From exploring a historic, eclectic riverside town to relaxing on the sands of the Atlantic Ocean beach, and from uncovering educational museum gems to watching bucking broncos – there are so many FUN things to do in Stuart FL and the surrounding Martin County area that you’ll want to plan an entire week! Especially since most of them are FREE or extremely affordable.
Stuart is located along Florida’s renowned Treasure Coast, north of Palm Beach and south of Vero Beach. We stayed in Downtown Stuart, but explored all the best this county has to offer. Here are our favorites, and why we think your family will love this small town in Florida as much as we did.
DOWNTOWN FAMILY FUN IN STUART
THINGS TO DO IN STUART FLORIDA – DOWNTOWN
Downtown Stuart Tram. A fun way to tour the city with the kids is on the open-air, solar-powered tram. It’s FREE and looks like an elongated golf cart. You can ride the entire route in about 45 minutes, or take it here and there as you explore the shops and restaurants in the downtown area.
Riverwalk. Follow the boardwalk along the St Lucie River, taking in a great breeze; beautiful water; plenty of boats; and shops, restaurants, and parks along the way. For us, it was a relaxing opportunity to have some “downtime.” We even found a fun playground along the way, and stopped to chat with a few fisherman catching saltwater catfish – a species new to us. If you are in town on Sunday, be sure to visit the Rock’n Riverwalk live music celebration.
Stuart Heritage Museum. This museum is a FREE way to learn more about Stuart. For example, did you know that it’s the sailfish capital of the world? Or that it used to be a huge pineapple farming community? Or how about this – it wasn’t born as Stuart…the city of Stuart actually moved here after the railroad came to town.
Stuart Green Market. FREE to the public, this market opens in the downtown district at 9am on Sundays. Posted hours say they close at 1pm, but we noticed many vendors staying even later. There were food vendors (we found an amazing paella,) artisans, fresh flowers and more. It’s a super way to get a taste of the local life.
Splurge: Carriage Tour With Wind Chase Farm. Take a private horse-drawn carriage tour through downtown Stuart with Wind Chase Farms. The boys adored the beautiful black Clydesdale, Lily, that pulled our carriage. Our driver told us a number of interesting historical facts along the way – explaining the murals seen throughout the city, pointing our architectural details, and telling tales of President Cleveland’s visit long ago. The 30 minute tour starts at $120 for up to four passengers and gives you insight into Stuart that you won’t find anywhere else.
MUST EATS IN DOWNTOWN
LouRonzo’s Italian Fusion. LouRonzo’s is a local favorite, and it’s easy to see why – the food is FABULOUS. I highly recommend the fettuccine bolognese. The noodles were homemade and the sauce was divine. We also loved the veal parm. There was no skimping on the veal; it was a HUGE bone-in chop, perfectly breaded and cooked. Finally, the wine selection is very impressive so don’t miss it.
Stuart Boathouse. On one of our “downtime” walks along the Riverwalk, we stopped at Boathouse for a snack, and really enjoyed it. We sat outside on the deck, taking in the view of St Lucie. We enjoyed oysters (best we had in Martin County) and sushi – with a drink of course. The boys noshed on fries and worked diligently on the puzzles that came with the kids’ menu.
MUST STAY IN THE DOWNTOWN DISTRICT
Old Colorado Inn. With multiple accommodation options, Old Colorado Inn is ideal for families or couples. We stayed at The Oasis Suite on the Ernest Lyons Compound, which was perfect for our family. Stay tuned for a full post about this historic hotel.
STUART’S BEACHY-KEEN SIDE
Stuart is the cutest little town along the St Lucie River…but it is also home to beaches along the Atlantic. Use the A1A’s two large bridges over the St Lucie and the Jupiter Inlet to get to the ocean. On this far east side of Stuart, Hutchinson Island, there are even more exciting things to enjoy!
Elliott Museum. All my boys (including hubby) loved the Elliott Museum! My oldest called it the “transportation” museum. The highlight was seeing so many antique cars in one location, with the coolest display imaginable. An 1886 Benz, a 1925 Rolls Royce, a 1930 Model A Taxi…and dozens and dozens of other cars are ushered to the front of the display cabinet via a sort of “conveyer belt,” and then showcased for several minutes before the next car is pulled from inventory.
