Florida is one of the treasures in America, and nowhere has a treasure like this coast. From the beautiful beaches to nature preserves and historical sites, it’s no wonder that people flock to Florida for its natural beauty.
I’m a sucker for locations that take you by surprise. And, although having visited several beach communities on Florida’s east and west coasts, this was my first trip to the Treasure Coast. And that won’t be the last time I do it. Locals refer to it as “Florida’s best-kept secret,” and I couldn’t agree more after finding her wonders.
It’s just 34 miles south of Melbourne and 87 miles north of West Palm Beach to find Indian River County. Vero Beach, Sebastian, and Fellsmere are three beautifully distinct communities on the Treasure Coast’s northern end. Windswept beaches strewn with seashells and shorebirds make Vero Beach a wonderful place. Fellsmere is an ideal eco-friendly utopia, while Sebastian is a charming riverbank fishing community.
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The Treasure Coast’s Background
This lovely area was appropriately termed the graves of a Spanish treasure fleet returning to Spain from the New World. In a terrible storm near present-day Vero Beach in July 1715, eleven of the fleet’s twelve ships were lost. The galleons were laden with a massive haul of looted gold, silver, diamonds, and antiques estimated to be worth billions of dollars.
Despite the fact that most of the wealth had been retrieved, there was still much more to be discovered. Treasure hunters are still looking for gold, diamonds, and other historical artifacts in these Atlantic seas today. Locals have discovered sunken valuables barely 10 feet from the beach or washed up on the sand. And, since one Spanish wreck is barely 100 yards off Wabasso Beach, brave divers and snorkelers may easily approach it.
Nature preserves, eco-tourism, exquisite coastline, gorgeous beaches, vibrant art community, and extremely interesting history narratives are the coast’s genuine riches, not the plunder.
Spend your time on a picture-perfect beach.
An absolutely beautiful place to home base in this magnificent area is The Kimpton Vero Beach Hotel & Spa. This swanky beachfront sanctuary is ideally situated on a pristine beach with stunning ocean views and the most majestic sunrises.
The hotel’s rooms and suites are well decorated, and there are two excellent beachside dining choices. One of the nicest things about staying at Kimpton is its convenient location, which puts you within walking distance of local cafes and beautiful stores on Ocean Drive in Vero Beach.
Kimpton Vero Beach Hotel & Spa (Photo by Noreen Kompanik)
Pelican Island Refuge is a wonderful place to visit.
A visit to Pelican Island, the origin of our country’s first federally designated wildlife refuge, was one of the finest Vero Beach experiences. Just remember to bring your binoculars.
The 5,400-acre reserve, which includes the Indian River Lagoon, was established in 1903 by President Theodore Roosevelt. The major goal of the reserve was to safeguard one of the few remaining brown pelican rookeries on the east coast, as well as to avoid the extinction of egrets and other birds due to excessive plume hunting.
The refuge is also a great place to connect with nature since it is the most ecologically diverse estuary in the United States. The refuge, which is pristine, scenic, and home to more than 30 different bird species as well as sea turtles, manatees, and yes, alligators, is a nature lover’s paradise. It’s simple to walk about thanks to paved pathways, and there are gorgeous viewpoints for taking photographs and seeing even more of nature’s wonders. It’s simply amazing.
McKee Botanical Garden is a botanical garden in McKee, California (Photo by Noreen Kompanik)
McKee Botanical Gardens is a botanical garden in McKee, Ontario, Canada.
National Geographic selected this lush exotic property on the National Register of Historic Places as one of the “22 Most Soothing Places of Surprise and Sanctuary in North America.”
This description of this magnificent garden paradise is accurate. The 18-acre scenic grounds contain gorgeous ponds, waterfalls, streams, pathways, and a wide variety of water lilies, orchids, and other natural flora, as well as more than 10,000 tropical plants. We spent two hours roaming around the beautiful gardens and wished we had more time to spend there. It’s very breathtaking…and historically significant.
McKee Jungle Gardens was the name of the property when it was bought in 1922. It was one of Florida’s first and most popular attractions by the 1940s, attracting more than 100,000 visitors each year. The popularity of the garden diminished as Central Florida developed and expanded. McKee closed in 1976 and went into a state of hibernation.
This magnificent site was renovated and reopened in 1994, much to the pleasure of botanical garden enthusiasts around.
