This laid-back city is a few miles in from the Atlantic shore in Indian River County. For me Fellsmere embodies the best of both the coast and the inland rural lifestyle in the swamps.
Head west and there are freshwater lakes, marsh, and cypress domes, all bursting with wildlife. A few minutes east of Fellsmere is the super-biodiverse Indian River Lagoon, so you’re spoiled for nature encounters in these parts.
In the space of a day you can paddle among manatees, see spectacular wading birds, dine on frog legs and gator tails, and shop for high-end brands at nearby Vero Beach Outlets.
I’d allow time for a cruise on Blue Cypress Lake, famed as a nesting site for ospreys, and a visit to Marsh Landing Restaurant for some Bluegrass on Thursdays.
1. Fellsmere Frog Leg Festival
Taking place in the third week of January, this event honors a southern delicacy, especially big around these parts.
Frog legs are the stars of the show, but there’s also another distinctive dish on the menu—namely alligator tails.
The four-day festival includes plenty of live music, carnival rides, and family-friendly games. I was also impressed by the whole village of exhibitors by the entrance, selling a range of handmade items.
Dating back more than 30 years now, the Fellsmere Frog Leg Festival remains a key fundraiser for the city.
2. St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park
Fellsmere is on the southwestern edge of a massive tract of open longleaf pine forest. At nearly 22,000 acres, the St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park is a special place for hiking or paddling along the Saint Sebastian River.
A couple of minutes from downtown Fellsmere there’s a parking lot and trailhead for the Red Trail. This is an excellent entry point if you want to see the state’s only endemic bird, the Florida scrub jay, in the wild.
The C-54 Canal crosses the park from east to west, and hosts the visitor center on its north bank. During the winter this waterway is a haven for manatees, seeking the comparatively warm waters.
3. Blue Cypress Lake
Fellsmere is the nearest city to what is the largest freshwater lake in Indian River County. Spread across more than 6,500 acres, Blue Cypress Lake is fed by no fewer than seven creeks, and drained by a canal on the north side.
The scenery is nothing short of spellbinding, with magnificent gnarled cypresses stranded in the water, with Spanish moss streaming from their branches.
The lake is a dream for fishing, with catfish, largemouth bass, bluegill, black crappie, and chain pickerel regularly caught here.
If you just want to enjoy the scenery and diverse birdlife, Blue Cypress Lake Tours offers cruises by pontoon boat. You’re sure to see alligators, turtles, and all kind of birds, from bald eagles to blue herons.
4. Fellsmere Trailhead Preserve & Welcome Center
This facility is conveniently located just off Interstate 95. For first-time visitors interested in an overview of the area’s attractions it’s a perfect place to start.
The welcome center, at the southern gateway to the Indian River Lagoon National Scenic Byway, includes historical exhibits and lots of travel maps, brochures, and magazines.
The preserve section of the facility includes nearly 90 acres of natural land crisscrossed by trails open to bikers and hikers. Primitive campsites are available as well.
I enjoyed the two-mile Trans-Florida Central Railroad Trail, a rail trail running east from here to North County Regional Park, which I’ll talk about below.
5. Indian River Lagoon National Scenic Byway
The Indian River Lagoon is one of eastern Florida’s most valued natural attractions. You can discover the many highlights along a 130-mile national scenic byway along both sides of the estuary.
The byway leads you past numerous worthwhile stops, including national seashores, state parks, and wildlife sanctuaries and preserves.
For those who’d rather not spend a full day in the car, fishing, bird watching, hiking, and paddling opportunities abound along the way.
Fellsmere is at the southern gateway for the byway. A couple of my nearby highlights on the route include Sebastian Inlet State Park and Dale Wimbrow Park on the Saint Sebastian River.
6. Marsh Landing Restaurant
If I had to pick one eatery to prioritize in Fellsmere it has to be the one-of-a-kind Marsh Landing Restaurant. This is set within one of the city’s finest old buildings, constructed for the Fellsmere Estates Corporation in 1926.
The building had a few different uses, including as the local police department, before opening as a restaurant in 2002. Food-wise Marsh Landing Restaurant is all about authentic Floridian cuisine.
I’m talking gator, frog legs, gator tail, fried catfish, swamp cabbage, fried green tomatoes, and collard greens. You don’t have to be adventurous, and can opt for burgers, fried chicken, baby back ribs, or the house-recipe meatloaf.
Try to be here on a Thursday night when there’s live Bluegrass. You may need to book in advance as the place is always hopping on this night.
