Many of my favorite childhood summer memories of growing up along Florida's Space Coast revolve around the annual camping trips my family and I enjoyed each summer at Sebastian Inlet State Park, about 30 miles south of my home in Satellite beach. Then as my friends got old enough to drive, weekend camping trips were a regular occurrence. When I got married and had a family of my own, the camping tradition carried onward and today, my daughters tell me that those trips comprise some of their favorite memories. Sebastian Inlet is widely regarded as one of Florida's finest and most popular state parks in the state and for good reason. There is so much to do there.
First and foremost, Sebastian Inlet is a fishing mecca and produces some of the best Snook fishing in the state, but Redfish, Snapper, Sea-Trout, Flounder, Bluefish, Spanish Mackerel, Tarpon and Jacks and a host of others are more possibilities. The rocks along the shoreline almost always produced mangrove Snapper for me while Sheepshead were less frequent catches. I would catch Atlantic Spadefish which look like a freshwater aquarium angelfish from around the pilings under the A1A Bridge's fishing catwalk. Summer nights would find me and whatever friend came with us at the end of the L shaped dock near the campground with a Coleman lantern suspended just above the water. After the tide had been going out for about an hour the shrimp would show up to be scooped up by the dozens just off the surface of the water. Placing one on a hook and casting off the dock almost certainly produced great fishing. Shark fishing at night is popular among a few. My largest was a 5 foot Nurse Shark off the North Jetty but I have seen larger Blacktips and Bull Sharks as well as others caught here.
Surfing also reigns supreme here. "First Peak" is a surf break known throughout the eastern surf scene. It occurs just north of the North Jetty when, under the right conditions with a swell coming out of the northeast, sections of an incoming wave will strike the jetty and bounce off into the rest of the wave, forming a very pronounced peak. The best surfers in the state regularly flock here and it can get very crowded. Sebastian Inlet is host each year to several surfing tournaments that draw pro surfers from around the world. Monster Hole, a reef structure about a 1/3 mile offshore of the south jetty, is another local legend. During flat times you would never know there is a surf break there. It takes a 3-5 foot swell to set it off but when it does, intrepid surfers are rewarded with hollow, powerful lefts that peel off for a hundred yards or more. I mentioned intrepid surfers because it has never been fully explained to me whether the name, "Monster Hole" is because of the waves that break there, or the large sharks that are sighted there. In addition it is a ways out there, not for beginners.
While fishing and surfing reign supreme here, there is so much more to Sebastian Inlet. During my childhood summers my buddy and I would be the only snorkelers in the inlet but today, it has become very popular. The wading lagoon on the North Side of the inlet is an great place to get started with snorkeling as the lagoon has easy access, is shallow, with a sandy bottom, and yet the rock jetties that protect the lagoon from the currents within the inlet itself provide structure that attracts Mangrove Snapper, Striped Grunts, Sheepshead, and a variety of smaller tropical looking species. Once while snorkeling with my Daughters in this cove we were paid a visit by a Manatee. Some people slide down the rocks lining the north side of the inlet and then go for a drift dive, preferably on an incoming tide while snorkeling along the rocks along the southern shore of the inlet near the campground has for me produced sightings of large Snook just milling about waiting for the next nighttime feeding frenzy. If you are snorkeling and really want to see a lot of fish and amaze your kids, snorkel from the beach area near the campsite where you will find clumps of rocks, with a hand full of cut up bait shrimp, and with your back to the current, release the shrimp into the water in front of you. You will be rewarded with a miniature feeding frenzy if front of you. Remember to always stay within 100 feet of a dive flag and out of the boat channel. Also avoid snorkeling in front of people fishing from shore. The best snorkeling within the inlet will always be the later stages of an incoming tide or the earlier stages of an outgoing tide. That is when the inlet is filled with cleaner ocean water. You can also sometimes snorkel off the beach when the water is clean and little or no swell is present. You can snorkel along the ocean side of the south jetty and starting just south of jetty, you will find coquina ridges close to shore, within 100 yards.
Scuba Diving is also popular here, and is allowed in all waters of the inlet except the boat channel, and directly under the bridge and fishing catwalks. Just outside of the Inlet, Monster Hole is popular, especially with lobster divers, and then you have Riomar Reef, which starts just south of the south jetty, within 100 yards of shore, extends outward about Â½ a mile, and runs unbroken all the way down to Roimar. Divers here can encounter sharks, rays, sea turtles, and over 200 species of fish, plus the unique and rare Oculina species of corals. Reliefs in the limestone and coquina ridges can be quite dramatic. Depths range from 3-4 feet to about 15. Remember to always carry and display a dive flag.
For Kayakers, Sebastian Inlet State Park is a great paddling destination Putting in at the Sebastian Inlet Marina located about a mile north of the Inlet itself gives you access to the Campbell Pocket area with its mangrove lined shorelines and additional pockets and coves between the marina and the Inlet while putting in at the Inlet's Boat Ramp on the south side near the campground allows exploration of mangroves to the south of the inlet and the Inlet itself near the lagoon, although care should be taken due to the tidal currents running through the inlet.
The Inlet marina also serves as a trailhead for the hammock trail for hiking as well as some off-road bike trails in the area, while at the same time there are walkways along the north edge of the inlet leading from the main concession out to the North Jetty. Wildlife is abundant here with many species of birds along the inlet as well as the woods surrounding the inlet. Also, if it lives near shore in the ocean, it will swim through the inlet. I have had sightings from the bridge catwalks of Dolphins, Manatees, Sea Turtles, Sharks, Rays, and more.
There are two museums within the State Park. At the north concession area is the Sebastian Inlet Fishing Museum telling the history of the area's Fishing Industry while the McLarty Treasure Museum is located on the beachside of A1A about a mile south of the bridge. In July of 1715, 11 ships, including 10 Spanish Galleons loaded with gold, silver, and "the Queens Jewels", plundered from Central and South America, were sailing north along the Florida East Coast bound for Spain when a massive hurricane struck the fleet , driving the ships ashore. The El Capitan, which is believed to have been the northernmost of the fleet, was driven upon the coquina ridge just offshore of the beach here and the massive waves pounded it to pieces. The survivors of the shipwreck camped at the site where the museum today stands, while remnants of the wreck remain about 100 yards off the shore. The search for the remainder of its treasure is ongoing to this day.
If you go; Sebastian Inlet State Park is on State Road A1A about 15 miles south of Melbourne Beach, just north of Wabasso, and offers a marina, museums, concessions, full service campsites, pavilions, picnic areas, and 3 miles of beaches in addition to the inlet itself. The park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The Sebastian Fishing Museum and McLarty Museum are open 7 days a week from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. For campers who plan to arrive after sunset, call the park on the day of arrival at 321-984-4852 to get the gate combination and instructions.