12 things to do in Stuart Florida (Martin County)
By Helen Wright
Stuart, Florida, part of sunny Martin County is the cutest Florida beach destination you have never heard of! This is crazy to me because having stumbled across it on our Florida road trip, we discovered Martin County Florida has been quietly enjoying 22 miles of uncrowded, golden beaches, pristine towns, outdoor adventures and a ton of incredible nature, wildlife and sea life hotspots. In fact, there are so many things to do in Stuart Florida, that we wished we’d had more time to explore and enjoy it. This chilled out spot is certainly on my radar for a future visit and would be a fantastic add-on to a week of partying in mad Miami or after a theme park mega trip in Orlando. Both destinations are between 2 and 2.5 hours from Martin County and a very easy drive.
About Martin County: where is Stuart in Florida?
Martin County is on the southeast coast of the Florida peninsula, south of Cocoa Beach and just above Palm Beach. Known as the ‘treasure coast’ after a Spanish shipwreck sent gold and jewels washing up onto the shore in 1715, this relaxed Florida county has many modern day treasures too. Despite being lesser known, especially for UK visitors to the USA, there is a whole range of things to do in Stuart, Florida (the area’s main city), making it ideal for tourists looking for somewhere to soak up the sun and enjoy some true Florida charm, activities and great food.
Getting outdoors is a state of mind here and you are spoilt for choice with activities including surfing, kayaking, hiking, biking, boating, fishing and horse riding or just enjoying the uncrowded, golden sandy beaches. We were so glad we decided to make a stop in Martin County. It has such a different vibe to the other destinations on our itinerary and was a quiet contender for one of our favourite stops on the road trip. As well as being immaculate (the whole place is like the set of a movie, it’s so clean it doesn’t feel real), everyone is outrageously friendly. It’s a place that exudes happiness without having to put up a sign. When the people who live here are happy (many of whom do seem to own enormous millionaire mansions with boats docked outside, to be fair), that usually means it’s a going to be nice place. And it was.
Things to do in Stuart Florida: Where to stay?
Stuart Florida is a peaceful city with some nice, boutique hotels, ideal for wandering to and from the many nice restaurants and bars in Historic Downtown Stuart. One that comes highly recommended is the Old Colorado Inn, a super cute converted residence (originally built in 1917) which, inside, has modern amenities and freshly baked cookies sent to your room. Who wouldn’t want that?
Since we were in Martin County with our two young children, we opted for a beachfront resort in Hutchinson Island, a five-minute drive from Downtown Stuart, but perfectly located on the gorgeous Jensen Beach (arguably the nicest area in Martin County). The Hutchinson Shores Resort and Spa is gorgeous! Beautifully designed rooms (with a beach view if you are lucky), two fancy swimming pools, an in-house spa, bar and restaurants and – because there is a theme emerging here – freshly baked cookies in reception every day! Rooms start from £190 per night opalcollection.com/hutchinson-shores
Things to do in Stuart Florida and Martin County, Florida
There is a huge range of things to do in Stuart Florida and in the surrounding areas of Martin County. For holidaymakers in pursuit of sunshine, outdoor activities reign supreme, but there are also some excellent indoor attractions to bookmark too (handy for a rainy day and for a sun break). After a fun weekend in Martin County, here are our top picks of things to do in Stuart Florida during your visit:
12 things to do in Martin County, Florida
1. Go to the Beach
There is no question that Florida’s beaches are beautiful, but often this means they are also popular with people everywhere soaking up the sun. One of the best things to do in Martin County is spend time on its gloriously, uncrowded beaches, soaking in Florida’s wild beauty. With 22-miles of golden sand, there are plenty of stretches to choose from but at last count, Bathtub Beach, Stuart Beach, Jensen Beach, and Hobe Sound are the only beaches in Martin County Florida with lifeguards’ present. Certainly something to bear in mind if you want to go swimming in the sea. Being the Atlantic coast, the waves here are fun but choppy, so having lifeguards on watch provides peace of mind, especially with children.
Since we were staying at Hutchinson Shores, Jensen Beach was on our doorstep and popping down to the beach every day was one of our favourite things to do in Stuart Florida. The beach is wide with thick, golden sand and surrounded by beach grasses and plants (which are home to lots of geckos, which the kids loved). We did go for a swim in the sea but the waves were quite wild after a recent storm, so the most fun activity was jumping over them as they washed onto shore. Hours of entertainment!
