15 Best Things to Do in Stuart (FL)

Written by Bart Meeuwesen
Updated on
Our travel recommendations are based on our personal experiences and research, written by locals and travel experts with deep familiarity with the destination. When you book a hotel or tour that we link to, we may earn a commission.

On Florida’s Treasure Coast, this city has a one-off location where the St. Lucie River joins the Intracoastal Waterway. 

Stuart is also at the eastern end of the Okeechobee Waterway, running from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico in Ft. Myers.

In my view, seaside towns don’t get much prettier than Stuart. Going back to the 1880s, downtown has held onto its historic character, with no sign of skyscraping condos. 

With big sweeps of water to the east and west, sunrise and sunset are equally breathtaking in Stuart. 

There’s a lineup of superb visitor attractions, going into local history and ecology, and you also have the unbridled beauty of the Atlantic shore all along Hutchinson Island, moments away.

1. Downtown Stuart

First developed in the 1880s, Stuart has a downtown that wins me over every time. In particular, I love the narrow drag on SW Osceola St, almost overflowing with restaurants, galleries, shops, and entertainment.

The Lyric Theater here is a grand Moorish Revival building, dating back to 1926. This former movie palace is now a stage for performing arts in Stuart.

The surrounding turn-of-the-century townscape has more than 50 locally owned businesses to check out.

Another thing that grabs me about this place is just how much there is going on, from weekly outdoor concerts to the annual Downtown Stuart Craft Festival in March.

2. Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center

Florida Oceanographic Coastal CenterSource: floridaocean.org
Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center

One of two essential attractions by Stuart Beach is the headquarters of the Florida Oceanographic Society. 

This is located in nearly 60 acres of coastal hammock and mangroves, brimming with educational wildlife experiences. 

For instance, there’s a 750,000-gallon gamefish lagoon, touch tanks for stingrays and invertebrates. Meanwhile the Ocean EcoCenter, has a set of aquariums showing off the area’s rich marine life.  

I’d urge you to catch the twice-daily Sea Turtle Program. This introduces you to Florida’s five sea turtle species, and shows you how to identify them and help safeguard them against common threats.

3. Elliott Museum

Elliott MuseumSource: jared422_80 / Flickr
Elliott Museum

Also next to Stuart Beach, this modern museum is run by the Martin County Historical Society. The Elliott Museum dates back to 1961, and unveiled this new, 48,000-square-foot complex in 2013.

The galleries are a dizzying miscellany, landing on topics like baseball, pineapple cultivation, aviation, art, seafaring, pirates, shipwrecks, and much more.

What makes the Elliott Museum essential in my eyes is the collection of vintage commercial vehicles. On show at the Wheels of Change exhibit, this fleet is primarily made up of Ford Model As and Model AAs. 

They are presented on a three-level racking system. You can see them descend on a robotic tray and rotate on a turntable.

4. Stuart Riverwalk

From downtown, you can embark on a walk along the St. Lucie River. I have to say, I was surprised at just how long the Riverwalk was.

One place to pick up the trail is at the north end of S Colorado Ave. From here you’ll soon be on a scenic boardwalk, leading up behind the City Hall and along Flagler Park.

One of the best things about this attraction is the live entertainment. Every Sunday afternoon, 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm, there’s live music on the spectacular waterfront stage, with tiers of seats looking out over the river.

This is another uplifting community event, with pets welcome, and free shuttles from Osceola, Sailfish or Kiwanis Park.

5. House of Refuge Museum

Along the rocky Gilbert’s Bar, about 10 minutes from downtown, is a riveting piece of maritime heritage. The oldest building in Martin County, the House of Refuge (1876) is a preserved shipwreck life-saving station. 

This is the last of ten similar facilities built along Florida’s Atlantic Coast. At a time when the shore was sparsely populated, stations like this were a vital haven for shipwrecked sailors or travelers.

Among the people to take shelter at the House of Refuge were people from the Georges Valentine. This Italian barkentine was wrecked no more than 100 yards offshore. Even today the wreck is a popular dive site. 

You can tour the complex, check out exhibits documenting the station’s eventful past, and pore over a trove of artifacts. I saw period clothing, lamps, historic lifesaving gear, U.S. Lifesaving Service uniforms, and a genuine 19th-century commode.

6. Stuart Beach

There’s public beach access for miles up and down the shore near Stuart. Still, if you want a hassle-free afternoon full of sun, surf and sand, Stuart Beach on Hutchinson Island checks all the right boxes.

First up, you can get here in under ten minutes from downtown. Awaiting you is a massive sweep of pale sand that becomes a sea turtle nesting site between April and October.

For amenities there’s a concession stand, restrooms, showers, picnic tables, BBQ pits, basketball courts and a volleyball court. 

My one word of advice is to beware the steep drop-off, which might be a bit much for children. Naturally, Stuart Beach is a prime place in the city if you want to watch the sun come up.

7. Stuart Heritage Museum

Near the waterfront at 161 Southwest Flagler Avenue there’s a fantastic local history museum in an old commercial building. This is the old Stuart Feed Store, which was built in 1901 and opened as the George W. Parks Grocery and General Merchandise Store.

The Stuart Heritage Museum has a huge collection, relevant to all aspects of the city’s past. This includes Seminole Native American artifacts, pioneer tools, furniture from local homes, and memorabilia relating to celebrities from Stuart.

For my part, I thought the displays on Stuart’s pineapple production and sport fishing brought the city’s 20th-century roots into focus.

8. Shepard Park

Shepard ParkSource: Melissa Keyes / Facebook
Shepard Park

Just west of downtown Stuart you can reach another picture-perfect hangout by the water. Shepard Park is where Frazier Creek flows into the South Fork of the St. Lucie River.

