Sunny skies, palm-tree-lined roads—what’s not to love about driving through Florida? It’s only a little over an hour from Orlando to Melbourne by car, but with so many exciting stops along the way, this is one road trip opportunity that you don’t want to pass up. On your way from Central Florida to the eastern coast, you’ll pass through wetlands brimming with wildlife, fascinating state heritage sites, and much, much more. Let’s take a look at some of the destinations that you’ll have to choose from.
Panthers and bears and wolves—oh, my! At Jungle Adventures, you can experience a variety of mammals, reptiles, and tropical birds through hands-on activities and tours of the animals’ habitats. Open 365 days a year, Jungle Adventures is committed to showcasing Florida in all of its raw, natural beauty. Admission to the park includes a wildlife show featuring baby alligators and other animals, a guided tour of a replica Native American village, a chance to watch the alligators be hand-fed, and the Jungle Swamp Cruise, which will take you on the water and into the wilderness.
In addition to the demonstrations and tours, you can also wander around the park for a closer look at the 15 species that live there. Over two hundred feet of boardwalk trails and walking paths make it easy to navigate the park and see the animals. With staff members that are both informative and welcoming—plus its scenic and immersive atmosphere—Jungle Adventures truly lives up to its name, giving visitors a safe yet exciting way to interact with Florida wildlife. (It’s recommended that you wear comfortable clothes and shoes and to dress appropriately to be in the shade during your time at the park.)
The Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail spans two thousand miles across more than 500 locations throughout Florida. In the east section of the trail, you’ll find the Blue Heron Water Reclamation Facility and Wetland Area, a human-made area that treats reclaimed water in the Titusville area and provides a habitat to a number of bird species, namely Great and Little Blue Herons. Not only is the facility one of the first of its kind in the United States, but it’s a site that’s frequented by nature enthusiasts and photographers, due to its unique landscapes and assortment of wildlife.
The Blue Heron Wetlands are open to the public Monday through Friday from 7 am to 3:30 pm, and all visitors are asked to sign in at the administrative office. If you would like access to the wetlands on the weekend, you can call the facility ahead of time and make an appointment. The wetlands are comprised of seven sections: a pond, three deep marsh sections, and three shallow marsh sections. Herons, Purple Gallinules, and American and Least Bitters are the types of birds that are most commonly seen in the area, though several kinds of migratory birds can be found throughout the year.
A Smithsonian Affiliate and a NASA contractor, the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex houses artifacts of NASA’s Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Space Shuttle Programs, and describes itself as “the Greatest Space Adventure on Earth.” The complex is separated into Mission Zones so that visitors can organize their tour of the grounds in chronological order. From the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame and the Rocket Garden to the Lunar Theater and the Apollo Treasures Gallery, the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex offers a comprehensive journey through the U.S. Space Program’s past, present, and future.
Because the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex has so much to see and do, most people advise planning your trip out ahead of time and purchasing tickets online in advance. The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is considered a must-see in Florida, and it’s located about an hour from both Orlando and Melbourne, so there’s no better time to experience it for yourself! (Aside from daily admission, there are special packages and add-ons that you can buy—plus, the complex periodically hosts events that you can get tickets to.)
Once the residence of Florida pioneer John H. Sams, the Sams House on Merritt Island is thought to be the oldest standing home in Brevard County. The cabin, which was originally built by Sams in 1875, was transported to Merritt Island in 1878 when Sams deconstructed the pine building, sent it up Indian River Lagoon, and rebuilt it where it stands now. The larger house on the property was build in 1888 and measures 1,260 square feet. Today, the site is used as the Management and Education Center for the Brevard County Environmentally Endangered Lands Program's Pine Island Conservation Area.
Whether you’re interested in learning more about Florida’s Pioneer-Era history, looking to do some hiking in the area, or are in the mood for a bit of both, this historic site on the outskirts of the Pine Island Conservation Area is the perfect way to spend a little time outside and get to know the land better—in more ways than one. With wildlife viewing, outdoor adventures, and plenty of learning opportunities, there’s truly something for everyone at Sams House at Pine Island.
This family ranch is located on the same ground that was once one of the first gator ranches in Florida. Nowadays, the property is home to over two hundred rescue animals—and the many visitors that come to see them. Encompassing 36 acres, the Obloy Family Ranch might have started as a farm and sanctuary, but it certainly hasn’t ended there: It’s also host to a variety of recreational activities, including horseback riding and fishing.
Pet and feed exotic and domestic animals like goats, llamas, lemurs, and even a zebra! Admission is $15 for adults and $9 for children ages 5 to 12 (kids under the age of 2 can get in for free) and includes a guided tour of the farm and time to interact with the animals. Be sure to visit the country store to buy feed to give to the animals, as well as other products like homemade jams and local honey.
About a half-hour from the city of Melbourne, you’ll find Brevard Zoo, a 75-acre facility with nearly a thousand animals from over 195 different species. With priorities in wildlife conservation and environmental education, Brevard Zoo is a family-friendly institution that will surprise and delight you with its wide range of animals and corresponding interactive experiences. Open daily from 9:30 am to 5 pm, the zoo welcomes visitors rain or shine, and most people spend around three hours touring the exhibits. Some of the animals that you can see at the zoo include bald eagles, cheetahs, dingos, giraffes, zebras, otters, rhinos, jaguars, and meerkats.
Brevard Zoo encourages visitors to make their time at the zoo extra special through animal encounters and adventure packages, the latter of which are available for an additional cost. Animal encounters include talks by zookeepers about specific animals, training demonstrations, and feeding times, and the schedule for these activities can be found on the zoo’s website. Adventure packages range from giraffe feedings to kayak tours, and the prices for the different packages are also listed on the website.
Palm Shores is only about 15 minutes outside of Melbourne, but if you’re looking for some more time enjoying Florida’s great outdoors, then Shore Side Park is can’t be beat. Running alongside the Indian River, Shore Side Park offers activities both on land and in the water. Fish, kayak, look for wildlife, take a walk, or dig into a nice picnic when you make a stop at this scenic park that has a fishing pier, an observation pier, a playground, picnic areas, and a kayak and canoe landing.
Picturesque and low-key, Shore Side Park is a great place to relax and soak up some of that famous Florida sun before making your way to Melbourne. And only a short distance from the highway, the park is easy to get to, not to mention an ideal spot to stretch your legs.
As you’re making your way into Melbourne, don’t miss stopping at Florida Tech’s Foosaner Art Museum in the Eau Gallie Arts District. Since opening in 1978, the museum has gradually expanded and now holds almost five thousand pieces that cover two thousand years of human history. From local artists to international names, the Foosaner boasts an eclectic array of works, including the world’s largest collection by German Impressionist Ernst Oppler. Of course, in addition to its permanent collection, the Foosaner also features rotating exhibitions with varying mediums.
The museum is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm and welcomes visitors admission-free. Stemming from an institution of higher education, the museum, perhaps unsurprisingly, emphasizes learning and, as such, offers art classes, workshops, and public programs. Because it’s modest in size, the museum typically only takes around an hour to tour, but many visitors remark that it is a hidden gem of the Melbourne area. (Additionally, due to the exhibitions changing so frequently, the museum is worth a visit, even if you’ve seen it before.)
The hour’s drive from Orlando might tempt you to hit the road and head straight for Melbourne. But, as you can see, you’d be missing out on a bunch of cool places that are on the way. After all, there’s nothing like a few detours to keep life interesting! Use the car ride from Orlando to Melbourne to explore Florida, and maybe discover some spots that you’ll want to come back to. One thing’s for sure: You never know what you might find in the Sunshine State!