In partnership with Martin County

The art of unleashing your inner beach bum—and must-do water activities along Florida’s Treasure Coast

Designed your perfect day on or off the beach in Martin County

As soon as I open my car door, my senses are filled with the scent of the salt Florida air and the sounds of the ocean waves meeting the sand. I planned my arrival to watch the sun rise over the Atlantic, and though it is still dark out, my destination is unmistakable. Towel in hand, I make my way along a path through a thicket of sea grape trees, and there it is—my day at the beach in Martin County has begun.

Even at this early hour, I am not alone on the sand. Flocks of pelicans are gliding just above the water’s surface, and local fishermen have arrived long before me. They are casting their lines into the dark ocean trying to catch the big one before it gets away. As the minutes pass, more people arrive to watch the daily ritual of the sunrise—some snapping photos, others simply sitting and quietly watching Mother Nature splash color onto the early morning sky.

Arriving at the Martin County, Florida beach at sunrise.
Arriving at the beach at sunrise. | Photo: Susan B. Barnes

This special part of the Sunshine State is two hours south of Orlando’s theme parks, 90 minutes north of the buzz of Miami, and it is right where you need to be. With its more than 20 miles of beaches along the Atlantic Ocean, it is easy to find the perfect spot to throw down a blanket and laze the day—or early morning—away on this part of the Treasure Coast.

Which beach you choose to enjoy your days under the sun is up to you. If you are more comfortable with a lifeguard watching over your frolicking in the ocean, consider spending time at Bathtub Reef, Hobe Sound, Jensen, or Stuart beaches; each has lifeguards on duty seven days a week. Otherwise, simply cruise the coastline and pull off into the (free) public parking lot of the beach that calls to you. And since the beaches are within close proximity of each other, it is easy to try out a few and find your favorite. Spread out a blanket, settle in for the day, and unleash your inner beach bum.

Get natural

Just across the street from Stuart Beach, on Hutchinson Island, is the Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center. The 57-acre nature center introduces visitors to the local environment with a mission to “inspire environmental stewardship of Florida’s coastal ecosystems through education, research and advocacy.”

“We do a lot of restoration work with the oyster beds and sea grass. A healthy adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day,” says Joyce Gherlone with the Florida Oceanographic Society, which operates the Oceanographic Center.

“It’s so important to keep our waters clean,” Gherlone adds.

In addition to their work with oysters, the Florida Oceanographic Society hosts educational programs, beach cleanups, and even turtle walks, all of which are open to visitors to enhance their local stays.

This boardwalk meanders through the natural landscape at  Florida Oceanographic Center
This boardwalk meanders through the natural landscape at Florida Oceanographic Center. | Photo: Susan B. Barnes

About 30 minutes south of the Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center is the Hobe Sound Nature Center at the Nathaniel P. Reed Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge. A visit to the nature center is free, and a terrific introduction to the ways that nature creates natural habitats for native plant and animal species, including marine life. From the visitor center, follow the half-mile sandy trail that meanders through the trees to a tranquil beach on the Indian River Lagoon. This sandy beach will make you feel like you are a world away, even if you are just a stone’s throw from U.S. Highway 1.

If hiking isn’t your cup of tea, perhaps start your day with yoga on the beach instead? Soothing, inspiring, and restorative, there is nothing like the sound of the waves and a beautiful blue sky to start your day. Guests of the Hutchinson Island Marriott can enjoy a customized oceanfront yoga class No yoga mat is needed—just bring a large beach towel or a blanket to place on the sand, comfortable clothes, and an open spirit.

Martin County, Florida has four guarded beaches.
Martin County has four guarded beaches. | Photo: Susan B. Barnes

On the water

As the wind fills the sails billowing overhead, Captain Fred Newhart navigates the historic Schooner Lily along the waters of the St. Lucie River, pointing out the sites to the passengers who have settled in for a two-hour tour of the area. Under a warm Florida sun, Captain Fred shares the local history, the history of the Lily, and offers his local favorites to passengers who ask where to go for drinks and dinner afterwards.

When asked what he thinks draws visitors to Stuart, and Martin County in general, he ponders the question for a moment and replies, “I think this kind of small town charm, and the convenience of having U.S. 1 run right through here, makes it nice—as opposed to a lot of the other fast-paced, hustle bustle cities.”

Though Stuart certainly has that small town charm, Sunday Funday is still in full effect—and a terrific way to get started is aboard the two-hour Brunch Cruise with Island Princess. Nibble on bites from an array of brunch favorites and toast another day in paradise with an Island Princess bloody mary or mimosa.  

The Amazing Things mural is part of the Hobe Sound Mural Tour.
The Amazing Things mural is part of the Hobe Sound Mural Tour. | Photo: Susan B. Barnes
Window shopping in historic downtown Stuart.
Window shopping in historic downtown Stuart. | Photo: Susan B. Barnes

Call it a day

Though a day at the beach does eventually come to an end, that doesn’t mean the fun has to end, too.

Add a bit of art to your day and seek out the local artwork found on the Hobe Sound Mural Tour. Self-guided or with an artist on a two-hour guided tour, mural enthusiasts can see more than 15 large-scale murals that add color, vibrancy, and a splash of fun to Martin County.

If it’s time to replace your beach coverup, or you just want to find something new, stop into Cowabunga Surf & Sport in Jensen Beach. In addition to swim wear, this fun shop is filled with the latest beach fashions from the surf brands you know, as well as all of the sun protection you could need—from clothing to hats to sunscreen. And if you didn’t bring yours along, you can rent beach supplies, boards, and bikes from the shop, too.

Enjoy more shopping in historic downtown Stuart. The enticing boutiques are primed for window shopping, but don’t stop there—step inside and find something to keep you cozy on the beach and off.

The sun sets on the inlet across from the House of Refuge at Gilbert’s Bar in Stuart
The sun sets on the inlet across from the House of Refuge at Gilbert’s Bar in Stuart. | Photo: Susan B. Barnes

Keep the beach vibe going when it comes to dining, too. For beachside breakfast and lunch, or even just a quick snack, place an order at Sand Dune Café right on Jensen Beach and enjoy a bite to eat with your toes in the sand. Across the causeway, Conchy Joe’s Seafood Restaurant and Bar sits riverside, and while the vibe is laid back, the restaurant takes its food and drinks seriously.

After a full day of beachside fun, when it comes time for the sun to set on another day, make your way to the House of Refuge at Gilbert’s Bar in Stuart. Aside from being the oldest building in all of Martin County—built in the late-1800s—the views of the sun setting over the inlet waters across from the House are among the best in the county.