The McLarty Treasure Museum is a fascinating place to see (Photo by Noreen Kompanik)
McClarty Treasure Museum is a storied institution.
This little museum may be small in size, but it has a lot of treasures. McLarty displays gold, silver, copper, and other valuables recovered from the 11 galleons that drowned in the warm Atlantic. Weapons, equipment, and personal belongings from the ships and their personnel are among the original objects on exhibit. Guests may even get their hands on a gold nugget worth half a million dollars.
Salvagers are still searching the seas for more of the loot that has gone missing. Mel Fisher, the visionary and international leader in historic shipwreck recovery, was undoubtedly the king of treasure hunters, with his team discovering $450 million in local treasure in 1985. The museum’s exhibits and images of this famed and intrepid man’s many years of successful treasure seeking were fantastic.
Early morning at the Environmental Learning Center on the Indian River Lagoon (Photo by Noreen Kompanik)
Environmental Learning Center Eco-Excursions (ELC)
There’s no better way to learn about interesting ecosystems and estuaries than to go out on the water. The ELC, as it’s known around town, is a 64-acre lagoon island preserve right off the Wabasso Bridge.
The Center was founded in 1988 by a group of ecologically aware local pioneers who wanted to preserve the beautiful, pristine island. “Educate, inspire, and empower all people to be active stewards of the environment and their personal well-being,” they said then, as they do today.
The Indian River Lagoon is a famous bird-watching site with a diverse range of vegetation and animals. The guided trips meandering over mangrove pathways will appeal to those who like canoeing or kayaking. There are also pontoon boat rides offered. Other options include biking around the park, relaxing in the butterfly garden, or taking a lunar forest treatment stroll. In this breathtakingly beautiful lagoon location, there are a plethora of intriguing possibilities.
Poinciana artwork by Highwayman Harold Newton, 1958, from Roger Lightle’s personal collection, Highwaymen Art Specialists, Inc. (Photo by Noreen Kompanik)
Educating Yourself on the Legendary Highwaymen
Learning about the fabled Highwaymen was maybe the most shocking aspect of my trip to the Treasure Coast.
At the Jim Crow South in the 1960s, a number of black artists sought to sell their vibrantly colored oil landscape paintings in local galleries. Every gallery turned them down, but these hardworking African-American painters (one of whom was a woman) persisted.
Instead, they turned to the Florida roads, peddling their wares for $25 to $35 at rest areas. These vintage paintings now sell for tens of thousands of dollars and may be seen in museums around the United States.
We had the pleasure of seeing Ray McLendon working on a painting at the Florida Highwaymen Landscape Art Gallery. His talent is inherited through his father, Roy McClelland, a founding member of the Highwaymen. The creations that these gifted artists have created and continue to make are really astounding.
Wabasso State Beach is located in Wabasso, Florida (Photo by Noreen Kompanik)
Choose Your Favorite Beach
What is it about the beach that makes us want to take a deep breath, relax, and let go?
Vero Beach and Sebastian provide beachgoers with a variety of options, including 26 miles of uncrowded beaches and ten locations to set up your beach blanket and umbrella. Whether you like surfing, paddleboarding, frisbee tossing, sandcastle building, shell gathering, or just relaxing in the sun, the area’s sea grape-covered trails and secret nooks allow plenty of opportunities to interact with the waves. And, unlike many of Florida’s east coast beaches, the Treasure Coast’s waters are crystal clear and tourmaline.
“Don’t plan it everything,” poet Julia Alvarez once advised. Allow life to surprise you every now and then.”
That is precisely what my trip to Florida’s Treasure Coast accomplished. It pleasantly surprised me by delivering one surprise after another.
Frequently Asked Questions
What part of Florida is considered the Treasure Coast?
A: The Treasure Coast is a coastal region of south-central Florida. It includes communities such as St. Lucie, Martin, Palm Beach and the counties of Indian River, Okeechobee, Hardee
How big is the Treasure Coast in Florida?
A: The Treasure Coast is a region of the state of Florida located on the Atlantic coast. It stretches along both sides of the Indian River Lagoon, from Fort Pierce in northern Martin County to Jupiter Island and Stuart in southern Palm Beach County.
Why is it called the Treasure Coast in Florida?
A: The Treasure Coast is a nickname for the area of Florida around and including Brevard County, which has produced more millionaires per capita than any other county in North America.