Chris Baus

Thoughts on Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral, FL

The Good

The view from my condo: I have a 25 foot deck which directly faces east over the Atlantic Ocean.

The beach is really nice. Maybe it isn’t as perfect as some of the beaches in Hawaii or Central America, but it is still a nice beach.

The baby boomers are unloading a lifetime’s worth of equity in FL and it is just starting. They are flooding in from all over the country and Canada. It is a huge area relative to the size of FL. Most East Coasters and Mid Westerners don’t even consider retiring to California, but a lot consider retiring to FL.

People are friendly — year round locals, tourists, and snow birds have all been equally friendly.

There is a reason they it call the Sunshine State. Summers might be hot, but the rest of the year the weather is pretty nice. As beautiful as Seattle is, there is no way I could subject myself to those types of winters.

The cost of living, while increasing, is low relative to many places including almost all of the West Coast. While real estate is getting more expensive, it is still a bargain. You can still buy oceanfront condos for around $300k. That might sound like a lot of money, but compared with just about anywhere else in the country it is a steal. Larry’s Take is one of the best real estate blogs anywhere, and he has made me feel more comfortable about my investment down here. He even met me for lunch although I wasn’t a client — a quality guy.

There seems to be an equal number of single women and men. That might be a strange bullet point, but I think the lack of women in Tahoe (and the West Coast in general) creates a hostile environment.

While the end of the manned space program hit this area hard, there is still a ton of infrastructure at Kennedy Space Center which can’t easily be replicated. SpaceX alone has 20 launches currently scheduled at Cape Canaveral.

Surfing and water sports: I’m the crappiest surfer ever, and while the Cocoa Beach is nothing like the West Coast, it still has some of the best surfing on the East Coast. Unlike California, the water temparatures are tolerable to tropical. Kiteboarding looks incredible, but I don’t know if I will ever have the energy to learn a sport like that at this stage in my life, but who knows, maybe after I drop a few more pounds.

Orlando has a truly international airport that is easy to get in and out of. There are direct flights from MCO to SFO and JFK.

Cocoa Beach is the closest beach to Orlando, so any tourists that want combine a trip to the ocean with a trip to Disney come to Cocoa Beach.

Mixed in between the kitschy tourist traps (more on that in a minute) is a handful of gems. The Surfinista is an awesome coffee shop. You can sit there and pretend you are in California. Just across the street is Juice and Java which has weekly open mic and singer song writer performers.

Laid back lifestyle: after I bought the condo, I was stressing out about hurricanes, and I was talking to some locals at the Sandbar, and I asked one, “what do you do if there is a hurricane?” Deadpan answer: “party.” That explains the lifestyle here.

Port Canaveral is one of the busiest cruise ports in the world, and development is continuing.

There is no state income tax.

There is a technical college, Florida Institute of Technology, just down the road in Melbourne.

The entire town from Port Canaveral to the Fat Snook is a flat 9.3 mile bike ride.

The not so good

Most restaurants have bland, boring, and fairly expensive tourist food. There are a few decent restaurants in town, but the good ones are expensive. The grocery stores are pretty limited including the meat selection. There is nothing like Wegman’s. There is no good sushi.

Like Tahoe, the economy is very much based on the tourist industry, but I think there is more potential for sustaining industry including software down here than Tahoe. Tahoe has way too limited and expensive real estate. Reno is a different story, but it has gotten pretty expensive as well.

Property tax is fairly high. For my condo which is probably worth about $350k, I pay about $5k per year.

Driving is crazy. The mix of retirees from the Midwest and five lane divided highways is a recipe for disaster.

The bad

I’ve never really thought much about global warming until I bought a place in FL. Cocoa Beach is not on mainland FL. It is a barrier island and it is so narrow in places it feels like you could stretch out your arms and touch the ocean and the lagoon (which they call a river) on the other side. Cocoa Beach is just one good storm surge away from not being a place at all.

A1A (the main highway which runs down the island) is a disaster. There seems to be no planning at all. Everything is just thrown together in a mess of ill maintained parking lots. It isn’t even landscaped well.

In some places A1A is the only route from Port Canaveral to Downtown Cocoa Beach. It is a five lane highway with no bike lanes. There are sidewalks, but it is not pedestrian friendly as there really isn’t anything to walk to from Ron Jon’s to Downtown. On the lagoon side it is all parking lots and strip malls. On the ocean side it is unfriendly condominium complexes. The whole area other than a small part of downtown is hostile to pedestrians.

There are a lot of strip clubs. I can think of three off the top of my head. Strip clubs are a way of life down here.

Too laid back. Hiring contractors is about as bad as Tahoe. Partying is also a way of life.

Much of the town is ticky-tacky tourist shit. One place I actually liked, Harvey’s Groves which sold local oranges and orange juice, was replaced with a mini golf course. Ron Jon’s is, well Ron Jon’s, you have to see it to believe it.

A lot of the infrastructure is old and ugly. My condo building is actually fairly well maintained and looks decent, but there are some ugly, ugly condos and hotels in Cocoa Beach, and I have no idea how those will be updated given the ownership structure.

Like Tahoe, this area doesn’t seem like a place that attracts ambitious people (although I see this changing if some non-tourist based businesses get off the ground here).

Conclusion

Like many places there is good and bad. What is mostly of interest to me is the quality of life and the direction of the economy. The roots of Cocoa Beach are a middle class family paradise, but that is changing. 5 years ago when I bought the condo I had some serious reservations. I would walk out to A1A at night and think, “this could go one of two ways; either it will turn around or become a drug and crime infested nightmare.” It will never be perfect, but I think we are definitely on the turn around side.

So while I never envisioned myself living in FL, I think I can make it work. Part of my unease is helped by the fact I still own a house in Tahoe, even if I have to rent it out to make ends meet.