Crammed onto the narrow neck of Cape Canaveral, Cocoa Beach is a world-famous beach city. With the ocean on one side and the Banana River lagoon on the other, it’s an emblem of the Space Coast, and somewhere I think everyone should see at least once.
Cocoa Beach is the spiritual home of surfing on the East Coast, and is the place where 11-time world champion Kelly Slater grew up and continues to live.
The world’s largest surf store, Ron Jon Surf Shop, can be found here, next to the road entrance to the city along the Cocoa Beach Causeway.
On the lagoon side is the wildlife-rich Banana River, containing the Thousand Islands Conservation Area. Accessible on eco tours and kayak trips, this environment abounds with dolphins, manatees, and birdlife, including thousands of pelicans.
1. Cocoa Beach Pier
Announced by an iconic sign, Cocoa Beach’s most famous landmark was completed in 1962 and pushes into the ocean for more than 800 feet.
Helping to generate some of the best surfing waves on the East Coast, the pier quickly became the anchor for Cocoa Beach’s surf culture.
This is a complete day out, with gift shops, life entertainment, five restaurants, four bars, volleyball courts on the shore, and the Cocoa Beach Surf School offering lessons every day.
At the very end of the pier is the famous Rikki Tiki Tavern. No question that this tiki bar is a popular spot, but it’s worth braving the crowds for the breathtaking views all along the Space Coast.
2. Banana River Aquatic Preserve
This 30,000-acre preserve is on the inward, lagoon side of Cocoa Beach, between Cape Canaveral and Merritt Island. Part of the famously biodiverse Indian River Lagoon, the Banana River has the distinction of not being part of the Intracoastal Waterway.
It’s an extraordinary environment, composed of tidal flats, mangroves, salt marshes, oyster bars, seagrass beds, and the maze-like Thousand Islands network. I think it’s safe to say that wildlife is profuse here.
There are manatees all year, as well as a huge population of diamondback terrapin turtles, and the largest pelican rookery on the Atlantic Coast.
The only way to experience the preserve is on the water, ideally with a guided tour. A few local operators are Cocoa Kayaking, Fin Expeditions, and Florida Adventurer. Join a bioluminescence tour at night for something unforgettable.
3. Lori Wilson Park
Backed by a spectacular maritime hammock, the county-managed Lori Wilson Park is a bit more natural than some of the area’s other beach parks.
This is one of a few things that makes it so special for me. For those escaping the touristy spots, the beach itself is just what the doctor ordered.
Amenities include picnic tables, five pavilions, 1,000-feet of elevated boardwalk, a playground, and six dune crossovers with wonderful vistas. For people with pups in tow, there’s an off-leash dog park on the south side.
4. Alan Shepard Beachfront Park
The city’s most convenient beach access is at the end of E Cocoa Beach Causeway. Setting foot on the beach, you’ll be wowed by the massive sweep of sand and the rolling surf.
There’s plentiful parking with 300+ spaces, as well as a bathhouse, ten large pavilions, covered picnic tables, grills, and a playground for wee ones.
Alan Shepard Beachfront Park is named for the astronaut. He was the second man in space in 1961, and the fifth and oldest man (aged 47) to walk on the moon in 1971.
Appropriately, this is probably the best public place in Cocoa Beach to watch rocket launches at the Kennedy Space Center, about 15 miles to the north. Check the calendar for upcoming SpaceX launches.
5. Ron Jon Surf Shop
The flagship store for an international brand, the Cocoa Beach Ron Jon Surf Shop opened in 1963. With several expansions since then, this is officially the world’s largest surf store, at 52,000+ square feet.
Essentially, it’s a total lifestyle center, with everything from surfboards to apparel, paddleboards, skateboards, and all manner of cute souvenirs.
There’s even a museum space, and I’d recommend giving this a few minutes of your time. Exhibits here chart the history of surfing in Cocoa Beach, and profile surfing personalities like the 11-time world champion Kelly Slater, who hails from this city.
6. The Dinosaur Store
Opened in 1996, the Dinosaur Store is a must for parents with dino-obsessed kids like mine. Initially just a shop, this private business has unveiled several museum areas over time.
The big one is the Museum of Dinosaurs and Ancient Cultures, which opened on the second and third floors in 2017.
This 20,000-square-foot attraction presents fossils and artifacts from all ends of the earth. The Hall of Dinosaurs is a treat, with its imposing cast skeletons and fossils from numerous eras, as well as impressive minerals and Paleolithic tools.
On the third floor you can peruse a collection of some 40 artifacts from Pre-Columbian Central America, as well as a number of Chinese Terracotta Warriors.
7. Robert P. Murkshe Memorial Park
In the south of the city, there’s an excellent public beach access, by the Welcome to Cocoa Beach sign.
Robert P. Murkshe Memorial Park has a relaxing natural feel, underpinned by the dune crossovers. These lead you through a tunnel of vegetation and emerge on a perfect white sandy beach.
