The Perfect Winter Family Vacation in Martin County, Florida (Treasure Coast)

Sponsored by Visit Florida

Delightful. That’s my word for Martin County, Florida

Before organizing our winter vacation to this part of the Treasure Coast with Visit Florida, I hadn’t heard of Martin County, Fl.

I’m certainly not going to forget it. In fact, we’re talking of returning here each year for our winter vacation!

Martin County Florida beaches.
Gorgeous Martin County beaches.

It has everything we love in a destination: spectacular, diverse scenery; fun outdoor adventures; towns with charm and artistic vibes; slow paced tempo suited to vibrant fun; endless opportunities for mouth-watering seafood and sunset cocktails – often paired with live music and laughter, and even great coffee shops!

When you visit Martin County, you can find sophistication and Old Florida charm as well as the all-embracing kick off your flip flops and slip on your Key West persona.

Main street in Stuart, Florida
Osceloa Street in Stuart, Florida

And then of course, there are the PERFECT winter temperatures – 80s every day. Oh, my heaven.

Our mission on this winter Florida vacation is to show families how to have a safe, and connected, much-needed family vacation.

We also partnered with VRBO to stay in our safe family bubble world in a rented home, one that has the amenities we need to balance our love of travel with our school and work needs.

Breakfast on our VRBO houseboat
Breakfast onboard our VRBO houseboat

Yep. The 2021 travel trend is Workcations or Schoolcations. Remote working and learning have suddenly become a reality for many families across the globe.

From our 10 years’ experience, we say embrace it, and head to the Florida beaches for that much needed winter, home isolation break.

Listen: We recorded a podcast episode on our South Florida Road Trip.

Where is Martin County and the Treasure Coast?

Lovely boardwalk in Stuart Florida
Lovely boardwalk in Stuart Florida

The Treasure Coast is located on the Atlantic Ocean side in South Florida, between Orlando and Miami and just north of Palm Beach.

The city of Stuart is charming with art galleries, boutique stores and a beautiful river front. We can understand why it was named Coastal Living’s 2016 Happiest Seaside Town as well as several other acknowledgements for it being a beautiful USA town.

Jensen is the other major town in Martin County with a more laid-back party vibe. Both places have easy access to each other AND to the many beaches along nearby Hutchinson Island.

That’s the beauty of this Treasure Coast region – with the Intracoastal Waterway, St Lucie River, and Atlantic Ocean, you are utterly spoiled for water attractions and activities.

You’ll also find smaller, historic towns and fishing villages located in the area, and out west is Indiantown, cattle and citrus country with a rich Seminole culture and history.

We donate a percentage of our campaign fee to those local businesses and organizations that support community, the environment, and humanitarian causes. On this South Florida road trip, we supported The Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida for their Florida conservation efforts and the Hobe Sound Mural project for their work supporting local artists and bringing community together.

Recommended Things to do in Martin County, Florida

Sunset paddle board was one of our favorite things to do in Martin County, Florida
Sunset paddle board was one of our favorite things to do in Martin County, Florida

If you’re like us, you don’t just want to lie around on a beach all day. We also love to balance the rest with adventurous activities like stand up paddle boarding and horse riding.

We also made sure to include activities that could incorporate learning to show you how you may be able to book study less and life study more.

As you’ll discover, all of our Martin County things to do were outdoors, allowing us to stay at a safe distance in the fresh, healing air. We also choose activities and local businesses that promote or support environmental sustainability.

Play at Martin County Beaches

Beach time in Martin County, Fl
Beach time in Martin County, Fl

It’s winter.

You might think there are no opportunities left in Florida to experience uncrowded white sandy beaches. Well, you haven’t yet traveled to Martin County and it’s 22 miles of beaches (and over 100,000 acres of parks and conservation lands.)

The Florida Coral Reef tract starts here which reaches down through the Florida Keys.

