Cape Canaveral sits 50 miles east of Orlando on a barrier island that separates mainland Florida from the Atlantic Ocean. Beginning in 1950, it was a test site for missiles. It became the permanent home of NASA after the agency was formed in 1958. The Cape has been the launching place for some of NASA’s most famous missions, including the 1969 lunar landing flight crewed by Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin and Michael Collins. More recently, it’s the launch site for SpaceX and other companies as the interstellar experience moves toward privatization. With miles of white sand beaches, plenty of ocean-front places to stay and endless opportunities for exploration at the Kennedy Space Center, the Space Coast makes for a cosmic weekend trip.
WHERE TO ORBIT
The Kennedy Space Center began welcoming visitors in the 1960s, first with a drive-through tour then with a visitor center. Today, the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (Space Commerce Way, Merritt Island; 855.433.4210; kennedyspacecenter.com) is a vast interplanetary playground. It includes the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame and an outdoor Rocket Garden that features rockets from NASA’s Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. For a more immersive experience, consider adding the Astronaut Training Experience. This hands-on program allows visitors to participate in a simulated Mars training protocol—docking practice, navigating the rocky planetary terrain and performing a spacewalk in a microgravity environment. For space enthusiasts, it’s a must.
WHERE TO LAUNCH
The Kennedy Space Center offers the closest public viewing spot for rocket launches. Only a few miles away from the launch site, visitors can hear the roar of the engines and feel the vibrations as the rockets take off. Viewing locations are different for every launch, so it’s important to check the schedule ahead of time. The Kennedy Space Center website maintains a calendar of upcoming rocket launches. Check often for the latest dates.
WHERE TO REST
The Space Coast doesn’t offer many luxury hotel accommodations, but Airbnb is full of good options. Look for rentals in nearby Cocoa Beach, many with pools, hot tubs and direct ocean access.
WHERE TO TAKE A BREAK FROM THE SPACE RACE
When you’ve had your fill of astronauts and rocket ships, stop by Ellie Mae’s Tiki Bar (116 Jackson Ave., Cape Canaveral; 321.613.5870). This fun and funky joint offers live music, outdoor seating and scratch-made eats. Don’t miss the fruity cocktails like the Tropical Russian, the Bahama Drama and The Peddler, which Ellie Mae’s calls a “frothy good time.”
Preacher Bar (8699 Astronaut Blvd., Cape Canaveral; 321.613.4629; preacherbar.com) offers a unique vibe with its low-lit interior and gothic artwork. The menu features upscale pub food like homemade Scotch eggs and bacon mac n’ cheese plus more than 40 beers on tap and in bottles. Its signature cocktail is the Preacher Mule, made with ginger-infused vodka, fresh lime juice, agave nectar and ginger ale. More than one, and you’ll be seeing stars.