Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Guide to Viera, Part II

File photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
We talked yesterday about life around Space Coast Stadium and what you can expect to see this spring if you're headed down that way. Today, let's talk about what you can expect when you're not at the Nationals' spring training complex.

Viera has grown considerably since the Nats came into existence six years ago. Every spring I've arrived in town and discovered some new building or road or restaurant that wasn't there the year before.

Hotel options in the immediate vicinity of the ballpark, though, remain sparse. There's a LaQuinta Inn, a Holiday Inn and a Hampton Inn on Wickham Road at Interstate 95, all about a five-minute drive to Space Coast Stadium. All can get pretty crowded during the spring, in part because the Nationals take up some of the rooms for team personnel, especially minor-league players and staff.

There may be a lack of hotel rooms in Viera, but there isn't a lack of eating options. Name the chain restaurant, and chances are you'll find it in Viera, either at "The Avenue" shopping center down the road from the ballpark or on Wickham Road (a major thoroughfare in the area). There's Chili's, Longhorn Steakhouse, Mimi's Cafe, Steak and Shake, Cracker Barrel, Perkins, Outback, Carrabba's, Uno's, Moe's Southwest Grill and Five Guys, among others.

There are also several worthy non-chain restaurants if you know where to look, and I suggest you do. In the same shopping center as Carrabba's, you'll find Amici's, a great Italian joint owned by a huge baseball fan (we'll ignore the part where his team of choice hails from the Bronx). Plenty of Nats folks dine here regularly, and once you taste the food, you'll understand why. I highly recommend. In that same shopping center is Toyo, a sushi restaurant that also serves cooked Asian cuisine for those too scared to try raw fish (like yours truly). Further down Wickham Road is Charlie and Jake's, a microbrewery and sports bar that's also popular with Nats folks and has been a regular stop for me over the years. And a little further down on Route 1 is Pineda Crossing, another popular stop.

If you come down, though, you shouldn't confine yourself to Viera. Check out both Cocoa Beach and Melbourne, each about a 20-25 minute drive from Space Coast Stadium.

I stayed in Cocoa Beach several years, and you certainly can't go wrong spending any length of time staying near the ocean. There are lots of hotels along State Route A1A, though be aware the prices are higher there than in Viera or Melbourne because of the location.

Even if you don't stay in Cocoa Beach, be sure to head out there at least once during your trip. There are plenty of great restaurants, from several at the Cocoa Beach Pier to Fishlips to Sunset Bar and Grill to Coconuts on the Beach to the wonderfully named The Fat Snook.

I stayed in Melbourne last spring and will be back there again this year, and I'm glad I discovered the area, because I didn't realize it has its own charms. Downtown Melbourne features some great eateries and nightlife: Meg O'Malley's Irish pub, Matt's Casbah (highly recommend), Smokey Bones (great place for BBQ and watching sporting events on TV). And of course, no trip to the area would be complete without a stop at Bonefish Willy's, the best seafood place in town. It's a little tricky to find, but trust me, it's worth it.

As far as other activities to partake in when you're not at the ballpark, the Kennedy Space Center tops the list. Even if you don't tour the actual facility, be sure to check the upcoming launch schedule. As luck would have it, Space Shuttle Discovery is scheduled to launch on February 24 at 4:50 p.m. Having seen a few launches over the years in person, I've got to say it's one of the coolest things ever. There are also two rocket launches scheduled in March: an Atlas V on March 4 and a Delta IV on March 11. Be aware, of course, that these schedules change all the time at the last minute due to weather and other factors.

Since you don't get a whole lot of free time while covering spring training, I don't have much expertise on other activities. I've heard the Brevard Zoo is nice. You can't go wrong lounging on the beach (as long as the weather's nice). And, of course, Disney World and all the other tourist traps in Orlando are an hour away if you're in to that sort of thing.

For all of you who have been to Viera in the past, please share your own experiences and recommendations for hotels, restaurants and activities...

