Discovering unique destinations is my passion. I was happy to find another gem in my home state of Florida.

My year-end road trip introduced me to Martin County, north of Palm Beach and part of Florida’s famed Treasured Coast, where shipwrecks with precious cargo are still said to be buried.

A Naturalist’s Playground Spanning 22 miles along the Atlantic Coast.

The area offers beautiful beaches, 75+ parks and access to the St. Lucie River and Estuary, considered the most bio-diverse lagoon ecosystems in the Northern Hemisphere.

Seemingly untouched natural habitats are found hidden in the many canal-like inlets. These sanctuaries combined with the stunning views and the quaint ambiance of the coastal villages, were more than enough to captivate and hold my attention.

I embraced the escape as a time to reflect and disconnect from the chaos and noise of big city living.

The county’s small-town “Old Florida” vibe reverberates a slower simpler way of life.

Nature Rules & Fishing is a Religion.

Martin County home to 100 artificial reef systems and over 800 species of fish, is a true mecca for fishermen and nautical explorers.

Locals, with rod and reel in hand, flock to nearby beaches, bridges and coves for the cathartic challenge of pulling in the perfect catch. I envied their commitment, contentment and connection with nature. Knowing so well how difficult it is to let go and live freely, I felt inspired.

Martin County works hard to maintain the authenticity with building restrictions in place to limit structures to four stories and focuses on helping small independent businesses thrive.

Stuart, hailed the Sailfish Capital of the World, is a prime example of Old Florida Charm with its landscaped walkways, waterfront cafes and breathtaking water views.

Coastal Living Magazine named Stuart “America’s Happiest Seaside Town”.

One can easily spend a full day and evening exploring the galleries and shops, dining al fresco on fresh fare and strolling the Riverwalk.

For entertainment, catch a headliner show or concert at the Historic Lyric Theatre or live music at several local watering holes.

Fast Fact:  Stuart, nicknamed “the Panama Canal of Florida”, is the eastern-most point of entry to the Okeechobee Waterway, a 54-mile canal that extends from Stuart on the Atlantic to Ft. Myers on the Gulf of Mexico.

Hutchinson Island, nestled between the Indian River and Atlantic Ocean just minutes from Stuart, offers several “stay and play” vacation options.

If you prefer a peaceful resort setting, the Marriott Hutchinson Island Beach Resort and Marina is an excellent match. The expansive property covers 200 acres with ocean and river access. Enjoy tennis, golf and water sport activities. The resort is in the final phase of renovations with completion by early 2020.

Resort Highlights:

224 Deluxe Guest Rooms & 50 Suites

Outdoor Pool, Whirlpool & Mini-Spa

Restaurant and Tiki Bars and Ocean Club Golf Course

Bike and Jogging Trails

Water Sports/Beach Yoga/ 77 Slip Marina

Bike Rentals / Local & Beach Courtesy Shuttle

Tennis/Pickleball/Fitness Center

Complimentary Self-Parking

Walking Distance to Supermarket

For more information & rates, call 800-775-5936

The Marriott Resort’s prime location allowed me to park the car and explore. Several popular attractions are within walking distance.

The Florida Oceanographic Center, a recognized environmental organization, provides visitors with insight on the coastal ecosystems and native species. A visit is a family-friendly educational experience, where one has the opportunity to see sharks, turtles, stingrays and more. Open Daily except Holidays.

Topping my must-see list, is the Elliott Museum, a treasure chest of fabulous finds. What was to be an hour visit turned into three hours with still much left unseen. A truly amazing place! The multi-level museum is home to menagerie of impressive and eclectic collections ranging from baseball cards to vintage boats. The antique automobile display is mesmerizing. The museum has set up an automated rotation system to showcase each prized vehicle behind a protective glass garage. Open Daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

A visit to the Elliott includes admission to the Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge, the oldest building in Martin County and the last remaining of ten houses on Florida’s East Coast built to aid shipwrecked survivors. Houses of Refuge has no life-saving crew, they were occupied by a lone keeper and his family. The Refuge House, built in 1876, provides a 70-year historical account of life along the coast. In addition to the keeper’s quarters and lifesaving equipment exhibits, one also gets a glimpse into the Ais Native American Indians who occupied the area from Cape Canaveral to the Indian River for 4000 years.

