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'Sailfish capital of the world''Sailfish capital of the world'

Stuart, FloridaStuart, Florida

This southeast Florida town boasts miles of sandy beaches and world-class sportfishing, yet it retains that relaxed “old Florida” feel. Welcome to Stuart.

  • Stuart, Florida, is the perfect place to put up your feet. Surrounded by clear waters and sandy beaches and blissfully lacking in high-rise buildings, Stuart imparts a sleepy, “old Florida” feel that both residents and visitors enjoy. Photo courtesy TiffanyRichards.com.
  • Water, water, everywhere….pilots flying to Stuart’s Witham Field will see the St. Lucie Inlet, the 23-mile-long Hutchinson barrier Island, Seawall Point, and Sailfish Point, all just east of the airport. Photo courtesy Martin County CVB.
  • This woman just hauled in a beautiful mahi-mahi. Photo courtesy Reel Busy Charters.
  • Surf rods in the sand at sunset on a Stuart, Florida, beach. Photo by James T. Brown.
  • Stuart offers miles of wide, sandy beaches perfect for sunning, swimming, snorkeling, or surfing. Photo courtesy The Swim Guide.
  • Seashells crowd a Stuart beach at sunrise. Photo by Kim Seng.
  • The pet-friendly River Palm Cottages & Fish Camp perches along the western bank of the Indian River lagoon. Hammocks sway from royal palms and guests enjoy fruit from more than 80 edible plants, while dolphins and manatees frolic nearby. Wet your line off the long, lit dock or book an inshore or offshore trip. Tin-roofed bungalows are decorated in Floribbean style—rattan furniture, pastels, and artwork featuring brilliant blue mahi-mahi. Full kitchens, dishware, and linens provided. Photo courtesy TiffanyRichards.com.
  • Located in the heart of historic downtown Stuart near the St. Lucie River, the Old Colorado Inn offers deluxe studios, spacious suites, a cottage, and a spacious historic guest house nestled in a casual tropical setting. Photo courtesy Old Colorado Inn.
  • Renowned golf course designer Tom Fazio has often said that “golf courses should reflect the natural beauty of their environments.” The Fazio-designed Champions Golf Club is the first public golf course awarded the Audubon Signature Sanctuary designation because of its natural beauty. Though the course itself is wide open, its surrounding wetlands environment recalls a time before development, when Florida was wild. Don’t be surprised to see a deer grazing under the towering slash pines. Photo courtesy Champions Golf Club.
  • It’s not unusual to see sandhill cranes in the wetlands on the Champions Golf Club course or at Jonathan Dickinson State Park. Photo by Ketzirah Lesser.
  • Visit the Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center to learn about Stuart’s marine life. More than 30 species of fish reside in the lagoon; watch as the staff feeds large nurse sharks and tarpon. Photo by Meagan Roberts, courtesy FOCC.
  • A mural in downtown Stuart recalls the time when pineapples were grown here in profusion. Photo courtesy Flagler Grill.
  • Sailor’s Return sits at the Sunset Bay Marina near the Roosevelt Bridge. Indoor and outdoor patio dining provide perfect sunset views. Live music is played Wednesday through Saturday evenings. With two bars and a huge dance floor, the club scene is lively. Photo courtesy Sailor’s Return.
  • Isn’t this the best-looking tuna tartare? Wait till you taste it! Photo courtesy The Gafford.
  • The Gafford’s chocolate cake is piled high and sinfully rich. Photo courtesy The Gafford.

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.

Gold and silver recovered from shipwrecked Spanish galleons lent this region its other nickname, “Florida’s Treasure Coast.” Today’s treasures come with the excitement of deep-sea fishing. Fast and beautiful sailfish leap, dive, and fight. To conserve the sailfish fishery, captains use hooks that don’t harm the fish and then release them after they are pulled up to the boat. Fish you can keep include dolphin (mahi-mahi), tuna, wahoo, and grouper. Wayne Brodeur of Reel Busy Charters is a master captain with more than 30 years of experience fishing off Florida and The Bahamas and provides a first-class fishing experience. His 35-foot Cabo Express accommodates up to six guests, and no license is necessary when fishing with a captain. Do-it-yourselfers like the onshore fishing; bring your fishing rod and buy your fishing license at a nearby bait shop. Try the causeways or beach and inlet hotspots. Numerous inshore locations are great for wading.

A sailfish is pulled up to the boat and then quickly released back to the ocean. Photo courtesy Reel Busy Charters.

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.

At the Elliott Museum, you’ll find the largest collection of signed baseball memorabilia outside Cooperstown, along with an impressive display of vintage autos. Photo courtesy Elliott Museum.

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!

You can have it all at the Hutchinson Island Marriott Beach Resort—luxury accommodations, turquoise waters, sparkling pools, tennis, golf, tiki huts, and fine dining. Photo courtesy Hutchinson Island Marriott Beach Resort.

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Crista Worthy

Crista Videriksen Worthy

Crista Videriksen Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association. To suggest future destination articles, send an email to [email protected]
Topics: US Travel

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