The Treasure Coast is named so due to the fleet of Spanish ships that lost their treasure here during the 1715 hurricane. People still find treasure here. Sometimes it washes up on the beach and handheld metal detectors can reveal gold, silver, and other artifacts.

Pick a beach along Hutchinson Island and enjoy a few hours of relaxing beach time. We found the water temperatures surprisingly pleasant, although slightly colder than the much warmer summer bath like temperatures.

We swam at the guarded Stuart Beach, but also visited Jensen Beach (also guarded and popular) and Tiger Shores, which is a more hidden beach the locals love. Other under-the-radar beaches are Chastain Beach and Virginia Forest Beach.

Breakfast: Jan’s Place, Jensen, Fl

Steak & eggs at Jan's Place, Jenson, FLorida
Steak & eggs at Jan’s Place

Ask any local where they recommend for breakfast in Martin County and they’ll say Jan’s Place. Known for its large servings of classic Southern breakfast and old-style hospitality and charm, it’s one of the most popular places to eat in Jensen.

Lunch: Mulligans Beach House, Jensen

Good vibes and tasty food at Mulligan's Beach House Bar & Grill in Jenson, Florida
Good vibes and tasty food at Mulligan’s

You’ll love the beach theme and laid-back style of Mulligan’s Beach House Bar & Grill in Downtown Jensen, Florida, a perfect lunch break from the beach.

Our tip is to head upstairs to the large open-air deck with views over Jenson and the water.We visited it for brunch, complete with a delicious southwest bowl, tasty burger and Blushing Mimosa.

Learn at the Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center, Stuart

Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center, Stuart

Time to ditch the science textbook and head for a real-life lesson on our ocean friends at the 57 acres Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center  on Hutchinson Island.

Florida Oceanographic has the mission to “inspire environmental stewardship of Florida’s coastal ecosystems through education, research and advocacy,” They offer educational programs and conduct research and restoration programs that lead to healthy coastal ecosystems.
 
They have a 750,000 gallon Game Fish Lagoon (with nurse sharks), a Sea Turtle Pavilion, and a Sea Star Touch Tank Pavilion where we learned of the powerful sterilizing and healing qualities of the horseshoe crab’s blue blood.

There are horseshoe crab blood banks set up to take the blood without harm for important medical purposes. The blood goes for at least $50K!

Don’t miss the stingray feeding session where you’ll learn about the different types of stingrays and their survival features.

You’ll then get a chance to feed the stingrays, putting a piece of fish between your fingers, laying your hand on the bottom of the tank like a dinner plate and waiting for the nearest stingray to take a bit.

Feeding a Stingray at Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center, Stuart
Don’t miss feeding the Stingrays.

It feels like a puppy dog nuzzling at your hand. You’ll fall in love with them (if you don’t already love these ocean butterflies.)

A visit here is one of the best things to do in Stuart with kids!

Sunset Sail on Schooner Lily, Stuart

Sunset Sail on Schooner Lily, Stuart
Lovely way to end the day!

Time for your Florida vacation relaxation.

Board the historic Schooner Lily as you set sail on the St Lucie River for about 2 hours under the guidance of Captain Fred, owner of Treasure Coast Sailing Adventures.

There’s not much for you to do except watch as they hoist the sales, learn more about the biodiversity of the estuary (the most diverse in the Northern Hemisphere), soak up the scenery and sailboat silence, look for wildlife, and marvel at the bright orange sunset sky.

We were fortunate to sail during a full moon so on the way back were able to complete our sunset sail with a full moon rise. Martin County is something special.

As the Schooner Lily is a sailing tall ship, you’ll be happy to know your enjoyment of this beautiful area is not harming the environment. Also, sail capacity is currently reduced due to COVID, which meant you could easily maintain your space.

You can bring your own snacks and beverages.