I set out for balance in my daily schedule, mixing up beach time with museums and eco-adventure.

Best Bets:

Schooner Lily Sunset Sail:  A magical way to see the St. Lucie River. The Lily is a double-masted sailing barge with hull made entirely of wood. Originally a cargo ship, the Lily was rescued by Captain Fred and his wife/First Mate Jamie from the harsh Northeast waters. Now, the Lily delights passengers with serene scenic tours; it’s majestic sails soar in the wind as it glides the glistening warm Florida waters. If lucky, you will be treated to an impromptu concert. Fred and Jamie, a dynamic duo on guitar and fiddle, showcase their musical talent with toe-tapping Celtic tunes.

The Nature Conservancy’s Blowing Rocks Preserve:  Located in south Hobe Sound on Jupiter Island, Blowing Rocks Preserve is a favorite tourist spot and a nesting ground for Loggerhead and Leatherback sea turtles. The beach was ranked the #3 Beach in Florida by Conde Nast Traveler Magazine. Named for its rocky 100,000-year-old limestone shoreline and dramatic water spray, the Preserve is a treasured  barrier island sanctuary. Visitors get a rare look at one of Florida’s surviving landscapes, an intact flourishing dune habitat. Mangrove wetlands and maritime hammocks are also part of the Preserve’s native coastal vegetation. If you time your visit with the tides, you might be able to catch an amazing spectacle. Breaking waves explode against the rocks reaching heights of 20 feet and more.  Visitor Fee: $2 per person, $1 members, children 12 and under are free (cash only)

Johnathan Dickinson State Park:  South of Stuart, the park is a destination for day trippers and campers alike. Wildlife abounds amidst diverse eco-rich coastal environments of sand and scrub pine, flatwoods, mangroves, and river swamps. The Loxahatchee River, a federally-designated wildlife and scenic river, runs through the park offering  fresh water fishing, boating and kayaking opportunities. Open: 8 a.m. until Sundown, 365 Days a Year. Fee: $6 per Vehicle. Cabin Rentals and Camping Available.

Dolphin Bar & Shrimp House: The casual seafood restaurant is on the very site of famed 1960’s Polynesian themed resort, The Outrigger, owned by film star and singer, Frances Langford, who was a beloved Martin County resident. Diners are treated to exceptional panoramic views that span from the Stuart Causeway all the way up the river to the Jensen Causeway Bridge. As the name would imply, fresh dolphin is always a featured dish. Enjoy appetizers and sandwiches at the bar or full service menu in dining room.

Harry and the Natives: An eclectic Old Florida restaurant in Hobe Sound offering down-home cooking. Not much from the exterior, but step inside to a cozy palm covered patio and a crazy collection of kitschy artwork, signage and more. Live music nightly.  Full menu with a range of dishes from Seafood to BBQ Ribs.  An absolute must is a slice of the awarding-wining Orange Pie!

Port Salerno: The historic fishing village offers a glimpse into the past. Originally the hub of South Florida’s commercial fishing industry, Port Salerno remains an active working waterfront but on a smaller scale. Be sure to check out Tausha’s Seafood Market, a family-owned and operated shop, with roots dating back to 1892. Tausha’s Seafood has been serving over 100 varieties of premium seafood since 2009. The market is open daily with lunch and dinner served in the on-site restaurant. Art aficionados, will enjoy exploring the Fish House Art Center, a 3,000 square foot space, that features the unique creations of resident artists. For a hearty meal that won’t break the bank, visit The Whistle Stop on Dixie Highway. This family-run favorite offers great service, prices and some of the best hoagies south of Philly.

Time your visit for late January to experience the popular Port Salerno Seafood Festival, featuring music, mermaids and the best seafood on Florida’s East Coast.

Can’t wait to return to Martin County and uncover more treasures. So much yet to see and do.

For more information and all your trip planning needs, visit Martin County Tourism online or call 877-585-0085.

Photos Courtesy of Discover Martin County and S. Gaspers