Set by the Indian River Lagoon, Rockledge is the oldest incorporated municipality in Brevard County. The city was founded in 1887, and in its early years was a winter resort and a center for citrus growing.
For a sense of the prosperity from those times you can head along Rockledge Drive Residential District. Edging the Indian River for 2.5 miles are opulent mansions fronted by palms and stately live oaks.
One of many things I appreciate about Rockledge is its convenient location. The Kennedy Space center is within range for day trips to the north. Meanwhile historic Cocoa Village and wave-swept Cocoa Beach are always right next door.
1. Helen and Allan Cruickshank Sanctuary
This 140-acre wildlife refuge is named for the ornithologist couple who moved to the area in the 1950s.
Helen Cruickshank was an internationally recognized nature writer and photographer. Meanwhile, Allan Cruickshank was the National Audubon Society’s official photographer.
What awaits you at the sanctuary is an expanse of native Florida scrub, interrupted by towering pines. The scrub is a key habitat for the now vulnerable Florida scrub jay, spotted by its blue head, blue wings, and long blue tail.
Hiking in the sanctuary I also saw a lot of rabbits, gopher tortoises, and a couple of eastern fence lizards.
2. Rockledge Drive Residential District
One of my favorite free things to do in Rockledge is get in the car and make my way along Rockledge Drive.
This marvelous 2.5-mile stretch of single-lane waterfront road is part of the Indian River Lagoon Scenic Highway. Here it forms the backbone of an historic district, designated in 1992.
The Rockledge Drive Residential District has exactly 100 contributing buildings. These are mostly opulent residences, built at the turn of the 20th century when Rockledge was a wealthy resort.
On the riverfront are charming private docks, along with seawalls that have been intact for a century or more. The road is a delight, and is flanked by palms, citrus trees, pines, and majestic mature oaks.
3. Lawndale Museum
One of the most significant and oldest residences along Rockledge Drive is a Queen Anne built in phases between 1874 and 1891.
The owner was one Hiram Smith Williams, an affluent fruit grower, who also served as a Florida State Senator. Later in life he established the first telephone service in Brevard County.
The house was purchased by Brevard County in 1989 and tells you a lot about early life in the area. For instance, the second floor was used as one of the first schools in the county.
The museum has been open for tours since 2020, and these take place on the first and third Saturday of the month.
4. Brevard County Riverwalk Nature Center
With nearly seven acres of waterfront on the scenic Indian River, the Brevard County Riverwalk Nature Center is a wonderful natural spot.
The main attraction is a boardwalk, running more than 900 feet from the pavilion to the river. Strolling along this structure through a natural Florida hammock you should see a variety of birds, snakes, and turtles.
Inside, there are child-oriented exhibits on the unique ecosystems of the Indian River Lagoon. Several aquariums here show off the various aquatic species inhabiting these waters.
The center hosts a wide range of programs, identifying fish in the lagoon, learning about sea turtle conservation, and much more.
5. Rockledge Gardens
Brevard County’s oldest garden center and nursery can be found in Rockledge. Still a family business, Rockledge Gardens opened in 1962, and stands as a real visitor attraction.
Along these lines is the set of demonstration gardens, perfectly landscaped and offering inspiration to shoppers. Among these is an exquisite butterfly garden, with a memorial to the gardens’ founder, Harry Witte.
Another thing that caught my eye about this place is the Farm Market. This is the local spot for seasonal produce and pastured meats. There’s also a U-Pick area with a changing array of vegetables, herbs, and edible flowers.
6. Brevard Zoo
A few minutes south of Rockledge is a zoo with few equals in Florida or the United States. Brevard Zoo is run by a nonprofit and has close to 200 species on almost 80 natural acres.
There are a few things that you can do at this place that aren’t possible at any other zoo in the country. The standout for me is taking a guided kayak tour past the African exhibits.
On this trip you’ll be within a few feet of giraffes, zebras, camels, oryxes, meerkats, white rhinos, and many more.
Also extraordinary is the Treetop Trek Canopy Walk. High in the rainforest you’ll navigate a ropes course while gazing down on South American species, from giant otters to jaguars.
Among the many kid-friendly features are the Cairo Express train, a splash pad, and a free-flight aviary where you can feed lorikeets by hand.
7. Cocoa Village
While Rockledge doesn’t have a defined downtown, one of the most exciting in Florida is five minutes away in Cocoa.
Fun to check out on foot, Cocoa Village has cute old buildings and heaps of independent shops and restaurants. One, S. F. Travis Hardware, has been in business since 1885.
One of the most prominent buildings is the Porcher House (1916), built for a wealthy fruit grower, and then purchased by the city in the 1950s.
Also handsome is the Aladdin Theater (1924), rescued in the 1980s, and now a performing arts venue as the Historic Cocoa Village Playhouse.
