Our days in Cocoa Beach area- 3.5 stars
Before I review Cocoa Beach, it would be prudent to set the foundation for our future Florida reviews. Our intent is to show how a family can beach hop in Florida for an extended period on a shoestring budget. Additionally, it's important to understand the reviewer... I am a 41 year old husband and father of four who hates heat, sand, crowds, and sweating. So needless to say, the beach is not my favorite place. I know this puts me outside of the norm, but I am who I am. In order to negate some of these irritants, we are beach hopping in the off season, the last week of December through January. The temperatures are typically in the 70's, the crowds are at a minimum, parking and traffic is much improved, and things are proving to be cheaper. That said, this non beach bum dad is a much happier camper. In our reviews, we will give an star rating out of 5 stars. We will average the opinions of the 6 of us and base it on things like cleanliness, parking, beach quality, amenities, beauty, cost, x-factor, and conveniences like beachside showers. With that ground work laid, let's get on with our review.
The Cocoa Beach area for us was largely a disappointment. We wanted to like it, a lot, we really did. I mean after all its the "Space Coast" and America's current surfing capital (self described... the west coast may have something to say about this). For the sake of being un-biased, I am going to leave out of this review and our rating how incredibly inhospitable the locals and city officials are to RV'rs. We experienced some extremely unpleasant things in this area that will be the topic of future blog entries... you can count on that. However, for the sake of being fair and level we will discount these unpleasantries and just discuss the beach and local attractions.
We had planned to spend four days in the area, but occurrences and our disappointment of the area caused us to move south early. We spent one of our three days getting the lay of the land and another on the beaches. We worked in some local shops as well, trying to get the full experience.
On our first day, after traveling south from Daytona down to Cocoa, we discovered what I can only assume is the Ron Jon Surf Shop's main store as well as the Cocoa Beach Surf Shop. Both were impressive and massive. The whole family loves perusing local surf shops when we are at the beach and these two didn't disappoint. The Cocoa Beach Ron Jon had a Surfboard museum inside with some really cool displays. Definitely check out the pictures below to see some of what makes these two surf shops so cool.
After leaving the surf shops we drove by Cape Canaveral, the Kennedy Space Center, Patrick Air Force Base, and the beachside area around this part of Cocoa. We would have loved to do the "Space Coast" tour which includes all three of these locations, however, it would have been nearly $80 per person times 6 people and we decided we'd rather splurge on something different later in our trip instead. We hear the Space Tour is very good, but that's not the kind of money we were willing to spend on a few space museums when many Florida museums are free. So we settled for a drive by and a sneak peak and drove on felling a little disappointed by the exorbitant cost. As we drove on, we noticed the boutique shops were nothing special and spread out beyond convenient walking distances. They were nothing like Flagler Ave in New Smyrna Beach, so we didn't spend any time here. As we explored, the other thing that was striking was how much of the beachfront is not visible. It was completely concealed by neighborhoods of modest 1 story 1960's style cottages in pastel beach colors and decor. This was starkly different to the other beachfront real estate we had seen in the other areas. It was unique and interesting, but there was nothing to do but drive home for the evening feeling disappointed in our lack of enjoyment of the area thus far.
On "beach" day we decided to visit the iconic Cocoa Beach Pier. Unlike our other Dec/Jan beach experiences... Cocoa Pier was still hopping. There were a ton of people on the beach and pier and we didn't love how crowded it was. It's worth noting that there is a serious lack of free parking around the pier. It wasn't that the free parking was full, it's that it didn't exist. We managed to find a free and creative solution with the local grocery store (I wouldn't recommend this in the peak season where parking enforcement is in full swing), but it worked for us in January. We are glad we didn't pay to park because after less than an hour we were over it. The positives of the pier... sand volleyball courts, iconic, the pier had some shops along it that were ok, and they had a food option right on the beach. There were also fairly clean restrooms and outside beach showers available. The negatives were parking, crowded, expensive, and not overly special (in our opinion). The kicker here for us was that you can walk the pier halfway out, but if you want to walk to the end to the iconic Tiki Bar (see pictures below), it's $2 per person just to walk to the Tiki Bar and over pay for your Mojito. We didn't pay and walk out there just on principal. It didn't take us long to figure out this wasn't our scene and start the trek back to our car.
After arriving back to our car we drove to the Cocoa Beach park that was recommended to us, Lori Wilson Beachfront Park. The kids had been begging to swim for a couple days at this point and they were finally going to be able to play in the ocean... they were so excited. We highly recommend this particular beachfront in Cocoa, it was very decent and one of the few things about the Cocoa area we actually liked. The amenities and lay out of this park were picture perfect. There were long wooden walkways behind the dunes through tunnels cut through mangrove trees leading from one picturesque cabana to the next. It had clean facilities and outside showers, free parking, and a "leave a toy/take a toy" bucket at the beach entrance filled with sand castle buckets, shovels, frisbees... things like that. What a cool idea! We had a great time playing in the ocean. The waves were decently large and the beach was clean. The biggest wow factor was the amount of shells (see the pictures below). In places you literally could not see the sand for all the shells. It was incredible and they weren't just the tiny shells either. The biggest shells we have found on any beach so far came from here and such a wide variety of types too. We had a great time on this beach and it saved the whole Cocoa area for us.
Ultimately, we are giving this area 3.5 stars. If our beach experience had just been that from the main Cocoa Beach and the Cocoa Pier we'd give the area a 2 at best. The area did not do it for us in any way and we were more than happy to move on. When I think of Cocoa Beach, however, I'll remember Lori Wilson Beachfront Park and what a great day we had there.
$20 in diesel to get the bus to Cocoa and move it around for the days we were there
$20 in gas for the car for the 3 days
$89 in food for three days for 6 people
$3 souvenir from Ron Jon's
CURIOUS ABOUT LIVING YOUR OWN SKOOLIE (SCHOOL BUS CONVERSION) DREAM? WE HAVE WRITTEN AN EBOOK ON HOW TO CHOOSE AND PURCHASE A SCHOOL BUS OF YOUR VERY OWN AND SAVE THOUSANDS. CHECK IT OUT.