Among the amenities at this two-acre park are showers, and a small pavilion with a grill. The beach itself is ideal for surf fishing, and tends to be less crowded than the options further north.
8. The Wizard of Oz Museum
Universally adored, this one-of-a-kind museum is a celebration of the classic 1939 movie, The Wizard of Oz.
Opened in 2021, The Wizard of Oz Museum is the labor of love of a passionate fan of the books and film.
There are two distinct aspects to the attraction. First you’ve got an astonishing memorabilia collection, with more than 2,000 items.
These include many props, and help to tell the story of one of the Golden Age of Hollywood’s most interesting productions.
But what blew me away was the immersive experience. These use projectors and original artworks to bring elements from the movie and books to life.
9. Golf N Gator
As the name tells you, this local attraction combines miniature golf with alligator experiences. Golf N Gator has two 18-hole courses, at Gator Mountain and the Swamp Cave.
Both courses wind their way through subtropical landscaping, with lush vegetation, streams and waterfalls. On your round you’ll also cross bridges, with fish, turtles and alligators, which injected a sense of adventure to my game.
There are some 30 alligators at Golf N Gator, and you can see them wallowing in the water or sunning themselves. If you’re brave, you can take part in the gator experience, and will get to hold a baby alligator.
Finally, there’s a treasure hunting area, where kids can hunt for sharks’ teeth, fossils, interesting stones and arrowheads.
10. Cocoa Beach Dolphin Tours
If you want to discover the wildlife of the Banana River in a more sedate way, you’ll have a few options. My recommendation is Cocoa Beach Dolphin Tours, found on the lagoon by the Cocoa Beach Causeway.
With more than 20 years of experience, Cocoa Beach Dolphin Tours offers several tours a day through the magnificent habitats of the Thousand Islands.
You’re sure to see manatees, dolphins, and will get a privileged glimpse of the pelican rookery here. Trips take place on a comfortable 50-seat pontoon boat. There’s a qualified naturalist on every tour, and a USCG licensed captain at the helm.
11. Jetty Park Beach and Pier
A short drive up the cape and you’ll come to one of the most dramatic pieces of shoreline around. Jetty Park features a campground, stretch of beachfront, and 1,200-foot paved and lighted fishing pier.
This is all next to the entrance of Port Canaveral’s various cruise terminals. So you’ll get the chance to witness the largest cruise ships in the world passing by.
This is also the closest public beach to the Kennedy Space Center, and an excellent vantage point for launches. Even closer is Canaveral Space Force Station, which also stages regular launches.
12. Cocoa Beach Skate Park
A skateboarding mecca, this facility by Cocoa Beach High School is no ordinary skatepark. Apt for a city renowned for board sports, Cocoa Beach Skate Park is like a work of art.
Designed by renowned designers, Team Pain, this has an awesome bowl section, and a street course to match. The surface is as smooth as can be, and there’s lighting for skating until as late as 10:00 pm on weekends.
Every Wednesday evening there’s a Best Trick Contest, with music, raffles, skateboarding news, and a Grind For Life booth.
13. Ron Jon Surf School
If you or your loved ones are hoping to tame Cocoa Beach’s waves, there’s a slew of companies ready to help you out.
The longest running in all of Florida is Ron Jon Surf School, which opened in 1993. The school’s CPR/BLS-certified instructors include some of the most accomplished surfers from around the country.
Offering one-on-one or group tuition, many have dozens of years of surfing experience, and are therefore able to teach everyone from beginners to advanced surfers.
Lessons are offered both privately and in small groups. For kids from seven to 18, there are multi-day camps during the school summer break.
14. Historic Cocoa Village
Cocoa Beach is ten miles east of one of Florida’s prettiest downtown areas. If you’re getting to Cocoa Beach along the Hubert Humphrey Causeway, I think you have to make a stop in Cocoa Village.
These streets were platted more than 150 years ago. Poking around, you’ll come across several historic homes, as well as a sophisticated array of shops and restaurants. There’s also a packed schedule of events and festivals, many set at the beautiful Cocoa Riverfront Park.
The village’s shaded streets are perfect for those looking to stretch their legs. You can take part in sip-and-stroll tours enjoying an adult beverage or two on a guided tour.
Cocoa Village also buzzes with live entertainment, so be sure to see what’s happening at the Cocoa Village Playhouse.
15. Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
Since the early days of space exploration, the area around Cape Canaveral has been its epicenter.
You can get to the mind-blowing Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in 20 minutes from Cocoa Beach. What you’ll see on tours or self-guided experiences are pieces of space exploration heritage that can’t be seen anywhere else on earth.
If you have just a day, there’s a few unmissable things I think everyone should experience. These include, Space Shuttle Atlantis, the interactive Journey to Mars, the Apollo/Saturn V bus tour, the Astronaut Hall of Fame, and Gateway: The Deep Space Launch Complex.