There’s a paved trail and boardwalk along both stretches of waterfront. Walking here, I was astounded at how casual the birdlife is. Within a few steps I had seen an ibis, an osprey, a heron, and several pelicans. 

As it faces west Shepard Park takes on a kind of ethereal beauty when the sun is low. So, make sure you stop by before or after heading out to dinner.

9. Halpatiokee Regional Park

Halpatiokee Regional ParkSource: C Karen Stopford / Facebook
Halpatiokee Regional Park

Martin County’s largest park is made up of more than 500 acres of both developed land and preserved natural areas.

Soccer and baseball fields, a disc golf course, tennis courts, and an outdoor roller rink are big attractions for those looking to burn a few calories. 

If you’d rather get away from the crowds and immerse yourself in nature, there are a variety of trails open to walkers and bikers. The wilder parts of the park are composed of oak hammock,  pine flatwoods, scrub and riparian habitats.

Walking these trails I was intrigued to learn that the park harbors at least a dozen plant and animal species considered threatened or endangered by the State of Florida.

10. Sandsprit Park

Maintained by Martin County, this public park occupies a scenic point at the entrance to Manatee Pocket Harbor. 

Just a few minutes from downtown Stuart, Sandsprit Park stands out for being the closest water access to the St. Lucie Inlet.

As far as I’m concerned, the joy of this park lies in its riverfront views. You can see for miles over the water, and the park’s rim has a continuous boardwalk with benches along it. As you can imagine, the panorama at sunrise is truly special. 

There’s also birdlife everywhere you look, in particular pelicans on the docks, and parrots in the tree canopy.

11. Sailfish Splash Waterpark

Sailfish Splash WaterparkSource: Sailfish Splash Waterpark / Facebook
Sailfish Splash Waterpark

With so many stunning beaches close by, it might be easy to overlook this Waterpark, operated by Martin County. 

All the same, this is a wonderful place for kids to frolic in cool water when the beach’s direct sunlight and salt water are too much.

Despite being a public facility, I thought Sailfish Splash Water Park looked like something out of a resort. 

There are modern amenities for a variety of ages. Among them you’ve got a 1,000-foot lazy river, two four-story slides, a water playground, and an Olympic pool for lap swimming. Even if it’s mostly a kids’ attraction, parents usually end up having a blast as well.

12. Savannas Preserve State Park

Savannas Preserve State ParkSource: romarti / shutterstock
Savannas Preserve State Park

In Stuart you’re near the southern entrance to an enormous basin marsh habitat, running parallel to the coast for miles. 

What you see at the Savannas Preserve State Park are the kinds of landscapes that greeted Florida’s pioneers. There are six natural communities here. One that I need to tell you about is the rare sand pine scrub.

Lining the eastern margins of the park, this rare habitat is disappearing all over the world. Sand pines tower over this landscape, which is home to gopher tortoises, and the state’s only native bird, the Florida scrub jay. 

Biking, hiking, and horseback riding are popular activities, as are kayaking and paddleboarding in the wetlands.

13. St. Lucie Lock and Dam

For something a little out of the ordinary, you could trace the St. Lucie Canal about a few miles upstream to this lock.

Maintained by the US Army Corps of Engineers, there has been a lock at this site since 1925, while the current system dates from the 1940s.

More than 10,000 vessels a year pass through the locks, from recreational traffic to commercial shipping. For infrastructure nerds like me, this is a fun sight to check out, especially when boats are passing through. If you’re lucky you may even see manatees making their way along the canal. 

The USACE maintains a campground at this spot, and there’s a small visitor center, with exhibits about inland shipping. There’s also a playground, and several picnic tables by the water.

14. Stuart Boathouse

Stuart BoathouseSource: stuartboathouse.com
Stuart Boathouse

I’d challenge anyone to come up with a better spot for a seafood restaurant than the St. Lucie riverfront in downtown Stuart. 

Get a table here on a Sunday afternoon and your meal will be accompanied by live music at the Stuart Riverwalk Stage. 

Making the most of those sensational views, the Stuart Boathouse is about upscale dining with a small-town atmosphere. 

As a fan of sushi, this is just my kind of spot. I got the spicy tuna roll, with marinated tuna, sriracha, avocado and cucumber. In terms of entrees my personal pick was the Blackened Mahi Mahi, over lime jasmine rice, with black beans and chimichurri.

15. Stuart Airshow

Stuart AirshowSource: JJW Photography / shutterstock
Stuart Airshow

For more than three decades, there has been a world-class air show every year at Witham Field. 

Partnering with several local nonprofits, the Stuart Air Show is a celebration of aviation, paying tribute to its past while inspiring its future. 

For those who’ve never experienced a live airshow, they’re amazing spectacles filled with high and low-altitude maneuvers, smoke trails, and screaming engines. 

When I attended, there were a slew of military performers. One that sticks in my memory is the USAF F-22 “Raptor” Demonstration Team, showing what this cutting-edge stealth fighter can do. 

The event’s additional attractions include live entertainment, arts and crafts, tasty food and drink, and lots of family-friendly activities.

15 Best Things to Do in Stuart (FL):

  • Downtown Stuart
  • Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center
  • Elliott Museum
  • Stuart Riverwalk
  • House of Refuge Museum
  • Stuart Beach
  • Stuart Heritage Museum
  • Shepard Park
  • Halpatiokee Regional Park
  • Sandsprit Park
  • Sailfish Splash Waterpark
  • Savannas Preserve State Park
  • St. Lucie Lock and Dam
  • Stuart Boathouse
  • Stuart Airshow