Visiting Florida in the winter is an easy decision. The temperatures are balmy while the snow is blowing in the rest of the country. But have you ever considered visiting during the Christmas holidays? Cocoa Beach, on Florida’s east coast, is home to a number of entertaining and festive means of getting visitors and locals alike in the holiday spirit -- no snow or cold temperatures required.
Some of these activities are only available during the holidays and others are year round. But in Florida, winter is when all the locals come out to play because temperatures dip and the humidity dissipates. Everything is more fun with holiday lights and colors, so come celebrate the holidays with these uniquely Cocoa Beach experiences.
1. You Can See Santas Falling From The Sky
The Santa Skydivers are an annual tradition on Cocoa Beach. Imagine sitting on the beach enjoying the sunshine and watching red-suited Santas jumping solo and in holiday formations over the ocean and gently gliding toward the beach. You’ll see nearly 100 Santas make their jumps. Their marks on the beach are giant inflatables including a red and green holiday sleigh and Santa’s chair.
Spectators line the shore on restaurant patios, the famous Cocoa Beach Pier, and the beach itself, cheering in unison as the Santas come in for their landings. It’s an amazing community celebration that puts everyone in a holly-jolly mood.
2. The Floating Holiday Boat Parades Are Stunning And Festive
Boating is part of the Florida lifestyle and the Cocoa Beach area enjoys an abundance of access to canals, inlets, rivers, and of course the Atlantic Ocean. What better way to celebrate Christmas than to watch a boat parade? The Cocoa Beach Rotary Club hosts a parade on the Banana River and another takes place just 20 minutes away on Merritt Island.
Boats of all sizes -- from sailboats to speed boats and charter party boats -- become festive floating celebrations with holiday lights strung creatively from stem to stern and top to bottom. Once the sun has set, the lights come on and the parade begins. The gleaming lights bounce off the dark waters and onlookers enjoy a very unique and memorable holiday experience.
Decorations on many decks include Christmas trees, traditional lawn decorations like blow-up snowmen and reindeer, and even live musical performances. You’ll see passengers dressed in elf and Santa costumes. There are plenty of bridges and shoreline parks for viewing. Or treat yourself to an evening at a restaurant or bar that offers a dinner and drinks package to accompany the boat show. It’s better than standing at Macy’s freezing!
3. You Can Spend Christmas Eve With Surfing Santas
Cocoa Beach is an East Coast surfing mecca. It stands to reason that you can enjoy the surf and watch Santas catch some wave action. Every year, surfers don red and green surfing apparel, put on their santa hats, and hit the beach for their celebration of Saint Nick’s ability to hang 10. Hundreds of Santas hit the waves on Christmas Eve morning and get a crowd of thousands to cheer them on as they put their boards in the ocean and surf to shore. Watching surfers is fun any time, but watching Santa surf takes it to another level.
These Santas raise money for the Florida Surf Museum, which is housed inside the iconic Ron Jon Surf Shop on famous Route A1A at the Cocoa Beach Pier.
4. You Can Sail Away (Or Watch The Ships Go Out To Sea)
What would make your Cocoa Beach Christmas holiday even more memorable? How about taking a cruise? Port Canaveral is home to Disney Cruises and other popular cruise lines.
Depending on your time and budget, you could cruise for three nights, three weeks, or a length of time in between. The ships celebrate the holidays in style with decorations and your favorite festive foods. If cruising is not part of your itinerary, then you can wave bon voyage as the ships sail out to sea. There are numerous restaurants with fabulous outdoor patios where you can sit and sip a cocktail, enjoy freshly caught seafood, and get up close and personal with these behemoth ships as they navigate the channel out to the Atlantic Ocean.
One of my favorite places for ship watching is Grills Seafood Deck and Tiki Bar. Their giant patio tiki bar is flanked by dozens of umbrella tables that line the docks, so you’ll get a great view of the ships. Of course the restaurants and bars celebrate the holidays, too, with lights and decorations to enjoy while you sit in shorts and flip flops sipping your favorite beverage and enjoying the tropical breezes.
5. You Can Blast Off From The Kennedy Space Center
While you enjoy all the holiday festivities, don’t miss one of the most thrilling experiences that’s unique to Cocoa Beach: a spacecraft launch. Elon Musk’s SpaceX company is reinvigorating the launch experience. The NASA facilities are at the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, adjacent to Cocoa Beach, and the same launch pads that were used for the space shuttle and Apollo moon landing are now used to launch Falcon rockets owned by SpaceX.
You will be amazed at the experience of witnessing a rocket launch. There is a rumble and boom that fills your ears a few seconds after the rocket has propelled itself into the air. Yes -- that’s how fast the rocket is going! The bright flaming light shoots into the sky as the rocket assumes its trajectory and disappears as it exits the atmosphere. Thousands of people find their viewing spot on cruise ship docks, in the restaurant parking lots that line the channel, and even from Canaveral National Seashore. As the rocket takes off, you’ll hear a collective cheer and join in with your fellow viewers as you marvel at the technology. You can see a spacecraft in the air as it launches from anywhere in Cocoa Beach, but getting close to the launch area is an intense experience!
While you are in Cocoa Beach, you can also visit the Kennedy Space Center and see where the Gemini, Apollo, and Space Shuttle launches made history back when astronauts ruled the town.
6. Christmas, Florida’s Postmark Will Impress Your Snowbound Friends
Christmas, Florida, is 35 miles from Cocoa Beach. Its claim to fame is its postmark, coveted on holiday mail. Drive over and get your postcards or Christmas cards stamped with holiday cheer at the Christmas post office. The post office has been around since the late 1800s, but it wasn’t until the postmistress of the town capitalized on the town name and postmark in the 1930s that the town’s popularity grew.
She wrote a pamphlet entitled Perpetual Christmas to generate publicity and cleverly added a seasonal rubber stamp flourish to the basic postmark to get more customers coming. Go visit the post office, where they keep their holiday decorations up 365 days a year, contributing to the feel of a perpetual Christmas!
7. You Can Indulge In Pancakes With Santa Or Magic With Mickey Mouse
You can have a magical breakfast of pancakes with Santa at Fox Lake Park in nearby Titusville. Start your day by fueling up at this annual tradition hosted in a beautiful natural setting. The park is inland from the beach but great for birdwatching and walking off those pancakes.
If you would rather have a more sophisticated meal with Santa, there are a number of hotels in the area that bring the jolly guy in for breakfast or brunch at the hotel restaurant. Of course, the ultimate Christmas meal with holiday characters can be had at Disney World -- just an hour drive inland. The festive and imaginative decorations at the happiest place on earth are worth the drive.
8. Christmas Parades Generate Holiday Feels
Cocoa Beach and neighboring Titusville stop the traffic and roll out the floats to merrily welcome the holidays. In Titusville, the local Kiwanis Club hosts an impressive nighttime holiday parade down the main drag: U.S. Highway 1. The 2019 theme is “A Tropical Christmas.” While it is a typical parade in the sense that it features floats, music, and candy for children, its nighttime atmosphere adds drama. The excitement of the parade is generated by all the twinkling holiday lights, plus no standing in the sun for this holiday event. Of course, the final float features Santa himself, wishing everyone a joyous holiday.
If you want to attend a parade with a more laid-back vibe, check out the Cocoa Beach Christmas Street Parade. The Surfing Santas can be seen there in their cars with their surfboards on top. The parade runs on the Minuteman Causeway (aptly named after an early NASA spacecraft) and is an afternoon event.