Photograph by www.GoFishStuart.com
Nestled on the Atlantic coast and surrounded by the St. Lucie and Indian rivers, Martin County is often referred to as a hidden gem of the South Florida coast. But word is getting out—its county seat, Stuart, was named “America’s Happiest Seaside Town” by Coastal Living in 2016. With Old Florida charm, easy access to four airports*, and countless kid-friendly activities, Martin County is an ideal place to spend a family “camp-cation.” While the kids have their own adventures, grown-ups can enjoy the beaches and attractions of a quaint seaside town on their own. In the evening, the family comes together to share stories and make memories. Here are five reasons to pack your bags.
1. A summer camp for every kid
With 22 miles of shoreline, Martin County knows how to do summer camp at the beach. This summer, area beaches host several surfing camps, where kids learn about the ocean, water safety and, ride the waves. Check out camps offered by Ohana Surf Shop, Cowabunga Surf and Sport Camp, and Surf Central; most accept kids ages 5-17 and operate between May and August.
Other water experiences include the U.S. Sailing Center Sailing Camp which offers a variety of programs for beginning “little skippers” to advanced sailors ages 5-17 and is one of only three community sailing centers in the country sanctioned by the U.S. Sailing Association. Another popular option is Fishing Summer Camp with Captain Giles Murphy who teaches young anglers (ages 6-17) the basics of fishing (including fly fishing) and provides an education on local fish species and their habitats. Snorkeling is a highlight of the Environmental Studies Center Summer Camp where campers also enjoy boat trips, fishing, and arts and crafts.
Martin County’s Florida Oceanographic Society offers several summer camp options on Hutchinson Island, a barrier island located between America’s most bio-diverse estuary, the Indian River Lagoon, and the Atlantic Ocean. At Coastal Discovery Summer Camp, kids ages 5-16 learn about aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems and conduct science experiments while interacting with live marine animals. The Specialty Immersions Summer Program offers hands-on opportunities for older kids (ages 12-16) to snorkel, fish, and tromp through mangrove swamps.
For kids who prefer to stay out of the water but love the outdoors, Hobe Sound Nature Center Summer Camp offers activities such as live wildlife presentations, nature crafts, and games for ages 6-12. There’s no shortage of horseback-riding camps in Martin County. Choose from camps at Sunnytime Stables, Standing Oak Farms, Marasco Ranch, and Palm City Equestrians.
For kids who love the arts, the Elliot Museum offers a variety of Summer Creativity Classes for budding artists ages 6-14, including specialized camps for digital photography, painting, ceramics, and more. Young stage-lovers will enjoy Lyric’s Awesome! Summer Camp, held at the historic Lyric Theatre for kids in first-eighth grade. Starstruck Academy Theatre offers StarStruck’s All Star Summer Camps for kids of all ages who love to sing, act, or dance, and the Dance Academy of Stuart offers ballet, tap, jazz, and hip-hop camps.
For more information on additional Martin County camps visit the Martin County Office of Tourism and Marketing.
2. “Me time” for mom and dad
While the kids are having the time of their lives, parents can rest or explore Martin County’s beaches and attractions at their own pace. The following are several ways to spend the day.
Go shopping. From big-name stores at Treasure Coast Square and the upscale boutiques of Harbour Bay Plaza to locally-owned shops in downtown Stuart and Jensen Beach, Martin County offers an unparalleled shopping experience. A few not to miss: interior designer Dana Small’s shop, Matilda’s for coastal-chic home accents, Gumbo Limbo Coastal Kidz boutique for babies and children, B&A Flea Market for antiques and collectibles, and Ohana Surf Shop to get geared up for the beach and support local charities with your purchase. For additional shopping recommendations, visit the Martin County Office of Tourism and Marketing.
