Oh, Florida. So many places to visit and fun things to do. But along large stretches of road in this elongated state, it may seem like the only entertaining options are the same old, same old large box stores, fast-food emporiums, and corporate chains found in Anywhere, USA.
This was my dilemma while searching for an unusual spot for a “sisters’ day” get-together between Ormond Beach (where she lives) and Stuart (where I was visiting) on the state’s Atlantic coast. That’s when I discovered Historic Cocoa Village. Located on the mainland along the “Space Coast” — about 10 miles from both Cocoa Beach and Port Canaveral — the village is a breath of fresh air from the usual I-95 corridor offerings.
Originally settled in the mid-1800s, the grid of tree-lined streets along the Indian River is home to mom-and-pop style restaurants, boutique shops, and (in the evening) live music and performance venues. The village is a family-friendly detour for travelers who want the feel of small-town Florida while visiting the area’s larger tourist destinations.
The vibe is casual and funky, an artsy throwback to times before the retail and dining worlds became homogenized. This means you never know what you’ll find in shops that sell everything from Turkish handicrafts (Anatolian Designs, 212 Brevard Ave.) to a leopard print dress and (fake) diamond-studded red cowboy boots (My Best Friend’s Secret, Luxury Consignment, 220 Brevard Ave.) to Asian vases and an eye-popping array of collectibles (Stone Street Apothecary & Antiques Marketplace, 17 Stone St.) to beachy-themed gifts, jewelry, and Mexican Talavera pottery (Village Beach House, 15 Oleander St.). Our hearts were stolen at a tiny shop with handmade jewelry and crafts that’s part of a larger project supporting at-risk mothers and fathers with full-time artisan jobs in Haiti (Papillon Marketplace, 311 Brevard Ave.).
Dining options are also unique and numerous. Some of our many choices included Thai and Japanese cuisine (Thai Thai Village, 100 Harrison St.); burgers, pizza, and pastas (Pub Americana, 401 Delannoy Ave.); pulled pork, mac and cheese, and wood-fired meats (Cryderman’s Barbecue, 401 Florida Ave.); and fried oysters, catfish nuggets, and gator bites (Norman’s Raw Bar & Grill, 3 Forrest Ave.). We opted for some lighter fare — salads and wood-fire roasted sandwiches — followed by coffee ice cream smoothies (Ossorio Bakery and Café, 316 Brevard Ave.). In the evening, additional restaurants open for upscale dining, including continental cuisine with white-tablecloth service (The Tulip Restaurant & Lounge, 207 Brevard Ave.), and classic French cuisine and steaks with indoor and al fresco patio seating (Café Margaux, 220 Brevard Ave.).
Of course, sometimes a detour can turn into an all-day affair, which is easy to do in Historic Cocoa Village. Somehow our “sisters’ day” visit flew by without us seeing all the area has to offer. Ah well, there’s always next year.