon, and of course the spectacular Atlantic shore.
I think there’s more than enough to sustain a vacation here. You’ve got art scenes, breathtaking Florida nature, beaches, shopping, dining, and events galore.
1. Erna Nixon Park
More than just a public park, this marvelous passive space in West Melbourne sits in a natural Florida hammock.
Surrounded by subdivisions, Erna Nixon Park feels like an escape into the wilderness along a 3,000-foot elevated boardwalk.
Your walk will take you past a dense understory of ferns and saw palmettos. Over overhead are the crooked branches of mature live oaks, with streams of hanging Spanish moss.
In late January, the park hosts an event I adore called the Moonlight Stroll. Taking place after dark, there’s live music along the boardwalk, food trucks, and stargazing with the Brevard Astronomical Society.
2. Downtown Melbourne
West Melbourne is minutes from several downtown quaint commercial districts. The nearest and dearest to me is downtown Melbourne.
Crossed by New Haven Ave, and traced by Crane Creek, this district has weathered natural disasters, institutional closures, and economic crises to thrive in the 21st century.
When I last came, downtown was doing better than ever, with a bustling community of shops and restaurants.
This boom can partly be explained by an uptick in domestic and international tourism, brought on by the expansion of Melbourne Orlando International Airport.
There’s a slew of specialty stores, and dining for all palates, with more than 20 options. At the time of writing, the townscape was just about to be reinvigorated, with landscaping and widened sidewalks.
3. Rossetter House Museum and Gardens
For a bit of local history, the Rossetter House Museum and Gardens are made up of several historically significant elements.
The museum is managed by the Florida Historical Society, and a guided tour will include two houses, charming gardens, a garage and a private cemetery.
The Rossetter House was built in 1908, the Houston Cemetery goes back to the 1860s, while the Roesch House, and starting point, is from the 1890s.
The highlight for me was the Rossetter House. When this residence was donated by the Rossetter family, they included an exceptional collection of Victorian antiques, which can all be viewed in situ.
4. James H. Nance Park
You can get to the Atlantic shore in little more than ten minutes from West Melbourne. The most convenient public access is James H. Nance Park, on a beautiful piece of oceanfront by downtown Indialantic.
All of the magic of the Atlantic shore is here, from the rolling waves to a giant sweep of open sand. The beach is a favored nesting spot for sea turtles, and I’ll talk about the Sea Turtle Preservation Society later in this list.
For another kind of spectacle, this is a good spot to watch SpaceX rocket launches at the Kennedy Space Center 40 miles to the north.
The park is equipped with a scenic oceanfront boardwalk, picnic pavilions, a playground, and bathroom facilities. You’re also just a few steps from all the shops and restaurants of Indialantic’s downtown.
5. The Liberty Bell Memorial Museum
For an up-close look at a rare replica of the Liberty while in the Sunshine State, this museum is just a few minutes away.
The Liberty Bell Memorial Museum houses one of just 25 replicas of the original bell. This was cast by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, which produced the original, and was in business for almost 450 years up to 2017.
Naturally the bell, purchased for the nation’s bicentennial, takes center stage. Still, I enjoyed the rest of the exhibit at the Rotunda of American History.
This features a chronology of the nation’s and Florida’s history. Freedom hall meanwhile is dedicated to military history, documenting every war in which the United States has been involved.
6. FIT Botanical Gardens
The Florida Institute of Technology is just east of the city, and has a lush 15-acre botanical garden on its campus.
Mostly composed of a beautiful hardwood hammock, the garden is set along the course of a little stream.
Palms from more than 60 species dominate the canopy at FIT Botanical Garden, providing shade, while also creating a mini greenhouse effect, allowing tropical species to survive occasional harsh winters.
You can discover the garden on the Dent Trail, passing specimen trees, and stands of laurel, live oaks, and red maple.
7. Eau Gallie Arts District
A few miles north of downtown Melbourne there’s another exciting district that demands a closer look.
Embedded in an historic townscape, the Eau Gallie Arts District is a creative community with an eclectic array of galleries and studios. These mingle with restaurants, coffee shops, professional offices, and the elegant Rossetter House Museum.
I loved just getting out of the car and seeing what I could find. The whole district has been enhanced by dozens of works of public art, from murals to sculptures and mosaics.