We also saw motorcycles, boats, even bicycles constructed by Sterling Elliott for whom the museum is named. We also loved the baseball display and the elaborately hand-carved circus art.
Florida Oceanic Society’s Coastal Center. Do not miss this little gem of a place! And make sure to take note of the times on the website so that you can experience it all!
Start with the stingray feeding program. It is weird and awesome! haha. You’ll hold a small piece of food between your fingers, with your hand on the bottom of the tank…and the stingrays will come along and suck it up. It is unlike anything we’ve ever done before!
After that, you can see a program about the large sea turtles they have, and watch them be fed….followed by the game fish feeding. Don’t miss the short nature trail, and the children’s interactive play area.
House of Refuge. Built as one of ten houses of refuge, this is the only one left AND it’s the oldest building in Martin County. It was a haven for shipwrecked travelers, and now serves as a museum showcasing historical lifesaving equipment and the Keeper’s living quarters as they were in 1904.
I have to admit that with our packed schedule, we were not able to tour the museum…but we did spend a little time on the beach behind it. How gorgeous! That’s where we photographed the title picture.
I didn’t want the boys to actually go “swimming” here because of the many rocks, but they loved watching the waves hit the boulders, running around in the sand, and enjoying the view. We noticed it was a place that locals go to relax and read.
Splurge: Riding The Waves Catamaran Tour. This had to be one of the highlights of our trip!! You can NOT miss this adventure!! Take a tour of the Florida waters as you drive a Catamaran – guided by naturalists who can tell you all about the flora and fauna of the region.
You can take an affordable 60 min, 90 min or 2.5 hour eco tour, or a 3.5 hr twilight coastal tour. (Visiting without the kids? Check out the date night sunset tour!) You’ll have the chance to take on the waters, and get off the boat for a little exploring.
These boats are just spectacular and SAFE. It’s not physically possible for them to flip! Yet, because of the design, they offer the maneuverability of an airboat – and they are just so much fun! We were smiles the entire time! Dan drove boat #1 with Elliot; I drove boat #2 with Cooper, and our guides lead the way.
So – in all honesty, I should mention that we got caught in an unexpected downpour – it was seriously heavy. They usually wouldn’t ride in that sort of weather. (For the record, we were standing under a torrential downpour, as the weather apps on our phone said 0% chance of rain. Ha.)
A few things I really appreciated:
- You don’t need to worry about lifejackets – they have sizes for everyone.
- Your catamaran is equipped with a cooler with water. You can throw in other non-alcoholic drinks, if you’d like…along with a few snacks.
- There is a small place to store your phone, keys, wallet, etc and keep them dry. But, it is small. Sooo, you are lucky enough that you don’t need a camera. Your guides will take pictures of you while you’re our driving and exploring…and make them available (no charge) after your ride!
You REALLY need to take this ride! You won’t regret it!
MUST EATS ON THE BEACH
The Magic Oyster Bar. We loved it here! Who doesn’t love a place with a special oyster menu, $6 kids’ menu, and killer drinks! The Horseradish Crusted Grouper is delicious, and Honey Garlic Chicken is ideal for non-seafood family members.
Jan’s Place. OK – I’m cheating a little here. Jan’s Place is on the other side of the bridges in Jensen, but you can use that to your advantage…take them up on a hearty breakfast breakfast before heading to the island. And when I say hearty, I mean HUGE.
I had the new Chicken Pot Pie omelette…which was large enough for two people…but it also came with hash browns and a side of pancakes! Hubby had the chicken fried steak with a side of eggs – again, more than we could eat. If you are looking for really good home-cooked food to fill your belly before a day at the beach, this is it!
MUST-STAY BEACHSIDE OPTIONS
Hutchinson Island Resort & Spa. We originally planned to stay at this Resort, but with the hurricanes the opening was a bit delayed and we missed it by a weekend. We did, however, get a chance to stop by the beach near this area and check out the location, room views, etc…and I would say it’s a win!
