By Gary McKechnie
Florida isn’t a state where people stay indoors. It’s a place where everyone longs to enjoy outdoor activities like surfing, fishing, camping, and boating. And because Sebastian Inlet State Park just happens to provide a sun-drenched setting for each and every one of these activities, nearly everyone wants to be there.
Located on a barrier island midway between Melbourne and Vero Beach, Sebastian Inlet State Park is where Florida – natural Florida – fulfills the vision of the Sunshine State. Its 1,000 acres can be as idle or active as you desire because the park’s unique and alluring landscape of marshes, woods, and waters supports a wealth of recreational diversity, all of which is centered upon two extraordinary natural attractions.
The first is Sebastian Inlet, the park’s focal point and saltwater namesake. The inlet, a magnet for visitors, is highlighted by its famed twin jetties where anglers of all ages arrive with coolers filled with bait and expect to depart with those very same coolers filled with fish. From the pier or from a boat, snook, redfish, bluefish, Spanish mackerel and other saltwater fish can be caught with a good cast and the right bait. With steady sea breezes rolling in from the Atlantic Ocean and the A1A bridge accenting this picturesque setting, a full day – or even a few hours -- spent fishing here far surpasses a day spent indoors.
Although most sea life is hidden beneath the waves, one very visible sea creature can be seen atop the waves. Energized by the power of the Atlantic Ocean and taking advantage of conditions that funnel rhythmic, chopping waves toward the north jetty, generations of surfers have made Sebastian Inlet one of Florida’s most popular surfing destinations.
Which brings up the park’s other natural attraction, and that’s the ocean itself. With a generous three miles of undisturbed oceanfront, the park offers visitors one of Florida’s more tranquil beach settings. Pack a blanket, towels, cooler, beach chair and umbrella and then pick a spot, any spot. For miles north and south, very little aside from your fellow travelers will hinder your view. At Sebastian Inlet, you are alone to focus on the endless waves, the soaring and skittering seabirds, and the allure of an ocean swim.
Enjoying the sea even more than paying guests are the park’s repeat visitors – sea turtles that return to these shores to lay their eggs, unaware that a dedicated group of human volunteers help protect the fragile nests until the hatchlings find their way to the sea. To learn more about the nesting turtles, rangers lead guided evening walks along the beach each June and July. There’s no guarantee you’ll see a nesting loggerhead sea turtle, and the tours are only offered seasonally, but should the timing work for you (and the turtle), it will be an experience you’ll never forget.
The natural attractions continue with canoeing, kayaking, and snorkeling on the inlet, shelling along the coast, and scuba diving in ocean waters. And while water may be the element that defines the park, woods are equally important to the Sebastian Inlet story, creating an earthy canvas that can be colored in a variety of ways.
Campers and RVers find their way back to nature by finding themselves at one of 51 campsites. At night as the surf thuds against the shoreline, crickets call, and the woods echo with the sounds of the night, these campers are the fortunate ones who come closest to experiencing Florida as it once was. When they look up, they’ll likely marvel at the crystal clear night skies that dazzled indigenous tribes and Spanish explorers centuries before.
And speaking of Spaniards, located upon the site of the survivor’s camp from the wrecked 1715 Spanish Plate Fleet is the McLarty Treasure Museum. Through displays, films, and rare artifacts including gold, silver, and china, the museum shares the incredible story of the shipwreck, the survivors, and the search for lost treasure that continues to this day -- a distinction that earned this region the nickname “The Treasure Coast.” The park’s second museum, the Sebastian Fishing Museum, pays tribute to those who lived and fished on the Indian River Lagoon. A replica of an original fish house and dock as well as a homemade fishing boat, nets, fishing gear are visible reminders that in this part of Florida, fishing has never gone out of style.
Although this may be some of the flattest land in America, mountain bikers love Sebastian Inlet State Park. A multi-use paved path leaves from the marina, brushes by A1A and the Indian River Lagoon, adds several beach access points, and ties into sandy and swampy flatland trails for up to 40 miles of paved and off-road cycling. Birding, too, is a popular activity, with the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail ensuring an abundance of shorebirds and migratory species.
There you have it. Sebastian Inlet State Park will have you covered -- on land, on sea, and in the air.
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