Indian River County is the citrus capital of North America. However, it doesn’t stop there. There’s so much to see and do. From phenomenal beaches to fantastic festivals, there is always something unique and interesting to discover in this portion of Florida’s Treasure Coast. We’ve picked 10 of our favorite discoveries …
Sunken Treasure Ships
Famous shipwrecks occurred off the coast of Vero Beach centuries ago. On July 30, 1715, Queen Jewels, a Spanish treasure fleet returning from the New World to Spain, left Cuba. After sailing into a hurricane, 11 of the 12 ships sank off the coast of what is now Wabasso Beach, just north of Vero Beach. Their submerged remains are still there today. Treasure hunters have salvaged millions of dollars in gold coins and valuable artifacts from those wrecks, much of which is on view at the McLarty Treasure Museum and Mel Fisher’s Treasure Museum, and some of which is for sale. But treasure hunting in Indian River County is not just for well-funded professional salvage operations. It’s for visitors too. On Sea Grape Trail Beach, a wreck is so close to shore that after storms you may find shards of pottery and small coins washed up on the beach. One wreck sunk with 70 pounds of emeralds on board. Only three pounds have been recovered. (Got your scuba gear handy?)
The area is home to “Pelican Island,” America’s first National Wildlife Refuge, designated by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903. Pelican Island is located in the Indian River Lagoon, with the wider Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge extending out from the island encompassing around 5,400 acres of protected waters and lands. Boat and kayak tours are offered by local operators. But note: because nesting birds are easily disturbed, visitors are not allowed to get too close or to disembark.
Surfing Sebastian Inlet
The waters off the Treasure Coast present some of the best surfing in Florida. You can find spots appropriate for beginners, and at least one place that rip-curl fanatics give “mythic status.” Drop-in at milder spots like Humiston Park, Jaycee Park and Wabasso Beach Park in Vero Beach. They’re all within eight miles of each other on the barrier island. If you want a serious challenge, head a few clicks north to the Monster Hole at Sebastian Inlet. Florida Surf Museum says this break is “where the reality and the hype come together.” If you don’t surf, grab a spot on the sand and spectate.
The Sebastian River Area offers the avid fisherman a variety of challenges from freshwater fishing to deep-sea adventures. The Sebastian Inlet is considered the premier saltwater fishing spot on Florida’s east coast. Fishermen flock to the pier at Sebastian Inlet to catch snook, redfish, bluefish, flounder, snapper, grouper, sheepshead, permit, whiting, blues, Spanish mackerel, and various species of shark. The most popular fish to catch out in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Sebastian are dolphin/mahi-mahi, tuna, swordfish, grouper, snapper, wahoo, sailfish, cobia, barracuda and amberjack. There are quite a few inshore and offshore fishing experts that anglers can hire for private charters. For those preferring to go with a group, there are also a few party and head boats for deep-sea fishing. During the summer months, there are also numerous inshore and offshore fishing tournaments. Oh, and kayak fishing has also become very popular in the Sebastian River Area.
Shopping, Art, and Events Galore
Indian County comes artfully alive in the shops, on the stages, in museums and galleries, and along the sidewalks of Vero Beach, Fellsmere, and Sebastian. This area presents local, national and international talent. You can’t go wrong with the variety of cultural experiences this destination offers, from heritage and art museums, to seasonal ballet and opera performances, to pop concerts and fantastic food/wine/art festivals throughout the year (follow us on Facebook where we highlight our favorite events in Indian County).
If frog legs and gator tails are your thing, then you’re in good company! Every January for the past 29 years, the Fellsmere Frog Leg Festival puts Fellsmere, Florida, on the map. This festival has become a huge draw for visitors who want to experience homespun, Florida-fun, and of course locals who want to join their family and friends enjoying the best the sunshine state offers. Hop to this festival from January 16-19, 2020.
With rustic charm and an otherworldly ambiance, Waldo’s Secret Garden provides a unique backdrop for weddings and receptions. Construction began circa 1911 when Sexton designed this Vero Beach haven using driftwood, iron, and pieces from the collection of a well-known architect, Addison Mizner. Waldo’s Garden is a private property, so visits are by scheduled appointments only.
In 1932, Arthur G. McKee and Sexton opened McKee Jungle Gardens on an 80-acre tropical hammock in Vero Beach. Today, the Garden remains true to its jungle heritage, featuring 10,000 native and tropical plants as well as one of the area’s largest collections of waterlilies. In recent years, the Hall of Giants and Spanish Kitchen, historic to the Garden, were both meticulously restored to Sexton’s original vision.
Located in the Brackett Library (2nd Floor) at the Indian River State College Mueller Campus, is a tidy exhibit consisting of fossilized artifacts and human bones from over 14,000 years ago, which have been collected during various excavations since 1913. Adding to the interest in the site is a recent discovery of a bone recovered near the Old Vero Man site with an image of a Mammoth carved into it. Open weekdays.
For a true taste of old-Florida beachfront living, replete with a façade made from weathered wood, you can’t go wrong with the Driftwood Inn whose origins date back to the early 1900s. The two-story hotel sits right on the Atlantic Ocean on Vero Beach’s barrier island, and includes the legendary Waldo’s Restaurant. A private boardwalk will take you to the beach. Here’s the history on the owner and the property that earned them their “quirky” designation: Waldo Sexton built his sprawling Driftwood Inn of cypress logs and pecky-cypress paneling from the swamps around Blue Cypress Lake, some 26 miles away. Lacking architectural plans, the result is a two-story hotel with balconies everywhere surrounded by pole railings with peeled-log supports. Nothing seems square or level. Inside, the Inn was filled with quirky objects Waldo found on gathering forays domestically and abroad, including ships’ wheels, cannons, old chests and a menagerie of old bells which guests are invited to ring today.
About Indian River County: Situated along Florida’s Treasure Coast on the Atlantic Ocean, the communities of Vero Beach, Sebastian and Fellsmere are the geographical starting point for the Florida tropics, with winter temperatures rarely dipping below 70° (21°C). The county is centrally located 70 miles south of the Kennedy Space Center and 135 miles north of Miami. The destination resides at the intersection of green and glamorous, with 100,000 conservation acres, 26 miles of pristine beaches and a treasure trove of cultural attractions. Hotels and resorts with rooftops no higher than swaying palm trees support the destination’s motto “Sunrises, not High Rises,” contributing to it earning such rankings in 2018 among: The Cutest Beach Towns in Florida/Oyster.com, and America’s Happiest Seaside Towns/Coastal Living. Road trippers can easily access the destination via I-95, the Florida Turnpike or Route 60. It is also convenient to Orlando International; Orlando-Melbourne International, Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood, and Miami International airports. Vero Beach Regional Airport is served by Elite Airways with direct flights from Newark, N.J., and Asheville, N.C. https://visitindianrivercounty.com/
AuthenticFlorida.com named Best Travel Blog at the Florida Sunshine Awards.