Where to watch a rocket launch on the Space Coast

Top launch viewing spots in Brevard County

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with the Dragon spacecraft onboard, launches from pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center on June 3, 2017 in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with the Dragon spacecraft onboard, launches from pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center on June 3, 2017 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. (NASA/Bill Ingalls/Getty)

Thinking about watching a launch from the Space Coast? There are plenty of options for everyone.

Read more about the variety of launch viewing hot spots, known to locals and space enthusiasts alike, then click through the map at the bottom of the story to learn more.

Playalinda Beach: Where untouched nature meets roaring rockets

One of Florida’s few national parks, the Canaveral National Seashore makes a beautiful drive across the Mosquito Lagoon and doubles as one of the closest public places to Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39B and 39A.

An estuary is seen at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in March 2009 in Merritt Island, Florida.

The park is nestled between Brevard and Volusia counties and connects with the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge.

Both launch pads are visible from the beach and are so close that sometimes, the beach is closed for launches, depending on the payload and rocket.

If the beach is open, the view and proximity to a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch is unbeatable. Historic Pad 39A, currently leased by SpaceX, is the same pad Apollo 11 launched to the moon and where SpaceX launches its new heavy-lift vehicle, Falcon Heavy.

Playalinda Beach is about one hour and 20 minutes from Orlando, but it's worth the drive. There are few places in the Sunshine State that are as untouched by developers as this white, sandy stretch of beach.

As you go over the A Max Memorial Bridge over the barrier island and continue on State Highway 402, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center will be on your right. Lagoon, pine flatwoods and water block the view, but the Space Shuttle Landing Facility is just beyond the vast green foliage. The Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is home to the space center and many species of Florida wildlife. Look out for alligators, tortoises and bald eagles along the route to the beach.

A yearly pass into the Canaveral National Seashore and Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge is $40 or $10 per day. A senior lifetime pass is $80 and includes access to more than 2,000 National Parks.

If you go:

Playalinda Beach: Playalinda Beach Road, Canaveral National Seashore, Titusville, FL 32927

Apollo District Visitor Center: Apollo District at 7611 S. Atlantic Ave, New Smyrna Beach, FL 32169

Park hours: 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Website: ww.nps.org/cana

Take a look at the interactive map below and click on the viewing spots (camera symbol) for more information. The launch pad and landing sites are also listed (rocket symbol), to help provide the best idea of where to look at come launch time. Mobile users click here to view the interactive map.

Continue reading below the map.

State Road 401: Cruise ships, spaceships and launch pad history

In Port Canaveral, thousands of people depart daily aboard massive cruise ships headed for the Caribbean and beyond, but right behind the Port Canaveral Terminal lies one of the best unknown launch watching secrets of Brevard County: State Road 401.

The road runs almost parallel across the Banana River from Kennedy Space Center launch pads and the Cape Canaveral Air Force Launch complexes.

From Orlando, take the Beachline east, getting off at the first Port Canaveral exit. You’ll keep driving past the Disney and Canaveral Cruise lines and then look for a spot to park on State Road 401.

Don’t forget the bug spray, grab your chair, find a path to the Banana River shore and plop your seat down. The only thing left to do is look north and wait for the launch—and maybe a booster landing.

If SpaceX is planning a Falcon 9 first-stage landing, look to the northeast about eight minutes after launch. The SpaceX Landing Complex is located on the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, which SR 401 runs directly into.

Have some time before or after the launch? Make a pit stop at the Sands Space History Center. Get back on SR 401 and head east; the center is located just past the Cape Pass and identification building, behind the SpaceX Launch Control Center.

Entrance to the Sands Space History Center is free, and on-site picnic tables offer a great spot to have your lunch. Displays show the history of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complexes 26 and 5/6.

Those launch sites are where the U.S. Army’s first launched America’s first satellite and years later, astronauts Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom launched from Complex 5/6 in 1961.

If you go:

Launch viewing on SR 401 555 FL-401, Port Canaveral, FL 32920

Sands Space History Center 100 Space Port Way Building 90328 Cape Canaveral, FL 32920 Hours: Closed Monday and some launch days Tuesday-Friday 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday noon-4 p.m. Website: www.afspacemuseum.org

Titusville parks: Local favorites, early space exploration history

In Titusville, 15 miles across the Indian River, almost parallel to multiple launch pads are two Brevard County parks popular to locals for launch viewing.

The towering Vehicle Assembly Building is visible from the Space View Park boardwalk. The park has a beautiful memorial to veterans of all wars and the U.S. Space Walk of Fame, honoring the Mercury and Gemini missions.

On launch day, get there about an hour or two early to grab a good spot in the grass along the waterfront or on the dock. Bring lawn chairs, sunscreen and water. There are bathrooms and the park is near downtown Titusville. Parking can sometimes be a problem. Again, get there early.

The Space Walk of Fame Foundation broadcasts the NASA countdown on park loudspeakers during launches.

Titusville’s Parrish Park is a 36-acre park on both sides of the A. Max Brewer Causeway off State Road 402. The park is only 10 miles from Kennedy Space Center launch pads.

If you go:

Space View Park 8 Broad St. Titusville, Florida 32796 Hours: Dawn to dusk

Parrish Park at Titusville 1 A. Max Brewer Memorial Pkwy, Titusville, FL 32796 Hours: Dawn to dusk

Stay up to date on the latest space news at ClickOrlando.com/Space.

About the Author: