Sebastian Inlet State Park is located just ten miles South of Melbourne Beach and is the second most visited state park in Florida (wikipedia). We spent half a day exploring the ten mile drive down to Sebastian and the park itself.
The majority of the drive was through beautiful water-front neighborhoods and was along the famous Florida Birding Trail. Our first stop was the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Information Center, where they had a lot of free and informative interactive material about sea turtles. It also detailed the conservation efforts undertaken at the refuge specifically, and in Florida more generally. For example, proceeds from the sales of these license plates go to fund sea turtle research and conservation efforts around the state.
There were several hiking trailheads along the side of the road during our drive. We stopped at one of them, but due to the recent hurricane, much of the trail was flooded and covered in plant debris. We didn’t make it very far before we were forced to turn around and go back to the car.
After our failed hike, we reached the main attraction, Sebastian Inlet State Park. It is a fairly large park, with sections on both sides of the inlet that connects the ocean and the river. There is an entrance fee, but it’s only $8 for the day. The park also showed signs of hurricane damage, with some fallen trees left uncleared and dark waters that are usually crystal clear.
Even a short walk through the park allowed us views of more flora and fauna than we had seen during the entire rest of our trip. We saw several species of birds, including a rare sighting of Wood Storks, along with several sea turtles, fish, a huge land crab, skinks, hermit crabs, and a few types of butterflies. Our favorite was the land crab; we chased it for a while, trying to capture a photo of it’s bright ruby coloring before it could disappear back into the water.
Josh and I spent a decent amount of time crabbing when we lived in Oregon. Despite our lack of actual spoils, we consider ourselves quite the seamen. Therefore, it was with confidence that we walked out onto the park’s crowded fishing piers. These docks were huge, jutting out much farther into the ocean than what we were used to. Not only that, but the fishermen on these piers were serious, not the laid-back Oregonians we usually met. These guys were cut-throat, and had more gear than our usual net, bucket, chair, book, and beer. And it appears that was for the best, because they were actually catching fish!
We watched three different large fish get lifted out of the water during our ten minute venture onto the pier. They looked to be at least two to three feet long. One fisherman told us that the fish we watched him haul up was limited to one per fisherman.
Once the fish smell hit my nose, I had an immediate craving for fish. Thankfully, there is a large gift and snack shop in the park that provides decently priced food. It had all the expected park food, with the added treat of fresh seafood, most of it grilled or fried. Unable to resist (not that we really tried), we ordered a couple baskets of clam strips and ate them on the shaded patio overlooking the ocean.
I really enjoyed our trip to Sebastian and look forward to coming back next year once the area has had a little more time to recover from the hurricane. There’s some calm water off the inlet that looks like an amazing place to do some of my favorite “paddle birding”, and we may even bring some poles and try to reel in some of those delicious ocean fish.