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Vero Beach, Fla.

 The sun sets over the Indian River.

Many boaters dinghy the short distance from the marina, under the high-rise bridge, and to Riverside Café, especially at sunset. The casual waterfront watering hole and restaurant suspends service for five minutes so patrons and staff can watch the sun set across the Indian River. Stopping to watch the sunset is indicative of the pace of life in Vero Beach, especially around the marina, where residents take pride in the small-town atmosphere. Homes nestle neatly beneath live oaks, colorful flower beds line retail district sidewalks, and old-style lamps light the fishing pier beneath the bridge.

There’s more to see farther afield if you’ve got a car. Almost every weekend in-season, an organization or church sponsors a performance — from symphony orchestra and opera to jazz and rock ’n’ roll. The Tampa Bay Rays minor league baseball team plays through the summer at Holman Stadium, near the Vero Beach Municipal Airport. Several golf courses are nearby. The Environmental Learning Center lets you explore such habitats as a dry hammock, salt marshes and a mangrove forest. McKee Botanical Gardens, opened in 1932, is an 18-acre historic garden of subtropical jungle plants.

Dolphins are common in the Indian River Lagoon.However, boaters needn’t leave the marina to enjoy Vero Beach’s natural beauty and friendly folks. “I love watching the dolphins feed around our mooring, and it’s fun kayaking through the mangrove islands,” which separate the marina from the Indian River Lagoon, says Linda Freeman of Tiverton, R.I., who with her partner, Ed Feeney, was making her first trip south aboard their 42-foot Hatteras.

“This is the best marina in Florida,” says Bud Suverkrup, who kept his boat here for 16 years. “Even though I’ve sold my boat, they still let me come in and drink their coffee.”

Most consider the marina, the people and the dolphin treasures to savor.

This story originally appeared in the January 2009 issue.

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