When Indian River Tourism invited me to travel to Vero Beach in early June, if I’m honest, I had no idea what to expect from this Treasure Coast town. I’d been to Florida a few times before (not in recent history), but my memories of the Sunshine State were few and far between. I assumed that I’d catch some rays and have a relaxing weekend away from New York City, but my trip to Vero was so much more.

Where is Vero Beach?
Vero is located at the heart of Indian River County on the East Coast, about 135 miles north of Miami. Unlike much of overdeveloped Florida, Vero Beach hasn’t been monopolized by shiny new buildings. I didn’t encounter any crowds during my stay, but rather, I was taken aback by the pristine beaches, lack of attitude, and small-town feel. In Vero, construction isn’t permitted any higher than four stories, which keeps this gem feeling like exactly what it is –– a charming coastal community.

First of all, I had no idea that Vero Beach is so accessible. Elite Airways offers nonstop service daily from New York, and the flight is quick –– only about two and a half hours, making it doable for a weekend trip. I was impressed with Elite –– in fact, the service was excellent. They even offered complimentary sparkling wine on the flight. 🙂

Upon my arrival, Magic Carpet Ride whisked me off to the Vero Beach Hotel and Spa, a gorgeous property that sits right on the beach. Like every Kimpton hotel I’ve stayed in, this one didn’t disappoint. Both inside and out, the hotel was well appointed. What better way to start off the weekend than with a cocktail party overlooking the pool area and ocean?

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When I stepped out onto the hotel’s patio for that cocktail party, I knew I was in for an unforgettable trip. My weekend was quite an adventure. Here’s what I did in Vero Beach.

I sailed the Moonraker and watched a brilliant sunset.
I first experienced the raw natural beauty of the Indian River Lagoon after dinner on the night I arrived. I sailed on the Moonraker with my four travel buddies, and we were led by Captain Bruce Jackson. After boarding, we gently made our way on the lagoon as the sun began to pass gracefully beyond the horizon. This boat trip was incredibly relaxing too. I thought to myself, “Do I really need to get up from this hammock?”

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I kayaked on the Indian River Lagoon.
Yes, I did. For the very first time, I rode in a kayak. And, I didn’t fall in. Whew. Admittedly, I didn’t do a solo kayak, but rather, I paddled in a tandem with our guide and superstar kayaker, Kristen Beck. I took the front, and Kristen took the back (doing all the work!). She coached me the whole way and by the end of the ride, I was (almost) a pro. Would I go kayaking again? With Kristen…absolutely.

Little did I know –– as I focused on alternating my paddle right, left, right, left and keeping my weight centered in the kayak –– but I was coasting through one of the most biologically diverse estuaries in the US. Even if you’re not a kayaker, spending time in, on, or near the Indian River Lagoon is a must on a trip to this area of Florida. Simply put, it’s magical.

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I rode in an airboat.
I know what you’re thinking. A kayak, and now an airboat? What’s next? Zip lining? I know, I am a city gal, and not the most outdoorsy person, but I have to tell you, this airboat ride was a blast. Like the rest of the weekend, I had no idea what to expect, but I figured, I’m here, so why not? The actual ride was an escapade of sorts (how can a boat with an airplane engine darting across the St. Johns River marshes not be fun?), but beyond the boat, I witnessed an untouched parcel of Indian River County that photos don’t do justice. Florida Cracker Airboat Captain Lawrence introduced us to lotus lilies, ospreys, alligators, among other flora and wildlife, and serenity. Complete serenity.

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I watched a sea turtle nest on the beach.
When I saw sea turtles nesting on the itinerary, I have to admit –– I thought this would be the boring activity of the weekend. I was so wrong! I enjoyed every second.

I watched a gigantic mama turtle use her flippers to carefully prepare the nest, lay more than 100 ping pong ball-looking eggs, and then bury and camouflage these eggs in the sand for about 30 minutes. She then crawled back to the sea (in the black of the night, I might add) until the next nesting –– there are usually several within a season. The nesting was unbelievable in itself, but standing on a moonlit beach listening to the tide rush in with my toes digging in the sugary, cool sand is a memory I won’t soon forget. Did I mention the shooting star? I saw one for the very first time.

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I ate delish seafood…and a lot of it.
I can’t share my travel experiences anywhere without mentioning FOOD.

I didn’t know what to expect from the food scene in Vero Beach, but every restaurant exceeded my expectations. From fresh, perfectly cooked hogfish at The Tides to yummy grilled mahi tacos at Captain Hiram’s Restaurant and Sand Bar in Sebastian (this eatery boasts an amazing view too), to lobster and Long Island oysters at Ocean Grill (a dose of New York in Vero!), let’s say that I didn’t go hungry or miss eating meat –– at all.

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Vero Beach’s culinary endeavors across the board are worth noting as I didn’t have a bad meal, even at CJ Cannon’s inside the airport where I ate a yummy breakfast, but I must mention one very special spot called The Crab Stop. If you’re a seafood lover like me, you will adore this little place. It’s uber casual, if not somewhat divey (but in a good way), and a restaurant where you know the food must be delicious because the place appears to be filled with regulars. Owners Ellis and Brandy Buckner are incredibly down to earth, as is the staff, and the blue crab, king crab, shrimp, potatoes, corn…you name it, is all impeccably fresh and tasty. If I would’ve had more time in Vero, I would’ve made another trip to The Crab Stop.

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I saw the arty side.
Beyond my outdoor adventures and feasting over the three-day weekend, I learned that the residents of Vero Beach have a deep appreciation for the arts. I’ve been involved in and supported the arts for much of my life, so most of my preferred destinations tend to have a thriving arts community. I’m not sure if that’s coincidental or intentional, but knowing about Vero’s participation and support for the arts made me love the town even more.

Vero’s cultural offerings rival those of much larger cities. A visit to the Vero Beach Museum of Art makes for a lovely afternoon; the Riverside Theatre offers live comedy, lectures, and musicals; plus, Ballet Vero Beach, Vero Beach Opera, and other local arts organizations perform regularly.

Top-notch shopping on Ocean Drive, including a local farmer’s market on weekends, magnificent sunrises paired with long beach walks, and hospitable locals are more reasons that Oprah and Gloria Estefan own homes here.

Vero Beach is like a little slice of Florida heaven. Until next time….

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This trip was in partnership with Visit Vero Beach-Fellsmere-Sebastian FL/Indian River County Tourism and Elite Airways, but every word in this article is mine.