8. El Ambia
Overlooking Crane Creek in Melbourne there’s a restaurant for authentic home-style Cuban cooking.
In Cuban slang, El Ambia roughly translates to buddy. True to that attitude, this spot has a hip and laid-back atmosphere, with a serving of live music to go with its delicious food.
Like most Cuban restaurants, El Ambia somehow manages to blend contemporary and vibrant with traditional and comfortable. Their menu is loaded with classics from the island nation, like yuca frita, empanadas and fried snapper with mango salsa.
My recommendation is the Hemingway Rice, a kind of seafood paella, with shrimp and a variety of fish, cooked in a house broth with a secret recipe. Finish up with tres leches cake, or the decadent rum bread pudding, with whipped cream.
9. Indian River Antique Mall
One of the largest antique malls on the Space Coast is a minute from West Melbourne along W New Haven Ave.
The Indian River Antique Mall has over 20,000 square feet of retail space, with 160+ highly diversified dealer booths.
Whether you’re hunting for vintage items, antiques, collectibles, art and jewelry, the Indian River Antique Mall is the perfect place to spend some time out of the elements.
I’m always concerned about being scammed in a place like this, but from what I could tell the prices were fair.
If you’re passing through the area, it’s also somewhere to pick up a few keepsakes from your trip.There’s always that one in a million chance of stumbling across a true rare gem.
10. Melbourne Center
West Melbourne partly surrounds this enclosed mall, which first opened for business in 1982. An option for an especially hot or rainy day, Melbourne Square had a lot of big retailers, and only a few vacancies when I shopped here recently.
Set on one level, a few of the 50+ stores are Yankee Candle, H&M, Pandora, Victoria’s Secret, Hollister Co, rue21, American Eagle, Foot Locker, and Hot Topic. Anchors are JCPenney, Macy’s, Dillard’s, Dillard’s Ladies, and Dick’s Sporting Goods.
I have to say, the food court was also doing well. The counter service spots here included Chick-fil-A, Asian Chao, Maki of Japan, Gyros and More, and Planet Grilled Cheese.
11. Sea Turtle Preservation Society
Brevard County’s waters support a variety of sea turtle species, among them loggerhead green turtles and leatherback turtles.
These animals are threatened by a number of factors, from loss of habitat to accidents with boats and nets, and general pollution.
The volunteer-run Sea Turtle Preservation Society (STPS) is dedicated to protecting turtles, and educating the public about these threats and what they can do to help.
When I visited, the education center had just been completely redesigned. New interactive exhibits explain the life cycle of sea turtles, and what the STPS does to help them survive.
During nesting season in summer, the society offers guided beach tours to areas where turtles lay their eggs.
12. Camp Holly Airboat Rides
Heading west on US 192, you may be surprised how quickly you’ll leave the city behind. In less than ten minutes you’ll get to the wetlands on the St. Johns River.
At this place you can climb aboard an airboat for an exhilarating ride through the swamps. Eco tours with Camp Holly Airboat Rides take about 45 minutes. On my trip I saw turtles, snakes swimming in the water, a lot of birds, and even more alligators.
My pro tip is to wear the ear protectors available, as these airboats get very loud. Back at Camp Holly there’s Gators Grill, with live music, a Tiki Bar, and a panoramic view of the river.
13. West Melbourne Community Park
In 2016 a one-of-a-kind facility opened at the city’s community park. This is the Space Coast Field of Dreams, offering active recreation for all abilities.
The roster of amenities includes an ADA playground, a soccer field, an adaptive use baseball field, and a 9-hole mini golf course.
Also at West Melbourne Community Park is a children’s splash pad with a dozen interactive features, a skate park, and a chess plaza.
I love the free Wi-Fi access, and there’s an amphitheater for outdoor public events, fronted by a grass performance lawn.
14. Andretti Thrill Park
I don’t need to tell you that the Andretti name is synonymous with speed and auto racing. For adrenaline junkies there’s no better place to spend a few hours than Andretti Thrill Park in Melbourne.
In business since 1999, this facility is centered on go-karting, at the Super Speedway track, F1 track, Jr. Indy track, and Rookie Row.
There’s also a lot of non-racing activities, among them a ropes course, mini-golf course, a climbing wall, laser tag, batting cages, and bumper boats.
To save some money, I reckon it’s worth looking into getting an all-access wristband. These are valid for two hours, three hours, or the entire day.