Even a bad day at the beach is better than being at the office.
I kept repeating that to myself as exceptionally gusty winds threatened to blow everything off my outdoor table on the deck of Coconuts on the Beach, a longtime restaurant and bar on Cocoa Beach.
By everything, I mean my plastic tumbler of iced tea, the wax paper that lined my aluminum tray, a few of the french fries on the wax paper, and a salt shaker. Undaunted, I kept struggling to read my summer novel, doing my best to look casual.
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- Tom Cruise
9700 Route A1A, Melbourne Beach, FL 32951, USA
When the winds weren't blowing, there were occasional raindrops on my recent beach getaway — a leisurely drive south on State Road A1A from iconic Ron Jon Surf Shop in Cocoa Beach to Sebastian Inlet State Park on the southern tip of Brevard County. There's a lot of diverse landscape on this trek, but none of it is far from the beach in a county that extends 70 miles north to south, but only a few miles inland at any point.
My starting point in Cocoa Beach is a busy tourist area, especially the hub of hotels, restaurants and shops in the shadow of the massive Ron Jon, where every imaginable surf accessory is available 24-7. Yet there's also access to unspoiled beachfront at Lori Wilson Park (1500 N. Atlantic Ave.), where an inviting boardwalk leads to dunes dotted with sea oats.
That park is one of many that adorn the coast along A1A. In Satellite Beach, it's possible to set up camp at a beachfront park almost at the end of a runway at Patrick Air Force Base. I lingered a few moments, waiting unsuccessfully for a jet to roar overhead, the way one did to Tom Cruise in "Top Gun."
Each of the coastal cities offered unique mom-and-pop eateries and businesses. In Indialantic, south of Indian Harbour Beach, I browsed paintings, photographs and antique jewelry at Hoi Polloi Gallery (hoipolloigallery.com), which recently moved from West Melbourne.
At the Barrier Island Sanctuary in Melbourne Beach, I compared my weight with assorted sea creatures on a giant digital scale in a lobby filled with interactive environmental exhibits. The scale must have been off, though, because I can't weigh as much as a loggerhead sea turtle.
Nevertheless, the 34-acre sanctuary (barrierislandcenter.com) offers fine educational experiences, including guided hikes to see sea turtles in June and July.