Cocoa Beach Review – Great spot to party on the Beach or Watch the Cruise Ships come in at Port Canaveral
Written by - Alex Richwagen, June 2014
water games in the ocean. The sand itself isn’t like the clean, white, and soft sand you can experience at beaches like Palm Beach, St. Pete Beach, or Clearwater Beach. The beach itself i s closer to a hodgepodge of shells, grainy sand, and occasional spots of weeds. All of this adds up to a great fun day or just relaxing in the comfort of your beach chair with the water at your feet.Cocoa Beach is located on the east coast of Florida, about an hour east of Orlando, FL. Cocoa Beach in general is a great spot to hang out with some friends, grab a few beers, and play some
There are two main public beach entry spots, The Cocoa Beach Pier and Coconuts on the Beach, to park yourself, friends, and family that are right on the beach. The first of the two, the Pier, is located very close to the 528 Express Way, aka “Beach Line”. The Pier is the calmer of the two locations and is more family oriented in general. When first arriving at the Pier, you’ll quickly notice that parking is a bit limited to the first 100 or so people that get there. After that, there are parking meters, side lots, and in the worst case, you could park across A1A at Publix. Parking in general shouldn’t cost you more than $10 for an entire day of parking. Both places also have clean restrooms to use and are open to the public.
The Cocoa Beach Pier itself has a few restaurants and bars to grab some food or a few drinks. It also generally has an ice cream truck or stand on the side for the kids. Every Friday, the Pier has happy hour at the restaurant on the lower level to grab some appetizer food like chicken wings or crab clusters. Again, this is all pretty inexpensive and makes for a great ending of a beach day. Keep in mind on Fridays, they have happy hour at Oh Shucks Restaurant where those same appetizers are half off.
Coconuts is the spot where the over 21 and single / non-kids folks retreat to make a day at the beach. They frequently have live bands at both Coconuts and their neighbor The Beach Shack. I still bring my own music, but just in case you forget or don’t care, they should have some music, especially on a weekend. Coconuts is a great beachside bar that has two outside bars and plenty of food/drinks to square you away for an afternoon of fun in the sun. There’s generally a volleyball net setup in case you are so inclined, but probably won’t find much competition (the competition for volleyball is at the Pier).
One of the convenient parts about Coconuts Bar & Grill, is the fact if you brought nothing with you, it would be fine. They have folks setup out front to help get you a couple of chairs, umbrella, and water toys for the kids if needed. If you decide to setup camp right outside of Coconuts, it’s pretty easy to go up and grab your lunch with a few drinks that all can be taken back with you on the beach.
There is a very distinct difference between Cocoa Beach and most other beaches around Florida. It is legal to drink alcohol on the beach. What’s funny about that statement is most people drink alcohol every weekend on the beach, but may have not realized that it’s completely illegal in most beaches. Illegal and enforced are two completely different subjects, as most of the time it’s not really enforced. Anyway let’s get back to Cocoa Beach. It’s legal to drink alcohol on Cocoa, but no glass (for safety reasons) is allowed. Just keep that in mind to save yourself at least $100 in fines.
Now, I know I talked about the sand condition not being ideal, but there are many positives that make up for it. Cocoa in general isn’t too expensive to grab a hotel room. Here are some suggestions upon your stay at the beach.
Where to stay –
- Family –
- Singles or without kids –
- Luxury –
- On a Budget
Another great aspect just north of the beach is Port Canaveral. This is the spot to finish at the end of the day and grab a beer and appetizer. Port Canaveral has bars and restaurants that backup into the Port, where the cruise ships depart and dock. There are 3-5 main bars to park your behind at and grab a few cold drinks. I’ll review the top three in my opinion.
