Floridians rediscover Vero Beach
Disney brought the first big change to the area with its Vero Beach resort
Plenty of people have found the lure of Vero Beach's white sands — Henry Flagler, Gloria Estefan, pioneer growers of Indian River citrus, the Dodgers and their fans. So have thousands of retirees, sailors, fisher folk, Piper Aircraft workers and pilots and a younger tribe of board-shorted surfers catching waves at Sebastian Inlet.
Still, many other Floridians don't know what they are missing on this quiet stretch of the Atlantic Coast between the Space Coast and the glitz of south Florida. August, when Floridians traditionally reclaim beaches for our own relaxation, is a perfect time to rediscover Vero.
In recent years smart resort developers have left their mark on Vero to good effect. The first big change was the arrival of Disney, which opened a 200-room resort full of villas, rooms and cottages. After the 2004 hurricanes, enter Kimpton, the San Francisco boutique hotel specialist, and Gloria and Emilio Estefan, who brought a dazzling white splash of Miami style after discovering Vero on an escape from south Beach. They got a second home and then built the Costa d'Este resort to provide others a luxury retreat two hours away from high-powered glitz. There's an infinity pool. Rooms come with Roman tubs and a bottle of Veuve Clicquot, if you wish, yet the spa is zen-tranquil, and local farmers hold a market on the beach every Saturday.
The Estefans, who entered restauranting years ago with Bongos in Miami and Orlando, have installed modern cooking with a Latin accent at Costa d'Este: Paellas, palomilla sliders, a range of ceviches and, of course, cafe con leche and mojitos.
At the Vero Beach Hotel and Spa, an old beachfront property was rebuilt and updated to meet Kimpton's reputation for stylish and modern cosseting. The West Coast group has only one other Florida property, the Epic in downtown Miami. In Vero, the hotel's 115 rooms are appointed with granite counters, glass-enclosed "rain showers" and plush amenities.
No pastels here. The hotel is trimmed in crisp sailcloth white and blue, including the contemporary restaurant Cobalt. The chef there combines local clams and snapper, heirloom tomatoes, Florida soft shells and cobia with modern tastes for favas, fennel, truffle oil and the likes of candied collard greens.
Vero also has a soft spot for easygoing small hotels like the intimate and lushly landscaped Caribbean Court and low-key beach hangouts close to the pounding waves, like the Driftwood Resort (built entirely of its namesake) and the Surf Club that surfers and kayakers have loved for decades.
Natural attractions remain a powerful constant: Beautiful sand, expansive protected inlets, rolling surf and perfect habitats for sea turtles (nesting now), manatees and more.
The Estefans' Costa d'Este resort brings a bit of Miami style to Vero.