Indian River Lagoon
Florida’s Space Coast
|Mileage||185 miles (298 km)|
|DurationThe duration is an estimate of a one-way drive and does not include any stops or side-trips.||3 hours, 25 minutes|
|SeasonsThe seasons listed are the best seasons for this scenic drive. If Winter is not mentioned, the road may be closed during the winter.||All Seasons|
|Roadways||US 1, and FLs 3, 402, 405, 510, 520, and A1A|
|ServicesThe cities or towns listed have either Food or Services such as gas, hotels, pharmacies, etc.||Titusville, FL▼, Indian River City, FL▼, Cape Canaveral, FL▼, Palm Bay, FL▼, Melbourne Gardens, FL▼, Melbourne, FL▼, Sebastian, FL▼, and Vero Beach, FL▼|
5.0 average from 3 votes
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Known as Florida’s Space Coast for its proximity to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, this drive is a fascinating mix of futuristic innovation and natural beauty millions of years in the making. The drive begins in Titusville and heads south on US-1, traveling along the Space Coast and an estuary brimming with wildlife. This fragile estuary contains more species of fish, animals and birds than any other estuary in North America including 53 species that are threatened or endangered.
Just before leaving Titusville, consider a stop at the spectacular 140,000-acre Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge (H1), an important migratory stop for birds along the Atlantic Flyway and a haven for wildlife such as sea turtles, bobcat, alligators and manatees, the latter of which can be observed from a viewing platform. Explore seven distinct habitats on your own or take part in programs such as guided nature walks, birding tours, photography clubs and more. Stop in the Visitor Center for information, exhibits and film presentation. Just outside is access to boardwalk trails. Or explore the abundant wildlife and breathtaking scenery by kayak or canoe. If you have time, don’t miss the Black Point Wildlife Drive. This self-guided 7-mile drive takes approximately 40 minutes and provides an excellent opportunity to see alligators, river otters, snakes, waterfowl and more. The best viewing is 1 or 2 hours after sunrise and 1 or 2 hours before sunset while animals are actively feeding. Pick up an interpretive brochure at the entrance. There is a small fee for the drive, visiting the refuge is free.
The aptly named Space View Park and United States Space Walk of Fame Museum (M1) was once the premier spot to watch shuttle launches with perfect views of the launch pads across Indian River and a live feed direct from NASA control. Though the shuttle program has come to an end — the park will be a great place to observe whatever the future holds for space exploration. But the park is still a must see and offers an exciting glimpse into space exploration. Stroll the awe-inspiring U.S. Walk of Fame, grand monuments for the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Shuttle missions and for those who braved a new frontier, compare your handprints to those of the mercury Astronauts and view mission logos carved in black granite. Also on site is the Space Walk of Fame Museum which displays intriguing artifacts from past space missions and is a wealth of information. The park and museum are free. The museum is closed on Sunday.
Take the NASA Causeway heading south across to FL-3 to continue on our scenic drive.
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (A1) is a vast and incredible place. One can easily spend the whole day here, so if this is one of your stops — plan this drive accordingly. Admission is expensive but much is included. Explore the Rocket Garden — where truly outer-worldly rockets stand tall and climb in for a front row seat, meet veteran astronauts at the daily Astronaut Encounter, experience a dramatic Shuttle Launch Simulation, gaze upon a real Saturn V rocket, learn about the Hubble telescope, watch IMAX films, and so much more. Your ticket can also be used within 7 days to explore the United States Astronaut Hall of Fame (M6). Among the many exhibits is the world’s largest collection of astronaut’s personal memorabilia. You cannot help but be inspired and humbled.
Continue on 1A. The Ulumay Wildlife Sanctuary (H2) was once home to the Ais Indians who disappeared in 1720. Ulumay is a birders paradise with meandering trails, osprey platform and observation towers from which to view roseate spoonbills, hawks, herons and more. Enjoy fishing, hiking, off-road biking, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding and wildlife watching. Traveling the network of canals by kayak or canoe is a superb way to discover this sanctuary.
Turn left to take the E Merritt Island Causeway to FL-A1A. Cocoa Beach is a delightful community with parks, a golf course, restaurants, a vibrant nightlife and 6-miles of phenomenal ocean beach. The 800-foot long Cocoa Beach Pier (W1) is well-stocked with dining options, bars, shopping and outfitters. The pier hosts music concerts and surf festivals and boasts some of the best surfing on the east coast.
In Melbourne, visit the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge (H4) which spans 20-miles, from Melbourne Beach to Wabasso Beach. Encompassed within this large area are hiking and biking trails, accessible paved paths, boat ramps and kayak launches, fishing, parks, camping, a museum and more beaches. It is also one of the most significant spots for nesting Loggerhead turtles. The Visitor Center features exhibits and video presentations as well as information on how to best explore the barrier island ecosystem. Highly recommended is a fascinating nighttime educational program in June and July to view the Loggerhead sea turtles nesting on the beach. (Note that aside from this guided tour — it is prohibited to access the beach area at night in order to protect the turtles). The refuge is free and there is a fee for programs. Advance reservations are required.
From the FL-A1A, consider a detour on Long Point Road to Long Point Park (H6). This 84-acre conservation area features a full range of amenities including fishing, swimming, surfing, windsurfing, hiking, volleyball courts, horseshoe pits and more. The park is popular for camping with shoreline sites for RV’s and tents.
Back on FL-A1A, travel a few miles ahead to Sebastian Inlet State Park (H5), a premier salt-water fishing destination. Anglers can catch snook, redfish, bluefish, flounder and Spanish mackerel. The small but interesting Sebastian Fishing Museum recants the history of fishing in the area. The museum is free but there is an entrance fee to the park. If you’re not into fishing, the park offers much more. Surfers will love the excellent waves, or stroll 3-miles of beach before jumping in for a swim, scuba diving, or snorkeling. Walk out onto the jetty and take in the glorious views and watch the fisherman reel in their catch. There are covered picnic areas and full-facility camping. Canoe or kayak through the small inlets on the lookout for snowy egret or ibis scouring the tide pools.
