How to See a Mind-Blowing Rocket Launch from Florida’s Space Coast

From the launch schedule to viewing tips, here’s everything you need to know before visiting Cape Canaveral.

Florida's Space Coast
Space Shuttle Atlantis at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex | Photo courtesy of Florida's Space Coast
Space Shuttle Atlantis at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex | Photo courtesy of Florida's Space Coast

For many, watching an actual rocket launch on location in South Florida is a bucket list experience to be remembered forever. But checking that experience off the list is easier than you may think because SpaceX, NASA, and ULA are sending more rockets up from the Space Coast than ever before.

No matter how frequent rocket launches from Cape Canaveral and Kennedy Space Center are happening, the logistics of planning a trip to see the action in person can get tricky. So we’ve compiled a guide with everything you need to know from how to find the launch schedule to other things to do in the area during your trip. When the stars align, the boosters light up, and the countdown begins, here’s how to watch a rocket launch on your road trip or vacation to Cape Canaveral and the Space Coast.

How to find the launch schedule

The Launch Console app is the easiest way to find the launch schedules for SpaceX, NASA, and ULA all in one place. Beyond the schedule, you’ll also find liftoff reminders, a live feed of the launch so you can see the action up close, and a compass to ensure you know where to look.

How to get to Cape Canaveral, the Kennedy Space Center, and other Space Coast destinations

From the Miami area, the Space Coast is an easy road trip that can be done in a little over three hours.

If you’re visiting from further away, there are a number of airports within about an hour drive of Cape Canaveral to choose from. While Melbourne International Airport and Dayton Beach International Airport are also options, Orlando International Airport is your best bet for finding affordable airfare and it’s about a 45-minute drive from the Space Coast.

Be forewarned that once you arrive in the region, there will most likely be more traffic than usual due to this unique spectacle—so plan accordingly by giving yourself some extra time to deal with the influx of people.

How to get tickets to the launch

All Florida launches begin their journey at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station or Kennedy Space Center—but there is more than one launch pad and multiple types of tickets are available for purchase.

Depending on the day and time of the officially scheduled launch, visitors can view rocket launches at the following locations: LC-39 Observation Gantry, Banana Creek Launch Viewing Area (adjacent to the Apollo/Saturn V Center), The Apollo/Saturn V Center lawn, and the main visitor complex with bleachers set up in designated viewing areas. For more information about protocols for specific events, check out the KSC website.

Visitors can also see launches from other areas of the Kennedy Space Center and adjacent Cape Canaveral Space Force Station—but each type of rocket uses a different launch pad, so the opportunity is only available for some missions based on safety protocols.

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is the closest spot for the public to see live launches—and if you watch the launch here, you can also listen to the accompanying expert commentary, enjoy access to the bleacher seating, and even see the center’s exhibits and attractions.

Ticket options range from a simple admission to Launch Transportation Tickets and Rocket Launch Packages, which include admission to the Space Center and some special extra perks. The best way to purchase tickets is online, which you can then access on your phone at the front gate.

2022 Gateway Grand Open KSC SCOTO 45.jpg
Photo courtesy of 2022 Gateway Grand Open KSC SCOTO 45

Where to see the launch beyond the Kennedy Space Center

This is a map of some NASA-approved viewing spots beyond the Space Center grounds. If you can’t grab official tickets or don’t want to deal with the traffic of being on-site, there are plenty of alternate destinations to ground yourself for launch viewings.

Visit The Space Bar at the Courtyard Titusville Kennedy Space Center, which has a special “express elevator” that takes guests straight up to the rooftop next to a wall signed by many of the astronauts that have tested out one of the bar’s “elevated” cocktails. This hotel is the closest property to the Space Center’s 39A and 39B launch complexes and is known for hosting launch parties for some of the more publicized rocket takeoffs.

There are also plenty of local parks like Marina Park, Sand Point Park, Space View Park, Manzo Park, Kennedy Point Park, Jetty Park, and Alan Shepard Park where you can spread out a blanket and enjoy a nice view.

If you prefer being out on the water, you can boat or paddle out to the shores of the Indian River Lagoon or plop down on Playalinda Beach at the Canaveral National Seashore. There’s also the Cocoa Beach Pier which stretches out into the ocean making for a nice place to see the action.

What to pack and other helpful tips

You never know how long you’ll be waiting for the final countdown, so be sure to pack food and water along with ample sun protection, including sunscreen, hats, long sleeve shirts, umbrellas, and sunglasses. If you attract bugs, make sure to bring insect repellent to ward off these tiny pests. Depending on which viewing location you choose, you’ll also want to bring along folding-style chairs and blankets to sit on.

Bring a jacket and some rain gear as the weather in Florida is known to be unpredictable. If the launch is in the early morning or late evening, you’ll also want to bring a headlamp and flashlight so you can see your surroundings depending on where you’re watching.

And finally, don’t forget your camera, tripods, and binoculars—this is the chance to catch a glimpse of history, after all.

Cocoa Beach Pier
Cocoa Beach Pier | Kevin Capella/Shutterstock

Other things to do in Cape Canaveral and the rest of the Space Coast

Unfortunately, these launches get canceled more often than you’d hope because rocket missions will only count down if every single tiny little detail is determined to be 100% perfect. First, keep your fingers crossed, but it’s always a good idea to have a “Plan B” in case the launch is scrubbed. Luckily, there are plenty of things to do on the Space Coast, so regardless of whether your launch actually follows through, here are some things to do beyond the launch pad.

Because you’re on the coast, there are several ways to get out on the water and enjoy nature. Embark on a kayak tour with Fin Expeditions, and paddle through the statuesque mangrove trees in the lagoon or take a trip on a catamaran with Sail Cocoa Beach along the river—you might even see some dolphins.

For a water-adjacent activity, hang out at The Cove at Port Canaveral and grab a bite to eat with a view. When SpaceX boosters land on drone ships or Dragon capsules land in the ocean, the ships that bring them back to Cape Canaveral have to travel through Port Canaveral, and restaurants like Rusty's Seafood & Oyster Bar have a prime line of sight to where the boats arrive and sit to wait for their next mission.

The nearby Cocoa Beach is also an ideal destination, and the laid-back surfside city of Downtown Cocoa Beach offers cute boutique shopping, excellent dining, and nightlife featuring more than 150 local businesses to explore.

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Molly O'Brien is a contributor for Thrillist.