There are so many beaches in Martin Country, find out which suits your beachy personality best at discovermartin.com
2. Blowing Rocks Preserve
Further south along the mainland is Blowing Rocks Preserve. The wind-and wave-carved limestone forms rugged chimneys and shelves, burrows, blow holes and rocky pools in the rock, which are thought to have looked the same for centuries. The shoreline looks more like the cliffs of Hawaii than how we think of typical Florida. Now a preserved wildlife sanctuary, a number of endangered plants and animals can be spotted here, including rare loggerhead, green and leatherback sea turtles. Worth a visit, especially in the winter months as the waves splashing against the craggy limestone can force geysers of water 50 feet into the air.
3. One of the best things to do in Stuart, Florida – Watersports!
Getting out on the water is a must, especially when it is sunny because it’s the perfect way to cool off. The Atlantic Ocean is a great place to learn to surf with great waves. However, with two kids under six, we decided to go paddle boarding for a more relaxed, but equally as fun afternoon. Ohana Surf Shop is a family-run business, complete with two very cute dogs, that offer SUP (stand up paddle) tours and lessons on the calm water at Bathtub Beach.
Even if you have never paddleboarded before, Ohana will support you at any level. Josh, a dad himself, was the most patient guide. He helped Finn stand up on the board, use the paddle and eventually go off paddling by himself in less than an hour. The water here is very calm and shallow, meaning it’s excellent for beginners and non-swimmers too. It felt safe having Isobel on the paddleboard and Simon and I were easily able to switch boards and take turns paddling with her sat at the front. It was the most fun family activity and we all had such a good morning. Ohana were brilliant.
Florida’s climate is ideal for SUP and we could easily have stayed on the water all day. With his new-found confidence, Finn was begging poor Josh to take him for a surf lesson. We’ve promised to take Finn back and surfing will be top of the list! Stand-up paddle tours are $90 per person for a customised tour, surfing lessons are $90 and board rental from Ohana Surf Shop $45. Everything is customised to suit your party, so call direct to book (772)-287-0041 or if you are from the UK, you can send an email at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org in advance of your trip.
Ohana Surf Shop (652 NE Ocean Blvd, Stuart, FL 34996)
4. Visit the House of Refuge
From Bathtub Beach, make a stop at the House of Refuge, Martin County’s oldest building, dating back to 1876. There were originally ten Houses of Refuge along the east coast of Florida and they served as safe havens for shipwrecked sailors. The house on Hutchinson Island is the only one that has survived, making it one of the most historic buildings in Florida.
Now a museum, the House of Refuge celebrates its maritime and American History. See entries to the Keepers’ Logs, read shipwreck reports and see equipment and furnishings of the time. Constructed on the St. Lucie Rocks (similar to the Blowing Rocks), the museum, also has a fantastic view out to sea.
House of Refuge 301 SE MacArthur Blvd, Stuart, FL 34996
UPDATE: The inside of the House of Refuge is currently closed for renovations and expected to reopen in 2023
5. Jonathan Dickinson State Park
Florida’s State Parks are so diverse, it’s hard to believe they are all in one state. The Jonathan Dickinson State Park has 16 different unique wildlife communities, including coastal sand hills, upland lakes and scrub forests as well as the wild and historic Loxahatchee River. Entrance is $6 per vehicle and you are invited to explore the 11,500-acre park at your leisure with a driving map to get you to all the key locations.
Don’t miss Hobe Mountain, an ancient sand dune standing 86 feet above sea level. Visitors to the park can climb Hobe Mountain on a wooden boardwalk leading them through the scrub and up to Hobe Mountain Tower, which is a lookout providing amazing views of the park, the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean.
floridastateparks.org 16450 SE Federal Hwy, Hobe Sound, FL 33455
6. Active things to do in Stuart, Florida? Go Horse Riding
One of Florida’s best-kept secrets are the miles of bridleways and trails, perfect for a scenic horse ride. The trails are beautifully green, often shaded and show parts of the county that many visitors will miss. Greenridge Stables offer riding adventures seven days a week, at a range of locations (including the beach). Tours start from $25 per person. Remember to tip your guide at least 15%.
