Hutchinson Island, one of the most popular beach destinations of the Treasure Coast, is the area just north of Palm Beach on the Atlantic Ocean. Some 70 miles of excellent beaches and laid-back, Old Florida ambience make for an idyllic, frozen-cocktail-on-the-beach resort vacation. The best is Bathtub Beach, on North Hutchinson Island. The calm waters here are protected by coral reefs, and visitors can explore the region on dune and river trails. Pick a secluded spot on the wide stretch of sand, or enjoy marked nature trails across the street. Facilities include showers and toilets open during the day. To reach Bathtub Beach from the northern tip of Hutchinson Island, head east on Ocean Boulevard (Stuart Causeway) and turn right onto MacArthur Boulevard. The beach is about a mile ahead on your left, just north of the Hutchinson Island Marriott Beach Resort and Marina. Parking is plentiful.
Jonathan Dickinson State Park is the most popular area for canoeing. In 2006, the park debuted the Jonathan Dickinson State Park Environmental Education and Research Center, which hosts educational programs and activities. The route winds through a variety of botanical habitats. You'll see lots of birds and the occasional manatee. Canoes rent for $17 for 2 hours, $5 per additional hour, available through the concessions stand (tel. 561/746-1466) in the back of the park; it's open Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm, Saturday and Sunday from 8am to 5pm.
Several charter captains operate on Hutchinson Island and Jensen Beach. One of the largest operators is the Sailfish Marina, 3565 SE St. Lucie Blvd., Stuart (tel. 772/283-1122; www.sailfishmarinastuart.com), which maintains a half-dozen charter boats for fishing excursions year-round. A bait-and-tackle shop is on-site, as is a knowledgeable, helpful staff. Other reputable charter operators in Stuart include Hungry Bear Adventures, Inc., docked at Indian River Plantation Marriott Resort, 4730-1 SE Teri Place (tel. 772/285-7552; www.hungrybear.net); and Bone Shaker Sportfishing, 3585 SE St. Lucie Blvd. (tel. 772/286-5504; www.boneshakercharters.com).
Try the Champions Club at Summerfield, on U.S. 1, south of Cove Road in Stuart (tel. 772/283-1500; www.thechampionsgolfclub.com), a somewhat challenging championship course designed by Tom Fazio and renovated in 2010 to include TifEagle grass. This rural course, the best in the area, offers great glimpses of wildlife amid the wetlands. Greens fees are around $15 to $49 depending on time and season; cart rentals are mandatory. Reservations are also a must and are taken 4 days in advance.
Scuba Diving & Snorkeling
Three popular artificial reefs off Hutchinson Island provide excellent scenery for both novice and experienced divers. The USS Rankin lies 7 miles east-northeast of the St. Lucie Inlet. The Rankin is a 459-foot ship that lies on its port side in 80 feet of water. This ship was used in World War II for troop transportation and was sunk to create the reef in 1988. Deck hatches on the wreck are open and allow exploration. Inside, there are thousands of Atlantic spiny oysters, and a cannon is attached to the bow. The Georges Valentine, designated as one of Florida's shipwreck preserves in 2006, sits in shallow waters a few hundred feet behind Gilbert's House of Refuge. The Donaldson Reef consists of a cluster of steel tanks and barrels sunk in 58 feet of water to create an artificial reef. It's due east of the Gilbert's House of Refuge Museum . The Ernst Reef, made from old tires, is a 60-foot dive located 4 1/2 miles east-southeast of the St. Lucie Inlet. Local dive shops have tips on the best spots, along with rules and regulations for safe diving.