Smack dab in the middle of the Space Coast’s stellar beaches is Patrick Air Force Base, a U.S. Air Force facility that occupies a sizable chunk of barrier island between Cocoa Beach and Satellite Beach.
The base has been here for some time, initially opened in 1940 as Naval Air Station Banana River, where it served in part as a base for patrol flights during World War II. It was transferred to the Air Force in 1948 and first renamed Joint Long Range Proving Ground and then Patrick Air Force Base after Maj. Gen. Mason Patrick, the first Chief of the Army Air Corps.
The base is home to the 45th Space Wing and the 920th Rescue Wing, plus the Air Force Technical Applications Center, among other units and personnel. It’s closely connected to operations involving space exploration and support operations, controlling Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and hosting thousands of airmen and their families.
That means if it’s launched into space on a rocket, needs to be refueled or rescued or is a potential nuclear threat, Patrick AFB is involved.
What isn’t often pointed out, however, is that it has miles of beachfront that the public can use, just across A1A from the base. Easily accessible and mostly people-free, they’re a good option for people who are looking to get in some surfing, fishing or alone time along the Atlantic.
The beaches here are all pretty similar: Expanses of mostly development-free beachfront, often all but devoid of people. The oceanfront is usually populated by military families and beach hermits who want to enjoy the ocean without the rash of condos and hotels along the Space Coast.
The beach, as mentioned, is divided into six separate access points. These beaches have free parking and access, and often can be deserted when there aren’t major holidays or groups holding some kind of party or function.
The six main beach access points from A1A are, from north to south:
This is best-equipped beach in terms of amenities. It has bathrooms, showers, volleyball courts and a pavilion with picnic tables, all just south of the Cocoa Beach city limits. Tables Beach is in south Cocoa Beach, just north of Patrick Air Force Base. This beach offers a more tranquil, uncrowded setting with amenities such as restrooms, covered tables, and a concession stand.
This lot has showers. The access is next to the Beach House, which is only open to people with a Defense Department ID card.
2nd Light Beach
There are showers at this location, which has a small parking lot and is directly across from the Jupiter Street gate to the base.
This beach has a plethora of broken down asphalt and concrete along the base of the dunes. Oddly enough, people tend to hang out on flat stretches of the rubble to have a place to sit or, later in the day, get out of the sun. There is also an observation walk at the top of the dunes. There are showers but no bathrooms.
Tides Beach Club
This is the collocated club for base personnel. There are two large parking lots: The one on the north side of the club is for club members, while the one on the south side has handicapped beach access.
The southernmost beach before you reach South Patrick Shores has showers, a short boardwalk and a picnic area, but also a tiny parking lot. There’s not much room to turn around here, either, so take a good look for a spot before turning in.
Keep well in mind that you are right next to a major Air Force Base. Kites and drones are forbidden. Parking lots have posted hours when the Air Force allows visitors. There are no lifeguards, and strictly speaking, pets aren’t allowed (although we did see a couple four-legged swimmers while we were there).
These aren’t destination beaches by most standards — rather, they happen to be there, should you be on the base or in a nearby community and want a day out.
Unless you’re part of the 45th Space Wing or the 920th Rescue Wing (or another unit at the base), the main gateway for air travel is Orlando Melbourne International Airport (MLB), a small commercial airport in the Melbourne area. It has some regional flights, plus American and Delta routes.
The typical ground transportation options exist here, although it’s going to take you some time to head out to the barrier islands. In addition to courtesy hotel shuttles, cabs and the bus, rideshare companies Uber and Lyft are available.
Closer to Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral is Merritt Island Airport (COI), a general aviation airport for people who like to fly for fun, and also Space Coast Regional Airport (TIX), which is slightly larger and closer to Kennedy Space Center.
By car, there are four highways leading to the barrier islands in Brevard County, all of them connecting with the north-south arteries U.S. Highway 1 and Interstate 95.
A1A, the Martin Anderson Beachline Expressway, heads into Cape Canaveral from the north end of the island, and is the most used thoroughfare for cruise ship passengers looking to hit the seas. A1A turns into Atlantic Avenue as it heads south through Cocoa Beach.
State Road 520, the West Cocoa Beach (or West Merritt Island) Causeway, heads east directly from Cocoa Village on the mainland. This is the most direct route between Cocoa, Merritt Island and Cocoa Beach, and by no mistake leads right to Ron Jon Surf Shop, among other businesses.
If you head south from these two highways, you’ll reach Patrick Air Force Base’s beaches.
South of the base, S.R. 404 (the Pineda Causeway) and S.R. 518 (the Eau Gallie Causeway) stretch from Melbourne to the beaches. S.R. 404 leads to Indian Harbour Beach and 518 ends at Indialantic. If you end up on A1A from here, you’ll have to go north.
Space Coast Area Transit, which tries hard to avoid going by the unfortunate acronym SCAT, is the public transportation option in these parts. Routes mostly serve Cocoa and Melbourne on the mainland, but Route 26 follows A1A along the base’s beachfront.