Fort Pierce and Vero Beach Area


Along Florida's eastern shores, the Fort Pierce/Vero Beach area makes up what is known as the Treasure Coast.

There's treasure in them there seas, and it goes beyond the booty that lies at the ocean's bottom, the result of the 18th-century wreckage of a Spanish plate fleet. It comes also in the form of quiet beaches, small-town charm, fragrant orange crops, and waves that make surfers skip work and forget to eat.

The nickname "Treasure Coast" describes a lovely, untarnished stretch of coastline from St. Lucie Inlet to Sebastian Inlet that indeed earns the name in the figurative sense. But also in literal terms: The Treasure Coast is one of Florida's least commercial, most affordable, least touted shorelines.

Survivors from the shipwrecks of yore set up camp near the pass at Sebastian. On this same site today sits McLarty State Treasure Museum, a modest facility inside surfer and fishing haven Sebastian Inlet State Park. The park begins a natural stretch of beach and protected wilderness to the south that includes Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge. The nation's first wildlife refuge, it is a rookery accessible only by boat in the middle of the Indian River, the name for the waters that separate island from mainland in these parts. The name is tantamount to oranges, the biggest and juiciest Florida grows.

Island-side, Route A1A makes a gorgeous drive, alternating upscale housing communities with natural, rugged beauty. Beach accesses along the way are nattily maintained and family-friendly with playgrounds and facilities. Vero Beach is the only true metropolis on this island known as North Hutchinson. It spreads to the mainland, a vital city that's home to longtime attraction McKee Botanical Garden.

Its oceanside adjunct is made up of art galleries, fashionable shops, seafood restaurants, small resorts, a professional regional theater and beach parks, including a boardwalk atop the dunes. South of Vero Beach, nature takes over once again. Parks on the beach and leeward sides of the island protect sea turtles and mangroves. At Pepper Park in Fort Pierce, a favorite access for the beach and Intracoastal fishing and canoeing, the National Navy-UDT SEAL Museum honors the birthplace of an elite Navy fighting corps. Here, the first frogmen trained for the D-Day invasion. Recreational divers today are more interested in the Urca de Lima, the southernmost treasure fleet shipwreck.

Fort Pierce comes in three parts, and its so-called North Beach component on North Hutchinson Island is most laid-back and least developed, protected by a state park at Fort Pierce Inlet, another hotspot for surfing as well as fishing. Across the bridge, the downtown area has been reinvented as a harborfront district of casual restaurants, galleries, a manatee attraction and street festivals.

Across the South Bridge lies Fort Pierce "part three" and the northernmost point of Hutchinson Island. At the base of the bridge you can explore the area's treasure-hunting and citrus-growing past and present at the local historical museum.

Past the mom-and-pop resorts and beachy atmosphere of the north end, the island becomes almost desolate. A series of beach accesses are mostly undeveloped, loved by seclusionists and horseback riders. Another bridge connects the island to mainland at Jensen Beach, where a full-service beach access accommodates families. Across the bridge lies its charmingly restored historic downtown area.

Stuart spreads from mainland to beachfront, marking the southernmost point of the Treasure Coast. Its redeveloped downtown, with its trademark pink sidewalks, has been a model for other Florida cities with its inviting mix of shops, restaurants, theater and historic buildings. Stuart Beach is one of the area's most popular places to play in the sand and waves.

Bathtub Beach, located on the southern end of Hutchinson Island, is another great beach frequented by locals and visitors alike. A small reef about 100 feet offshore creates lagoon-like shallow waters that make this a favorite for families with small children. There's also a boardwalk and dune and river trails, not to mention plenty of parking.

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