In these tough economic times, more people than ever are looking for ways to cut their spending while not skimping on fun. One area that often feels the pinch first is family vacations. Here’s an alternative – try a “staycation” right in your own city without breaking the budget!
The area I’m writing about is the Treasure Coast of Florida, which I loosely define as including the cities of Melbourne, Palm Bay, Sebastian, Vero Beach, and Ft. Pierce/St. Lucie. Our family has lived in this area for nearly 14 years, and has a few favorite places we like to frequent. With some research, and some help from my good friend Val at Mum Talkin’, I found some new places that I can’t wait to visit with my family!
Of course all the locations below have beautiful beaches – Florida’s highlight for residents and visitors alike. Sometimes a “new” beach can be a special event! Look in the front pages of your local phone book – you will find lists of parks, beaches, museums, and more. Also check the Chamber of Commerce for each city.
I’ve included a range of rates because “inexpensive” can mean different things to different size families. Please be sure to check each website for hours of operation and additional information. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list, so if you know of a great activity that should be included, please leave the information in the comments below.
Melbourne and Palm Bay area
Honor America Liberty Bell Museum – Free admission. Open Tuesday-Friday 10am-4pm. The highlight of the museum is an uncracked replica of the Liberty Bell, purchased by southern Brevard county schools in 1976.
Turkey Creek Sanctuary/Nature Center - Free admission. My children love this place. The last time we went was with a homeschool group and we had a tour guide (you can just walk the trails and boardwalk yourself, too). The guide was telling us about native plants, and saw one that was fluffed out with seeds. She gave me a handful of seeds, telling me to spread the wealth – plant them in our yard or scatter them by the roadside. Pretty cool.
Viera Wetlands – Free admission. These are wetlands that are used for polishing reuse water for irrigation, and at the same time create a wonderful habitat for Florida wildlife and vegetation. The entire wetlands site is accessible by automobile, so you can just drive through and not worry about hiking in the Florida heat, especially with children.
Palm Bay Dollar Movies 10 – $1.50 all shows before 5pm, $2 all shows after 5pm, 50-cent shows all day Tuesdays (limited time). This is a slightly older-style theater, but it is decent. I strongly suggest you feed the family ahead of time, otherwise the money you planned on saving will be, ahem, eaten up.
Brevard Zoo Summer Saturday Nights – $5 admission starting at 5pm Saturday nights in June and July. Regular zoo hours are extended for these nights. Events include live entertainment and special animal encounters.
July 4th Symphony Under The Stars - Free, no tickets required. Family friendly outdoor concert performed by the Brevard Symphony Orchestra. An assortment of Patriotic and Pops music, along with a spectacular fireworks display.
St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park – Free admission. This park is actually between Palm Bay and Sebastian. There is camping, birding, hiking, horseback trails, and fishing. We regularly head out to the Manatee Overlook area for “sledding”, fishing, and manatees in the winter that come inland to warmer waters. There’s a sluice gate with freshwater fishing on one side, and saltwater fishing on the other – we’ve caught lots of fish on either side. (Be sure you have appropriate fishing licenses, if needed.)
Sebastian and Vero Beach area
City parks are always fun and usually free. It’s easy to “wow” young children by simply taking them to a new park. Vero Beach has quite a list of parks, but I had trouble including a direct link to the list in this post. You can get to it by clicking here to go to the main page, look at the menu bar on top and click “Recreation”, then scroll down to the bottom and click on “Park Information”. One in particular that looks neat is Royal Pointe Park – there is an interactive splash fountain available year round (times vary through the year).
Sebastian Inlet State Park – Park admission $3.25 per car, up to 8 people. This is a favorite outing when we have out-of-town relatives. We love to walk down the long fishing dock, occasionally dodging wave spray. There are plenty of picnic tables, changing areas, and a shallow swim area for children. Also located in this park are:
- Sebastian Fishing Museum – Free, with park admission. Dedicated to the Sembler, Smith, and Judah families who pioneered commercial fishing in the Indian River Lagoon in the early 1900′s.
- McLarty Treasure Museum. Admission is $2, children under 6 are free. Located in Sebastian Inlet State Park, For more information read the brochure.
Environmental Learning Center – Admission $5, children 12 and under free, first Saturday of each month is free. Many events require a reservation. Includes touch tank and other ecosystem adventures.
McKee Botanical Garden – Admission $7/adult, children 4-12 $4, under 3 are free (fees vary during the year, check the rates.) An 18-acre subtropical jungle hammock, including several restored architectural treasures. Listed as a historical landmark. Beautiful.
Ft. Pierce and St. Lucie
Florida Power and Light Energy Encounter Center – Free admission, call ahead for self-tour appointment. Located next to the St. Lucie Nuclear Power Plant, this kid-friendly, interactive center has a lot of information on how electricity is made. Many hands-on, cool displays – my kids love this place.
Loggerhead Marine Life Center – Free admission. Includes Hatchling Tales, Fish Feeding Time, and Jr. Veterinary Lab Experiences. Check website for times. (For guided tours with extra activities, the cost is $10/person, children under 3 are free.)
Harbor Branch Ocean Discovery Center – Free admission. This is the public gateway to Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University. You can enjoy self-guided tours of interactive exhibits, small aquaria, a video theater, and other displays about marine environments and the Institute’s research. (If you would like a special guided tour with extra planned activities for children, the cost is $5/person.)
Manatee Observation and Education Center – Admission $1, children under 6 are free. You can see manatees year-round, along with other wildlife and vegetation.
Smithsonian Marine Station at Ft. Pierce – Adults $3, children $2, first Tuesday of every month is free. Home of the Marine Ecosystems Exhibit, where visitors can explore six different Florida marine habitats, including a touch tank.
The National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum – Admission: $8 adults/children 13 and up, children 6-12 $4, under 6 are free. For our family, it’s not that inexpensive, but very worth it – a $50/yr family membership makes it affordable for multiple visits. My husband served in the Navy, so this museum holds high interest for our family. It is just packed with information, diving equipment, pictures, weapons, and more. Every year in November there is a SEAL Muster (admission is free those days) – there are SEAL capability demonstrations, mock battles, parachutists, and hands-on vehicles and weapons displays.
Don’t forget to leave a comment if you know of an awesome, money-saving activity in the Treasure Coast area!