No wonder this part of the Sunshine State tempts vacationers who long to simply park themselves on a beach. After all, it features uninterrupted miles of white sand on both the Atlantic Ocean and Intracoastal Waterway. Some stretches, flanked by resort hotels and condos, give convenient access to urban amenities; others, edged only by grass-tufted dunes, are deserted enough to satisfy Survivor fans. On-the-water activities such as fishing, boating and surfing are always close at hand when cooling off is desired.
Sport fishing is all the rage on the Central East coast. Stuart is known as the Sailfish Capital of the World thanks to the many sailfish found in the ocean off Martin County.
Sebastian Inlet State Park, 10 miles south of Melbourne Beach, is an excellent choice for family camping. Spread over more than 600 acres, the park is part of the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail and offers myriad activities including swimming, surfing, geocaching and scuba diving.
With 26 miles of unspoiled ocean beaches between Sebastian and Vero Beach, Indian River County is an ecotourist’s dream. Busy full-service beacheshave restrooms with showers, boardwalks and picnic facilities, plus spots to launch a canoe or kayak. Other parks simply provide access to a quiet stretch of sand along the Atlantic.
Off the shores of Sebastian in the Indian River Lagoon, Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, the first federally designated wildlife refuge in the United States, is accessible by a public viewing area meant for watching tropical birds in their natural habitat. You can also navigate around the island by renting a boat, kayak, canoe or personal watercraft from local companies offering guided tours. Thirty-plus species of birds use Pelican Island as a rookery, roost or feeding ground.
In March, the crack of the bat beckons fans to the annual rite of spring training. Take in a game at Port St. Lucie’s Digital Domain Park, which plays host to Major League Baseball’s New York Mets, or at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, home of the Washington Nationals.
Canaveral National Seashore in Titusville is 25 miles of undeveloped barrier island, which preserves the natural beach, dune, marsh and lagoon habitats for many species of birds on Florida’s Space Coast. Year-round recreation includes fishing, boating, canoeing, surfing, sunbathing, swimming, hiking, camping, nature and historical trails.
Vero Beach and Fort Pierce
Since humans aren’t the only ones attracted to the waterfront, easy animal encounters are widely available too. You might witness bottle-nosed dolphins cavorting offshore; or, April through October, spy supersized sea turtles nesting right on the sand. An overlay to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is 140,000 acres of coastal dunes, saltwater estuaries, marshes, scrub, pine flatwoods and hardwood hammocks, creating an ecosystem for more than 1,500 kinds of plants and animals. It is home to more federally endangered species than any other refuge in the United States.