Dinner at Sneaki Tiki, Stuart

Brisket at Sneaki Tiki in Stuart, Florida
Brisket

You’ll want to continue your feel-good sailing vibes with dinner at Sneaki Tiki. We went here after the line at Taco Shack was way too long! (local’s favorite for gourmet tacos though).

We were not disappointed. Sneaki Tiki is a hole-in-the-wall place with little tiki huts you can sit under. What you’ll love are the $6 margaritas ($4 during happy hour), the live music, and the affordable and delicious food. My brisket was as good as any you’d find in Texas.

Horseback Ride through the South Florida Wilderness, Palm City

Horse ride with Greenridge Stables in Florida
Family fun on horse back!

Leave the noise and beach fun behind as you head for a quieter Martin county experience in the rural, equestrian community of Palm City.

Kathy McLaughlin owner of Greenridge Stables had me at her enthusiastic greeting, “I absolutely love my life.”

This is the kind of women I want to follow (and celebrate this Women’s History Month). A lady determined to follow her passion and love for horses and help many people along the way grow into strong, responsible humans. Her and her husband have fostered many children and helped put them through college.

Her niece, Ryan guided us along the trail through the South Florida wilderness and was filled with happy chatter. I also loved her friendliness and love for horses, nature and living a kind, full life.

Horse ride with Greenridge Stables in Florida
Peaceful and relaxing

Melissa brought up the rear and was wonderful in helping the girls feel comfortable in the saddle.

Greenridge Stables run private horse-riding tours no matter how small your group is – and rides range in time depending on experience.

Beginners will be more than happy with the one hour horseback ride which takes you on a loop through the nearby tranquil preserve, Hawk’s Hammock.

We were delighted for Ryan and Melissa to lead us into a short trot. Savannah now wants lessons to learn how to do it properly.

Horse ride with Greenridge Stables in Florida
Savannah on her gentle horse

The horses were beautiful – very calm and steady with their own personalities. There is just something about being around horses. I highly recommend you do it often to improve your inner Zen.

Phone to book your horseback riding adventure. Greenridge is delightfully old school!  (772) 288-7234

Full Moon Sunset Paddle, Port Salerno

Sunset paddle board in Martin County, Florida
Gorgeous sunset paddle

Our timing on our visit to Martin County was perfectly aligned to the full moon. This meant we had an opportunity to do something our family has not done before – a sunset full moon stand up paddle board.

It’s one of the most unique family adventures we’ve had, and one of the 8 wow moments from this Florida trip.

We started with a quick instruction on paddling, before heading out as a group across the channel to a nearby island. The wake was pumping, and we had to sprint paddle, timing our run in between boats and catching their wake behind us.

Savannah was on the front of my board, as we soon realized it would be too extreme for her paddling experience and comfort level. I was impressed with my ability to keep us both on top of the board and paddle at a fast pace despite all the challenges.

I was even more impressed with Kalyra getting herself across okay with a huge grin.

The short paddle across to the island got us there in time to turn around and watch the tangerine sky created by the setting sun.

Sunset paddle board in Martin County, Florida
Island vibes

The island was just a short strip of white sand with some red mangroves. The island in the middle of the St Lucie River Inlet is sometimes known as Disappearing Island (amongst other names) for its vanishing trick during high tides.

We parked ourselves here for about an hour searching for hermit crabs and jellyfish and enjoyed the abundance of bird life soaring across the pink skies.

Then we sat down to watch the huge round orange orb of the full moon rise creating a staircase below it. It was by far one of the best moon rises I’ve ever seen.

After we’d had enough, Leisa handed out safety lights and we paddled back across as a group in darkness. This time there weren’t many boats to navigate around. It was spooky and thrilling at the same time.

Definitely put this on your list of things to do in Martin County. Leisa from Zeke’s Surf and Paddleboarding has been running these tours for 12 years. You will enjoy her relaxed, friendly leadership.

Dinner at Shrimpers Grill & Raw Bar

As you’re in the Port Salerno area, after your paddle tour stop in at one of the many seafood restaurants along the Manatee Pocket Waterway.

