CENTRAL EAST FLORIDA:
CALLING ALL EXPLORERS

Florida’s Central East region is a grab bag of amazement ranging from space travel to mangroves, and nearly 200 miles of stunning beaches in between. Parts of Central East Florida are referred to as The Treasure Coast due to their historic shipwrecks and the bounties that have washed up on these shores. Locals know this region is a treasure because parts of it are still uncrowded, affordable and family friendly. Fall in love with the seaside towns and hidden gems in Central East Florida.

BY MELODY PITTMAN

A DAY IN...


DAYTONA BEACH

Unwind along 23 miles of hard-packed beaches. Enjoy a casual shopping spree at the Riverfront Shops of Daytona Beach. Schedule tee time at a tropically lush golf course. Sample local brews along the Daytona Beach Ale Trail. Tour Daytona International Speedway and meander through the local galleries, museums and historical sites. Dine al fresco along the Halifax River while watching for dolphins. Take in an electrifying performance at The Peabody Auditorium. Finish with a leisurely stroll and watch the stars come out over Ponce Inlet.

MARTIN COUNTY

Sit in splendor as the sun rises over the Atlantic Ocean. Next take a trip on the Loxahatchee River, Florida’s first federally designated wild and scenic river at Jonathan Dickinson State Park. Tour the last remaining House of Refuge; touch a stingray at the Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center; cross the street to the Elliott Museum to be amazed at the antique car collection. Visit Jensen Beach, both downtown and the beach. End the day in Stuart, known as the “Sailfish Capital of the World.”

OKEECHOBEE COUNTY

Rise early to hook up with your hired guide and find out why 730-square-mile Lake Okeechobee offers one of the world’s most amazing freshwater game fishing experiences. Other top tourist draws in this area center around hunting and shooting sports. Back in Okeechobee, enjoy good old-fashioned home cooking at a local restaurant or lunch at your favorite national chain. Grab your camera and hike or cycle along the prettiest part of Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail. Later, drive to Kissimmee Prairie Preserve Park and spend a romantic night stargazing.

ST. LUCIE

Relax on miles of uncrowded beaches or ride the beach on horseback. Kayak on the famous Indian River Lagoon, floating through tunnels of mangrove trees. Pack your clubs and choose from numerous golf courses, including the famous PGA Village in Port St. Lucie, offering 54 holes of championship golf. Immerse yourself in “Old Florida” culture in downtown Fort Pierce, one of the most historic and idyllic main streets in the USA, where Spanish period architecture is plentiful and local seafood is the main staple.

In historic Fort Pierce, the nearly 100-year-old Sunrise Theatre, a beautiful performing arts venue, hosts top-notch entertainers, comedy acts, musicians and performing artists. Also on the downtown waterfront of Fort Pierce, the A.E. Backus Museum & Gallery houses the nation’s largest public exhibition of artwork by Florida’s preeminent painter, A.E. Backus, as well as the state’s only permanent multimedia exhibition on the Florida Highwaymen. Changing exhibits from artists of national and international acclaim round out the museum’s Florida-centered mission.

Located in the middle of Central East Florida, Vero Beach has two very special venues. The Riverside Theatre runs off-Broadway performances each season and live stand-up comedy on select weekends. Second is the Vero Beach Museum of Art, which houses regional, state and national art exhibits.

Melbourne’s Eau Gallie Arts District is a cultural pearl that supports the arts through galleries, museums, local stores and antiques. You will find a combination of poets, dancers, potters and painters in this cute neighborhood. Commonly referred to as EGAD, it is home to Brevard County’s top fine art galleries and the Foosaner Art Museum.

Visit Historic Cocoa Village and catch a show at Cocoa Village Playhouse, part of the community since 1924 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Situated between Cocoa Beach and Orlando, the award-winning main-street community of DeLand holds onto its past as it moves into modern times. DeLand is a thriving community full of pride and passion that is apparent by its numerous art murals, friendly patrons, shops and galleries. The Athens Theatre is a masterpiece of Italian Renaissance architecture, offering classic movies, independent films and live entertainment.

The Hub on Canal, in New Smyrna Beach (NSB), is unsurpassed for its individuality and original artworks. More than 50 artists convene in this contemporary exhibit hall, which doubles as a workspace where visitors can observe artists at work and buy directly from them. This is only one venue within the town’s four-block radius that makes up the Arts District filled with boutiques, galleries and cafés. Be sure to check out the Atlantic Center for the Arts, which draws aspiring artists from across the country to study in the fields of visual, literary, performing and musical arts.

