We’ve been spending a lot of time this summer looking for outdoor activities and socially distant things to do in Florida – and luckily, there are lots of them! One of the best things we’ve discovered is that Florida has some amazing State Parks and we recently visited one that jumped right to the top of our list!
Sebastian Inlet State Park is located on Flordia’s East Coast, not far from Melbourne and Vero Beach, and absolutely has it all: snorkeling, swimming, beach access, kayaking, hiking, camping – and even dolphins and manatees! Read ahead for everything you need to know about visiting Sebastian Inlet State Park with kids.
Know before you go
Sebastian Inlet State Park is located on Florida’s East Coast straddling Brevard County and Indian River County in Melbourne Beach. The park has the Atlantic Ocean on one side, and Indian River Lagoon on the other. It’s considered one of the busiest parks and often reaches capacity; on weekends and during school breaks it’s not uncommon for it to close to visitors before 9am.
Entrance to the park is $8 per vehicle which is a bit pricier than some of the other state parks, but this one has more to offer and I think the extra couple of dollars is worth it. You can reenter the park if you leave so keep your admission receipt somewhere safe – however if the park has closed to capacity at that point, you’re out of luck.
Credit cards are accepted and you can pay online in advance (if you’re going to do this it’s advisable to call ahead to make sure they’re not at capacity already that day) and exact change is needed if paying with cash.
The park is comprised of a large beach, fishing jetties, a shallow tide pool, two museums, a restaurant, a campground for tents and RVs, and a boat ramp. So as you can see, plenty to do! You could easily spend a whole day at the park, and there’s definitely enough to do if you want to book a camping spot and spend a few days.
Getting to Sebastian Inlet State Park
Sebastian Inlet State Park is actually located in both Brevard and Indian River County, and although there are several entrances to the park, the easiest to get to are off route A1A. The Sebastian Inlet bridge goes across the water (the county line runs right through the middle) and you’ll find the main entrance just before the bridge in Brevard County (if you’re putting the address into Google Maps, make sure you choose the ‘Surfside Grill and Adventures’ option when prompted to pick a location).
Think carefully about what you’re looking to do before you choose an entrance, because there’s no easy way to cross the water to get to the other side of the park once you’ve chosen where to park.
We chose the Main entrance because this gave us access to the tide pool and the fishing jetty, which is where we wanted to go, but take a look at the park map ahead of time to see where you’ll be better off parking.
Coming from the Orlando area, it takes just under two hours to reach Sebastian Inlet State Park, and the closest cities are Melbourne Beach and Vero Beach (in fact, Disney’s Vero Beach Resort is less than 15 minutes away!)
Camping at Sebastian Inlet State Park
The campgrounds at Sebastian Inlet State Park can be reserved online at Reserve America. There are 51 campsites available, all with water and electrical hook ups, and restrooms are nearby (accessible sites and restroom facilities are available as well).
There is also primitive camping available at the Bayside Marina. Pets are welcome at the campgrounds but are not allowed on the beaches.
What to do at Sebastian Inlet State Park
Exploring the tide pool
The main reason we went to Sebastian Inlet State Park was to let our kids play in the tide pool and honestly, they could have stayed all day.
The tide pool has a large beach area around it with plenty of soft white sand and picnic tables to set up base. We arrived at 8.30am mid week during summer vacation and had out pick of spots, but within an hour every single picnic table was occupied.
There is still space to set up beach chairs but there is absolutely no shade, so bring some kind of sun protection with you.
The tide pool is very shallow at the edges, with lots of little rock pools to explore. We arrived at high tide and found the rock pools teaming with little fish and crabs. Lots of kids had nets and fishing poles, and some caught some pretty big fish right out of the rock pools.
The tide pool does get deeper as you go further into the middle as it leads out into the river, so if your little one isn’t a strong swimmer make sure they’re safe. Lots of people had inflatable rings and floaties, as well as kids kayaks and inflatable boats.
There were some small waves from passing boats, and there is no lifeguard so definitely a place to keep an eye on the little ones.
If you have little ones learning to snorkel who have mastered snorkeling in a swimming pool but aren’t quite ready for open ocean, then this place is perfect. Harrison could have spent all day floating around with his snorkel, just watching the fish. There were times he was literally surrounded by schools of fish and he didn’t know where to look first!
I followed him around in the shallow water and swam with him in the deeper water. Every now and then he would hand me a crab or a cool shell or something else he found in the water.
At one point a whole school of fish were following him, swimming around his toes, and he thought it was hilarious.
This was the perfect place for him to practice snorkeling where he actually had fun stuff to look at but he felt safe the entire time. Any time the fish got a bit intimidating he could just stand up and move away, and he knew he probably wouldn’t encounter any really big fish or anything too scary.
We saw lots of kids and adults snorkeling, and everyone seemed to be having a great time.
If you don’t want to snorkel, the water is perfect for swimming. There are very few waves, just a few smaller ones from passing boats, and because the pool is secluded, the water is nice and warm.
Even as the beach got a bit more crowded, there was plenty of space in the water and it never felt too busy.
Indian River Lagoon is a great place to kayak; the water is calm and you’re pretty much guaranteed to see dolphins and manatees, especially in the cooler winter months.
You can bring your own equipment or rent kayaks and paddle boards from the Bayside Marina.