56 comments:

Brian said...

is that sushi place still there? I recall seeing Chief, and several other Nats there

NatsJack in Florida said...

For those of you that travel SR 520 between Orlando and Viera and are brave, you can stop by The Lone Cabbage Fish Camp on the east side of the St. Johns River bridge.

Aside from your favorite adult beverage, you can sample fried gator tail, as well as your regular favorite bar food. It's quite a Florida cracker style place usually a good time is had by all.

They also offer real Florida style airboat rides.

(j)on said...

Does Space Coast Stadium charge for parking?

Doc said...

WOW!

Great travel guide Mark. I'm bookmarking it for future travel in March.

Thanks!

NatsJack in Florida said...

Yep .... Parking costs 5 bucks on game days. Free for the practice sssions before the actual ST games begin.

(j)on said...

Mark, I'm not seeing any March missions on the Nasa site...where'd you see that?

markfd said...

Great rundown Mark, you hit all of my favorites!

NervousNatsFan said...

There's a charge for parking, but there's a school across the street from the park that we parked in during non-school hours. Probably not technically allowed, but I despise paying top $ for parking at sporting events. And let's just say we were not the only ones parked there in Nats gear.

Big Cat said...

Nats Jack.....are you gonna be down there to report on whats going on? I think a fan can be more critical than a reporter

Anonymous said...

For the first timers down there, what is the best way to get there - fly into Orlando and drive over? If not Orlando, where to?

NatsJack in Florida said...

I'll attend next Fridays (2/18/11) and Sundays (2/20/11) practices. I have season tickets to the games and plan on attending all except for maybe 1. I've also got access to several games at Disney.

I'm also attending a practice at the Mets compound in St. Lucie and look forward to assessing the two different camps.

And I'll call em as I see's em.

N. Cognito said...

(j)on said...
"Mark, I'm not seeing any March missions on the Nasa site...where'd you see that?"

The others are Air Force launches.

NatsJack in Florida said...

Everyone I know flies in to Orlando and rents a car. You can possibly find a flight in to Melbourne but the choices are usually very limited.

Anonymous said...

Go to the website for "Florida Today" they usually post launch info on the front page of the paper in a side bar below the fold.
Glad you found Melbourne, Mark, might add the Chart House as a place to sit and watch the boats come in over dinner and lunch, then get over to Mel Beach and try Djon's Steak and Lobster for some great food, and if you are 'stuck' overnight Beachside, Lily's on A1A in Satellite Beach is a great breakfast dive and only about 15 minutes from the park (on A!A about a mile south of Patrick AFB.

Anonymous said...

Melbourne also has a dog track, for those so inclined to make a wager. It also has horse simulcasts available to lose even more!! JTinSC

Anonymous said...

I used to spend a lot of time in the area with customers at Cape Canaveral AFS and Patrick AFB. The town of Cocoa itself is pretty cool - old Florida. One thing Mark forgot to mention is, to get over to Cocoa Beach, you cross the Intercostal and the Indian River, which are really nice. Merritt Island is in the middle and it's grown a lot over the years. All the usual suburban stuff - the chain restaurants, the chain stores, a pretty good mall - is there.

Cocoa Beach used to be sort of funky until Disney rolled in big time in the late 90s. The huge Disney cruise ships operate out of Port Canaveral - right by the entrance to the Air Station. As far as the Air Station goes, I don't know what access is like these days, but see if you can get a gate pass to go to the Air Force Space Museum which is about halfways from the entrance to the industrial area on the Air Force side (long before you get to the NASA/Kennedy section.

You will have a very sober moment of thought when you see an actual Redstone rocket with an actual Mercury boilerplate capsule mounted on top at the very launch pad where Alan Sheppard and Gus Grissom launched from. It's sober because the Redstone is way smaller in person, standing upright, than it ever looked in film or photo. The capsule too. The setup looks like a triple-gauge telephone pole with a trash can on top. And the launch control center is a tine cinderblock building with some very antique-looking electronics. You will have a newfound feeling of amazement that the astronauts actually were willing to climb up on those rockets, and at the amazement that they were able to launch, monitor and recover astronauts with what looks like a couple of ham radios and the guts from a couple of really old Zenith televisions. You used to be able to drive right out on the pad. They had pretty much one of every rocket and missile the Air Force launched back in the 40s to 70s. Very cool.

