Many years ago, during the 17th and 18th centuries, numerous Spanish galleons laden with a variety of — well, treasures — wrecked off the coast. Over the years, people have discovered many valuable artifacts from those ill-fated ships. But the Treasure Coast, which earned its name from those events, offers so much more. In fact, the area provides a great wealth of entertainment and recreational opportunities.
There are, of course, far more than a couple of dozen worthwhile places to visit along the Treasure Coast. But the list below, compiled by the Palm Beach Post, provides a great starting point for exploring!
1. A.E. BACKUS MUSEUM & GALLERY
The museum’s namesake, Albert Ernest “Beanie” Backus, was born in 1906, in Fort Pierce, along the Indian River. He lived until 1990. A.E. led a productive life: painting Florida’s rugged beauty, as well as passing on his knowledge to a legion of like-minded artists.
The museum boasts a variety of Backus originals. Even better: Many prints and reproductions are available, at reasonable prices. So you can take home a Backus of your own.
After your visit — don’t rush; you’ll cheat yourself — walk a few yards, over to the Indian River. There, cavorting manatees will keep you entertained.
Details: 500 N. Indian River Drive, Fort Pierce; (772) 465-0630; backusmuseum.com.
2. B&A FLEA MARKET
With more than 500 vendors (and a free tram), the B&A Flea Market surely must have something you need. It’s open year-round on Saturday and Sunday, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The Green Market section offers fresh produce and other comestibles (including Hawaiian coffee and gator bites). Garage Sale Alley features vendors with items from antiques and estate jewelry to furniture and tools (you can even hold your own garage sale here!). If you tire of walking, no sweat. Hop aboard the tram.
Details: 2885 S.E. U.S. 1, Stuart; (772) 288-4915; bafleamarket.com.
3. BARLEY BARBER SWAMP
This 400-acre swamp on Florida Power & Light Co. property in western Martin County provides a 5,800-foot closed-loop boardwalk that meanders through ancient cypress trees — some 1,000 years old.
The swamp is considered one of the finest old-growth cypress communities in the country. Its freshwater ecosystem also includes alligators, birds, and plenty of flora and fauna. Beware, however: Among the “residents” are water hemlock (don’t eat it!) and cottonmouths (watch where you step!).
Guided tours, which leave from the Seminole Inn in Indiantown are free, and available from October to May.
Details: (772) 597-3777; barleybarber.org.
4. BEACH TOURS ON HORSEBACK
Whether you ride like Clint Eastwood in The Outlaw Josie Wales or like Billy Crystal in City Slickers, Beach Tours on Horseback has a majestic mount for you.
Horseback rides on the beach are allowed in only a few places in Florida. Fortunately, St. Lucie County is one — at Frederick Douglass Memorial Park.
Don’t forget your camera for the one-hour, three-mile ride along secluded, rustic beaches. Your guide will be happy to photograph your memories. (Note: Reservations are a must.)
Details: 3800 S. Ocean Drive, Hutchinson Island; (772) 468-0101; visitstluciefla.com.
5. BLOWING ROCKS PRESERVE
You’ll want to visit Blowing Rocks Preserve when the seas are rough and the tide is almost high. That’s because you might see a geyser of saltwater, up to 50 feet high, shooting skyward as the waves pound the rocky Anastasia-limestone shoreline. Channels in the rock direct the water.
Even without Mother Nature’s impressive water show, the preserve, owned by the Nature Conservancy, is worth the $2 admission fee.
Explore a boardwalk along the Indian River Lagoon, a butterfly garden with native plants, and a beachside nature trail. The Hawley Education
Center features rotating educational and art exhibits, and a series of programs and workshops is given in the on-site classroom.
Details: 574 S. Beach Road, Hobe Sound; (561) 744-6668; nature.org.
6. DIGITAL DOMAIN PARK
Don’t be confused: This is still the stadium that the New York Mets use as their spring-training home. Formerly known as Tradition Field, the baseball complex is also where fans looking for a preview of coming attractions — as in “future baseball stars” — can see the minor-league St. Lucie Mets play their Florida State League opponents.
So grab a hot dog, peanuts or Cracker Jacks, sit back and watch the show that’s as American as apple pie.
Although the crack of the bat is a common sound during much of the spring and summer, the 7,200-seat stadium also doubles as a venue for community events, fireworks shows, and concerts.
Details: 525 N.W. Peacock Blvd., Port St. Lucie; (772) 871-2115; stluciemets.com.
7. DOWNTOWN FARMERS’ MARKET OF FORT PIERCE
From humble beginnings in 1997 — fewer than a dozen vendors and open only September through May — this market now attracts residents as well as tourists. All of your senses will be stimulated at this Saturday-morning tradition on the waterfront in historic downtown Fort Pierce.
For the eyes, there’s the picturesque location, where Marina Square meets the Indian River Lagoon. For the ears come the sounds of weekly performances by a rotating series of local musicians.
For the taste buds, delicacies as diverse as the crowds (and dogs) are available. Locally grown produce (much of it organic) is a staple, joined by outstanding Caribbean dishes, tasty Greek food, fresh seafood, homemade pastries, boiled peanuts, meat pies, crackling kettle corn, and breads of every variety.
