In 2016, Southern Living Magazine readers voted Stuart, Florida “America’s Happiest Seaside Town.” It ranked above some amazing coastal towns in California, Oregon, Maine and the Carolina’s’ to earn that distinction. I imagine the voting criteria included things like, location, affordability, and activities for families. While those things are important, I think what makes Stuart special, and therefore its residents happy, is sea air, salt water, sunshine, a strong sense of community, picturesque scenery and a laid-back attitude that makes everyone feel welcome.
Stuart is in Martin County Florida, which is located on the East coast of Florida, just north of West Palm Beach. This area is commonly referred to as the Treasure Coast. I wrote about how this coast got its name here. There is water in virtually every direction, with two rivers and the Atlantic Ocean lapping at its shores. People come here for the beaches, great fishing and a myriad of outdoor activities that can be enjoyed all year long. They stay because it feels like home. Downtown Stuart exudes laid-back, old Florida charm, with its quaint shops, historic theater, art galleries and abundance of good eateries.
It is the kind of place that invites you to take a lazy stroll down Osceola Street while savoring the deliciousness of an ice cream cone and thinking, “this is living.” Take a dizzying spin around “confusion corner,” see the iconic bronze statue that symbolizes Stuart’s other moniker, “the sailfish capital of the world”, shop the Green Market on a Sunday morning or enjoy a free concert at the Band Stand on the weekend; visit the Stuart Heritage Museum for a history lesson, or spend the entire day lounging on a beach. Any one of those is guaranteed to make you feel happy.
On a balmy summer evening, or a crisp fall night, take a walk along the Riverwalk that begins at the band stand next to the Boat House in downtown. Depending on the night, you will hear great local musicians at several locations along the way. Follow the path under the Roosevelt bridge to Sailor’s Return and watch the sun setting over one of Stuart’s prettiest marinas, then turn around and head back to the Pelican Café to watch the lights on the bridge cast a golden glow on the river below.
Kick off your flip flops and sit for a while in this tropical setting. The music is always great here, food is reasonably priced and bottles of wine are half priced on Wednesday night. That’s enough to make me smile!
On another day, head East, across the river bridges to Hutchinson Island, the jewel of Martin County. Launch a kayak or paddle board from MacArthur Boulevard and paddle toward the St. Lucie Inlet. The ocean spills into the river at Sailfish Point, creating an array of blues and greens in the crystal clear water that will leave you refreshed; body and soul. If you are lucky, you might see a stingray or dolphin along the way. Didn’t bring your boat or board? TC Paddle Watersports at the Mariott Resort will fix you up with the right gear. Getting exercise while enjoying nature in the great outdoors, who wouldn’t smile at that?
While on Hutchinson Island, visit the House of Refuge and Gilbert’s Bar. The 1876 refuge was built to house stranded sailors along this coast. It is the last refuge still standing in the US. See the Coquina Rock shoreline that serves as a foundation for the Refuge, and creates one of the most picturesque views along this stretch of beach. Watch the ocean splash against the rocks, feel the wind in your hair and the salt on your skin – now, that’s happy. Turn around, walk across MacArthur Boulevard and watch the sun set over the river. It will delight your soul.
It comes as no surprise that Stuart, Florida was voted “happiest seaside town in America in 2016.” We believe it still is!
Where to Stay
Hutchinson Shores Resort – coming soon!