Fish, dive, sail and more all within driving distance of four international airports
Encompassing the communities of Port Salerno, Stuart, Palm City, Jensen Beach, Indiantown, Jupiter Island, Hobe Sound and Hutchinson Island, Martin County serves up 13 beaches and 70+ parks – not to mention the most bio-diverse lagoon ecosystem in the Northern Hemisphere, the St. Lucie Inlet, all within two hours or less driving time of four international airports: Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale, Miami and Orlando. Florida’s hidden gem, this is a place for unwinding and reconnecting. Building restrictions have limited structures to four stories, preserving breathtaking views throughout the county, yielding Old Florida charm accented by Key West style at every corner.
Conservation is king here, evident through individual community efforts like Stuart’s large oyster preserve and the St. Lucie Inlet, where the ecosystem provides habitat for over 4,300 species of plants and animals, including more than 30 threatened and endangered species such as manatees, wood storks, sand hill cranes and peregrine falcons. On Hutchinson Island, visit Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center for a family-friendly day of fun and learning – with aquariums, nature trails, a butterfly garden, children’s pavilion, visitor center, gift shop and more. Whether you’re 2 or 92, there’s something extraordinary about touching a stingray, seeing a sea turtle up close, or witnessing a feeding frenzy in a 750,000-gallon game fish tank. At Blowing Rock Preserve, named for its rocky Anastasia limestone shoreline – the largest on the U.S. Atlantic coast, get a glimpse of at what South Florida barrier islands looked like a century ago. Visitors can see one of the state’s rarest surviving landscapes – an intact Florida dune habitat with beach sunflower, bay cedar, sea grape and sea oats.
For a one-of-a-kind adventure, Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge, a coastal refuge bisected by the Indian River Lagoon into two separate tracts of land totaling over 1,000 acres on Jupiter Island, offers the onsite Hobe Sound Nature Center with both on and off-site native wildlife presentations and field experiences to local natural areas. Nature trails allow for hikes through estuaries, barrier islands and the sand pine scrub. A highly popular event, the sea turtle walk program, is held on warm, summer nights from the end of May through mid-July. The Center is one of only a few organizations in the state specially permitted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to conduct these nighttime walks. Reservations are required and the Center begins taking them as early as April 1 each year.
Hobe Sound is also home to Jonathan Dickinson State Park where the Loxahatchee River, Florida’s first federally designated Wild and Scenic River, runs through the park. Ranger-guided tours of the 1930’s pioneer homestead of Trapper Nelson are available year-round. Enjoy paved and off-road biking, equestrian and hiking trails. Boating, canoeing and kayaking along the river are all highlights. TIP: Gear up with paddleboards, kayaks and more at Treasure Coast Paddle or South River Outfitters.
Cast a line
There’s a reason Martin County reigns supreme for sport fishing and holds the distinctive title of “Sailfish Capital of the World.” Boasting more than 20 marinas, a dozen fishing and sightseeing charters, plus a variety of bait and tackle shops, Martin County offers an abundance of boating and fishing excursions and the opportunity to pursue 800 species of fish within a 10-mile radius of the St. Lucie Inlet, which connects the Intracoastal Waterway to the Atlantic Ocean.
With numerous thriving natural and artificial reefs along Martin County’s shores, the area truly lives up to its reputation as the “Treasure Coast.” Each reef offers a bounty of rich aquatic life, creating ideal locales for saltwater anglers and recreational divers. Offshore, the prevailing north current allows boaters to begin at the southern end of a one-mile long series of 14 artificial reefs that provide excellent fishing opportunities. Martin County’s Artificial Reef Program offers over ninety-five outstanding sites for fishing and dive exploration – and the number continues to grow. There is no better way to appreciate the area’s natural treasures than to fish and explore these waters.
For water play that’s a little less rugged, Sailfish Splash Waterpark features two four-story water slides, a gentle and relaxing 1,000-foot lazy river, an interactive water playground and an Olympic-class competitive swim venue.
Numerous charter boats are located throughout Martin County and can provide full, half-day or custom charters. From novice to experienced, the professional captains and mates provide for an angler’s every need and offer advice to insure a memorable off-shore fishing experience. The months of November through mid-March are prime months for sailfish – spring and summer months see the return of dolphin, wahoo and kingfish, as well as marlin. Not into fishing? Take a sailing lesson at the U.S. Sailing Center of Martin County where options are available for beginners and pros. Or, catch one of the many regattas held here throughout the year, notably the Junior Olympic Festival, Laser Masters, 420 Midwinter Championships and OptiFest.
With more than 70 parks, outdoor expeditions in Martin County are limitless. From October to May, “tromp the swamp” – free of charge – to observe the exclusive, natural beauty of the Barley Barber Swamp. All groups are accompanied by a tour guide along the 5,800-foot closed loop boardwalk.
Snorkel at Bathtub Reef Beach where a manmade a reef extends into the ocean allowing visitors to venture out while remaining in a protective area.
Kayak, hike, bike and go birding at Halpatiokee Regional Park or discover the pristine, and often deserted, beach at St. Lucie Inlet Preserve State Park.
If you go
Travel around Martin County in style and rent an environmentally-friendly electric Duffy boat or opt for a scooter or bicycle. Ready to refuel? The word fresh takes on new meaning with most Martin County restaurants utilizing locally-sourced produce and fresh caught fish, served alongside ingredients from local and organic farms within the county to please even the pickiest of palates. At day’s end, rest easy at brand name chains like Courtyard by Marriott, Best Western, and Hampton Inn – even the Hutchinson Island Marriott offering a resort-style setting. Or, choose from unique one-of-a-kind family-owned and -operated boutique properties such as the Old Colorado Inn and Pirates Cove Resort and Marina. Smaller bed and breakfast properties and independently rented villages and cottages set the scene for romance while RV and camping facilities – even timeshares – spell family fun.
Plan to visit during the annual Lionfish Derby
Come to Martin County and make plans to remove as many lionfish from the water as possible in a one-day tournament. Fish are measured and weighed and prizes are awarded. The non-native Indo-Pacific lionfish has no predators in the Atlantic ocean and is wreaking havoc on reefs by explosively reproducing and eating dangerously high numbers of important, native species such as juvenile grouper, snapper, parrotfish, grunts and crustaceans.