“Where the heck is Stuart, Florida?” You may ask? Well I’ll tell you: it’s a bout halfway between Orlando and Miami right on the East Coast and it’s just the place for a relaxing beach getaway. Only about a 45 minute drive from the Palm Beach International Airport, it’s a world away from bustling Miami or even urban West Palm Beach. I’m not calling it quaint or quiet by any means, just different. Check out the hotspots below.
Palm Beach International is the closest public airport, although if chartering private jets is your thing, Witham Airport is right smack bang in the middle of Stuart. It’s a pretty big airport, so rental car options abound and many Stuart hotels offer free transportation to and from the airport for your convenience.
You can rent a car at one of the many rental companies in town if you didn’t drive, but there’s also Stuart Scoot, a bike and scooter rental shop downtown, if you’re looking for a easy breezy way to get about. Bike rentals start at just 10 bucks a day, $5 after the second day, and scooter rentals are by the hour ($30 for 2 hours) or day ($55 per with discounts for multiple days). There’s also a public transport system…sort of…but I wouldn’t bother if I were you. The frequency and number of stops is fairly embarrassing.
Free Things to do in Stuart
Beaches: Lets be honest. This is why people vacation in Florida. And when it comes to beaches, Stuart has options. Pop over the Ocean Street Bridge and you’ll find popular Stuart Beach, complete with beach-side eatery, “The Chef Shak,” that offers everything from ice cream and smoothies to hot dogs and soft pretzels. They even have a veggie burger! Bathtub beach is a good option for families with kids and for easy if not terribly exciting snorkeling as a rocky reef keeps waves from breaking over your head during low tide. And just up the road is The House of Refuge, a historical landmark with a rocky shoreline that offers some pretty impressive views when waves crash against them. There are numerous other unguarded beaches up the coast that are less crowded and popular for fishing in the evening, so as you drive, keep your eyes peeled.
Parks: A solid handful of parks offer walking or running trails, the opportunity to see Florida Wildlife up close, or just a place to relax and take a few vacay snapshots. Memorial Park and Flagler Park are both downtown and are home to palm trees and picnic tables. You’ll find bridges over streams and majestic Banyans at Memorial Park and swing sets and an unbeatable view of the St. Lucie River and the Roosevelt Bridge from Flagler Park and Shepherd’s Park across US 1. Kiplinger Nature Preserve is a good bet if you want to see birds and alligators, Halpatiokee is best for mountain biking, tennis, trail walking and easy canoe trips. Sandsprit is perfect for boating, picnicking, and watching the holiday boat parade.
Free music: Don’t miss the free concerts downtown on the Riverwalk stage every Sunday afternoon. Different styles of music and local bands are featured all the time and the river provides the perfect backdrop for a day of live music. Show up early for the farmers’ market and browse the art and baked goods. On the weekends you can often find roving musicians downtown and live music on the patio at many of the restaurants around town.
The Barn Theatre: While tickets for this community theatre are a bit high for my taste at $20, most shows kick off with a friends and family night that’s free to theatergoers. Technically it’s the cast’s last dress rehearsal, but you’d never know it as they treat it like opening night. It’s usually the Thursday before opening night, so if you happen to be in town, call the box office to make sure they’re doing it, then enjoy some free theatre!
Stuart Heritage Museum: Located in an old feed store downtown, this place has the city’s history stacked from floor to ceiling and wall to wall, quite literally. If history’s your thing, drop by for an hour or two in the morning or afternoon. stuartheritagemuseum.com.
Osceola and Flagler Street: The two streets make up the heart of Downtown Stuart and are home to gift shops, independent clothing stores, restaurants, cafes, specialty shops and ice cream parlors.
Browse and enjoy art galleries and unique shops you won’t find anywhere else. Afterward, take a stroll along the boardwalk and take a snapshot in front of the Roosevelt Bridge.
Our Favorite Things
River Tours: They don’t usually come cheap at $20 or more a pop, but they provide quite an experience and might even offer an opportunity for turtle or dolphin spotting. The Schooner Lily is a historic sailboat that takes off from the pier downtown and offers a 2-hour tour of the river up to three times a day in the busy season (October-April). The captain and first mate give passengers a bit of history of the area and even play a few Irish tunes on their fiddle and guitar on the evening tours. treasurecoastsailingadventures.com. But if it’s mansion-spotting you’re after, check out the Island Princess. Tours range from 3-5 hours and the captain will point out many of the area’s most famous homes (and their inhabitants) and give a bit of history on the surrounding coats and waterways. islandprincesscruises.com.
