A genie of the bottle (Barbara Eden) and her dreamboat astronaut (Larry Hagman) made Cocoa Beach their hideaway on the 1960s hit television series, I Dream of Jeannie. You can too, as it has all you could "wish" for in a quick and fun getaway.
Here are a dozen reasons to plan your next vacation or weekend trip to Cocoa Beach: Centrally located, northeast of Melbourne and southeast of Titusville, Cocoa Beach is a convenient base from which to explore the many attractions of Florida's Space Coast, beginning with miles of wide-sanded beaches with great surfing, fishing and, from May through October, turtle-watching. You can join a walk to spot loggerheads, leatherbacks and greens nesting along the shore. Call 321-676-1701 for information.The beaches are also great vantage points to watch a rocket launch."It's an incredible sight -goose bumps up and down on every inch," says Nichole Kaminski, a Cocoa Beach office manager. "And multiply that times 10 for a nighttime shuttle launch -it turns the night into day." Space shuttle launches are on hold in the wake of the Columbia tragedy in February, but unmanned rocket launches, including Titans, Deltas and Atlas rockets, are ongoing. Launches are subject to change. For up-to-the-minute information, call 321-867-4636. Tour the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex in Cape Canaveral, southeast of Titusville on SR 405 (admission $26 adults, $16 children 3-11; phone: 321-449-4444). Attractions here include authentic Space Station components; shuttle launch pads bigger than football fields; the gigantic Vehicle Assembly Building at Complex 39 (reportedly the world's largest scientific building at 716 feet long, 518 feet wide and 525 feet high); and IMAX films.The Space Center recently launched a new program, Dine with an Astronaut ($29.95 for adults, $19.95 for children) including a presentation with a featured astronaut and a lunch of rotisserie chicken (pizza and spaghetti for youngsters) and a "Chocolate Liftoff" dessert (a milk chocolate space shuttle surrounded with whipped cream and topped with berries). It is offered daily at 12:30 p.m.Visit the Astronaut Hall of Fame, west of Kennedy Space Center on SR 405 in Titusville ($13.95 adults, $9.95 children 3-11; phone: 321-269-6100) to see moon space capsules, hands-on activities and simulators. More than a fishing pier, the Cocoa Beach Pier (401 Meade Avenue, Cocoa Beach; phone: 321-783-7549) established in 1962, is an attraction with restaurants, bars, ice cream parlor, beach volleyball (three spirited games were going on during a recent Saturday morning), arcade and shops. The pier is also home of the Friday night "Boardwalk Bash" where the locals convene to sip something tall and cool and drink in the ocean scenery in big gulps --to the tune of live entertainment.The Atlantic Ocean Grille, one of the restaurants on the pier, serves seafood and beef with great views and a price range of $9.95 to $29.95; a Sunday champagne brunch, served from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., is $12.95. Marlins Good Times Bar & Grill, also on the pier, offers a varied menu including a great grilled Mahi Mahi sandwich basted with herb butter, lemon and white wine for $7.59. Quaint, Victorian Cocoa Village (off U.S. 1 and SR 520 in Cocoa; phone: 321-631-9075) with its oak-lined cobblestone streets is home to specialty shops, clothing boutiques, antique stores, gourmet food stores, restaurants and coffeehouses, a playhouse and amphitheater hosting live performances and more. Walking tours take visitors to Porcher House, a Greco-roman mansion built near the river by local citrus pioneer Edward Postell Porcher, which dates from 1916 and now is a popular site for weddings. Special events throughout the year include arts and crafts fairs such as the Summer Twilight Craft Fair May 18-19, the Fall Craft Fair Oct. 19-20, and the Holiday Craft Fair Dec. 7-8, and special happenings like Oktoberfest, Oct. 5, and the Old-Fashioned Christmas & Tree Lighting Nov. 29-30. Cocoa Beach has a variety of lodgings with major chains such as Holiday Inn, Hilton and Marriott represented. The Inn at Cocoa Beach (4300 Ocean Beach Boulevard, on the ocean at SR-520; 800-343-5307) is a charming bed & breakfast with two resident macaws, Tango and Tangy (Tango is very talkative), and two dogs, Tucker and Murphy who love to be petted. Each room is individually decorated, all with patio or balcony, a couple with Jacuzzis. Amenities include pool and sundeck, exercise room, steam bath, observation deck and complimentary home-baked breakfast each morning and wine and cheese at sunset. Rates start at $135 per night. The Cocoa Beach Trolley, known as Route 9, is a good, inexpensive way to get around. It makes 28 scheduled stops at parks, restaurants and shops. A one-way ride is $1; a 12-ride ticket is $10. Call 321-633-1878. Nature lovers will have a field day at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (four miles east of Titusville on SR 402; free of charge, but there is a $5 per vehicle charge for access to Canaveral National Seashore and Playalinda Beach; phone: 321-861-0667). This 220-square-mile refuge has marshes, hardwood hammocks, pine flatwoods, scrub and coastal dunes that provide habitats for more than 500 species of wildlife including bald eagles, manatees, alligators, dolphins, sea turtles, bobcats and wading birds. Birdwatchers may wish to check out the seven-mile Black Point Wildlife Drive, a one-way, self-guided auto tour of salt and freshwater marshes. There's a Visitor Information Center and numerous foot trails ranging from a quarter-mile boardwalk behind the Visitor Center to the five-mile Cruickshank Trail. Dedicated to preserve our aviation heritage, The Warbird Air Museum (6600 Tico Road, Titusville; admission $9 adults, $5 children 12 and under; phone: 321-268-1941) features an exhibit of air history including aircraft from World War I and II, and the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. Kayaking, canoeing, airboat rides and narrated boat tours are just some of the ways to enjoy the native Florida wildlife. Outfitters and tour operators abound with prices for two- to three-hour kayaking and boat trips in the $15-$25 range. The Brevard Zoo (just east of I-95 exit 73 on Wickham Road in Melbourne; $7 adults, $5 children 2-12; phone: 321-254-9453) is home to more than 480 animals in Native Florida, Latin America and Australia/Asia loops, plus an aviary. Lagoon kayaking tours are offered. Jungle Adventures (26205 East Highway SR 50, eight miles west of Titusville; $16 adults, $8.50 children; phone: 407-568-2885) offers a nature trail, wildlife shows, a jungle cruise to view alligators and other wildlife and guided tours to a Native American Indian Village. Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun