If you’ve ever watched a rocket launch online or on TV and thought it was cool, you are in for a delightful surprise when you witness it in real life. The roar of the engines is so deep you don’t only hear it; you feel it in your body. The scale of the trajectory is so intense it’s mesmerizing. And the positive energy of the people around you, also there to witness travel to space, intensifies the experience.
Wherever you choose to watch the launch from, you’ll be one of a relatively small group of people gathered for this “bucket list” experience, which puts you in a unique club of kindred spirits from all around the world. For the next rocket launch, impress your date by heading to one of these top viewing spots chosen by a Space Coast local.
- The Space Bar
- Jetty Park Campground and Jetty Park
- Playalinda Beach
- Kennedy Space Center
- Cocoa Beach Pier + Restaurants
- Exploration Tower
- Space View Park: 8 Broad Street, Titusville (parking nearby)
- Kennedy Point Park: 4915 S. Washington Ave (US 1), Titusville (restrooms, parking)
- Alan Shepard Park: East end of SR 520, Cocoa Beach (restrooms, parking)
- Indian River Lagoon / Mosquito Lagoon
On the heels of a record-setting year for rocket launches from Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station – more than 50 in 2022 – Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is gearing up for more than 80 forecasted for 2023!
Just ten minutes down the road from Kennedy Space Center is The Space Bar. Located at the Courtyard by Marriott Titusville, this new rooftop bar is a hot spot to watch a rocket launch. Parking is free and there is an elevator just before the lobby that takes you straight to the rooftop bar.
On Saturdays you can also enjoy Music & Mimosas! Live music will be playing from 1-4pm and you can kick back with $5 Mimosas and Bloody Mary’s from 12-2pm.
You do not need to be a guest of the hotel to eat and drink at The Space Bar, and with it being less than an hour from Orlando, it is worth it! Space-themed cocktails and delicious food add to the appeal of this rooftop venue. In fact, we were so impressed by their food and drink that we think it is worth a visit even when there is not a rocket launch on the schedule.
Important note: There is a $10 cover charge/admission fee for guests during rocket launch periods, for those that are not staying at the hotel. No cover charge applies to hotel guests – room key is required.
Note: Our meals and drinks were complimentary and hosted by The Space Bar.
Jetty Park Campground
Why not spend the night and watch the rocket launch from the comfort of your own lodgings? For those who enjoy camping, my favorite viewing spot is Jetty Park Campground. It’s only 30 minutes from the launch pad and given most rockets take off over the ocean, this beachfront campsite is an ideal location to watch a rocket launch.
The sites on the RV inlet provide the most unobstructed view of the early stage takeoff, but given the fact you’re looking up into the sky, there really isn’t a “bad” campsite for watching a rocket launch. You'll definitely need reservations in advance, though.
Not planning to spend the night? Arguably the most popular spot to watch a rocket launch is Jetty Park’s beach and fishing pier. With a pier that is 1200’ long and a beach covering 4.5 acres, there’s plenty of room for lots of people. However, parking spots are limited and it costs $16 to park. Plan to arrive early if you need a parking spot.
Playalinda Beach, located north of Kennedy Space Center, is another favorite beach from which to watch a launch. However, because of its proximity to the launch pad, the beach is sometimes closed during launches. Be sure to confirm if Canaveral National Park is open before planning to watch a rocket launch from Playalinda.
Kennedy Space Center
When it comes to classic viewing spots, nothing compares to watching a launch right from the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. This is the place you’ll feel and hear the rumble and roar the most significantly. You have several location options to choose from, each with varying price points and distances from the launch pads. All options include launch commentary and seating is on a first come, first served basis.
Purchase general admission tickets and take a seat on the bleachers or lawn by Space Shuttle Atlantis, located just about 7 miles from the launch pad. This viewing area is included with regular admission. If you want to get closer, you'll need to purchase an additional ticket for the available launch viewing location.
Make the most of your ticket by spending the day exploring the Space Center afterward.
Cocoa Beach Pier + Restaurants
Drinks, food, and a rocket launch view? Sign us up. Though not all launches aren’t timed to happen when the restaurants are open, it sure makes for an even more spectacular experience when they are.
Known for its super-sized outdoor patio right on the beach, a casual atmosphere and a broad menu, Coconuts on the Beach is a great spot to watch a rocket launch and enjoy a brew. Find it located right in the heart of Cocoa Beach.
The Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier is a quintessential viewing location where you can sip a beachy cocktail while watching a launch. At the end of the historic, 800’ pier in Cocoa Beach sits Rikki Tiki Tavern. With seating and tables for 100 people, the Tavern is often full, especially during a launch. However, you can also grab a drink and line up along the pier railing to witness a launch. FYI: it costs $2 to go out onto the pier. There’s also a fee for parking.
Watch the launch like a VIP from the 7th-floor outdoor observation deck at Port Canaveral’s Exploration Tower. Launch viewing tickets grant you early entry to the observation deck. After the launch, explore each floor of the Exploration Tower, home to a variety of exhibits and a café. Continue the fun by visiting Florida Beer Company for some craft brews. The brewery is just a 4-minute drive away.
Space View Park
Brush up on your space history, check out bronze handprints of the original Mercury astronauts, and listen to NASA’s live audio feed from the control room from Space View Park. This city park in Titusville is about 15 miles from the launch pads and provides an unobstructed view from across the Indian River.
Downtown Titusville is just a short walk away, where you can sip refreshing craft brews at Playalinda Brewing Company – Hardware Store or walk through the American Space Museum & Space Walk of Fame. Galleries include Project Mercury, Project Apollo, Project Gemini, Women in Space and more.
Indian River Lagoon / Mosquito Lagoon
Take in the breathtaking views of a rocket launch from a kayak in the Indian River Lagoon or Mosquito Lagoon. From here, enjoy views of the launch pads and the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). While launches are always subject to change at the last minute, this natural playground is teeming with wildlife, seasonal bioluminescence, and unparalleled views of the night sky. So even if it doesn’t work out perfectly, you won’t be disappointed with your paddle.
A Day Away Kayak Tours offers private tours for $85/person for up to 3 hours, and you can choose a custom time slot to line up with a scheduled launch. You can also join any regularly scheduled tour where seeing a rocket launch might just be icing on the cake.
FYI: the US Coast Guard enforces a special safety and security zone on the water during all rocket launches.
After rolling the SLS and Orion back to the Vehicle Assembly Building due to Hurricane Ian, November 16 marked the successful launch of the Artemis I mission. Now we await the Artemis 2 launch in May 2024.
If you're not sure what the big deal is with the Artemis missions, check out Six Reasons to Be Excited About the Artemis Program, from our pals at TampaBayParenting.com.
Keep an eye out for viewing packages from Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex for viewing packages for rocket launches.
Planning a trip to view a rocket launch comes with the possibility that the launch could be scrubbed and moved. So, go with the expectation that things could change. And if they do change then go enjoy all that the Space Coast has to offer.
No matter where you plan to watch a launch, one thing is guaranteed; even if you aren’t a space nerd, you will be touched in a way you never imagined.
For up-to-date schedule of rocket launches, visit SpaceCoastLaunches.com. And for an insider’s guide of restaurants and other activities to enjoy on the Space Coast, visit FloridaBeachBreak.com. The Space Coast Launches website offers a comprehensive list of upcoming launches and more rocket launch viewing locations. The Visit Space Coast website is also an excellent resource for things to do in the area, places to stay if you’re making a getaway out of your launch viewing experience, where to eat and more.
Feature image credit: Space Coast Office of Tourism