And Mark - I can't believe you left Panera off the list. That was Nats Central back when Svurluga was the Post's beat reporter.

Arlington BigFish said...

Steak & Shake ??!! How come they can get those in Florida but we can't in Virginia? Many years ago, when I was working on a political campaign in downstate Illinois, I lucked upon the original Steak & Shake in Normal. I've been hooked ever since, & make an S&S pilgrimage every time I'm in the Midwest.

NatsJack in Florida said...

I've got 2 less than 2 miles from my house...Now I've got to eat junk food tonite.

Thanks!

natsfan1a said...

Thanks for all the eatery tips, particularly of the non-chain variety. On a related note, can anybody recommend a good place for Cuban food in the Space Coast area? Thanks.

natsfan1a said...

Oh, and would the airboat tours be up and running in the ST timeframe?

NatsJack in Florida said...

They run the airboat trips year round.

NatsJack in Florida said...

Just google Lone Cabbage Fish Camp.

Andrew said...

NatsJack, I am one that stays in Orlando and discovered the Marriott Grande Lakes resort last year which put me about a 45 minute drive door to door to Viera.

I do the Orlando area as it is in the middle to catch the Nats on the road when they play the Braves and Tigers and Astros on the road and my kids like the Orlando area (I wonder why).

NatsJack in Florida said...

Andrew... you probably take the "Bee Line" (we locals will never call it the "Beach Line") all the way to I-95 so you end up missing the Lone Cabbge. If you take the SR 520 exit it cuts about 5 minutes and 8 miles off the trip plus gives you the opportunity to experience the Lone Cabbge.

natsfan1a said...

Thanks, NatsJack.

yankish2 said...

NatsJack in Florida...are you an owner of the Lone Cabbage?!

NatsJack in Florida said...

No but I've enjoyed many a brew while playing a great oldies juke box in my time.

REDMAN said...

Mark forgot to mention that Charlie & Jake's has great BBQ and live music on the patio to go with their own brews. 5 stars!
Also Beef O'Gradys at Viera Blvd. and Murrell Blvd. about 2 miles from the stadium is a good sports bar with good sandwiches and bar fare. Coaches and players are there often.

Tcostant said...

One real option for those who are asking about flying. You can take the "Amtrak Auto Train" (http://tickets.amtrak.com/itd/amtrak/autotrain)
from Lorton and bring you car with you.

This way you don't have to drive the long trip to Florida, but with have the use of your own car in Florida. A family of three can get there for about $800 (use the Triple A discount) round trip and will save on car rental. You can leave on a Saturday at 4pm and make the game the next day.

Edward said...

For current launch schedules, go to Spaceflight Now's web site http://spaceflightnow.com/tracking/index.html.

For Cuban food, Roberto's Little Havana, 26 N. Orlando Ave. in Cocoa Beach is good.

hb3b said...

Come see mason take on jmu this weekend Feb12!!!
http://bit.ly/hAvpBz

JayB said...

NOT TO SIDE TRACK THIS POST PLEASE.....Just off the plane.....GREAT NEWS>>>>>Alex C does not have an invite to MLB ST Camp per Mark....I was wrong it seems....Thanks Mark.....Now if Njack will be honest and tell us when and where he sees Alex. Mark....let us know when he gets his first AB in a MLB ST game please. I will be done to check in 10 days or so.

alexva said...

Mark, no need to report on this. We will all know as it will undoubtedly signal the end of the world.

Staying in Satellite Beach said...

