My husband, John, and I needed to get out of the house after more than a month of Covid-19 isolation. Yet, we had gotten so used to just the two of us together that we didn’t want to be bombarded by crowds. We found the perfect transition through a near-cation in the uncrowded natural settings of Martin County.
We needed a vacation from our home more than anything, so we decided to stay at the recently updated Caribbean Shores Waterfront Resort. The resort blends coastal-inspired design with Old Florida appeal, thanks to its bright coral and turquoise exterior, quaint two-story architecture, and stunning waterfront setting.
We opted to stay in one of the resort’s new standalone cottages. It allowed us to continue practicing social distancing from the other visitors, but we could still wave at them and chat from the porch. We had plenty of room to spread out in the spacious rental, making it the perfect place for a quick escape.
After we settled in on our first day, we ventured across the street to the charming hotel so we could soak up some sun in lounge chairs by the waterfront pool. Later, we walked to the end of the resort’s pier. Looking out at the river, with a gentle breeze tickling our skin, warmed by the sun’s rays, we could feel the transformation beginning.
When we woke up refreshed in our luxurious bed, we felt like we could have stayed at the resort for our entire vacation. But, we couldn’t wait to rediscover the beautiful outdoor spots in our local area, so we headed to St. Lucie Inlet Preserve State Park, just east of Port Salerno.
The preserve is part of the Martin County Scenic Blueway Trail, which includes nearly 40 miles of paddling trails on two river systems—the Indian River Lagoon and the St. Lucie River. We rented a tandem kayak for the two of us and hit the water around this barrier island.
We spent hours exploring, kayaking along the shores and snapping photos of the abundant wildlife. We eventually took a break from the water to explore the boardwalk, and just enjoy the peace and serenity of the mangrove forests. We had a picnic on the island for lunch, but were careful not to disturb the natural habitat, especially the protected turtle nesting grounds.
The next day, we felt like relaxing, so it seemed like the perfect day to discover a new beach on Hutchinson Island. Before the shutdown, we normally enjoyed Stuart Beach with its lack of crowds, expanse of sand, and enchanting sea grape entrances to the beach. But since we were staying in Jensen Beach, we decided to stray from our norm and head to nearby Jensen Sea Turtle Beach, which locals refer to simply as Jensen Beach.
We were instantly reminded of how awesome Martin County is when we didn’t have to pay for parking. We had the best beach day, lounging on a double beach chairs with one of the attached umbrellas available to the public. The beach was wonderfully clean and uncrowded, and we loved the perks of free Wi-Fi and being allowed to drink alcohol, as we had brought our libations with us. We also had the option of ordering tropical tipples from the recently renovated Sand Dune Café. They even had an impressive selection of breakfast and lunch specialties to choose from.
We took a break from the sun with a dip in the pristine waters, and it was nice to see people playing volleyball on the court, eating in the picnic pavilions, and walking their dogs. With everything it has to offer, we knew we would be returning to this beautiful beach again soon.
We set aside the entire next day to visit Jonathan Dickinson State Park in nearby Hobe Sound. As the largest state park in Southeast Florida, it was too expansive to explore in one day, but we thought we’d squeeze in as much as we could.
We weren’t sure where to begin, so we decided to just let go and see where we ended up, (which in our case meant following the signs to the Hobe Mountain observation tower). We took the 10-minute stroll out on the boardwalk over the sand dunes and climbed the stairs to the top of the structure. From the top of this 86-foot tall sand dune “mountain,” we were able to relish the unobstructed 360-degree views. In front of us was the intracoastal waterway, beyond that the Atlantic Ocean, and all around us, sweeping views of the park’s diverse ecosystems.
After, we drove over to the Loxahatchee River part of the park, where we stuck our feet in the water at the swimming beach. We were hoping to immerse ourselves in nature, and we certainly had. While walking along a trail, we were surrounded by Florida’s native wildlife and plants. We spotted gators and turtles sunning themselves on rocks and logs along the river, and Blue Herons and Ibis hanging out in the trees above us. With so much to see and do here, from hiking and biking the park’s trails, taking a guided riverboat or horseback ride, or renting a kayak, we decided we would have to come back to camp in the park or book a cabin during our next visit!
The next day, we opted for another adventure out on the water. We took The Ohana Bus—which is a fun ride in itself, filled with music—to our launch site, where we enjoyed a guided paddleboarding tour around mangroves. The surrounding beauty and serenity of being on the water was amazing enough, but to top it off, we were lucky enough to spot manatees swimming beneath us! Needless to say, it made for an unforgettable photo opp.
Later that afternoon, we headed to the nearby Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center. Inside, we spent time at the touch tanks, where I got to “pet” a stingray! Outside, we meandered through the garden, where butterflies flitted about, and headed to the large outdoor lagoon exhibit, where we checked out the nurse sharks and other fish. My favorite, however, was seeing the sea turtles who had been injured and have come to call the center home. It was wonderful to witness these creatures who had difficulty surviving in the wild have a safe and nurturing place to live. I look forward to going back again once the new Ocean EcoCenter is complete!
Throughout our visit, we were constantly amazed how rejuvenating it was to slow down and recall a time when life was less complicated. Our near-cation in Martin County re-minded us that we are surrounded by beauty and the importance of appreciating life’s lit-tle pleasures. The Old Florida feel of the resort and the tranquility of the natural wonders found in all the places we visited transported us back to that simpler time. At the end of our near-cation vacation, we took the lessons we learned back with us—relax, be in the moment, immerse ourselves in nature, and go wherever the day takes us. And the best part was, we knew we could visit any of these local spots again whenever we wanted to, just a short drive from home.Plan Your Martin County Near-cation Now.