Located in Florida’s Brevard County, Melbourne is a regional economic powerhouse that’s home to a number of high-tech companies, many of which proved products and services to NASA and its subsidiaries along the ‘Space Coast.’
At the time of the last census, Melbourne had nearly 80,000 residents. In stark contrast to its reputation as a tech hub, the city’s historic downtown area is full of quaintness and smalltown charm that is largely missing in other cities of similar size.
Melbourne is unique in that parts of it are on the mainland, and another portion is on a nearby barrier island across the Indian River.
Below are 15 things to do in and around Melbourne, Florida.
1. Rossetter House Museum
It’s not very well known, but Florida is home to some of the oldest settlements in the country; their histories date back nearly 350 years.
Though the Rossetter House isn’t quite that old, it’s one of the area’s most well-preserved homes of its kind and gives visitors a unique glimpse into the past.
Dating from the late 19th century, within the last 30 years, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
To get the most bang for your travel dollar, you’ll want to take advantage of their guided tours which are available from Wednesday to Saturday.
Tours last about an hour, are appropriate for adults and children, and very inexpensive.
2. Brevard Zoo
Though it’s full of fascinating and exotic animals like most zoos, the Brevard Zoo also offers guests a variety of activity options that you won’t find at most animal parks.
Compared to zoos in larger metropolitan areas, the Brevard Zoo is modest in size, but many previous visitors have stated that their experience far exceeded their expectations, and that it compared favorably to more well-known zoos.
Zip-lining and exhilarating kayak tours are available for adrenaline junkies not satisfied with observing only. There are plenty of shaded seating areas and a café, which are great places to relax with a cold drink after a day on your feet.
3. The Eau Gallie Arts District
The Eau Gallie Arts District is Melbourne’s trendiest destination for those looking to peruse hip galleries, shops, museums, and eateries.
The city has recently commissioned a number of new murals by local artists, which most residents and visitors find adds another layer of culture and color to the already diverse and artsy area.
The district hosts a variety of events, including live entertainment, arts and crafts shows, and food and drink outings like beer festivals and wine tastings. It’s particularly popular in the evening and for weekend happy hours, especially during the cold winter months from September to May.
4. Manatee Cove Park
Manatees are one of the most unique and iconic species of animals native to Florida. They’re chubby and slow-moving marine mammals that grow to massive proportions and are often referred to as sea cows.
Located on Merritt Island, Manatee Cove Park is comprised of nearly 30 acres of prime manatee habitat that’s perfect for viewing these lovable animals.
In addition to a variety of viewing areas, the park includes trails leading around the lagoon, a playground, and several picnic tables and built-in barbecue grills as well.
Admission to the park is inexpensive, and most of the money collected goes directly to programs aimed at preserving the manatee’s habit.
5. Brevard County Movie in the Park
For much of the year, Florida has perfect weather. When those poor souls in the Midwest are sleeping in wool slippers and chaining up their tires just to go to work, those lucky enough to be in The Sunshine State are enjoying umbrella drinks and live outdoor entertainment.
For those who’d rather be included in the second group, an evening spent at the Brevard County Movie in the park would a great fit.
The event is subject to cancellation due to inclement weather, but it usually goes off without a hitch. You’ll be treated to a variety of classic and contemporary movies, and some cool food trucks offering a unique mix of cuisines with a variety of international influences.
6. Kennedy Space Center
Located in nearby Cape Canaveral, the Kennedy Space Center has been ground zero for the United States’ space program for generations.
The museum is dedicated to preserving the area’s rich space history and includes a variety of artifacts and exhibits that you won’t find elsewhere.
Most guests prefer to visit the space center as part of a guided tour, many of which include round-trip transportation, guides, and stops at nearby outlet stores to do a little shopping. Tours of the space center can make for long days, so they may not be the best option for those with very young children.
7. El Ambia Cuban Restaurant
Outside of Cuba itself, Florida is home to the largest number of Cuban expatriates, and most of South Florida’s cities have thriving, vibrant Cuban neighborhoods.
For those who’ve never tried a Cuban sandwich or espresso, you’ll want to swing by El Cambia restaurant in Melbourne. The restaurant has been open since 2009 and offers guests a friendly, comfortable, and relaxed atmosphere, with tasty, reasonably priced food.
From the authentic art and movie posters on the walls to the fantastic aromas and cool Cuban music playing in the background, you may feel like you’ve been transported back in time to old Cuba.