The Conch Key on Route 1 is probably the closest tiki bar to Space Coast Stadium; good seafood, adult beverages, and a view of the water. As you can see from my name, I've rented a condo in that town on the ocean side of A1A; checking out the condo or beach house option in the string of beach towns south of Cape Canaveral is probably worthwhile if you're staying for a week or more. We've got a 1-bedroom place with a full kitchen that's only a 20 second walk from the ocean -- less at high tide -- and paying $1600 rent for the entire month of March.

Ryan said...

Within the past year, Grills opened on US1 just north of Pineda. It's right on the river. Fantastic view and food.

Another_Sam said...

natsfan1a ... Cuban food -- I work a lot in the Melbourne area. The only Cuban I've been to is Roberto's,on A1A just south of Cocoa Beach. I've not been there in a while. Was good last time I went.

NatsJack - thanks for the tip on Lone Cabbage Fish Camp. I've driven by it many times. I'll stop in next week when I'm there on business.

I'm going to try Charlie and Jake's too. I've seen the ads but never been in there.

My call for best resturant in Melbourne - Island Fish Grill, which someone mentioned here a while back. But alas, the beer selection is pedestrian and there are no taps. But the fish is cooked perfectly. And I second MZ and Bonefish Willie
on Pineapple just off Eau Galle. Again, thouh, the beer selection is inexplicably ho-hum. Regarding Smokey Bones -- beer selection fine, lots of TVs, but the quality of the food there has slipped, IMHO, since the quality conscious chain that owns Olive Garden, Darden Group, sold the SB's locations. Best beer selection in the space coast area IMHO - Coasters.

Hotels - I've got two non-consecutive nights in the Holiday Inn on Wickham again this year. Was okay last year, seemed to have a lot of fans there. On business, I stay elsewwhere though. HI is quite reasonable on the rate.

Yes, fly into Orlando. Flights all day long in and out of Orlando. The Melbourne airport seems to me to have all flights connecting in Atlanta -- but not really, I know -- and not very many of those.

I'm going to try some of the other places you mentioned, Mark. I'm often in Meg O'malleys but I've never tried Matt's Casbah. I'll try it.

MZ - Thank you. Great piece. If I see you in Charlie and Jakes, the first round is on me. I'm ready.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, not worried about Cintron or Citron ...

More interested in Milone, Rosenbaum, Tatusko, and Barthmaier against the old standard bearers in the ice dome of Syracuse. Might make the Nats rotation more interesting as the season progresses ...

Anonymous said...

Or is it Citroen? Cool cars especially the Super D5.

Another_Sam said...

Mark -- can you offer one or two highlighs on the other spring sites? This year I'm returning to Jupiter - love the Yardhouse -- and to both Orlando parks and Lakeland.

Anonymous said...

Nobody has mentioned the best restaurant in all of Brevard County! River Rocks on Route 1 is just a few miles south of where Viera Boulevard hits Route 1. It is about halfway between Pineda Causeway and Viera Boulevard, about where Suntree Road hits Route 1. First class joint with a wonderful new outdoor bar on the Indian River. Try a late afternoon visit before a night game. It can't be beat.

David said...

Is Tom Milone going to major league camp this year?

Anonymous said...

And I say fly into Savannah and come down 95 that-a-way ... nice time of the year for Savannah and Tybee Island ... pass down through the Palm Coast. Amelia Island. Be different for a change?

Gus in FFX said...

Caveat - I've never been to Viera. This Spring is my first trip and am very excited. Excited about Spring, Spring Training and the Nats in 2011! Thanks to everyone for sharing info and experiences so far. I have read comments and then cross checked a bit with Trip Advisor Reviews. Here is my list of restaurants which I am targeting.