Florida Oceanographic Society: This educational facility offers entertainment for all ages including an opportunity to pet a stingray, learn about the sea turtles in their 750,000 gallon lagoon, take guided nature walks, and lots of other hands-on learning opportunities. In the summer they also offer guided nighttime turtle walks where attendees can witness sea turtles coming ashore to lay eggs. FOS also offers lots of info on local waterways and ecological issues so residents can stay informed. Admission is $12 for adults, $6 for kids from 3-12 and free for the little ones. floridaocean.org.
Canoeing and Kayaking: As a city surrounded by water, there are plenty of options for kayak rentals. South River Outfitters at Halpatiokee Park will have you weaving through mangroves and around the docks of waterfront homes (keep an eye out for alligators and manatees). Beach Water Sports on Hutchinson Island offers paddling in the causeway (keep an eye out for boats). River Front Kayaks will send you out on the St. Lucie (keep an eye out for dolphins). Rentals usually start around $20 per boat and some places also offer Paddle boards or mountain bikes.
Art Festivals: They abound in this small town, especially in the spring and winter months. Some of them are free, but some ask for a $5 donation, usually for charity or the local arts council. They’re filled with local and national artists, typically with an emphasis on paintings and photography with a sprinkling of jewelry, sculpture and craftier items. They never fail to offer an afternoon of entertainment. To see what’s coming up, visit martinarts.org.
Grab a Bite
East Ocean Bistro is a great place to enjoy an exceptional lunch on Thursdays. They have a special menu on that day with a list of items that are only $6.99. Granted, the portions aren’t huge, but they usually suffice for lunch. They also have the best salad in town with homemade spiced pecans, dried cherries, pears and house vanilla bean dressing. It’s to die for and it’s under $9.
The Deck Restaurant has the best veggie burger in town (trust me, I’ve had them all), plus some pretty tasty conventional options as well. It’s busy on the weekends, but most evenings there is live music on the outer deck and it’s one of the few west-facing waterfront restaurants in Stuart where you can watch the sun set over the river. It’s certainly the cheapest.
Coffee Bar Blue Door is one of our favorite places to frequent. It happens to be where the young, hip crowd hangs out and they hang out often. The small cafe has a very cozy (i.e. small) interior, but eclectically adorned. The outdoor patio is the seating area of choice, though, and most folks will order and take their coffee, tea, wine or beer outside to enjoy the Florida weather. There are a few food items to choose from, but the menu consists more of snackish items like brie and cheese plates, muffins, soup and quiche than actual meals. There’s a regular music schedule that features local artists, story times for kids, and Monday movie night where the owner rolls out a projector and offers a free movie out on the patio. Another plus: it’s one of the few places in town that’s open after 10:00 pm. Most nights the door is still open until 1:00 or 2:00 am.
Stuart Coffee is another local establishment that offers good coffee and inexpensive grub. Breakfast pastries, house-made parfaits, muffins, and wraps are great for breakfast with a flavored latte (ask to see their box of recipes for a ton of creative flavor combinations), and wraps, sandwiches and salads offer an easy lunch or light dinner. They also serve some beer and wine with a decent happy hour (BOGO), but they close early (7:00) so plan accordingly.
Money Saving Tips
When you get into town, stop by the welcome center downtown for more maps and information than you’ll know what to do with. The staff will help point you in the right direction if you’re looking for something to do and there will be plenty of free publications available with event schedules and listings.
For discounts on dining out, don’t neglect to visit localdines.com. You can search for restaurants by city in South Florida and save 50%, sometimes more, on local restaurants. It works instantly, like Groupon, and you print out your certificate and go!
For discounts on restaurants, hotels and even activities like paddle boarding, visit the Chamber of Commerce’s website. To save with those coupons, however, you’ll have to order in advance and have the vouchers shipped to you. Give it at least a week. Our fave: Coastal Paddle Boarding. You can get up to 75% off sometimes!
Enjoy the beach!