This upscale Florida town is funky at heart.

By Tracey Minkin
January 17, 2020
Advertisement

It’s a low-key tropical escape for millionaires (and billionaires) who want to relax out of the spotlight of Palm Beach and Miami to the south. This is where celebs can stroll the public boardwalk and no one makes a fuss. It’s been called the Hamptons of Florida, home to upmarket boutiques, wine bars, and spas.

It’s also home to Bibble Irvin. You can find the sixty-something surfer and artist at Waldo’s Restaurant & Bar, a beloved establishment constructed of driftwood smack-dab in the center of Vero. He’ll be offering handwoven palm-frond hats for sale while talking over news of the day with local citrus farmers and real estate developers alike. Quirky, outspoken, and utterly Floridian, Irvin is as much Vero Beach as the latest tycoon to get hooked on its unique blend of sophistication and authentic, flip-flop fun. That’s what makes this delightful discovery feel like home to all manner of travelers—everyone here ends up at the funky heart of Vero Beach.

And everything feels so close and interrelated. Base your days at the indulgence-worthy digs of the Kimpton Vero Beach Hotel & Spa—complete with an intimate pool (and beach bar), a serene spa, and lounger-dotted pale sands with polite attendants ready to get you all set with sporty toys to play in the sea. But then you can slip on your sandals and stroll south into shopping-centric Vero, mining fresh shift dresses from Lilly Pulitzer or bright board shorts from Australian brand Tom & Teddy. You can feel very right now, capping off your hunting and gathering with a trip to the Vero Beach Museum of Art and dipping into Cuban food and upscale cocktails at Gloria Estefan’s chic Costa d’Este Beach Resort & Spa. That would all be divine, but just as easily, you can swing onto the mainland side of Vero Beach and visit a fourth-generation citrus farm such as Schacht Groves, where they’re harvesting and squeezing juices before your eyes. As you stroll among the trees and taste just how much better Indian River County citrus tastes than any other, you’ll appreciate how this agricultural juggernaut rose to prominence in the mid-1900s and never looked back. Then, keeping with the botanical mood, dive into what feels like the verdant heart of Vero Beach, the resplendent McKee Botanical Garden. Built in 1932 by Arthur G. McKee and visionary pioneer Waldo E. Sexton on acres of tropical hammock as the McKee Jungle Gardens (once home to exotic animals such as chimpanzees), this place maintains the labyrinthine magic of the original conceit and feels like a true Florida wonderland.

Visit the McKee Botanical Garden to play among the palms.
| Credit: Jessica Sample

From there, it’s a no-brainer: Go back to the barrier island part of town, to the beachfront, where Sexton built his family a home out of driftwood and other found objects. Now, that house forms part of The Driftwood Resort, a masterpiece of whimsy and quirk. Waldo’s Restaurant & Bar, named for Sexton, sits on the property. You could hang out there and see if Irvin is making hats today or head down the road to the Ocean Grill—yet another Sexton-constructed palace of reused boards, found art, and layers of decor. Sit at the restaurant’s bar, which perches right over the Atlantic’s restless water, and enjoy some of the best crab cakes you’ve ever tasted. Caught in the Indian River Lagoon, the crab is sweet, buttery, and fresh. Across the bar, you might spy a jet-setting couple who look like the world’s happiest escapees from Palm Beach. Nod and salute them with your Pusser’s Painkiller cocktail, because everyone in Vero is part of the hideaway gang—here for the surf, for the citrus, and simply for the wonderful time of it all.

Credit: Jessica Sample

Getting There

Airports of choice: Orlando Melbourne International Airport (MLB), Orlando International Airport (MCO), and Palm Beach International Airport (PBI)

Average February high: 74°F

Left: Try the calamari and vegan flatbread from Cobalt. | Credit: Jessica Sample
Right: Cool down with El Sid Traqueria's citrus slushy. | Credit: Jessica Sample

Where to Eat

Have breakfast at the Lemon Tree, an old-fashioned cafe with delicious lemon-blueberry pancakes. For lunch or dinner, El Sid Taqueria is a great new outgrowth of Countryside Citrus, one of the powerhouse growers and markets in Vero Beach. For dinner, Cobalt at Kimpton Vero Beach Hotel & Spa applies a gentle Venezuelan influence to fresh seafood, and at The Wave Kitchen & Bar at Costa d’Este resort, co-owner Gloria Estefan’s Cuban roots shine on the menu. Save time for tasty pours at Orchid Island Brewery and for Grind + Grape, a coffeehouse by day and sophisticated little bar by night.

Where to Stay

At the northern end of downtown Vero Beach, the Kimpton Vero Beach Hotel & Spa wraps all the ideals of an exotic getaway in its stylish embrace—pool, spa, outfitter, bar, and excellent restaurants. The resort partners with a local coordinator to responsibly participate in sea turtle watches during nesting season (generally March 1 through October 31). Outside lights are lowered after sunset to help hatchlings navigate to the sea.

Left: Relax by the pool at the Kimpton Vero Beach Hotel & Spa. | Credit: Jessica Sample
Right: The Twig swim and sportswear shop is housed in an Old Florida gem. | Credit: Jessica Sample

Where to Shop

Find water access on the Historic Jungle Trail.
| Credit: Jessica Sample

Where to Play

Explore the Indian River Lagoon and its dolphins, birdlife, and mangrove tunnels with the splendid folks at Vero Tackle & Watersports, who’ll take you out on guided kayak or paddleboard tours or rent you the equipment for DIY journeys.