A hidden gem nestled on Florida’s East Coast, Vero Beach, Fellsmere, and Sebastian are truly dream destinations for nature lovers. My mission: explore and photograph as much of the area’s natural beauty as possible in fewer than 48 hours. A tall order? Definitely. But I couldn’t wait to spend some time in gorgeous Indian River County—a welcome respite away from the 24/7 hustle in Miami, where I live.
I hopped in the car with my husband, Jeremy, and mini schnauzer, Ponce de Leon. We left South Florida in our rear-view mirror with our sights set on uncrowded, pristine beaches and aquamarine waterways. That’s exactly what we found when we arrived in charming Vero Beach. After checking into Gloria Estefan’s elegant and pet-friendly Costa d’Este Beach Resort & Spa, we cruised down Ocean Drive and then Highway A1A to explore Round Island Park.
Spanning the width of the barrier island of Vero Beach, Round Island Park features access to the Atlantic Ocean on the east side and stretches west to the Indian River Lagoon, a body of salt water that sits between the mainland and the island.
At the park, we discovered nature trails connecting small islands via wooden bridges. We wound our way through scenic areas of palm trees and seagrass. I hoped to see a manatee here, because I heard that they love the warm seagrass beds in the Indian River Lagoon. Ready with a GoPro and underwater housing, we waited. And waited. Finally, our patience was rewarded when a manatee swam before us. On top of that, we also happened to witness a pretty spectacular sunset.
Next, we set out to shoot the pier, which we’ve heard is one of the most photographed spots in Vero Beach. The pier is located about equidistant (half a mile) between Tracking Station Park and Jaycee Park. A lifeguard told us the pier is connected to private property and not open to the public, which presents a challenge in finding the right spot. However, we could access the beach through either Tracking Station Park or Jaycee Park, and then walk beneath the structure. This is a great place to go for a beach walk and enjoy the soft sand and gentle lapping waves. While the water was calm while we were there, it’s not uncommon for the waves to pick up enough for surfing.
The next morning, we woke early to catch a glimpse of the sunrise. We relished being able to roll out of bed, grab our camera equipment and walk right out of our hotel room and onto the beach. If you’re into yoga, this would be a great spot to practice your downward-facing dog or warrior two stance. Even Ponce de Leon got in on the sunrise salutations.
Many of the beachside hotels make it easy to take out a kayak or stand-up paddleboard to explore the coastline, providing ample opportunity to get a little exercise while waiting for the sun to rise for that perfect picture.
A National Historic Landmark, and also America’s first wildlife refuge, Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge consists of 5,400+ acres of protected waters and land. It’s a marsh and lagoon habitat for migratory birds and endangered species. You can explore the refuge on your own, or join a free volunteer-led wildlife tour every Wednesday at 8 a.m., available November through March. Since it wasn’t a Wednesday, we explored the natural paradise on our own and soaked up the incredible water views.
If a beach day is what you’re after, look no further than the serene Sebastian Inlet State Park. Imagine picture-perfect beaches stretching as far as the eye can see along the Atlantic Ocean. The huge park spans more than 1,000 acres and three miles of barrier island. It was definitely one of my favorite spots along our journey in Vero Beach and Sebastian. Here, you can swim, snorkel, fish, beachcomb, camp or even launch your own boat. There are also two museums: the McLarty Treasure Museum and the Sebastian Fishing Museum. We were happy just to park ourselves on the sand and enjoy the view.
Make sure to explore the charming main street area of Vero Beach along Ocean Drive featuring local cafes such as the Lemon Tree, which is great for breakfast, and cute boutiques such as Exclusively Coastal. Head to Waldo’s Restaurant at the Historic Driftwood Resort, a popular locals’ hangout, for happy hour with an ocean view, live music and a rustic, laidback vibe.
The reality is that 48 hours isn’t even close to enough time to really begin to explore all of the natural beauty in this part of Florida. I can’t wait to plan my next trip back to Indian River County!
Kara Franker is a travel blogger with a Florida obsession and the editor-in-chief of Modern Luxury Weddings South Florida and The Caribbean. Follow her on Instagram @KaraOnTheCoast.