This region is known as the Treasure Coast, and the next stop is truly a gem. The McLarty Treasure Museum (M2) is the site of the Spanish Plate Fleet Survivors’ and Salvaging Camp. It was here in 1715 that a fleet of Spanish ships sank — 1500 survivors managed to get to shore and the cargo was lost. Although Spanish salvagers along with those from Havana, Indian divers and pirates flocked here, over half of the treasure remained underwater. Hurricanes and technology have since helped the discovery and recovery process and the treasures are on display. Pottery, coins, ship models, jewelry and more, along with dioramas and video exploring the fascinating history. There is a small entrance fee.
Fort Pierce was the birthplace of the navy Frogmen and the National Navy UDT Seal Museum (M3), which preserves the history and honors the sacrifice of the US Navy SEALS and their predecessors through memorials, exhibits on the Vietnam and Iraq wars, SEAL vehicles, uniforms, and more.
Continuing on FL-A1A you arrive at the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge (H7) which has the distinguished honor of being the first federally managed wildlife refuge — signed in 1903 by President Theodore Roosevelt. Such forethought is evident now in the vast array of birds that thrive here — saved from be hunted for their plumes. A stroll along the Centennial Trail not only delights with serene yet thrilling views of the wetlands and wildlife, but explores the history of the U.S. Wildlife Refuge system with the names of 540 refuges (as of 2003) engraved into the boardwalk that spans a tidal mangrove habitat. The trail culminates with extraordinary views from the 18-foot high observation tower. Get your binoculars ready to spot brown pelican, green-backed heron, osprey, or endangered species such as wood storks, Hawksbill sea turtles and threatened species such as Eastern indigo snake and piping plover. Viewing by boat is one of the best ways to explore the refuge. Spot a pod of dolphins, watch osprey swoop down for lunch or photograph an American alligator sunning along the banks. There are pontoon tours and kayak and canoe rentals from outfitters in Vero Beach, Fort Pierce or Sebastian. During peak season its best to make reservations in advance.
The Vero Beach Museum of Art (M5) features a variety of collections. Among them, glass by Dale Chihuly, artists Milton Avery and Sonia Delauney and sculptures by Haydn Llewellyn Davies. Check the schedule for the popular Jazz in the Sculpture Park concert series.
Avalon State Park (H9) is unique for its undeveloped beachfront. This pristine habitat is vital to loggerhead, Atlantic green and leatherback sea turtles which nest here in spring and summer. The clear waters are also a draw for swimming and snorkeling though do be cautious for underwater obstacles of concrete and steel that were placed here for training U.S. Navy Frogmen during World War II. Enjoy fishing, sheltered picnic areas and on the west side of A1A you’ll find hiking trails through coastal hammock. There is a small entrance fee.
Fort Pierce Inlet State Park (H10) offers a full range of water activities. Big waves make this is area especially popular with surfers and scuba divers will love exploring the reef. Wildlife abounds with the chance of spotting dolphins, rays and pelicans. Walk the jetty, do some fishing, or hike the short Oak Hammock Trail. There is a small entrance fee.
Just after the park, turn right onto the North Causeway and right again on US-1 to loop back towards Titusville.
In Vero Beach, the Heritage Center and Indian River Citrus Museum (M4) explores the commercial cultivation of citrus in the late 1800’s through artifacts and memorabilia. The region is famous for Indian River oranges, grapefruits and other citrus delights. Don’t miss a chance to savor the sunshine fruits at groves that are open for visits.
A small detour off the route lies another gem. Take County Road 512 to visit the St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park (H8) which protects the open grassy forest of longleaf pine once common in Florida. The preserve is part of The Great Florida Birding Trail and is a top birding site. Look for the rare Florida scrub jay and red-cockaded woodpeckers, Bachmann’s sparrows and sandhill crane. Wildlife abounds with river otters, alligators, wild turkey, gopher tortoises and more. Motorized vehicles are not permitted to travel through the preserve, so be prepared to explore miles of trails by hiking, biking or horseback riding. As with all outdoor recreation in this region, sunscreen, sun hats, insect repellant and an ample water supply are a necessity. More trail information is available at the Visitor Center, where you can also examine a skull collection and sign up for one of the many environmental programs. Fishing and primitive camping is available. The Preserve is free.
Back on US-1, the drive meanders through small towns each with their own personality and attractions. Originally a small fishing village, Sebastian is now a vibrant tourist destination. Enjoy relaxing beach strolls, beachcombing for real pirate treasure or seashells, every type of water recreation possible, or experience the thrill of tandem skydiving.
In Grant, visit the Grant Antique Mall with over 100 dealers or taste your way through the famous Seafood Festival held in March.
In Palm Bay, don’t miss the Turkey Creek Sanctuary (H3) which has beautiful trails, many elevated board walks and interpretive nature center. Walk quietly and keep your eyes out for turtles, bobcats, wild turkey, and the occasional alligator. The sanctuary is free.
In Melbourne, visit the Brevard Zoo (A2), home to over 550 animals. Globetrot by exploring La Selva (the jungle) with jaguars, golden-headed lions, white-faced saki, and emu, then head to Austrail/Asia to see warty pig and Island flying fox and to Africa to see giraffe, and black and white ruffed lemur. There are many other activities such as treetop zip line, kayaking and paddle boating.
This scenic drive ends back in Titusville, not far from another great adventure, the A1A Scenic and Historic Coastal Byway.