Most popular is the Twisted Tuna with its live music and dancing patrons.

We dined across the small canal at the open-air deck of Shrimpers Grill & Raw Bar – and had the bonus of hearing the rock band.

Shrimpers was voted #1 Waterfront and Seafood Restaurant. You’re bound to find a seafood dish you’ll love paired with a bowl of Bahamian conch chowder.

I enjoyed my blackened dolphin – otherwise known as Mahi Mahi. Phew! Not the porpoise kind (I did ask the waitress just to be sure!). And Craig his steak and calamari.

Hobe Sound Mural Tour

With Nadia from Hobe Sound Mural Tours
With Nadia from Hobe Sound Mural Tours

We love to hear the stories of the locals when we travel, and what better way to do that then on an art mural tour with Nadia from Hobe Sound Murals.

Nadia Utto began her non-profit in 2009 after realizing the walls of buildings in the US weren’t utilized like they were in European countries.

There were no stories being told through the powerful mural medium. And so, she put her artistic skills to create a “sense of place” for this small, low key artistic community.

There are over 20 murals created by over 40 regional artists and 100 residents and visitors.

hobe sound murals

We wandered a couple of blocks with Nadia learning about the murals and the stories they told from environmental messages to historical events and characters.

After our tour, Nadia gave us a quick intro into mural painting and then gave us a square on the wall in the Taste Casual Dining Restaurant. What a thrill for my girls (especially our budding artist, Savannah) to contribute to a mural.

Every mural in the Hobe Sound Community has a hidden feature for you to find from dog paws to African birds.

Can you see the hidden mural, I created? I think it should now be my signature mark being Australian!

While painting at Taste Casual, grab yourself some appetizers and a margarita – the muse of all muses.

Drive the Enchanting Bridge Road, Hobe Sound

Bridge Road, Martin County
Amazing tree lined street

After checking out the community murals, take a drive down Bridge Road to see the gnarled trunks of the banyan trees reaching over together to create a canopied tunnel.

In this region you also have Hobe Sound Beach and Jonathan Dickinson State Park

Connect to Community: Festivals & Live Music

From art festivals to outdoor live music, Martin County is big on community connection. Look for what is on when you visit.  

Jammin Jensen

 Jammin Jenson, Florida
Good times at Jammin Jenson

Every Thursday is Jammin Day in Downtown Jensen. It’s a free weekly mini outdoor festival with a street side collection of local artisan stores, food, and live music.

It reminded me of the Asian night markets, wandering from store to store while the nearby bars belted out music.

Amongst the garden and art gallery cottage sections, we found a quieter trio playing some cool old 70s tunes.

Annual Downtown Stuart Art Festival

Annual Downtown Stuart Art Festival

We were visiting the Treasure Coast during the annual Downtown Stuart Art Festival. Osceola Street transforms into rows of gallery style booths filled with every medium of art.

I was impressed with the unique quality of art on display. You can tell this community embraces artistic living.

I saw many pieces I want to buy from the artists when we finally buy a house, especially these vinyl record pieces of art for our home bar!

Lunch: Stuart Boathouse, Stuart

Stuart Boathouse, Stuart
Superb views at Stuart Boathouse

While enjoying Downtown Stuart, grab a table on the outside deck of Stuart Boathouse where you’ll find a variety of seafood, steaks, and salads.

My Marinated grilled octopus over a white bean cassoulet with Andouille Sausage and topped with chimichurri was delicious and perfectly paired with the setting. And Craig enjoyed another burger which is popular here.

Their outdoor setting and views are a Stuart standout.

Lunch: TideHouse Waterfront Restaurant

View from TideHouse Waterfront Restaurant
Our lunch view

Across the St Lucie River is Stuart’s newest restaurant, the TideHouse Waterfront Restaurant with views from every table. It’s a quieter and more isolated Stuart dining experience.