Though it’s chock-full of historical, cultural, and natural attractions of every size and description, beaches are the main reason many visitors choose to come to Florida.
Melbourne is considered one of the state’s premier beach destinations, and Melbourne and Paradise Beaches are among the most popular with locals and tourists alike.
Access to both beaches is free. Unlike some of the state’s swankier and more exclusive beaches like Miami Beach, Melbourne’s beaches are decidedly laidback and family-friendly.
Surfing, beachcombing, and relaxing under an umbrella for hours on end are great ways to spend your day, and there are a variety of dining and shopping options nearby.
9. Ted Moorhead Lagoon House
Located on Dixie Highway NE in Palm Bay, the Ted Moorhead Lagoon House is found along the Indian River Lagoon National Scenic Byway and is owned by the city.
Dedicated to preserving the area’s rich history and educating residents and visitors, the facility is full of exhibits relating to the area’s founding, culture, development, and economy.
The facility’s attractions include a boardwalk, Atlantic whale exhibit, and a map of the lagoon that stretches more than 20 feet.
They also host a variety of educational programs throughout the year, including children’s activities, guest speakers, and guided tours, so plan on spending about two hours.
10. Foosaner Art Museum
For nearly four decades, the Foosaner Art Museum in Melbourne’s Eau Gallie Arts District has been acquiring and exhibiting a world-class collection of art from around that world that stretches many centuries into the past.
The museum rotates its permanent displays frequently; since they also host traveling exhibitions, you may see something a little different each time you go.
Particularly well-known for its hands-on activities and instructional programs, it’s just as much an educational facility as it is a museum.
The museum’s permanent collection is comprised mainly of contemporary art produced in a variety of mediums by local and international artists.
11. Melbourne Community Orchestra
If you’ve had your fill of sun, sand, and surf and long for a slightly more artistic and culturally significant way to spend your evening, a few hours spent at the Melbourne Community Orchestra would be the perfect fit.
For more than two decades, the community orchestra has been providing access to high-quality performing arts that wouldn’t otherwise be available to many residents.
The orchestra hosts a variety of free public events throughout the year, and many of them are appropriate for children.
Their outdoor evening events are among the most popular; visitors are encouraged to bring their own food, drinks, and seating.
12. Andretti Thrill Park
Even for those who aren’t big auto racing fans, the name Andretti is synonymous with motorsports.
Andretti Thrill Park has been in business for nearly 20 years and is located on South Babcock Street in Melbourne.
The park draws crowds from all over the country and includes a variety of exhilarating activities, such as high-powered go-cart racing, laser tag, miniature golf, and a huge video arcade as well.
A word of caution for parents who’ve allotted just an hour of vacation time to Andretti Thrill Park – think again, because the little ones won’t want to leave that soon. The best way to get an idea of the scope of their operation is to check out their website.
13. Tank America
If driving a tank over a car and pumping a belt of live rounds through the smoking barrel of a fully-automatic military-grade machine gun sounds like one heck of a way to spend an afternoon, then look no further than Tank America in Melbourne.
It’s unlike any recreation destination you’ll ever experience, and though it’s not cheap, it’ll likely be one of the most memorable things you do on your trip to Florida.
Visitors are encouraged to quote cheesy movie lines like, ‘Say hello to my little friend,’ before pulling that trigger. Due to its loud and explosive nature, it probably isn’t a good match for your mousey Aunt Millie from Cleveland.
14. Rehab Vintage Market
If you agree with the adage that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, you should probably consider spending a leisurely hour or two at the Rehab Vintage Market on Pineapple Avenue.
Part antique store, part junk emporium, and part gift shop, however you decide to classify it, it’s the perfect place for those in need of a unique keepsake or two and don’t mind taking their time to find it.
If you’re looking for something in particular, the owners will be glad to point you in the right direction. Like many vintage markets, there’s no telling what treasure you may find.
15. Astronaut Memorial Planetarium and Observatory
Perhaps more than any other state, Florida has been at the front of America’s space race from the very beginning.
Located on the campus of Eastern Florida State College in Cocoa, the Astronaut Memorial Planetarium and Observatory is considered one of the best of its kind in the country.
Whether you’re enjoying a guided tour of the cosmos in the planetarium or gazing to the heavens from the rooftop observatory, you’ll not only learn a thing or two, but you’ll have a great time as well.