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Martin County: you’ll never believe this is Florida

You’ve been to Orlando and Miami, so where’s next? Far away from Mickey Mouse land is Florida's hidden gem.

Get to know a different side to Florida, with Wanderlust Chloe’s guide to Martin County.

This relaxed holiday destination is far away from the crowds of Miami and Orlando, but still has all of Florida’s natural beauty, with guaranteed sunshine and plenty of things to do. It’s less explored, a little more ‘real’, and is full of good vibes – did you know coastal town Stuart was recently named America’s Happiest Seaside Town?.

From stand-up paddle boarding alongside dolphins, to great food and live music, it’s time to find out what to do on your first visit to Martin County, and what makes this region of Florida so special.

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Beaches

Florida’s beaches are world famous, but some are so popular you’ll struggle to find a spot to sunbathe. For a more relaxed experience, head to Stuart Beach, Jensen Beach or the bays along Hutchinson Island. With Atlantic waves, it’s a surfing hotspot too. For something different, soak up the drama of Blowing Rocks Preserve, where waves crash against a natural limestone ridge, blowing water high into the sky.

Martin County, beaches

History

Martin County sits on Florida’s Treasure Coast, named after the huge amount of shipwreck treasure found in the Atlantic. Find out more at the House of Refuge, the county’s oldest building which was constructed as a safe place for shipwrecked sailors. From pineapple plantations to American football, the city of Stuart’s history is a varied one. Stuart Heritage Museum is packed full of fascinating and quirky artefacts from the city’s past, meanwhile, The Elliott Museum is perfect for lovers of classic cars and art.

Stuart Heritage Museum

Nature

With highs from 22°C/71°F to 33°C/91°F all year round, you’re likely to spend most of your time exploring the great outdoors. There are several preserves in Martin County, but for a real flavour of Florida’s nature, book onto the Barley Barber Swamp Tour. With sunlight seeping through the ancient cypress trees, it’s a surprisingly beautiful place. During the tour there’s a chance to learn about the exotic plants, raccoons, eagles, snakes and spiders that call the swamp home.

Nature Preserve, Martin County

Read more about Florida: Top 10 things to do in Fort Lauderdale

Adventure

Outdoor adventurers will love Jonathan Dickinson State Park. The 11,000-acre park is home to lush mangroves, thick forests and the Loxahatchee River. Activities on offer include hiking, biking, fishing, horse riding and kayaking, plus you can camp in the park, making it perfect for a short getaway. For a softer type of adventure, try your hand at stand up paddle boarding. It’s an activity that you can take at your own pace, and is particularly magical when you pass a pod of dolphins at sunset. Or, how about exploring Stuart on two wheels? And no we’re not talking about cycling. Segway through the city and check out the boardwalk, downtown area, secret backstreets and marina, all while hearing about the best places to eat, drink and explore.

Paddle boarding, Martin County

Art

With over 20 huge murals, Hobe Sound is the county’s colourful and creative heart. Artists started the mural project in 2009 as a way of improving community spirit and identity – something it’s certainly achieved with its al fresco art gallery. The majority of the artworks are painted on the outside of stores and restaurants, with new ones being added each year. To find out more, take a mural tour with one of the artists.

Hobe Sound, Martin County

Food

With influences from the Deep South and plenty of fresh produce and seafood on its doorstep, Martin County’s food scene is a big draw. Popular dishes include fish tacos, fresh sushi, salads, chicken wings, shrimp, crawfish and plenty of deep fried goodies including fried chicken, calamari, and jalapeno poppers. For great views of the water, head to Dolphin Bar and Shrimp House in Jensen, Stuart Boathouse or The Twisted Tuna in Port Salerno. Or if you’re looking for something more upmarket, book a table at The Gafford in Stuart. Seasonal dishes include burrata with pesto and heirloom cherry tomatoes and seared Asian tuna. Each year in December, local eateries take part in the Taste of Jensen food festival, where you can sample over 23 different courses for just $30.

Fish Tacos

Read more about Florida: Top restaurants in Orlando

Shopping

It’s refreshing to wander a high street and not be faced with endless tourist stores selling I Love t-shirts. On Stuart’s main street you’ll find boutiques including Matilda’s Gumbo Limbo Coastal Chic selling vibrant clothes and kitsch homewares. Foodies will love The Sauce Shack with its shelves stacked full of hot sauces, meanwhile the ice cream at Kilwins is reckoned to be the best in the area.

Independent boutiques in Stuart

Nightlife

In contrast to the super clubs in Miami and Orlando, evening entertainment in Martin County is all about live music. Chilled out bar Sneaki Tiki hosts nightly acoustic performances, while Terra Fermata has a rockier vibe. In factm you can often hear the bands from the other side of town. If you fancy starting the party a bit earlier in the day, every Sunday Stuart hosts Rock N’Riverwalk – a free concert right on the water.

Rock N'Riverwalk

Accommodation

If you love the ease of having restaurants, bars and activities on site, then Hutchinson Island Marriott Beach Resort & Marina is perfect. It’s home to an 18 hole golf course and has offers beach access. If being in buzz of downtown is more your thing, check into the Old Colorado Inn in Stuart. Dating back to the early 1900s, the boutique hotel and guesthouses are packed with quirky design features and some have views of the St. Lucie River.

Old Colarado Inn

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Best time to visit Martin County

While temperatures are warm and comfortable throughout the year, it’s worth mentioning that Florida’s hurricane season runs from 1st June – 30th November, with the peak period from early August to the end of October. Rain is more likely and humidity is higher. April and May are great months to visit, particularly if you can avoid peak holiday times.

Martin County

How to get to Martin County

Four international airports are within easy reach of Martin County, with Palm Beach International being the closest at around an hour’s drive, followed by Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Orlando. From the airport, hire a car to make the most of the region.

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About the author

Chloe Gunning // @wanderlustchloe

Travel blogger, creative producer, foodie and adventurer showing you the world. Happiest when holding a mojito!

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