Frugal family fun along the Space Coast

12/21/2013 12:00 AM

12/19/2013 2:01 PM

Wildly popular with astronomy enthusiasts for its launch history, Florida’s Space Coast also boasts surfing access, 72 miles of sandy beaches and an alternative to the Mouse overload. Here are some affordable things to do in the area.

•  Animals: For an educational experience that’s a bit more interactive, consider a day at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. The $5 daily vehicle pass allows visitors to explore the manatee observation deck, enjoy five separate hiking trails or go on a travel photography mission by car along Black Point Wildlife Drive.
•  Beaches: If you want an escape from South Florida but still long for the feel of sand between your toes, perhaps Canaveral National Seashore is more your speed. While the beaches aren’t developed, they do have restrooms and boardwalks, with Playalinda and Apollo beaches boasting handicapped access as well. Hikers will want to check out Castle Windy and Turtle Mound trails to see the authentic shell middens left by the Timucua tribe. Vehicle passes for this national park property are $5 as well, and come with comparable access to Mother Nature.
•  Attractions: If you haven’t been to the Kennedy Space Center lately, it’s gotten quite the face lift. The Atlantis exhibit alone can take up a large portion of your day, with a shuttle launch simulation ride, hands-on activities and of course the famed shuttle herself. The tickets are a bit spendy at $50 per adult and $40 for children, but include access to all of the on-site IMAX films, meeting an astronaut, the center’s bus tour and all exhibits. Additional savings can be scored through one of the annual pass options, which offer free parking, discounted tickets for up to six guests and reduced prices on food and memorabilia.

Another hidden value that comes with a KSC ticket is free two-day entry to the Astronaut Hall of Fame, which is located just down the road. The venue offers a variety of fun hands-on experiences for kids along with reduced crowds, which can be helpful for toddlers on the verge of a vacation meltdown. It’s also all under one roof, which lets you skip the bus transfer and walking times between exhibits.

•  Activities: Cocoa Village is a precious little collection of streets along the waterfront in Cocoa proper featuring unique restaurants, boutiques and snack shops. The area also has a large park with an oceanfront boardwalk for those who want to simply want to stroll or relax on a bench with a book. Shopping is certainly a popular activity option here, along with evening tickets to the historic Cocoa Village Playhouse, which offers affordable community theater performances for less than $35 per adult ticket.

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