Hit the beach
There are over three miles of beaches in Sebastian Inlet State Park. We visited the beach on the tide pool side of the park, and found the sand pretty much empty, even in the middle of the day. Plenty of space to spread out and avoid other people!
The Sebastian Inlet surf, however, was pretty rough and I wouldn’t let my kids go in. The flag was only yellow that day (meaning moderate surf and use caution) but the waves were pretty big right at the shore and not many people were braving going in the water. It looked like water on the other side of the bridge was a bit calmer.
There are showers and bathrooms just off the beach and quite a bit of parking in between the tide pool and the beach area. It’s a very short walk to the beach from the parking lot (good news for those carrying numerous beach chairs, buckets and spades, and other kiddie beach paraphernalia!)
Hiking and biking
The Hammock Trail is a relaxing one mile trail that starts at one of the secondary entrances just of A1A and runs a mostly shaded path along the mangroves. It’s an easy trail to walk, very doable with kids, but bring along some water and definitely remember to pack insect repellent.
There are also three mountain biking trails that begin and end at the Bayside Marina. They all feature some off road aspects so a mountain bike is a good idea and kids might find some of the trails a bit hard going.
If you’re looking for places to walk that aren’t necessarily hiking trails, the fishing jetty makes a great place for a stroll. We found it to be quite busy in the morning and evening, but during the middle of the day it wasn’t too bad at all.
The views out into the Atlantic were amazing and the colors of the water were stunning. We were able to watch dolphins out in the water and a fisherman told us that it was common to see green sea turtles in the early hours.
McClarty Treasure Museum and Sebastian Fishing Museum
There are a couple of really cute museums within the state park that are perfect places to find out more about the area, escape the heat, or hide out from a Florida rain storm.
McClarty Treasure Museum paints the story of the ill-fated 1715 fleet of Spanish galleon ships that sank close to shore during a hurricane. The ships were laden down with gold, silver, and copper as they were headed back to Spain, and more than 300 years later salvagers are still working to try to recover the riches.
The museum has exhibits, videos, and an observation deck out over the Atlantic ocean. It’s open seven days a week, except for major holidays, and admission is only $2 (kids under 6 are free).
The Sebastian Fishing Museum is dedicated to the history of Sebastian’s fishing industry. The museum commemorates three of the original fishing families of Sebastian, and features a replica fishing house and dock. There are also photos and exhibits.
This museum is also open seven days a week, except for major holidays, and I would say it’s a great option for kids who are interested in fishing. If you have kids that really have absolutely no interest in fishing (that would be my kids) then I’d stick to the treasure museum instead.
Where to eat
The easiest thing to do as far as eating is to bring your own food and have a picnic. There are picnic tables set up around the tide pool where you could set food up, but plenty of people were just using beach blankets or sitting in the sand to eat. You can bring in all of your own food no problem, but alcoholic drinks are prohibited.
There are also picnic pavilions at Coconut Point (the other side of the bridge) with lots of shaded places for a picnic and even a playground for kids.
There is also a place within the park to pick up food. Surfside Grill is located at the Bayside Marina and offers things like coconut shrimp, clam strips, burgers and fries, and a kids menu with things like chicken tenders and grilled cheese sandwiches. They also offer breakfast items and drinks like coffee, juices, bottled drinks and even beer and frozen cocktails.
If you want to leave the park for lunch, know that you might not get back in if the park closes to capacity, and there aren’t a huge number of other restaurants close by. I would really recommend taking food with you or picking something up in the park.
Return in the evening
When we visit state parks, we tend to arrive early and stay for the morning, then leave after lunch for a break, before heading back to the park in the evening. This was we typically miss most of the crowds and the hottest part of the day.
When we left Sebastian Inlet State Park just around lunch time, we knew there was a chance the park would be closed to capacity when we tried to come back that evening but decided to take our chances. We arrived back around 6.30pm to find the park even emptier than it had been when we arrived early that morning!
The tide was out at this point meaning the beach area around the tide pool was a lot bigger and a lot of those rock pools we had explored earlier were now completely above water. We still found a few fish in the deeper parts of the pool, but they definitely weren’t as easy to spot.
What we did see however, was even better. As we paddled in the shallow water, we saw people pointing to the middle of the tide pool excitedly and after a minute or two we noticed a few fins – there was a little pod of dolphins swimming in the tide pool!
We spotted about four or five dolphins splashing around, chasing fish and having a great time! There were people swimming in that part of the tide pool with the dolphins but no one got too close and they didn’t bother them in any way. After about 15 minutes the dolphins headed out of the tide pool onto the river where they stayed hanging around for over an hour.
As we were swimming back to the shore after our dolphin encounter, we saw something close to the rocks in a deeper part of the tide pool and realized it was a huge manatee!
There are laws in Florida about swimming with manatees (basically it’s illegal almost everywhere) so we kept our distance and moved away so we weren’t disturbing it. After a few minutes the manatee headed back out to the river too.
It was really nice to come back to the park in the evening and if you leave earlier but have some free time later on, I’d really recommend it. It was much more peaceful, the temperature was more pleasant, and it was amazing to see the dolphins and the manatee taking advantage of the tide pool being quiet.
Sebastian Inlet State Park has jumped to the top of my list of our favorite state parks in Florida. It’s a fantastic place to spend a day, and we’d love to come back and try camping here some time. I’d definitely recommend checking it out if you’re in the area.