Sebastian: A Walkable Riverfront Escape
By: Nina Zapala
Looking for a different idea for your next vacation? Sebastian should be on your bucket list.
Sebastian is a charming town situated between Vero Beach and Melbourne Beach on Florida’s east coast. This tranquil riverfront escape provides a variety of interesting options, including water sports, yummy local restaurants, and homespun hotels, many offering reasonable rates. Families on spring break may want to shake things up this year, bypassing traditional beach escapes and instead opt for a riverfront getaway.
One of the most exciting adventures for outdoor family enthusiasts to experience is the St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park, which is best described as primitive Florida. With more than 22,000 acres of backwoods to explore teens, tweens and in-betweens won’t get bored. Plus, families can explore the area via horseback or mountain bikes using the park’s dedicated trails. If you have an animal lover in the house, they will be thrilled to see manatees. These gentle giants are seen from the platform located near the end of the unpaved Buffer Preserve Drive. Note: Unpaved roads lead you into and out of the park.
Families will also want to pack the binoculars as rare birds are also found in the state park. Endangered and rare species such as red-cockaded woodpeckers, Florida scrub jays, Bachman’s sparrows, wood storks, southern bald eagles, and the occasional rattlesnake and gopher tortoises are part of the glorious tapestry of this preserve. Families seeking a water adventure can head over to the Sebastian Inlet, a quaint, working riverfront. Capt. Hiram’s Resort, the most prolific destination on the riverfront, now offers daily eco-tours on the new River King, a 45-foot Sightseer. Passengers can take in Sebastian’s gorgeous scenic water highway — the Indian River Lagoon National Scenic Byway — which stretches all the way from Titusville to Wabasso Beach and includes Fellsmere and the entire Sebastian River area. Guests will spot bottlenose dolphin, waterfowl and pelicans.
Back on land, the family can enjoy a leisurely stroll along the Sebastian Riverfront, a walkable area with a handful of local restaurants and boutique hotels. The big draw is Capt. Hiram’s, with its Bahamian-styled Sand Bar Beach Club serving traditional American fare, beers, and frozen drinks. Yep, parents need to have a little fun too! The club comes alive with a tropical esthetic: picnic tables topped with colorful umbrellas and an outdoor area complete with a white sandy beach.
The atmosphere wouldn’t be complete without the soft rhythm of Caribbean music and gorgeous water views of Capt. Hiram’s marina.
If you’re a fresh seafood enthusiast and remember the days of picnic tables dressed in paper tablecloths piled high with shrimp and drawn butter, Crab-E-Bill’s Seafood Market is a must. Intrigued by the name Crab-E-Bill’s, pretty close to Krabby Patties for all of you Sponge Bob aficionados, my son and I stepped into the marketplace and were instantly greeted by Mellissa, the daughter of Crab-E-Bill. Yes, that’s the owner’s name.
Crab-E-Bill’s Seafood Market is 100 percent sustainable. All of the seafood is locally sourced from around the state of Florida. A few exceptions are their cold-water offerings: scallops and such which are wild caught off the northeastern part of the U.S. The shrimp are wild netted, coming from the Gulf, Cape Canaveral, the Jacksonville area and other seafood towns. A variety of shrimp is on the menu from white to brown, pink and rock. Servers brought to our attention the royal red shrimp, which they said tastes like lobster. None of their seafood is from overseas. How refreshing!
We were sold. We entered the restaurant side, placed our orders and sat outdoors on the back porch midday, it was pleasant enough, and a perfect place for a family to see pelicans dive for their lunch and watch local fisherman work on their boats.
I opted for a dozen steamed clams with scampi sauce to share with my son. (By the way, all sauces and dressings are made in-house.) I also ordered a Caesar salad with blackened shrimp. My son had to have the Wisconsin cheese cheddar curds, aka fried cheese balls, and he loves ahi tuna, so we ordered several of the tuna pops: skewers of ahi tuna chunks served atop a bed of sesame seaweed. Yeah, those didn’t last long!
This restaurant and seafood market is one of the freshest seafood eateries I’ve experienced on the east coast of Florida. The place was packed with locals putting in and picking up orders. I even heard they deliver — if only I lived closer! We left only after buying a T-shirt. It’s a thing my son and I do wherever we visit.
Our bellies were full so we decided to take it easy and enjoy a museum tour. Sebastian has two family-friendly museums: Mel Fisher’s Treasures and the Sebastian Fishing Museum. Either museum is an excellent choice for children because they are interactive and intimate. A family can be in an out in about an hour. Don’t know about you but my son gets antsy pretty quickly!
Once inside the Fishing Museum, go ahead and dive in. During our visit, the curator was kind and patient. She patiently took out every seashell that my son wanted to see and had a story for each one. There is also a video loop that speaks to the history of fishing in the area, plus old boats, historical photos, sea critters, sponges and more are all on display.
The nice thing about going to this museum is its location within Sebastian Inlet State Park. We left the museum and strolled down to the pier. On our way, we ended up spotting a baby shark and a loggerhead. Not sure of the shark species but it sure did love hiding in the rocks. The fisherman seemed to be having a great day as every time a line came out of the water a wiggling fish was trying desperately to get away.
Beyond the Sebastian Inlet State Park, there are few other state parks to consider. The Riverview Park is fun for families and is the park for festivals, craft fairs and family play. A robust playground, walking paths, and bathrooms are all located on site. If you bring your four-legged family member, the park offers all that you would expect, plus an area for small dogs. I thought to myself, “how thoughtful.” This is a great place for kids and dogs like to run around and have fun!
This year’s ShrimpFest & Craft Brew Hullabaloo (now that’s a mouthful) takes place in historic Sebastian March 16-18. This is a seafood feast the whole family will love as Florida shrimp is prepared in a variety of different ways by local chefs. For kids that don’t eat shrimp, the festival offers a variety of kid-friendly options. This three-day festival benefits the Rotary Club of Sebastian and the Exchange Club of Fellsmere. Learn more here: http://www.shrimpfestfl.com
OK, if you must go to the beach for the day, Vero Beach is a 10-minute drive, and the beaches are gorgeous with no high-rises — just sunrises perfect for sand-castle building, seashell hunts and hours of water fun.
To learn more, visit www.visitindianrivercounty.com for downloadable brochures, event listings and more. Zapala is a public relations professional and member of the Society of American Travel Writers.