A newer artsy community is located in the greater Daytona Beach area. A visit to the Museum of Arts & Sciences (affiliated with the Smithsonian) gives you access to the Root Family collection of Coca Cola memorabilia and the favorite giant ground sloth in the Prehistory of Florida Gallery. Check out the Cici and Hyatt Brown Museum of Art, home to the largest private collection of Florida-themed oil and watercolor paintings in the world.

ATTRACTIONS

Fort Pierce’s Downtown Farmers’ Market is a big draw on Saturday mornings from 8 AM to noon, rain or shine, with local foods, crafts and artwork for sale.

Nature Lovers can choose from two botanical gardens in St. Lucie County. Heathcote Botanical Gardens in Fort Pierce showcases the country’s largest public display of tropical bonsai trees while the Port St. Lucie Botanical Gardens features a variety of tropical habitats.

For family activities in Melbourne, visit the Brevard Zoo or Andretti Thrill Park. The zoo houses monkeys, jaguars, meerkats and a Komodo dragon. The Andretti Thrill Park includes batting cages, amusement rides, a large arcade and indoor laser tag. Best of all, there are several go-cart tracks, one of which is restricted to fans at least 16 years of age who wish to travel 40 miles per hour on a European-style course.

One of Florida’s most famous attractions is the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Discover what it means to be a hero through the stories of NASA’s Space Pioneers at Heroes and Legends, featuring the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame. Get a close-up view of Atlantis, the only space shuttle displayed in flight. The Fly with an Astronaut Experience allows guests, accompanied by a retired NASA astronaut, to take a guided tour of Kennedy Space Center, tour Space Shuttle Atlantis and then step aboard the Shuttle Launch Experience to find out what it feels like to blast-off into space. Be sure to check the center’s website for rocket launches.

The Ponce Inlet Lighthouse, Florida’s tallest, is located in the town of Ponce Inlet, slightly south of Daytona Beach. It’s a great place to watch the sun set or catch a moonrise.

Feel the need for speed? Whether you are a devoted NASCAR fan or have no idea what all of the hype is about, the world’s first and only motorsports stadium, the Daytona International Speedway, will blow you away. This is a state-of-the-art facility with premium amenities and unparalleled conveniences including luxury trackside suites with patios and more than 7,000 solar panels. There are tons of things to see and do. Book a tour. NASCAR fans should sign up for the Richard Petty Driving Experience—drive on the track or be a passenger for laps with a professional driver. The Daytona International Speedway attracts millions of visitors annually.

Looking for quirky hidden gems in the Daytona Beach area? Visit Sugar Mill Botanical Gardens where dinosaur statues left over from a 1940s tourist attraction can be found. Or how about the wonderful, family-friendly, Marine Science Center in Ponce Inlet where you can touch stingrays, observe the sea turtle hospital and learn about Florida’s marine environment. The Daytona Lagoon and Family Entertainment Center, steps from the beach, includes a water park as well as laser tag, go-carts, miniature golf, rock climbing and an arcade—making this a favorite family draw.

In De Leon Springs State Park, you can make your own pancakes at the Old Spanish Sugar Mill, take an eco/heritage boat tour, hike nature trails and swim in the springs.

BEACHES AND OUTDOOR GEMS

South of Stuart, the Jonathan Dickinson State Park offers awesome biking and hiking trails, ranging from normal to rugged terrain, mangroves and river swamps. Primitive campgrounds and water stations are available throughout the park. Outdoor enthusiasts enjoy kayaking and boating experiences during the winter months.

Have you ever dreamed of riding horseback on the beach? Your dream becomes a reality on the beaches of Hutchinson Island during the cooler months, and is just one of many gems to be enjoyed in St. Lucie County.

Sebastian Inlet State Park, situated directly between Indian River County to the south and Brevard County to the north, is an excellent choice for family camping. The park is part of the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail and offers many activities including swimming, surfing, geocaching and scuba diving.

Merritt Island is one of only a dozen or so places in the world where you can see bioluminescence in nature. Night tours are a must as you kayak along the Banana or Indian rivers and get close to nature. Dinoflagellates and comb jellies glow in the dark river waters. Think neon and maybe a hint of Avatar. This could be a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

Outside of Deltona, the St. Johns River Eco Tours invites passengers to tour the St. Johns River by boat. Once a main highway for trade and commerce, this river has been designated an American Heritage River. It is home to Florida native wildlife and tropical plants, making it perfect for photo ops.

The seaside community of New Smyrna Beach evokes an atmosphere of Old Florida in its sidewalk cafés, boutiques and charming B&Bs and boasts one of the finest beaches on the Atlantic coast. NSB provides a perfect venue for surfing, world-class fishing, boating and kayaking. And like Daytona Beach, cars are permitted on 13 miles of hard-packed white-sand beaches found here.

