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Visit Vero Beach, Florida

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While too many of Florida’s waterfront cities have succumbed to claustrophobic overdevelopment, tacky tourist traps, and high-rises, Vero Beach remains the breath of fresh air. Though classified as a city, Vero, with a strict policy that no building can exceed four stories, feels more like a seaside village. It’s the rare place we didn’t know still existed in the Sunshine State.

Unique in many ways, Vero is a quietly sophisticated coastal hamlet where blue collar workers happily coexist with billionaires. Among its offerings: a world class art museum, top shelf street shopping, scenic natural wonders, and the best Atlantic beach south of Georgia. While most flock to Miami, Orlando, Tampa or the Keys (let them), Vero’s under-the-radar charms makes it the real resort getaway. It’s unsurprising that Oprah recently strolled the town’s Ocean Drive shopping district in broad daylight completely unnoticed.

I first visited Vero and the surrounding Indian River County in 2003, and each passing year I discover new pleasures in this unspoiled corner of Florida.

NATURAL WONDERS

Looking for peace of mind? It’s astonishing to me the lack of people on Vero’s perfect beaches. Walking long stretches of white sand, you’re likely to meet more pelicans, sandpipers, and turtles than humans. Speaking of turtles, over one fourth of the world’s sea turtles nest in Vero and surrounding beaches as they have since the dawn of time.

In fact, a late night turtle nesting tour is a must for any nature lover. In early June, I was fortunate enough to witness a coffeetable-sized Mama sea turtle lay her annual 120 eggs (which look just like ping pong balls) into the sand as shooting stars lit up the night sky overhead. Afterward, we watched the massive turtle schlep back into the blackness of the ocean for another lap around the Atlantic. The babies hatch two months later to begin their life at sea, and though few ultimately survive, the ones that do return to Vero Beach to the very spot where they were hatched. Incredible.

DELICIOUS DINING

Vero’s restaurants hold special thrills for seafood lovers with fresh local fish that you might never have heard of - and won’t likely find in other parts of the country: permit, pompano, cobia, unicorn filefish, tripletail, snook, fresh water crappie, or any one of the 15 species of Grouper.

The finest Grouper dish to be had in Vero is at The Tides (3103 Cardinal Drive), Chef Leanne Kelleher’s intimate, upscale dining destination. It’s no wonder they’ve collected dining awards for their pan seared potato crusted local grouper - with jumbo lump crabmeat, roasted shiitake mushrooms, shallots, and Indian River citrus beurre blanc. If seafood’s not your thing, you cannot go wrong with any of the entrees at The Tides. And the wine list has received the Award of Excellence from The Wine Spectator for 15 consecutive years.