MELBOURNE BEACH—What a difference 100 miles make. After leaving West Palm Beach and driving two hours north to Sebastian, we cruised along State Road A1A. What we found were broad expanses of the Indian River to the west and a mixture of beachfront homes and small motels along Melbourne Beach.
This is a family beach.
When we arrived at the Ocean Pines Motel on a Friday night, we found cars in the lot but nobody else on the grounds. The manager left our room open for us. This five-unit oceanfront motel, a former Coast Guard barracks, is clean but not fancy.
After sleeping with windows open to the sound of waves crashing on the beach, I awoke just before dawn and headed for the gazebo. I didn't see anyone on the beach until after the sunrise over the Atlantic.
There's plenty to do around Melbourne Beach, but once we established ourselves at this nearly private beach, we didn't want to budge. Our boys dug in the sand and played with children who were staying in a house next to our motel.
I finally coaxed one of my sons away to the McLarty Treasure Museum 10 miles south at Sebastian Inlet State Park. The museum is located at the site of a camp used by survivors of the 1715 hurricane that sank 11 Spanish ships.
Legend has it that the camp was later used by the Spanish while they worked to salvage 4 million pesos worth of gold, silver and jewels that were scattered about the reefs. Their salvage efforts were interrupted by pirate Henry Jennings. Jennings' crew outnumbered the Spanish, and they stole 300,000 pieces of eight.
A boardwalk behind the museum leads to a wooden platform overlooking the ocean. It's built to look like the bow of a wooden ship with a makeshift bowsprit.
When the water is calm and clear, visitors can see the reefs that broke up the ships nearly 300 years ago.
An amazing work of art in the museum, completely unrelated to the Spanish shipwrecks or their treasure, is an 8-foot soldier built almost exclusively of coquina shells by Carmine Esposito. The shell soldier won top honors in the Sanibel Island Shell Show before being donated to the museum.
After leaving the museum, we drove back north along A1A toward Melbourne Beach and turned onto Mullet Creek Road, a residential street that becomes a dirt road leading to Honest John's Fish Camp.
Honest John Smith, born to a farmer who acquired the land through homestead in the 1880s, hated farming. He became a commercial fisherman instead and established the fish camp.
Honest John died in 1994, but he still holds the camp record for spotted sea trout -- 13 pounds, 4 ounces. His daughter, Barbara Smith Arthur, operates the fish camp with Honest John's three grandsons and holds a few fishing records of her own.
The camp maintains an old Florida feel, complete with roaming chickens, oak trees draped in Spanish moss, an old tractor and a wooden bait house.
Waters around Honest John's, rich with mangroves, are known for holding redfish and sea trout. The wind was howling on the day we visited, however, so we decided to fish in front of our motel, instead, using live sand fleas.
The sand fleas, a type of small crab, coaxed a few Atlantic croakers onto our hooks. The fishing wasn't red hot, but it was simple: Cast out a weighted surf rig, put the rod in a sand spike, sit back and watch.
The next morning, while our boys played on the beach with their friends next door, we made a short drive to Juan Ponce de Leon Landing, a beachfront park, and walked across A1A to the Coconut Point Sanctuary nature trail. On an overcast Sunday morning, I was the only one on the trail leading to a wooden platform overlooking the Indian River.
When it was time to head home that afternoon, we realized we hadn't done much over the weekend except read, make a few mild attempts at learning the area and relax on the beach.
We hope to return to do mostly nothing on a quiet beach again soon.