ENTERTAINMENT

Every March, the three-day Taste of Little Italy, a cultural journey filled with authentic Italian food and entertainment, takes place in the charming neighborhood of Tradition in Port St. Lucie.

Florida is a hot spot for gambling and Casino Fort Pierce will please those seeking thrills. Club 52/Melbourne Greyhound Park features poker, live racing and a simulcast of horse and greyhound racing from across the nation. Groucho’s at Club 52 hosts a comedy show every Saturday night.

Central East Florida’s premier music and arts entertainment center is the Maxwell C. King Center for the Performing Arts in Melbourne. This 100,000-square-foot venue hosts educational, cultural and community events.

Port Canaveral is one of the most popular cruise ports in the nation. The Cove, a waterfront recreation area, has a large selection of martini and tiki bars with live entertainment. The views from the nearby Exploration Tower are stunning.

The world-class Skydive DeLand facility offers programs for all experience levels including tandem jumps where an experienced instructor uses a parachute system built for two and jumps with you and an Accelerated Free Fall (AFF) course—an instructional program for beginners hoping to become skydivers.

The DAYTONA 500 attracts the world’s best drivers to compete in the biggest NASCAR event. Dubbed the Great American Race, it’s the most important event on the annual racing calendar.

The premier Ladies’ Professional Golf Association (LPGA) headquarters, also located in Daytona Beach, offers two four-star courses.

ROAD TRIPS

Step back in time at the House of Refuge Museum at Gilbert’s Bar in Stuart, offering fantastic scenery and photo opportunities. The House of Refuge is the only one remaining of the original 10 havens built for shipwrecked sailors along the Atlantic coast of Florida. These houses played a critical role when ships dominated the trade markets of the world.

A road trip for conservationists must definitely include the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, a 20-mile stretch between Melbourne Beach and Wabasso. Best known for sea turtle conservation, this area is a natural nesting habitat for loggerhead and green sea turtles.

Visit Titusville to explore the Valiant Air Command Warbird Museum, which displays a collection of aircraft carriers and artifacts of all types from around the world, from pre-World War I to the present.

Located in Volusia County’s Port Orange, Dunlawton Sugar Mill Gardens combines a history, nature and garden visit all rolled into one. The remains of the sugar cane refinery, leftover from the 1800s, is adorned with kitschy dinosaur statues throughout the park. The gardens are visually appealing, which is why many choose this site for marriage ceremonies.

Take an inland trip to the Stetson Mansion in DeLand. Built in 1886, this gorgeous Victorian mansion was the winter home of the famous milliner John B. Stetson. Tour this spectacular home and note the elaborate inlaid parquet floors and more than 10,000 original leaded glass windows.

SHOPPING

The adorable town of Stuart is ideal for browsing boutiques and dining. From beach-themed to upscale kitchen shops, it is a favorite destination for tourists and locals alike. You’re sure to find clothing, shoes, jewelry and handmade arts and crafts.

When it comes to shopping in Central East Florida, Vero Beach is the crème de la crème with ritzy boutiques and galleries on Ocean Drive. Nearby, Miracle Mile features shopping venues such as Bark Avenue (goodies for your pet) and the Vero Beach Book Center, which is one of the best independent bookstores in the state, due to its jam-packed calendar full of best-selling author signings and events.

Florida is renowned for outlet shopping and one of the best is the Vero Beach Outlets showcasing designer and brand-name shops, including Williams Sonoma and Coach.

Avenue Viera, on the outskirts of Melbourne, is a pleasant outdoor shopping mall flanked with specialty restaurants, shops and an AMC Cinemas movie theater on palm tree-lined sidewalks. Visit all the chain store biggies such as Kohl’s, Cost Plus World Market and Books-A-Million.

Historic Downtown Melbourne’s main street, East New Haven, is fun-packed with eye-catching delights, boutiques and antique stores.

The tree-lined Cocoa Village is home to one-of-a-kind shops, restaurants and other points of interest. In this surfers’ paradise, be sure to check out the Ron Jon Surf Shop, a Cocoa Beach landmark and the largest surf shop in the world.

New Smyrna Beach offers exceptional shopping and art galleries along both Flagler Avenue and Canal Street. The route stretches from the river to the ocean and is a wonderful reminder of old-school Florida. Note the Flagler Walk of Fame, made up of engraved bricks along the sidewalk.

Daytona Beach’s famous Boardwalk is lined with funky shops while the historic downtown offers a bounty of distinctive boutiques and restaurants. Situated across from the Daytona International Speedway, the One Daytona complex features premier retail, dining and entertainment. And, bargain hunters will be thrilled with the Tanger Outlets, with brand names at outlet prices.

Martin County
Crystal River
Okeechobee
Florida Keys
Flagler Museum
Mexico Beach
St. Augustine