Cocoa Beach picture, north of the pier

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Cocoa Beach - Space Coast Beaches

Cocoa Beach | Jetty Park | Cocoa Beach Pier | Shepard Park | Lori Wilson Park

Where to stay on Cocoa Beach

Cocoa beach is a great spot for a family beach vacation. It is within an hour's drive of Orlando attractions and is located about an hour or so south of Daytona Beach, very near Cape Canaveral and Kennedy Space Center. In fact, from northern Cocoa Beach you can actually see the tall shuttle launch facilities at the space center. This is the quintessential beach town. Everywhere you go you'll see people carrying surfboards, and everything pretty much revolves around the beach. One of the great things about Cocoa Beach is the large number of reasonably-priced hotels either on or within a block of the beach. I had a hard time choosing among them all. Read a little about where I stayed on Cocoa Beach recently.

People often ask me which is the closest beach to Orlando and Disney World. Either Daytona Beach or Cocoa Beach are about the same distance, with Cocoa being just slightly closer perhaps. What is the difference between Daytona and Cocoa? Cocoa's hotels are generally not as tall and imposing on the beach, and in Cocoa Beach driving is NOT allowed on the beach like it is in Daytona. Also, where Daytona has miles and miles of high seawalls separating the hotel properties from the beach, Cocoa Beach has left its dunes intact, and they are quite beautiful. Cocoa is more relaxed and getting to the beach is easy, even if you don't have a hotel on the beach. There are plenty of public beach parks as well as free and metered parking spaces on the streets that end at the beach.

The Cocoa Beach Pier is a busy place, and has several restaurants, including a tiki-bar at the very end of the 800 foot long pier. Personally, I don't much like the Cocoa Beach pier because, for all practical purposes it is 80 percent restaurant and 20 percent pier. And it costs a buck to walk out onto the real "pier" portion. But for many people that just want to sit at the bar, eat, drink, and look out over the beach, it is a perfect location. Of course it is a great spot for people-watching, and for watching the surfers catching waves next to the pier. Mostly it is a family spot, but of course, as with many "hot-spots" there are always a few posers and hormonally driven individuals strutting and cruising. And it does develop a more serious party atmosphere after dark, especially on the weekends and on holidays. But Cocoa Beach is a very family-friendly place and once you leave the immediate vicinity of the pier, it's fairly quiet.

Cocoa Beach has some great restaurants. In fact, some of them are so good that you may find yourself largely ignoring your hotels restaurants in favor of some seriously good eating.

Not allowed on the beach: vehicles, animals (not even on a leash), glass containers, fires, fireworks. Alcohol is allowed on Cocoa Beach, just not in a glass container.

Above: Jetty Park in Cape Canaveral, adjacent to Cocoa Beach, has an excellent beach, a jetty with a fishing pier, a food concession, a full-service bait shop with beach equipment rentals, a campground, and lifeguards, all for only a $5 entrance fee. Jetty Park is owned and operated by the Canaveral Port Authority.

Above: The rock jetty and fishing pier at Jetty Park. The inlet at the Port is wide, and on the other side, in the distance, the tall launch structures of Kennedy Space Center can be seen. The day I visited, I saw 2 small sea turtles, a large manatee, and several dolphins playing in the inlet. Cruise ships come and go through the inlet, but during the time I spent on the jetty, none came through. See my photos of Jetty Park beach.

Above: Jetty park has lifeguards. Cocoa Beach Pier (below) does not. It is a good idea to swim at beaches with lifeguards, especially when the surf is up. Beaches with lifeguards have a much better safety record than beaches without.

Above: The Cocoa Beach Pier, on Meade Avenue, has withstood many storms. It is a focal point in the community. See more information and photos of the Cocoa Beach pier and its beach.

Above: The beach next to the pier attracts a lot of people. There are quite a few hotels and condominiums next to the pier.

Above: Cocoa Beach has a sprinkling of shells, but the variety is limited and most are old and broken. I saw very few gastropods (conch-like shells). Most of the shells were bivalves (clam-like).

Above: Shephard Park (named after astronaut Alan Shephard) is a short distance south of the Cocoa Beach Pier. There is a $5 entrance fee, or you can park on nearby streets with parking meters (25 cents for each 15 minutes as of this writing). This is a very busy park. This photo was taken on a Wednesday afternoon, and you can see how many people there are on the beach.

Above: The beach at Lori Wilson Park. This is my favorite beach access in Cocoa Beach (I do also love Jetty Park, but it is technically in Cape Canaveral). The Hilton Hotel is just north of this park and the Holiday Inn (where I stayed) is south of and adjacent to it. The park has a nice system of boardwalks through the dunes, nice restroom facilities, a picnic area and some picnic tables on the boardwalk, a doggy park (no dogs allowed on the beach), and a boardwalk through a beautiful maritime hammock forest. There is a lifeguard tower here, but on the day I visited I saw no lifeguard. See my photos of Lori Wilson Park and find out more about this excellent beach park (Free entry and parking).

Above: The wind was really strong out of the north and this lone kiteboarder was having a blast. He was catching a lot more waves than the surfers were.

Above: Cocoa Beach really is a family-oriented beach. I took this photo on a Thursday morning about an hour after sunrise. On the left is a lady that appears to be in her 40's, in the center are 2 seniors out for a stroll, and in the distance are 3 twenty-something surfers. There were some parents with their children on the beach as well. What's interesting is that on the Gulf Coast, sunset is the gathering time. Not many people on the beach at sunrise. But on the Atlantic side, sunrise brings lots of people out onto the beach. There is just something about seeing the sun come up or go down over water that attracts us. See more of my photos taken near the Holiday Inn where I was staying, just south of Lori Wilson Park.

Above: Ron Jon's Surf Shop, right on North Atlantic Avenue just a few blocks south of the Cocoa Beach pier, casts its commercial glow in all directions. Everywhere you go in and around Cocoa Beach you will see billboards for Ron Jon. It is as influential on the community as Kennedy Space Center is, and even more visible. Surf culture rules on Cocoa Beach, and Ron Jon is the commercial center of surfing on Florida's Atlantic coast.


Photos and text copyright 2008 David McRee, All rights reserved.