From a tourist’s point of view, Cocoa Beach is the place to go on Central Florida’s Space Coast. Cocoa Beach is the closest beach to Orlando, only about an hour’s drive on the Beachline Expressway toll road. In no time at all, you have your toes in the sand.
Cocoa Beach is a popular day trip for tourists at the Orlando-area theme parks. Once mainly a winter getaway, the beach town is now busy year-round.
The first to live on the island were the Timucua Native Americans, who were captured by Spaniards. The next settlers in the area were freed slaves, after the Civil War. Cocoa Beach became a town in 1926, and then a city in 1957. Today, it has a population of only around 12,000 permanent residents, but it accommodates considerably more than that during snowbird season in the winter.
Cocoa Beach is a fun beach town. Not as rowdy as Daytona Beach, not as crowded as Miami Beach. It has a lot to offer for family vacations, especially for families with kids who like to surf. Here are our top picks for things to do, where to eat, and where to stay in Cocoa Beach.
Things To Do In Cocoa Beach
There are three public parks right on the beach. Lori Wilson Park offers free parking, two picnic pavilions, and an off-the-leash dog park. The Sidney Fischer Park has 200 paid parking spaces. Alan Shepard Park is located at the end of Highway 520, the Merritt Island Causeway. It also has paid parking. All have changing rooms and outdoor showers to wash off the salt and sand.
The beaches here have golden sand and are relatively uncrowded if you walk a short distance from the beach access points. At the parks, you will find beachside vendors renting out umbrellas and beach lounges. There are lifeguard stations, and the surf is often subject to riptides. Swimmers need to be cautious of riptides. See more about riptide safety here.
The Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier juts 800 feet out into the Atlantic. Surfing by the pier is pretty popular, and you can get a great view of the surfers from the pier boardwalk. There are five restaurants on the pier, including Rikki Tiki Tavern, one of the top beach bars on the Space Coast. If you’re into surf fishing, try the beach on the north side of the pier. The south side is usually too busy with surfers, and surfers and fishing don’t mix very well.
There is plenty of paid parking at the pier. The meter patrol is very diligent here, so be prepared. I speak from experience.
Cocoa Beach prides itself on being a top surfing destination, even boasting of being the number 1 surfing beach in Florida. It’s a popular destination for surfers from Orlando and the Space Coast area. The best breaks are at the Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier and in southern Cocoa Beach near the Minuteman Causeway. Bring your own board or rent one locally. The top rental location is Epic Boardsports, which also offers stand-up paddleboards, kite surfing gear, and just about anything you need out on the water. Other rental locations include Ron Jon’s (see more below in the shopping section) and Cocoa Beach Surf Company, which is located at the Four Points by Sheraton hotel.
Ramp Road Park is on the back side of the island and gives access to the Indian River Lagoon. There’s a boat ramp to launch fishing boats and kayaks. There’s a cool kayak trail through a forest of mangroves that form a tunnel for paddlers to glide through. The tunnel starts right at the boat ramp. There are plenty of kayak rentals in the area. Adventure Kayak not only rents you a boat, but also leads guided mangrove tours. Parking at Ramp Road is limited.
One of the features unique to the area is the nighttime kayak tours in the Indian River Lagoon in the cooler months. That’s when comb jellies, a relative of jellyfish, are present in the lagoon. Many nights, they seem to glow in the water in the wake of your paddle. The outfitter, A Day Away Kayak Tours, provides all the equipment for a 90-minute trip in the protected waters of the lagoon after dark.
If you like to fish, Cocoa Beach has plenty of options for you. Of course, the most popular is surf fishing along the beach. But there are also many offshore deep-sea fishing charters. If you want to tackle snook -- and who doesn’t? -- there are charters in the calmer waters of the Indian River Lagoon. There are too many charter captains to list here, but a Google search will turn up dozens.
No visit to Cocoa Beach is complete without a stop at Ron Jon Surf Shop, which claims to be the largest surf shop in the world. It covers two floors and is open 24 hours. They sell everything beachy, from T-shirts to surfboards. There is a lot of parking, some of it free.
Ron Jon has been around since 1959 and was founded by a guy named Ron from New Jersey. What started as a small surfboard shop now covers the entire block at Atlantic Avenue (A1A) and Highway 520. The Florida Surf Museum is located in an adjacent building.
There are a number of shopping centers located along A1A. They are full of beach-oriented shops. You can find seashell jewelry, sunblock, flip flops, bathing suits, beach attire. If it has anything to do with the beach, you’ll find it here.
Cocoa Beach is a good place to watch launches from Kennedy Space Center. Anywhere on the beach will give you a good view. The absolute best place to watch is Jetty Park Beach and Pier in Cape Canaveral, just north of Cocoa Beach. There is an admission charge, and the park fills up well in advance of a launch. Another popular viewing spot is along U.S. 1 in Titusville, where you can look directly across the lagoon to the launch complex. Good parking and viewing places fill up early.
Editor's Note: Can't get enough of the area? Here are some incredible experiences on Florida's Space Coast.
Best Restaurants In Cocoa Beach
There are plenty of restaurants in Cocoa Beach. Probably the most popular is Coconuts on the Beach, just off A1A at Minuteman Causeway. It has plenty of outdoor dining tables and a beachfront bar. The most popular things on the menu are burgers and shrimp. If you’re really hungry, the Southwest Bacon Cheddar Burger is a meal in itself. Coconuts is a popular date night location.
Note: Parking is a real issue here. The restaurant has a parking lot, but I have never seen an empty space. Your best bet is parking along the street, but those spaces have a 90-minute limit. There are a number of paid parking lots for around $15 per day.
If watching a sunset while eating is your thing, then the Sunset Waterfront Bar and Grill is your place. It’s located on the Indian River Lagoon, on the south side of Highway 520. Don’t miss the left-hand turn lane into the parking lot. If you do, you have to drive all the way across the causeway in order to make a U-turn. As the name implies, the best time to eat here is late in the afternoon so you can catch the sunset. Try the shrimp alfredo or the crab cakes.
If you want to eat at the Pier, try Pelican’s Bar and Grill. It’s air-conditioned. For starters, try the crab and shrimp dip. It’s delicious. The menu is rather thin with options, but the coconut shrimp are great. On weekends when the weather is good, be prepared for a lengthy wait.
Most restaurants are family oriented, but there are a couple of fine-dining options.
Gregory's Steak and Seafood Grille is a steak house and has a varied a la carte menu of sides and appetizers. Try the pan-seared scallops. They almost melt in your mouth.
Another fine-dining location is the Heidelberg Restaurant, with genuine German and European food. Chef Edmund Deleuil and his wife have operated the restaurant since 1986. Edmund attended culinary school in Austria and is certified by the International Gourmet Society.
Best Hotels And Resorts In Cocoa Beach
There are plenty of beachfront condo properties. There are rentals, usually by the week or month. Popular places to find rentals are Vrbo, Airbnb, and Hometogo. The Ocean Landings timeshare property has been around for over 40 years and offers nightly rentals (or long term rentals if units are not owner-occupied).
Remember, this is Florida, and room rates tend to be higher in the winter and summer seasons.
The winter crowd is mainly snowbirds from the northeastern U.S. or Canada. Sometimes you can get the beach hotel on a budget during the fall and late spring. The best rates are usually offered after Labor Day and before New Year’s.