A quick, one-hour drive east of Orlando, the retro-cool town of Cocoa Beach makes for a perfect beach day trip and a welcome break from a hectic theme park itinerary.
Professional surfer Kelly Slater grew up riding the waves here, and a vintage surf vibe permeates the town. Forget about glitz and glam in this part of Florida.
Cocoa Beach is the anti–South Beach, with low-rise hotels and many mom and pop–style shops and restaurants lining the oceanfront and surrounding streets. And the beach itself is a beauty, billowing with natural dunes that ripple with sea oats.
Here’s where to spend your time for a true taste of the town.
Built in 1962 by a local businessman — and threatened on a near annual basis by hurricanes roaring up the Atlantic — the Cocoa Beach Pier has nonetheless stood the test of time as an iconic local attraction.
Nothing has quite the retro beach appeal as a stroll along the pier’s wooden planks to watch anglers cleaning their catch — jack, snapper, red fish and more — and see surfers riding the rolling swell below. The pier stretches 800 feet out to sea, and the reward at its end is a thatch-roofed Tiki bar perched right over the rolling waves, where the boat drinks and good vibes flow freely.
Salty-haired surfers popping in after dawn patrol mingle with local artists and entrepreneurs at this come-one-come-all café a block from the beach. Juice ‘n Java specializes in breakfast burritos, espresso drinks (the beans are roasted on-site) and paninis, with some great gluten-free options in the mix, too.
Plus, you’ll dig this place as much for the fun vibe as for the good eats. Local artwork — much of it ocean inspired — decorates the walls, and there’s live music and open mic nights Wednesday through Saturday evenings.
The slew of roadside billboards make it hard to miss this famous Cocoa Beach surf shop. Ron Jon is open 24 hours a day and is said to be the largest surf shop in the world.
Full of kitschy touristy items (think logo-emblazoned T-shirts and hula dashboard dolls), Ron Jon’s worth a gander to see Florida beach culture distilled to its most capitalistic form. It’s also the spot to rent foam surfboards (great for learning), boogie boards or skim boards and sign up for surf lessons with local shredders, too.
This oceanfront institution at the far eastern end of Minutemen Causeway is the quintessential Florida beach bar, with the quirky crowds to match.
Dogs sporting sunglasses, sunburned tourists and salty-dog local characters who’ve been coming here for decades all crowd the outdoor terrace to sip frosty beers and dig into smoked fish dip, fish tacos, calamari and other treats from the sea.
Bikini contests and live music are all regular occurrences, but it’s the spectacular ocean views and tropical vibe that consistently steal the show.