This post was written in partnership with Martin County.
Many a vacationing family has spent their time in Florida going back and forth between the hotel and the theme parks. First of all, there’s nothing wrong with that. But for families who are seeking a bit more adventure than parks can offer, there are plenty of under-the-radar destinations to be found in the Sunshine State.
Many of these relatively hidden treasures can be found in Martin County, a highly accessible Atlantic coast destination that’s long been overshadowed by the theme parks of Orlando to the north and the glamourous beaches of Miami to the south. Its relative anonymity is a plus, however, for families seeking out a less hectic getaway, a chance to explore a new destination without navigating large crowds and long lines.
In the COVID-19 era, the open spaces and relatively low number of tourists in Martin County make it an even more attractive destination. Its outdoor sights, from over 22 miles of beaches to more than 100,000 acres of wetlands, parks, and forests, are perfectly suited for social distancing. And its indoor attractions have implemented measures, including but not limited to mask and social distancing mandates, designed to make them safe for visitors.
What, exactly, is there to do in Martin County? Read on to find out, and make sure you make it there the next time you’re in Florida.
1. Do more at the beach.
Beaches are about natural beauty, sure, but beach days are good or bad depending in large part on human factors. There are plenty of hidden beaches tucked away along the shore, but four different Martin County beaches have ocean lifeguarding seven days a week. They’re also less developed than many other beaches, and the dearth of towering condos and hotels beachside means there are fewer people soaking up the sun, making it easier to safely space. Martin County’s beaches are also open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And alcohol is permitted! From surfers and snorkelers to aspiring sand-castle architects, there’s a Martin County beach for every type of traveler. If you were to build a perfect beach, it would likely check all of these boxes.
2. Explore epic trails.
There are plenty of natural wonders in Martin County. Chief among them is Halpatiokee Regional Park, 65 acres of active parkland surrounded by 470 acres of wetland preserve area. Hiking and mountain bike trails abound, and you can also rent a kayak to explore the South Fork of the St. Lucie River. Jonathan Dickinson State Park, the largest state park in Southeast Florida, is another popular option. It comprises 16 distinct natural communities and covers close to 11,500 acres, offering everything from fishing and swimming to horseback riding and boat tours.
For a more structured experience, visit the Hobe Sound Nature Center, a non-profit organization that works with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service within the Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge in southern Martin County. The center offers guided hikes and other programs, including sea turtle walks during the summer. Gathering at the Hobe Sound Public Beach, guests get to see endangered loggerhead sea turtles lay their eggs, which is an exceedingly cool thing to experience.
3. Go to a museum like no other.
Besides its outdoor fun, Martin County also has a pair of family-friendly museums. First, the Elliott Museum, which has a bit of everything: antique automobiles and boats, a collection of baseball memorabilia, and plenty of local history. The Elliott is located at the entrance to Stuart Beach, so it’s a great stop on the way to or from the beach or a mid-day break from the sun.
The Children’s Museum of the Treasure Coast is, like all great children’s museums, focused on creating hands-on experiences for kids. They really run the gamut, from interactive floor-projected games in The Beam to an impressive train set kids can control to the Spanish Galleon, a replica of a 16th-century Spanish ship that affords kids the chance to load cannons and learn basic maritime navigation. It recently reopened with new hours, capacity restrictions, and safety guidelines.
And be sure to stop by the Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center, a 57-acre educational and research site where the kids can feed sharks in the Game Fish Lagoon, view five species of sea turtles, and even pet a stingray.
4. Catch your dinner.
Martin County is known as Snook City, Kingfish Kountry, and the Sailfish Capital of the World. Its a fishing mecca, in other words, with over 800 species swimming around. Inshore, offshore, and freshwater fish can be caught, and there are tons of fishing charters and easy-to-find spots. Fishing is a great activity for kids, if done properly, as it rewards patience, teaches some scientific concepts, and ends with the satisfaction of eating something you caught yourself.
5. Experience small-town Florida.
Beyond the beaches, Martin County is home to plenty of small towns with plenty of small-town charm. Hobe Sound is home to antique shops and art galleries. Charming Downtown Stuart is a walker’s paradise, dotted with eclectic boutiques, waterfront restaurants, and family-owned lodging. Jensen Beach has a quaint downtown and the kind of moniker—Pineapple Capital of the World—that looks fantastic on a T-shirt.
Originally a Seminole community, Indiantown is home to one of the top thoroughbred horse racing facilities in the United States. It has a different feel, situated as it is in a cattle and citrus area of Florida that feels far away from the (actually close) coast of the state.
So even if you are the most outdoorsy family, there is plenty to experience outside of the larger cities in Martin County.
6. Find a new hobby.
Along with the aforementioned opportunities to go fishing, Martin County has plenty of paddleboarding, surfing, horseback riding, golf, sailing, mountain biking, kayaking, and scuba diving. No matter which outdoor ing you and your family want to try, you can probably find it in Martin County.