Get outside. Outdoor lovers will enjoy hiking the trails at Hobe Sound Nature Center through estuaries, barrier islands, and sand pine scrub; or rent a paddleboard, canoe, or kayak from South River Outfitters, and head to nearby Jonathan Dickinson State Park to cruise along the Loxahatchee River. Halpatiokee Regional Park is also an excellent spot to kayak, hike, bike, and birdwatch. And if it’s peace and quiet you need, the peaceful, pristine beach at St. Lucie Inlet Preserve State Park always delivers.
Experience local art and history. Browse Martin County’s more than 20 galleries in the historic downtowns of Stuart, Jensen Beach, Port Salerno, and Hobe Sound. The Fish House Art Center and Gallery, located on the waterfront of Manatee Pocket in the Village of Port Salerno, offers 3,000 square feet of American fine art and crafts as well as ten resident artists’ studios, including painters, glass artists, and ceramic sculptors. History buffs will enjoy the Elliott Museum, named after inventor Sterling Elliott, which hosts a vast collection of antique automobiles, vintage boats, baseballs, and a variety of Treasure Coast relics. The Stuart Heritage Museum, located in a charming historic feed store (the oldest commercial building in Martin County), is a showcase of the people, businesses, agriculture, and community spirit of Martin County. Built in 1876, the House of Refuge is the last remaining of nearly a dozen shipwreck life-saving stations on Florida’s Atlantic Coast. Tour the onsite museum or see a shipwreck up close by diving or snorkeling at the nearby Georges Valentine Shipwreck Site.
3. Reconnecting for family dinners
In the evening, share stories of the day’s adventures around the table at one of Martin County’s restaurants, many of which source local produce and fresh-caught fish. A few family favorites include Taste, offering seafood and more in Hobe Sound; Pelican Cafe for casual waterfront dining (beach toys welcome); Crawdaddy’s N’awlins Grill and Raw Bar, offering live music in Jensen Beach; and the Twisted Tuna in Port Salerno, Martin County’s largest waterfront restaurant. In the morning, Osceola Street Cafe is a great choice for a family breakfast or brunch. For additional restaurant recommendations, visit the Martin County Office of Tourism and Marketing.
4. A (coastal) home away from home
At day’s end, rest easy at a local beach cottage or condominium, or choose from one-of-a-kind boutique properties such as the recently-updated Old Colorado Inn, located in downtown Stuart, the historic Seminole Inn, and Pirates Cove Resort and Marina. The Hutchinson Island Marriott Beach Resort and Marina, a 200-acre resort bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and Intracoastal Waterway, is a great option for families, with amenities such as golf, tennis, spa facilities, and a marina. For families who want to sleep under the stars, there are a variety of campgrounds, including Jonathan Dickinson State Park, where families can hike or kayak along the Loxahatchee River. For a complete list of accommodations, visit the Martin County Office of Tourism and Marketing.
5. There’s plenty to do as a family
Because family vacation is, after all, about family—when camp is over, Martin County offers many ways to spend quality time together. Take the kids to interact with marine life at the Feed the Stingray Program at the Florida Oceanographic Center or take the Nighttime Sea Turtle Walk to see nesting loggerhead sea turtles at Hobe Sound Nature Center. Spend the day together at Indian Riverside Park in Jensen Beach, where families enjoy the beach, walking paths, fishing, and play fountains, and explore the Children’s Museum of the Treasure Coast where kids enjoy hands-on, interactive activities in a child-sized replica of a Floridian town. For more water fun, head to Sailfish Splash Waterpark which includes a lazy river, waterslides, zero-entry water playground, and private cabanas.
Don’t miss Rock’n Riverwalk, a free open-air concert in downtown Stuart every Sunday 1-4 p.m. Or make a ride around town a family adventure by taking the free solar-powered tram around downtown Stuart. When your trip comes to an end, make a stop at Blowing Rocks Preserve in Hobe Sound, a magnificently-restored sanctuary named for its rocky Anastasia limestone shoreline, the largest on the U.S. Atlantic coast.
*Martin County is 45 minutes from Palm Beach International Airport, an hour from Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport, 90 minutes from Miami International Airport, and two hours from Orlando International Airport.