If you’re driving down Florida’s east coast between Cape Canaveral and Miami, you’ll pass through a beautiful region known as the Treasure Coast. It covers three counties — Indian River, St. Lucie, and Martin — and gets its name from historic shipwrecks and their accompanying loot.
Lucky explorers have found bonafide sunken treasure here as recently as 2020, and one haul (in 2015) of over 350 gold coins was worth around $4.5 million. Of course, most visitors find another kind of treasure here: uncrowded beaches, excellent seafood, vast parks, and a no-worries lifestyle that’s perfect for a relaxing family vacation.
Here’s how to road trip this coast as a family, including activities all ages can enjoy.
Stay on Hutchinson Island
Of the three counties on the Treasure Coast, St. Lucie is in the middle, so staying here lets you be centrally located. And if you’re staying on the coast, you might as well be on an island, right?
Hutchinson Island stretches over 20 miles along the coast, crossing into all three counties. We stayed at the waterfront Hutchinson Island Plaza Hotel & Suites in Fort Pierce. This hotel is a great budget option, with competitive nightly rates, free parking, and continental breakfast included. Depending on the type of room you book, there are mini fridges, microwaves, balconies, and pull-out sofas convenient for families.
The hotel has a small private beach on the inlet, perfect for when the kids want to splash around or you just want to dig your toes in the sand. And anglers will appreciate the fishing. Another thing we loved? Being walking distance from Jetty Park, a scenic spot for fishing, swimming and sunrises.
See Top Attractions
There are so many great attractions here for families. Where do I begin? Museums, murals, boat tours, gardens — I can guarantee no one will be bored.
For outdoor fun with kids beyond the parks, visit McKee Botanical Garden. All ages will love the beautiful landscapes, the walk-through Stickwork sculpture surrounded by towering palms, and the Hall of Giants. But especially for kids, their new Children’s Garden is a must. Better than a regular treehouse, there’s a pirate shipwreck in a tree plus a splash garden, fairy forest, monkey bridge, and more.
If you’re lucky enough to be there in summer, don’t miss their annual Waterlily Celebration when these blooms are at their peak.
Another must-see for flower lovers is Heathcote Botanical Gardens. The bonsai collection is first-rate, and the Children’s Garden is whimsical fun with its playhouse, pioneer cabin, and fairy garden. The space is designed in garden “rooms,” such as the Japanese Garden with its statuary and water features and the Butterfly Garden, another kid favorite, where hundreds of butterflies feast on the plants on sunny days. We also enjoyed a picnic lunch in this peaceful setting.
When on the Treasure Coast, you’ve got to see shipwreck treasure, and the Mel Fisher’s Treasure Museum is the place to do it. See a massive collection of salvaged treasure and hold a gold bar rescued from a Spanish galleon. Check their website for a coupon for $5 off admission.
More family-friendly museums great for rainy days or escaping the heat include the Children’s Museum of the Treasure Coast, the National Navy SEAL Museum, and the Stuart Heritage Museum, which is free!
Hit the Parks
It’s easy to get close to nature here. Parks and beaches abound. Fort Pierce Inlet State Park and Jetty Park, mentioned above, deserve top spots on your list, but there are plenty more.
Here are a few parks families can explore fairly close to the hotel:
- Museum Pointe Park, waterfront trails, palm trees, and picnic tables
- Frederick Douglass Memorial Beach Park, where you can go horseback riding on the beach
- Bear Point Sanctuary, with mangrove walking trails and an observation platform
- Vitolo Preserve, more mangrove trails and another observation platform
- Jack Island Preserve State Park, popular for birdwatching on the lagoon
Go farther and explore parks and beaches throughout the tri-county region. Three others I recommend are Jonathan Dickinson State Park, Sebastian Inlet State Park, and — my favorite for the giant sprays of water against the limestone — Blowing Rocks Preserve.
Want laid-back, family-friendly restaurants where it’s all about great service and great food? You can get the classic Florida beach town dining experience, where the seafood is fresh and flip flops and T-shirts are standard attire, at both Archie’s Seabreeze and Little Jim Bait & Tackle.
Don’t forget to delight the kids with ice cream. It’s vacation, after all. Shops selling ice cream seem to be everywhere. Overwhelmed with choice, we turned to online reviews to help us decide, and there was a clear winner. Stop by Cream Republic for small-batch ice cream in a range of creative flavors that are always changing. You can expect classic chocolate and fruit flavors, but if you’re feeling adventurous, try something new. Past creations include cookie butter, black walnut with salted caramel, strawberry cheesecake, taro, pistachio, tres leches, banana pudding… And there are boozy creations for adults, too.
The service is warm and friendly, and the decor inside is charming. If the weather’s fine, sit outside (dogs welcome) and relax with a cup or cone.
About the Author
Cheryl Rodewig is storyteller, marketer, and award-winning feature writer specializing in travel. Her Venn diagram includes minimalism, waterfalls, French, and the em dash. Find her at cherylrodewig.com or on Twitter at @cherylrodewig.