- Fishlips – Great indoor / outdoor bar to get a view of incoming cruise ships. Also makes a great spot to go watch the Kentucky Derby on the water in May. Of the three restaurants, I would rate the food here the highest of them all. Among the food that I would grab again would be Crabcake Sandwich or Appetizer. The crab tasted fresh, moist, and was cooked at just the right temperature. You absolutely cannot go wrong with the Snapper Oscar (topped with lump crab and hollandaise sauce) or Garlic Grouper (lots of garlic flavor…yum!) for the main course. Both are packed with flavor and hits the spot. See for yourself the rest of the menu here.
- Grills – Another great spot to grab a bite to eat, see the ships come in, and watch all the boaters pull in with their daily catches is Grills Bar & Grill. The area provides a great view for people watching with all the interaction going on with multiple vantage points. What to order on the menu? I would grab the Bahamian Fish Chowder to start because the flavor reminds me of chowder I had in the carribean (not exact, but pretty close). If you are with a party, order the Jalapeno Poppers or the Fish Dip (hickory smoked fish) for the appetizer portion. For dinner, it’s pretty simple for me. I went with the Bacon Wrapped Scallops. I mean seriously, you have bacon and you have scallops…that combination never goes wrong. To see the full menu, click here to see what else is available. Something rather entertaining to watch is grab a seat near the boat ramp and watch the folks struggle to get their boats atop the trailer after a long day of fishing and the sun.
- Milliken’s Reef (great live music) – This should be your last stop on the tour of restaurants by the water. Milliken’s Reef boasts about a 1/2 acre of white sand to walk around in, bring your own beach chairs, and relax while a server can grab a cocktail for you. The setup itself is great because of the beach sand filled area to compliment the live music as well. Check out their music lineup online in advance if you’d like, but most of the bands I have seen are more on the relaxing, reggae, beach style music category. It's a great atmosphere to wind down the day and relax.
Aside from the lineup of bars to visit, there are also casino boats that go out daily. This adds a nice something to do if you are staying in the area overnight. Before or after a day at Cocoa Beach, you could run over to Port Canaveral and grab one of the daily Casino Cruise Ships that go out every day from 11 a.m. -4 p.m. and 7-12 p.m. The ships go out to international waters for enough hours to play some blackjack, poker, slot machines, or even roulette. During some sports season, they even open up the sports book too if you are so inclined. The casino ship is called Victory Casino Cruises and you can actually make reservations in advance to skip some of the check-in procedures.
Just as a rundown to finish up the review of Cocoa, here’s the skinny on food, comparison to other beaches, and what to do.
- Food – Cocoa Beach is one of the rare exceptions to the great food by the water examples. Like I stated before, Cocoa Beach is a great place to hang out with friends, party on the beach, and visit Port Canaveral to hear some relaxing music by the inner coastal. Food on the other hand isn’t really at a premium when compared to its beach neighbors or counterparts. Better food can be found in Port Canaveral in some of the restaurants I stated above. There really isn’t a spot to grab fresh seafood or a place that has the best food in Cocoa meaning don’t get surprised if it’s not top tier.
- Comparison to nearby beaches – Cocoa Beach from an overall beach perspective is great combination of inexpensive parking and hotels, bars on the beach, and of course…Port Canaveral. There’s nothing better than a stretch of beach like bars all in the same vicinity to jump around to and have a good time. Just make sure to take a cab home or have a designated driver for your party.
- Stuff to do – A great benefit to Cocoa Beach and Port Canaveral in general is the ability to rent a fishing charter for 4-8 hours and grab some friends for a morning or afternoon of catching some fish. fishing, rent a charter (where), relaxing, and the casino ships. In general, for the lazier folks on a Saturday or Sunday, just grab a chair at Fishlips and watch the cruise ships come in. It’s quite relaxing with a salty breeze and overhead canopy to keep you cool.
Overall, Cocoa Beach is another spot to take a stroll towards, put your feet in the sand, and enjoy the waves. If you would like to add to the article or feel like I missed your favorite spot, please feel free to leave it in the comments section so others can see too. I’m always willing to learn a new spot or ideas when it comes to Cocoa Beach, FL.