Visiting Florida's museums and parks can be a stressful, with the heat and crowds taking their toll on a traveler's frazzled nerves. Luckily, the Space Coast near Melbourne offers other options where the animals outnumber the people and the pace of exploration is decidedly slower.

Visiting Florida's museums and parks can be a stressful, with the heat and crowds taking their toll on a traveler's frazzled nerves.


Luckily, the Space Coast near Melbourne offers other options where the animals outnumber the people and the pace of exploration is decidedly slower.


An Eco Tour with Wildside Tours of Cocoa Beach offers a glimpse of some of the many species of endangered wildlife that inhabit the area.


Captain Ben Evans knows the river and the Thousand Islands nature preserve like the back of his hand. As the boat glides down the river, Evans, a former teacher, points out the diversity and fragility of waterway's ecosystem.


The tour showcases a multitude of waterfowl, including wrens and herons, but the highlights of the trip are the dolphins and manatees. Dolphins will playfully shadow the boat, and gentle manatees can be seen lolling in the river's shallows.


If that doesn't satisfy the animal lover, check out the Brevard Zoo in Melbourne.


Some may see the word "zoo" and think it's all for kids, but there's a lot to see and do that will interest the whole family.


In the Australia Asia area, take the opportunity to feed the lorikeets in the aviary exhibit. It's an experience that will leave a smile on your face for hours.


You get a small cup of nectar. The colorful birds will hop onto your wrist and began lapping it up. However, once the other birds know there's food available, the tussle begins. The birds, also called "lories" down under, will wrestle for the right to sip from the cup.


Visitors can also feed the giraffes. It's a wonderful experience, but the graceful and docile giraffes aren't as much fun as the lorikeets.


The zoo also features a number of other animals on exhibit. Its newest residents are a pair of young female cheetahs, Basil and Pepper. They arrived Feb. 13 as part of a new complex in the zoo's Expedition Africa section.


There are other sections dedicated to Wild Florida and the La Selva Rainforest. And for kids, there's a special "Paws On" area and petting zoo.


There are a number of beachfront hotels along Route A1A in the Melbourne area. The recently remodeled Crowne Plaza Oceanfront offers stylish rooms with balconies overlooking the sparkling Atlantic.


You don't even have to leave the hotel grounds to find something to do. The Ocean Reef Spa offers massages, manicures and pedicures to help the stress of travel melt away.


For entertainment, at the On The Rocks lounge you can sample a fine wine or cocktail while enjoying the expansive ocean view. Or, you can dance the night away during one of the hotel's live jazz concerts on its oceanfront deck.


The Crowne Plaza is home to Coquina's Seafood Grill, which features a variety of local seafoods they will cook to order. A tuna steak, grilled, from their menu was delicious, firm and flaky. It is comes with choice of rice or potato, vegetable and a trip to the salad bar.


If you're looking for something a little heartier, Foreman's Steak House on A1A in Indian Harbour Beach should fit the bill.


Foreman's is a carnivore's paradise, with a menu that is heavy on meat and potatoes. They also do seafood, with lobster tails, fried and broiled shrimp and a fresh fish of the day, but this restaurant is really all about steak.


Daily specials often knock $5 off a $20 steak, making the price a tad more palatable. But you pay for quality, and Foreman's offers quality cuts of meat.


A one-pound broiled strip loin special, baked potato and vegetables came in at $16 after the discount. Cooked medium-rare, the steak melts in you mouth and you forget about the price.


The Space Coast is blessed with expansive white-sand beaches, but look a little bit inland and you can experience the diversity that makes this a vacation spot that has a little something for everyone.


If you go:


Brevard Zoo, 832235 North Wickham Road, Melbourne, 321-254-9453 www.brevardzoo.org


Crowne Plaza Hotel Melbourne Oceanfront, 2605 North A1A, Indialantic, www.cpmelbourne.com


Foreman's Steak House, 1940 Highway A1A, Indian Harbour Beach, 321-779-8980, http://www.foremanssteakhouse.com


Wildside Tours of Cocoa Beach, 321-799-5459, www.wildsidetours.com