This southeast Florida town boasts miles of sandy beaches and world-class sportfishing, yet it retains that relaxed “old Florida” feel. Welcome to Stuart.
When headed to a big fly-in, I usually plan a side trip or two. At a little over 100 nautical miles southeast of Lakeland, Stuart’s Witham Field makes a perfect Sun 'n Fun side trip. Due to the busy airspace, restricted areas, military operations areas, and possible presidential temporary flight restriction, it’s a good idea to request VFR flight following or be on an IFR flight plan and be extra vigilant about notams.
Stuart’s public beaches are perfect for pulling up a chair and pulling out a good book, or you can try swimming, surfing, or snorkeling. Literally dozens of different location types make Hutchinson Island one of your best beach bets. This 23-mile-long barrier island is easily accessed via the bridge just a mile northeast of the airport. Look for dolphins, manatees, and sea turtles in the water and seashells on the shore. Stay at the Hutchinson Island Marriott Beach Resort, which offers everything from golf and tennis to tiki huts and expertly grilled steaks.
For more of that “old Florida” experience, choose the River Palm Cottages and Fish Camp on the western bank of the Indian River lagoon, a pet-friendly palm paradise where you can wet a line, book an inshore fishing trip, watch dolphins, or just relax in a hammock. In downtown Stuart near the St. Lucie River, the Old Colorado Inn offers deluxe studios, suites, a charming cottage, and a spacious historic guest house, along with Natalie’s Orchid Island orange juice, pastries, bagels, and a newspaper each morning. Several popular restaurants are located on the hotel premises. The Key West-style Inn Shepard's Park Bed and Breakfast sits right in the heart of River Front Village. Loaner bikes, kayaks, and beach gear are complimentary.
Stuart offers several golf courses, but the Champions Club at Summerfield is the only one not lined by development. Instead, the course lies within an Audubon preserve, and its large, undulating greens are surrounded by slash pine, saw palmetto, and wetlands, where sandhill cranes and deer are frequent visitors. The Champions Club Grill serves breakfast and lunch with a full bar, and the pro shop offers premium Srixon rental clubs.
South of Stuart, Jonathan Dickinson State Park teems with birds (more than 150 species) and other wildlife. Hike through this rare sand pine scrub environment, take a ranger-guided tour, or rent a kayak, canoe, or motorboat—three campgrounds are available, too. For an up-close look at ocean life, visit the Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center. Kids love interacting with rays, starfish, and sea urchins. Watch the staff feed large nurse sharks and tarpon or hike the easy nature trail through mangrove-lined estuaries. Stop by the Elliott Museum across the street to see Sterling Elliott’s numerous inventions, including ball bearings, office machinery, and quadricycles. You’ll also find the largest collection of signed baseball memorabilia outside of Cooperstown, and an impressive display of vintage autos.
Sailfish Circle in downtown Stuart showcases a huge sailfish water fountain, and the surrounding streets are filled with shops, festive cafés, and nightclubs like the dockside Sailor’s Return. Classic films and live performances rule at the historic Lyric Theatre, while The Gafford might just have the best tuna tartare and chocolate cake ever. Springtime shoulder season is perfect for visiting Stuart—make it your Sun 'n Fun side trip!
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