7. Wabasso Beach Park
In Fellsmere you’re close enough to the Atlantic shore to zip back and forth as much as you like. The nearest public beach access with lifeguards is Wabasso Beach Park, about 20 minutes away.
Sitting just north of Disney’s Vero Beach Resort, this is a lovely stretch of beach, traced by dunes and low-scale residential development. There’s a boardwalk atop the dunes by the parking lot, with a view that is simply stunning at dawn.
Other features include showers and restrooms, while there’s a sandwich shop right next to the parking lot.
8. T.M. Goodwin Waterfowl Management Area
Made up mostly of expansive freshwater marshes, the T.M. Goodwin Waterfowl Management Area is two adjacent units over more than 6,000 acres in total.
These two tracts are the T.M. Goodwin Unit and the Broadmoor Marsh Unit. What you see here is a landscape once transformed for agriculture now returning to its wetland origins.
I was surprised at just how much you can do, whether you’re viewing and photographing birdlife, hiking the miles of levee trails, fishing from the shore, or paddling or boating along the impoundments.
The wealth of bird species visible on just a casual stroll is amazing. You might see raptors, shorebirds, migratory waterfowl, and a profusion of native Floridian wading birds.
9. Florida Tech Challenge Course
For something out of the ordinary you can test yourself on an outdoor obstacle complex, maintained by Florida Tech but open to the public.
A trip to the Florida Tech Challenge Course needs to be planned in advance. When I wrote this list there was a two-week reservation period.
What you experience when you’re here is entirely up to you. There are five distinct challenge courses, with low or high obstacles, or a combination of both.
You’ve got the high ropes Tarzan Jungle Canopy, the grueling Semper Fi Marine Obstacle Course, the Skyscraper alpine tower, the nine-element Air Assault Obstacle Course, and the Field Leadership Reaction Low Ropes Course.
Whatever you choose, the facility’s expert staff will prepare and guide you.
10. Garcia Plaza Bakery
One of the remarkable things about Fellsmere is its significant Latinx community, which contributes to the city’s personality.
In that vein, you’ve got the Garcia Plaza Bakery, rolling a deli, restaurant, market and grocery store into one. Opened in 1998, it’s the best place for miles to enjoy genuine Mexican food.
From tostadas, tortas, quesadillas and tamales to a large selection of tasty tacos (flour or yellow corn), their menu has a little something for everyone. I adored the homemade salsa verde and rojo as well, and the generous pan dulce is a perfect treat.
11. Fran Adams North County Regional Park
On the southern edge of the St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park there’s a developed county facility, brimming with recreation amenities.
The headline for me is the Olympic SCY-size pool, with a zero-depth entry activity pool, diving area, showers and restrooms.
This park is also the eastern trailhead for the Trans-Florida Trail, with a playground and pavilions near the trail. Other features include four 300’ multi-purpose baseball fields, complemented by a concession stand, press box, and restrooms.
12. Vero Beach Outlets
A few minutes south on I-95 and you’ll get to one of the area’s big shopping destinations. True to its name, Vero Beach Outlets is a sprawling outlet mall, with savings of up to 75%.
Designed like a stylish Mediterranean Revival town, Vero Beach Outlets has a slew of factory stores and outlets for premium brands. A few when I was here were Polo Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Ann Taylor, Columbia, and Adidas.
I didn’t see any dining, but there were a few chain restaurants close by on SR 60, including Wawa, McDonald’s and IHOP.
Fellsmere is within 15 minutes of this intriguing city on the Indian River Lagoon. The lagoon itself is a big part of Sebastian’s appeal. After all, this is one of the most biodiverse estuarine environments in the Northern Hemisphere.
Along those lines, you could pay a visit to the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). Established in 1903, this was the first federal area designated with the purpose of protecting wildlife.
Sebastian is on the Treasure Coast, where several Spanish vessels from the 1715 Treasure Fleet were lost in a hurricane.
If you want to immerse yourself in that history, I’d recommend the Mel Fisher’s Treasures, and the McLarty Treasure Museum, on the barrier island where the initial salvage efforts took place more than 300 years ago.
14. Fellsmere Day
In early April Fellsmere celebrates its anniversary with a day of festivities on the grounds of the Old School. Ideal for local parents, many of the activities during Fellsmere day are aimed at children.
On the schedule is a cake cutting ceremony, a flag ceremony, Little Miss & Mr. Fellsmere, a youth baseball game in Little League Field, live music, and tree planting for Arbor Day. My personal highlight was a K-9 demonstration by the Indian River County’s Sheriff’s Office.
Throughout the event there’s an assortment of booths open, with everything from arts & crafts to fair food.