For me, the best way to spend an afternoon in Cocoa Village is hopping from antiques shop to boutique to gallery. Then you have to decide what to get for dinner. This is no easy task in a downtown loaded with highly-rated restaurants.
8. Cocoa Riverfront Park
Hand-in-hand with Cocoa Village is a charming park, right on the Indian River. If you’re looking for somewhere to watch the sun come up, I’d point you towards the boardwalk that hugs the waterfront here.
Almost every time I’ve come to this park I’ve seen dolphins in the Indian River.
Mingling with downtown and home to an amphitheater facing the water, Cocoa Riverfront Park is a place for events. These might be regular outdoor concerts, arts & craft fairs, or the 4th of July celebrations.
Further north, this park is connected to Lee Wenner Park, which is oriented towards water recreation, with docks and boat ramps.
9. Rockledge Country Club
This semi-private course in Rockledge is the anchor for a country club dating back to 1918. With a relatively open layout, the challenge at Rockledge Country Club comes from the contouring, and plays a lot longer than its 6,500 yards.
In particular I adored the native Floridian setting, with live oaks, palms and high stands of pine.
The toughest hole is #6, an uphill par 4 with water tracing the fairway and guarding the green. Another hole I won’t soon forget is the #16, also a par 4, with a sloping green.
10. Autumn’s Crab
Though it’s a relative newbie on the Rockledge culinary scene, Autumn’s crab has been steadily growing a loyal following, who appreciate its reasonably priced food, comfy and relaxed atmosphere, and diverse menu.
The restaurant is located on South Fiske Boulevard; though it’s in a strip mall that’s seen better days, the interior is done in a traditional but trendy mix of Florida and Space Coast themes that are both fun and eye-catching.
Their mainstays are their seafood, which includes crabs, shrimp, clams, and a variety of fish dishes. Most first-time guests are already thinking about their return visits.
11. Cocoa Beach
Rockledge is only 20 minutes from a beach destination, famed worldwide for its surf culture. The branch of Ron Jon Surf Shop in Cocoa Beach is officially the largest in the world.
Dating back more than 60 years, this 52,000-square-foot store even contains a museum, charting the long history of surfing on America’s Atlantic Coast.
Maybe you prefer your beachtime to be a little less active. There are excellent public beach parks along the shore, including Lori Wilson Park, with a beautiful maritime hammock.
The 800-foot Cocoa Beach Pier meanwhile is a real fixture, with shops, bars, restaurants, and live entertainment.
Finally, the sheltered waters of the Banana River lagoon are lined with mangroves and are full of wildlife, from dolphins to manatees. This amazing environment is ready to be explored by kayak, stand-up paddleboard, or on a relaxed cruise.
12. Larry L. Schultz Park
If you’re on the hunt for a local picnic spot, my choice is this peaceful passive off SR 519. Larry L. Schultz Park encloses Jimmy Weaver Lake.
A lot of the amenities are set next to this small water body. There’s a fishing/observation dock, a playground, and the large Weaver Pavilion with five picnic tables.
There’s a trail around the edge of the lake, with benches along the way. Sitting here you may see fish leaping out of the water, as well as a lot of turtles by the banks.
13. Space Coast Iceplex
Another option for local and affordable fun is a regional ice skating facility just off SR 519 in Rockledge. Unlike a lot of rinks, the Space Coast Iceplex offers public skating sessions every day of the week.
Come on a Saturday night, and there’s even a DJ, with lighting turning the whole place into a kind of nightclub.
Check the schedule for hockey programs, from stick & puck to Brevard Rockets High School hockey. If you want the action and exercise without the hits, I’d recommend the SCI Adult Hockey League, which is the county’s premier non-check competition.
14. US 1 Golf Center
One of the minor attractions worth keeping in mind along U.S. 1 in Rockledge is a small but well-appointed driving range.
US 1 Golf Center has been on the scene for more than 30 years, and is just the place to polish your swing. There are 18 lighted mat tees, along with a grass tee area more than 70 yards across. You can aim for target greens at 200, 150 and 100 yards.
But as far as I’m concerned, the most satisfying target is the van at 150 yards. This advertises the local Schlenker Automotive repair shop.
15. Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
I don’t think any visit to Florida’s Space Coast is complete without exploring the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
It’s home to the Space Shuttle Atlantis and NASA’s launch headquarters, a key component of America’s space program for decades.
The best way to visit the complex is on the bus tour. These start early and depart four times hourly until 2 ½ hours before the site’s closing time.
Of the standalone exhibits, the one that will stay with me for the rest of my life is Space Shuttle Atlantis. Beautifully presented like it’s in orbit, it’s mind-boggling to think that this vehicle flew more than 125 million miles around the planet.