Greenridge Stables 5992 SW Markel St., Palm City, Fla., 34990
7. Go to a music festival
For a some truly authentic things to do in Stuart Florida, head to downtown Stuart at the weekend. Every Sunday, a free open-air music festival called Rock ‘n’ Riverwalk takes place on the Riverwalk Stage featuring different musicians each week. The Riverwalk stage looks out across the St Lucie River and is the perfect setting, especially as the sun sets. We got hotdogs from one of the pop-up stands and the kids loved dancing to the music. The concert takes place every Sunday from 1pm to 4pm. rocknriverwalk.com
Before the music, get there early and enjoy Market on Main, a weekly rain-or-shine farmer’s market held in Flagler Park every Sunday from 9am to 1pm. The market is great for people watching and checking out locally grown produce, handmade soaps, fresh baked goods, art and kooky souvenirs. stuartmainstreet.org
8. Things to do in Stuart Florida for kids:
Visit the Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center
My kids loved the Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center, which has nature trails, a 750,000-gallon Game Fish Lagoon, Sea Star Touch Tank and an Ocean ‘EcoCenter’. The highlight was the Rays on the Reef Exhibit, where we got to feed real-life stingrays! The Stingray Feeding is included in your admission price and takes place at designated times, but make sure you get there early. Food “vouchers” are handed out at the ray tank on a first-come, first-served basis starting 30 minutes before each ray feeding program and there is usually not enough for all guests. The Center also offers extra educational activities, such as a seasonal night time beach turtle walk ($30).
The kids love marine life, but the Oceanographic is so much more than an everyday aquarium and really surprised us with how much fun it was. If you’re staying at Hutchinson Shores, it’s really handy as the center is right across the road. (Adults $16, Kids $8, Under 2s FREE).
floridaocean.org 890 NE Ocean Blvd, Stuart, FL 34996
9. For something indoors, check out the Children’s Museum
Children’s Museum of the Treasure Coast is a fun museum that was like a dream for my kids! There are interactive exhibits including a miniature village, complete with fire station, shops, a library and a garden. There is the opportunity to dress up, role play and thrive on being a kid, which is just lovely. They also regularly host sensory-friendly days. Ideal for a rainy day – because it does sometimes rain in Florida! Or, just to do something with the kids that’s just about them.
childrensmuseumtc.org 707 NE Indian River Dr, Jensen Beach, FL 34957
10. Head out to Hobe Sound
One of the more quirky things to do in Stuart Florida is to explore the colourful Hobe Sound. Hobe Sound is 20 minutes from Stuart and is a charming fancy-yet-hippy community that some major celebrities happen to have homes in (including Celine Dion, Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan, apparently). Head first to Downtown Hobe Sound for a spot of shopping in the cute boutiques, including Posh Pineapple for funky homewares (my fav) and then check out the colourful Hobe Sound Murals Project. Buildings are decorated with incredible art murals and you can download a free walking tour to check them all out. Our favourites are the Island Drink mural (9128 Bridge Road) and the Sunset Bike Mural (8771 Bridge Road).
11. Eat (and drink) at Tako Tiki
I always include eating on my ‘things to do’ lists, because lets face it – some meals make excellent memories, and this was no exception. Tako Tiki, in Downtown Jensen, was one of our favourite places to eat from our entire Florida road trip! This is a Taqueria-tiki bar that captures the perfect, laid-back, beachy vibe that you crave in Florida. The simple menu features authentic street tacos and small plates along with an amazing selection of hand-crafted cocktails and live music throughout the week. We happened to go on Margarita Monday, which meant $5 margaritas – cheers! Better still, the venue is ‘ocean friendly’, which means all their packaging, plates and straws are all biodegradable. The kids loved it as much as us and the staff were the friendliest servers we encountered. 100% go here, you can thank us later.
takotiki.net 3340 NE Pineapple Ave., Jensen Beach, FL 34957
12. Breakfast at Jan’s Place Café
Last stop is a breakfast joint that just embodies everything I love about small towns in America: Extra friendly servers, free-flowing coffee and huge, no-frills-non-pretentious food that just tastes great. Open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Jan’s Place is a Jensen Beach staple – but the breakfast is massive, so bring your stretchy pants! Before you leave, grab a homebaked ‘Brookie’ (Brownie / Cookie) from their bakery next door. SO good.
Jan’s Place Cafe 1970 NE Jensen Beach Blvd., Jensen Beach, FL 34957
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