TIPS for visiting Port Canaveral & Florida’s Space Coast: Where to Stay, Play & Eat Near Port Canaveral
Whether you’re on a land visit or spending time in the Port Canaveral area for a pre or post-cruise cruise getaway, there’s no shortage of activities & dining options on the Space Coast. We’re sharing our travel experience along with a few of our favorite things to do near Port Canaveral in hopes you’ll enjoy your extra time here even more!
Many cruise travelers opt to spend a few days before or after their Port Canaveral cruise in this area, and there is SO much to do! From the popular Kennedy Space Center to adventures that explore the natural beauty and biodiversity of the Port Canaveral area, we hope you’ll find the inspiration to try something NEW on your next visit!
Special thanks to Visit Florida’s Space Coast for sponsoring our visit. You’ll find dining, lodging and activity tips near Port Canaveral HERE.
Getting to the Coast
We flew from the US West Coast to Orlando International Airport and rented a car directly from MCO to explore the Port Canaveral area. While you can book a shuttle or ride share to the coast, the cost can add up, and it was nice to have the freedom of our own vehicle for the weekend. You can get a sense of our rental car experience in our Port Canaveral Video. We used Enterprise, and nearly every major rental car company is available at the Orlando/MCO Airport. There’s also rental car availability in Port Canaveral, but our subscribers say they tend to sell out!
Be aware – there are toll roads between Orlando and Port Canaveral, and you can pay cash as you go or drive through and allow them to charge by your license plate. While it was less convenient, we paid cash. At the time of our drive between the Orlando Airport and Port Canaveral, there were two toll stops that cost $1.25 each. It’s important to discuss the toll road policy with your rental car agency before leaving the airport, so you understand how you’ll be charged if you don’t pay cash at the tolls!
Toll Road TIP: to pay cash, head to the right when you approach the toll area. There are lines for paying by cash (exact change), or card.
Our Cocoa Beach Hotel Experience
After a 40-mile drive to Port Canaveral & Cocoa Beach, we checked into the Hilton Cocoa Beach Oceanfront. As the name suggests, this hotel is right on the beach and is just a short drive from the popular Port Canaveral Cruise Port. There’s an outdoor pool deck, a small splash pad, a covered Tiki Bar, and direct beach access just off the lobby.
Our room was spacious and well-equipped with a small coffee maker, a large closet, and Crabtree & Evelyn bath amenities. The beds were extra cozy!
You can research more accommodations in Port Canaveral and on the space coast HERE.
If you have extra time, the hotel offers several beach activities, including deep-sea fishing and surfing lessons. There’s a solid variety of dining on-site too. Room Service, Salt Restaurant and Lounge, Longboards Tiki Beach Grille, Castaway’s Beach Bar, Cool Beans coffee shop, and Gilberto’s Gelato & Creamery. Hilton Cocoa Beach Oceanfront offers a shuttle to the Port Canaveral cruise port too.
When we arrived on our first evening, the weather was balmy and warm, so we settled in at the Longboards Tiki Beach Grill outdoor restaurant and ordered some sustenance. Tonight and over the course of our stay tried so many menu items! We fueled up with; nachos, peel & eat shrimp, hummus, fish tacos, a Louie stack, sliders, kale salad, and a turkey club. The prices are fair, and the service was prompt during each of our visits.
Wildlife Spotting on Merritt Island
After settling into our hotel, it was time for our first day of exploration!
We met up with Canaveral Tours for an expert look at the surrounding landscape and Florida’s wildlife on a 4-hour tour. The pickup point is close to the cruise port in Port Canaveral, and you’ll likely spot some ships along the way. They offer several tours that vary seasonally. Ours was a half-day visit to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. The Wildlife Refuge is a U.S. National Park with 140,000 acres, over 1000 species of plants, 330 bird species, and 31 mammal species.
This region is also home to NASA and the Kennedy Space Center, which welcomes a million visitors annually. Our knowledgeable tour guide started with information and multimedia presentations that gave us an entertaining overview of the ecology and history of the area. We enjoyed hearing about the unique characteristics of the waterways and the history of space exploration here. The tour van was comfortable and spacious, and binoculars were available.
We meandered through several miles of the refuge and saw a variety of mangroves, a few gators, lots of reddish egrets, pelicans, ducks, and great blue herons. Snacks, drinks & plenty of restroom stops make this tour extra comfortable. We rounded out our tour with a stop at the visitor center & shop, where you can buy jewelry, books, and even a plush manatee. On our way back to Port Canaveral, we played a game of wildlife bingo to test our memory of the day’s wildlife sightings.
BONUS Tip for Cruisers! Canaveral tours offer group debarkation day experiences that include a wildlife tour followed by a drop-off at the Orlando Airport. They’ll keep your luggage in the tour vehicle, and you’ll enjoy a relaxed look at the area before flying home.
Ship Spotting & Lunch!
Lucky for us, our tour meeting spot was adjacent to the cove in Port Canaveral, where popular ship-spotting restaurants like Fishlips offer some tasty dining and a great view of the cruise ships. While we didn’t get to hit this spot during sail away, we saw at least four ships nearby and enjoyed nachos, burgers, chowder, and salad.
Here’s a tip for cruisers. Live music, sea breezes, and plenty of cocktails make Fishlips in Port Canaveral and the surrounding restaurants a great place to spend time pre-cruise or after you debark your ship. Check out this area if you have some extra time in Port Canaveral before you head home!
Here’s a list of some great eats in the area!
After recharging with lunch at the Cove, we hit The GINORMOUS Ron Jon surf shop. We’re not exaggerating here, friends! Ron Jon in Cocoa Beach is the world’s largest surf shop at 52,000 square feet.