Restaurants:

1) Edelweiss - German, Melbourne
Cuisines: German
2543 US Rte. 1, Melbourne, FL

2) Kay's Real Pit BBQ - Cocoa Beach
1552 Hwy. 520, Cocoa

3) Charlie and Jakes Brewery (BBQ & Nachos)
Cuisines: Barbecue
Eau Gallie Blvd., Melbourne, FL

4) Meg O'Malley's - Melbourne
Cuisines: American, Irish
812 East New Haven Avenue, Melbourne, FL 32901

5) Chart House (Annapolis Seafood/Salad Bar/Expensive)
Cuisines: Seafood
2250 Front St, Melbourne, FL 32901-7302

6) Beef O'Brady's (near stadium)
Cuisines: American
1316 S Babcock St, Melbourne, FL

7) Breakfast at Lily's
240 North Hwy A1A, Satellite Beach, FL 32937

Anonymous said...

I am flying down on Feb 23 and will attend practice on the 24th and 25th. What time should we arrive so that we might get autographs before practice begins? Is lunch time a good time to meet players? When does practice end?

Andrew said...

NatsJack - Thanks so much! I take my GPS with me and hook it up in the rental care so wherever it takes me.

It is such an easy drive and no traffic is so nice! Andrew

Anonymous said...

If you're traveling with family members (spouse, kids) and they're interested in things beyond baseball, I strongly recommend you stay in Cocoa Beach, on the beach (for them). You can then drive to the stadium. There are some nice family-friendly options in Cocoa Beach, including the Space Center (already discussed) and kayaking (not in the ocean, but in the inlets off the bay) and the usual Florida assortment of mini-golf and other such attractions (nothing special, but the kids like them).

Anonymous said...

Gosh, this is great info. But the best part is that we still have MZ there, and he doesn't have to go on his own dime.

JayB said...

Is their still a pending 40 man move from Tom G trade?

NatsJack in Florida said...

JayB... I just checked the Nats web site and went to the 40 man roster.... I know I had to take my socks off and multiply times two but each time I got to 40 and there was one more name on the list so I guess that means there are 41 guys listed which means ..... Yes. One more move remaining. Please ask Mark why this is for all of us.

Staying in Satellite Beach said...

The folks who've raised the issue of beer -- especially good beer -- will like Charlie & Jake's brewpub for a couple of the beers and the barbecue. There's also the Cocoa Beach Brewing Co. A nanobrewery (too small a place to be a microbrewery) in, well, Cocoa Beach. But my vote for the best beer bar in Brevard County goes to a place named Coasters in Indialantic. In a strip mall at the intersection of A1A and Eau Gallie Blvd. the bar has about three dozen craft and import choices on draft, well-made pub grub like wings and sandwiches, and multiple TVs that, for a little cross-sports pollination, usually has the Capitals on screen when they're playing hockey.

Staying in Satellite Beach said...

Gus, FYI, I've eaten the barbecue at both Kay's and Charlie & Jake's and I thought C&J's was superior. Now barbecue, like most religions, is a very personal and subjective decision so you may believe differently but I thought I should offer my testimony.

Anonymous said...

Mark,
Thanks for all of this. As usual you go above and beyond the call of duty.
I will agree with Mark. Seeing a rocket launch is way cool! I have seen a couple, one being at Kennedy for a space shuttle. It is funny, it is kind of an emotional experience (odd as that sounds). If you get a chance to see one lauch don't miss it.

mjr said...

I'm headedd south this weekend for an event in Tampa - and plan to cruise over to Viera bright and early Monday morning for the first moments of the 2011 baseball season. Mark, we haven't met, but I suspect I'll recognize you and will say "Hi." Can't wait!

Gus in FFX said...

Satellite Beach,

Thanks for additional comments. I'm pretty certain we will try both q's as that's our favorite style of food. Of course, our favorite beverage is cold beer, so the additional info on Cocoa Beach Brewing Co. and Coasters catapults them onto our growing list of venues as well. :)

PS: Our favorite bbq here in NoVa is Dixie Bones in Woodbridge.

Nathan said...

I'm surprised no one here has mentioned Long Doggers as a place worth eating. It's nothing fancy, but a great selection "beachy" food. Very surfy atmosphere.

Rakesh said...

nice and beautiful guide. Thanks for share.
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