The wilderness of Florida’s Space Coast

Of all the state’s nicknamed coasts (Emerald Coast, Forgotten Coast, Paradise Coast), you’d think Florida’s Space Coast would be the most developed. Its name implies a certain amount of infrastructure – the massive man made apparatus (literally) fueled the American exploration of space – but it is, in fact, home to some of the largest tracts of pristine waterfront in a state that is well-known for its coastline.

The preserved beaches and adjacent ecosystems of this natural playground are all the more impressive when one considers they sit smack within Central Florida, an area that is absolutely teeming with human activity. Put it this way: if you’re staring at Cinderella’s castle in Disney’s Magic Kingdom – the most iconic vista in a theme park that is an exemplar of a constructed, artificial environment – you are about a 90 minute drive from the pristine dunes of Merritt Island, gently eroding under the Atlantic’s salt breezes.

The lay of the sandy land
There are over 75 miles of beachfront in the Space Coast, and this coastline doesn’t just hug the ocean. The three main protected areas – Canaveral National Seashore, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Sebastian Inlet State Park – are all barrier islands. While you’ll find white caps on the east side of the beaches facing out to the Atlantic, the west side beaches face the calm waters of Mosquito Lagoon, the Indian River, and the Bahama River. With this in mind, if you’ve got small kids in tow, your best swimming bets are the lagoon and river beaches.