photo of Cape Canaveral

A shuttle launch in Cape Canaveral, Florida. (Ablestock.com)

What to do in Cape Canaveral

Consider Cape Canaveral the capital of America's space program. Ever since the first rocket launched from here in 1950, this sliver of eastern Florida has maintained its distinction as the only place in the country from which humans have been hurled into the heavens. NASA is based here, and the area code is "321." But the actual coordinates of Cape Canaveral (locally known as "Canaveral" or "The Cape") are tricky to pinpoint. The name can refer to both the city of Cape Canaveral (pop. 10,000), which is just south of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and southeast of the John F. Kennedy Space Center, and the entire 72-mile "Space Coast" on which it sits—a region that spans the cities of Titusville, Cocoa Beach, Cocoa, Melbourne, and Palm Bay.

Of one thing you can be certain: With more than 250 square miles of federally protected wildlife refuges and beaches, Cape Canaveral is a nature lover's delight. Highlights include the Canaveral National Seashore, where you can comb 24 miles of the most undeveloped beaches in eastern Florida, and the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, whose 140,000 acres of dunes, marshes, and lagoons host hundreds of species of birds, mammals, and aquatic critters. More sea turtles nest here than anywhere else in the States, and the area is also said to harbor the most endangered animal species of any American refuge. Cap your nature tour with a stop at Merritt's other signature attraction, the Kennedy Space Center (its U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame is a must).

Most travelers come to Cape Canaveral for the space program and stay for its terrestrial splendors: year-round fishing; wide, empty beaches; and the best surfing in the state.

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