THE HOBE SOUND AREA: IDEAL OUTDOOR ADVENTURES FOR FAMILIES
MUST DO IN HOBE SOUND
Jonathan Dickinson State Park. There are multiple ways to explore this fascinating state park, depending on how much time you have to spend. We only had about an hour so we climbed to the top of Hobe Mountain Tower for spectacular views of the surrounding areas, then hustled over to where the guided tour boats take off. We didn’t have time for a tour, but loved seeing the water, playing at the playground and watching the pontoon set sail. Finally, consider biking the trails or paddling the Lokahatchee River – keep a look out for alligators and turtles.
Blowing Rocks Preserve. Visit during high tide to see the most impressive ocean sprays against the rocky Anastasia limestone. The Nature Conservancy reports that, “during extreme high tides and after winter storms, seas break against the rocks and force plumes of saltwater up to 50 feet skyward.” Whew!
Bring your snorkel, and you’ll need shoes for the short hike.
National Wildlife Refuge Nature Center. With sandy trails and plenty of critters to see, kids will love this interactive learning stop. Be sure to check out the events during your stay – there are stargazing opportunities, beach dynamics, sea turtle walks and more – and most of these are free!
MUST EATS IN HOBE SOUND
Harry and the Natives. This eclectic restaurant is a favorite of the locals, and you’ll like it too. They serve all three meals – except on Sunday when it’s breakfast all day. The boys chowed on bacon and pancakes and ate everything on their plate! The pancakes are super creative! I had the carrot cake stack with cream cheese icing, and our guest had coconut pancakes. They were both amazing!
The menu is vast, with plenty of options for everyone…even gator hash. Yes, it’s real gator!
INDIANTOWN: WHERE COWBOYS WERE BORN
Indiantown Rodeo. We were so so so lucky to be visiting during the annual Indiantown Rodeo, in it’s 70th year. This is one of the most prominent rodeos in the United States, and if you can time your visit to overlap it, I highly recommend doing so!
We watched bronco riding, steer wrestling, roping and barrel racing…but the bull riding was by far our favorite! My littlest guy just melted my heart because of how intently he watched each event. The entire program is VERY family-friendly. In fact, during “half-time” intermission, they invite all the kids to the center of the area for a Find Your Shoe race and contest!
Tickets are pretty affordable, but if you are able to splurge, I highly recommend it! This is an historic event that only happens once a year.
VIP tickets grant you reserved seating near the horse gates, as well as conditioned restrooms and what they called “light refreshments.” For us that meant an entire HUGE barbecue dinner from Sonny’s! (Plus 2 drinks for mom and dad, plus a cash bar.)
We also loved going a little early and checking out the vendors – Western jewelry makers, cowboy hats, kettle corn, corn hole and so much more!
While Florida might not be top-of-mind for rodeo action, don’t forget that this was the first place in the new world where horses and cattle landed more than four centuries ago. Rodeos, cowboys and roundups are as natural to Florida as to the wild west.
MORE MARTIN COUNTY HOTEL OPTIONS
Best Tiki Bar: We thoroughly enjoyed our adventure at Old Colorado Inn so this gem is worth repeating! All rooms at the inn are fitted with a seating area, a flat-screen TV with cable channels and a private bathroom with a hairdryer and a shower. The Tiki Bar here is super fun.
Best Pools: The Marriott Hutchinson Island Beach Resort, Golf & Marina is located on Hutchinson Island Beach and is within 6 minutes’ drive of Stuart city center. The property offers a 3 outdoor pools and rooms with a seating area. With two Tiki bars and an awesome restaurant (Baha Grill), this is a great spot.
Best Tried and True: This Stuart, Florida Hampton Inn is located near the Northwest Federal Highway. It has an on-site convenience store and serves a buffet breakfast every morning. Downtown Stuart is less than a mile from here. St. Lucie Inlet Preserve has 2 miles of sandy beach and is 15 minutes away.
About 25 miles away from Stuart, you’ll find J&S Fish Camp, located on the beautiful Lake Okeechobee in Florida. Enjoy lakeside views in one of their charming cabins, or stay by RV with their spacious sites. This fun atmosphere features a Tiki bar, live music, food trucks, and Southern hospitality!
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO FLORIDA
- CAPE SAN BLAS: A VACATION GUIDE TO THE FORGOTTEN COAST
- MARCO ISLAND: 16 AMAZING THINGS TO DO IN MARCO ISLAND, FLORIDA
- MIAMI: 27+ THINGS TO DO IN MIAMI WITH KIDS
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