In the early 1950s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredged this deep-water canal through a finger of land south of Merritt Island, along the East Coast of Central Florida. By 1966, the port was the pivot point for a thriving commercial fishery, Navy and Air Force bases, and more than 1 million tons of cargo. All of those industries still exist at Port Canaveral, only on a much grander scale. In the 21st century, for example, cargo totals 3 million tons, from citrus and lumber to oil and automobiles.
It wasn't cargo that made this port an iconic destination, though. To the north of Port Canaveral, NASA's Kennedy Space Center took root in the 1960s. Jetty Park, at the mouth of the harbor, still gets crammed with people -- in and out of the ocean -- craning their necks to see the next thing getting launched into space. There's plenty more room for that at Canaveral National Seashore to the north, as well as some smaller port venues, like Rodney Ketcham Park and Freddie Patrick Park.
At the western end of the harbor is where many millions of tourists get their first glimpses of the Space Coast. This is where six cruise terminals serve, in 2012, at least four major cruise lines and nearly 3 million passengers a year. That business has also been a mainstay of Port Canaveral since the 1960s.
But business often leads to pleasure, and there's plenty to find at Port Canaveral. The Cove is a town-style cluster of restaurants and clubs on the south end of the harbor that now swells with visitors. But look close and find the mom-and-pop eateries offering off-the-boat delicacies like soft shell crab.