They are known for their happy hours Mon-Fri from 3pm-6pm with live music.

We enjoyed lunch here with a delicious Tidehouse avocado chopped salad, a Mahi Mahi topped with pineapple salsa, and the Macadamia Crusted Fresh Catch.

Best Coffee in Martin County

Our long-term followers know we’re always searching for good coffee. We found it in Martin County. I was impressed with the coffee scene. Tell us in the comments your favorites for when we return.

Here is where you want to go:

The Roasted Record, Stuart

You had me at vinyls and coffee. Browse through the collection of classics while you enjoy a delicious coconut milk latte.

Finding a delicious coconut milk latte is as challenging as digging up gold on the Treasure Coast Beaches. Stop looking, you found it.

Pair it with a carrot, apple and walnut muffin. #TasteExplosion

The Roasted Record in Stuart, Florida
Excellent coffee and muffins

The Roasted Record was inspired by nights spent on a porch smelling freshly home roasted coffee and listening to vinyl music and drinking beers.

Isn’t that where all great ideas start?

So glad the owners followed through with it. And yes, they do sell beers here too!

Bunkhouse Coffee Bar, Jensen

bunkhouse coffee and smoothie bowls jenson florida

In this cute yellow bungalow in Downtown Jensen, you’ll find great coffee and OUTSTANDING smoothie bowls at the Bunkhouse Coffee Bar .

From the Bondi acai bowl to my favorite, the Pitaya Bowl loaded with liver cleansing goodness, you’ll be plant powering your way to the beach.

They also have a range of vegan and gluten free treats. Sit outside the pretty garden or on a stool at the bar to chat with, Kelly the friendly owner.

Interesting history: The Bunk House was used to house soldiers in WWII at what is now Jonathan Dickinson State Park. It was floated up the river in the 60s to this location.

Gilbert’s Coffee Bar, Stuart

For location, Gilbert’s Coffee Bar can’t be beat. It’s prime spot in Sunset Bay Marina & Anchorage overlooking the south fork of the St. Lucie River (watch for manatees) makes it a popular place to grab a coffee or avocado toast.

My first time trying a pistachio latte will go down as a memorable risk!

It’s also a popular place for sunset drinks (or daytime ones too!)

VRBO Rental: Houseboat Accommodation

vrbo houseboat rental florida

We were all overly excited to be staying on a houseboat in Port St Lucie on the Treasure Coast. We’re talking open air decks and a hot tub!

The houseboat was docked on a large piece of secluded property on the St Lucie River. Inside was spacious with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a large open-air kitchen and living space.

martin county rental
where to stay in Martin county

There are three outside decks on various places on the boat, and a section on the wooden pier with a grill. We enjoyed grill out breakfast here on our last morning.

Make sure you jump in the hot tub for sunrise views, sunset views, and nighttime star gazing.

vrbo houesboat rental florida

You will also love the hammock on the back garden, and huge mango tree.

There are kayaks and paddle boards you can take out to explore the river and mangrove region across the river. Enjoy the views looking back over the houseboat, it looks like you are immersed in the jungle.

Solar Panels are about to be installed on the houseboat, making this a completely off-the-grid sustainable form of accommodation.

Here is our full review of the VRBO houseboat rental.

You can book your own stay here.

Video: Martin County Highlights

You can watch our video of our time in Martin County. Subscribe to our YouTube channel here.

How to get to Martin County

If flying, you have a few options for airports. The closest is West Palm Beach (45 mins), but if that doesn’t’ work, Fort Lauderdale is also not too far away (1.5 hours).

We flew into Orlando, as the flight times were best. We could arrive early in the morning and fly direct from Raleigh.

It was only a two-hour drive to our accommodation, so it ended up being the fastest route for us, including the drive – and cheaper is a bargain!

See what we discovered on our next two destinations on this South Florida road trip: Sebring and Manasota Key.

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