In addition to fantastic surf souvenirs and clothing, we spotted some pre-cruise supplies here, like towel clips & sunscreen.
To end our already-incredible day, we geared up for our 2-hour Sunset Kayak Tour with Fin Expeditions, a mellow tour that’s great for all ability levels. We paddled into the labyrinths of the mangrove forest, with keyhole openings, an overhead canopy, and watery trails.
This tour is perfect for first-time paddlers and anyone looking to get away from traditional theme park-type activities. We loved being on the water at sunset – immersed in nature! Your guide will customize this experience based on your group’s interest and ability level, and Fin expeditions offer other tours like bioluminescent kayak experiences. You MAY see wildlife like manatees & dolphins!
Dinner in Cocoa Beach
After our sunset kayak tour, we were feeling beachy dinner vibes! Coconuts on the beach offer lively, family-friendly options both indoors and OUT right on the beach. You can sit indoors or out, and kids are welcome here.
Kennedy Space Center & “Chat with an Astronaut”!
The following day, it was time to explore the Kennedy Space Center. The day was extra special because we’d just celebrated our son’s birthday, and he loves all things space exploration!
The Visitor Complex at Kennedy Space Center is divided into Mission Zones, with attractions and tours grouped by historical era.
After strolling through the rocket garden, we kicked off our visit at Gateway, the newest building to open at KSC. Gateway focuses on the present and future of space exploration and a special look at what is happening right now within the space program. There are cool interactive exhibits here, and our son got to use his shadow to explore the history of space exploration and try a simulated space suit glove.
Then it was a quick stop upstairs into Spaceport KSC to choose from one of 4 rides. The experience is quick, and there’s space to put your bags before you buckle up!
After Spaceport, we got to Chat With An Astronaut in a casual, small-group setting. This unique and intimate experience is limited to about 20 people and gives you a rare chance to get to know and grab a selfie with an astronaut. We enjoyed some snacks & beverages (beer and wine are included) while having a group conversation about what it is really like to live and work in space.
Astronaut Mark Brown worked for Mission Control, then worked for a bit in the Philippines to fly F4’s for the air force. From there, he was invited went back to Houston and was selected for two flights in space as a senior astronaut. it was a treat to meet him, and hear about his experiences and career!
This experience is family-friendly, and questions are encouraged. Mark tackled inquiries that ranged from how to go to the bathroom in zero gravity to how being in space changes your perspective on life. While there is an upcharge for this experience, we highly recommend it, and our family considered this a highlight of our visit to the space center.
Near the Kennedy Space Center entrance, you’ll find “Heroes & Legends” where we got to relive the thrills and dangers of America’s earliest space missions. This exhibit starts with a quick show; then, you have time to explore what we’ll call “memorabilia pods” filled with various items from the space program over the years. The mock Mission Control center gives you a feel for what it was like to sit at the controls in the 1970s. Before you exit this building, check out the astronaut hall of fame.
Next, we were off on the 20-minute bus ride to the Apollo/Saturn V Center. The Kennedy Space Center Bus Tour, also known as the “Behind the Gates” experience, takes you behind the NASA gates, past a current launch center and launch pads, and close by several other historic launch sites. When you arrive at the center, you’ll start with a few pre-shows, see actual control center equipment, then roam freely through the center. We even got to stand under the gigantic Saturn V, the largest rocket ever flown.
After refueling at the Moon Rock Cafe (see what I did there), we bussed back to the main visitor complex to the Space Shuttle Atlantis® zone. After a few quick intro films, we were face to face with the space shuttle Atlantis. Finally, we rode the Shuttle Launch Experience® to wrap up our day at KSC! Trust us, it’s best to experience it as a surprise.
There are lots of great activities for kids in this area, including a speedy slide and a crawl through of the international space station.
Here are a few tips if you’re visiting KSC (Kennedy Space Center):
Arrive early, wear comfortable shoes and plan for as much time as you can (preferably a full day) for a leisurely experience. There’s plenty of food for purchase onsite, AND you’ll find water filling stations and water fountains all over the park. We strongly recommend you bring a refillable water bottle. After a long day of exploring KSC, you’ll be hungry! Consider the homegrown restaurants near the KSC! Here are some options for dining in Titusville.
Some locals recommended 4th street fillin’ station back in downtown Cocoa Beach for dinner, and this gastrobar & grill is a hidden gem. This spot is an old gas station turned restaurant and bar serving casual yet upscale menu items like street tacos and poke bowls. They have plant-based and gluten-free options too, and over 150 craft beers. Dessert lovers will appreciate their monster milkshakes and waffle sundaes made with their own homemade ice cream.
Have a blast & RELAX!
We hope you enjoy your time in Port Canaveral & Florida’s space coast. With all there is to do and see be sure to relax, spend some time with your feet in the sand, and catch a sunrise or sunset.
See more articles here.
Welcome! We’re glad you’re here!
I’m Sheri with CruiseTipsTV, and my family and I are all about inspiring YOU to discover the best cruise and travel experiences. We share tips & tricks on how to choose the best destinations, simplify travel, and get the most out of your vacation dollar. If that sounds good to you, we invite you to subscribe to our YouTube Channel and turn the notification bell on for more helpful travel info!
Cruise like a PRO!
Download our shore day bag checklist, and more cruise packing and planning checklists & videos by joining the CruiseTipsTV Academy. We have a special discount code for our readers on this Intro to Cruising Master Class.
To redeem the $5.00 discount on our master class enter code ALLABOARD here, and, welcome to the Academy!
Need a Travel Advisor?
Contact our travel agency partner, Montebello Dream Vacations: Let Wendy know you were referred by CruiseTipsTV when you call. Wendy will match you with the best agent for your needs, and an agent will give you a call back! Phone number is on the website.