On the first through fourth Saturdays of each month, expert gardeners are on hand to answer questions.
Next door to the market is the Fort Pierce Jazz Society’s Arts & Crafts Market, with booths offering homemade soaps, beaded necklaces, hand-painted gifts, oil-based landscapes and sculpted glass.
Details: Melody Lane, downtown Fort Pierce; (772) 940-1145; ftpiercefarmersmarket.com.
8. DOWNTOWN FORT PIERCE
Downtown Fort Pierce won the 2011 “Great American Main Street” Award for a good reason. Actually, for many good reasons. (The National Trust for Historic Preservation granted the award.)
Mom-and-pop shops, non-chain restaurants, and historic venues (and architecture) are around just about every corner. Weekly and monthly events — such as Friday Fest, the Sandy Shoes Festival, and the Classic Car Cruise-in — are ideal for meeting up with friends, co-workers, or people with shared interests.
The view of the picturesque Indian River from the Citrus Avenue Overpass is always a carload-pleaser, while late-afternoon strolls along the waterfront are good for the soul. Whether it’s the restored P.P. Cobb General Store, the murals depicting scenes of Fort Pierce’s past, or the architecture, downtown Fort Pierce exemplifies Old Florida.
Details: Main Street Fort Pierce; (772) 466-3880; mainstreetfortpierce.org.
9. DOWNTOWN STUART
Packed into a small area that’s easy on the feet, this historic downtown, with its quaint commercialism, is perfect for those looking to buy a knick-knack found nowhere else, or those merely interested in some serious window-shopping. Like the stores, each restaurant has something unique to offer.
The pedestrian-friendly downtown has roundabouts, one of which is the aptly named and famous (infamous?) Confusion Corner. One roundabout features a sailfish sculpture; another, at the Haney’s Circle fountain, is anchored by Lady Bountiful, a bawdy statue sculpted for the 1939 World’s Fair and brought to Stuart 10 years later.
After dinner, stroll on the boardwalk along the St. Lucie River and admire the Roosevelt Bridge towering overhead.
The boating crowd will love Sunset Bay Marina, with 198 deepwater slips, free public dock space and a waterfront restaurant. For the party crowd, the annual Dancin’ in the Streets festival in downtown Stuart is one of the Treasure Coast’s biggest, and most entertaining, one-day events.
Details: Stuart Main Street; (772) 286-2848; stuartmainstreet.org.
10. FLORIDA OCEANOGRAPHIC COASTAL CENTER
If touching stingrays is on your to-do list, this is your place. This prime piece of Hutchinson Island landscape offers 57 acres of environmental adventure, including nature trails; the 750,000-gallon Game Fish Lagoon, Children’s Activity Pavilion, Sea Star Touch-Tank Pavilion, Rays on the Reef Ray Pavilion, and the Frances Langford Visitor’s Center.
This is a great place for celebrating your kids’ birthday parties, because nature education and outdoor fun blend seamlessly.
Details: 890 N.E. Ocean Blvd., Stuart; (772) 225-0505; floridaoceanographic.org.
11. HEATHCOTE BOTANICAL GARDENS
Few activities are more invigorating than a walk around Heathcote Botanical Gardens; think several acres of relaxing botanical bliss. Among the attractions: the Japanese Garden, Reflection Garden, Herb Garden, Rainforest Display, and the Palm & Cycad Walk.
Earlier this year, in May, the James J. Smith Bonsai Gallery — boasting 100 trees donated by Smith, a bonsai master — opened.
Plant sales, community fund-raisers and musical performances are regularly scheduled with the Heathcote’s natural splendor as the backdrop. A visit will have you wondering how to turn your back yard into an oasis of palms, cycads, bromeliads, bonsai, flowering trees, shrubs and vines.
Details: 210 Savannah Road, Fort Pierce; (772) 464-0323; heathcotebotanicalgardens.org.
12. HOUSE OF REFUGE MUSEUM AT GILBERT’S BAR
This one-time refuge for shipwrecked sailors provides a looking glass into an era when cruising the waters off Martin County was anything but a pleasant day at sea. This stoic building — built in 1876 atop a rock-strewn Hutchinson Island beach — is the oldest structure in Martin County and the last remaining house of refuge in the U.S.
The House of Refuge Museum documents the days of wrecks and rescues, with exhibits on lifesaving equipment and the keeper’s living quarters at the turn of the 20th century. On a clear, calm day, you can see part of the Georges Valentine, an Italian brigantine that sank during a 1904 storm. It’s about 100 yards offshore.
Details: 301 S.E. MacArthur Blvd., Hutchinson Island. (772) 225-1875; elliottmuseumfl.org.
13. HUTCHINSON ISLAND (FORT PIERCE INLET TO SEWALL’S POINT)
Whether you’re on four wheels or two, this 18-mile jaunt might be the most interesting stretch that State Road A1A has to offer anywhere along the Florida coast. Take along a camera, fishing rod, or merely your sense of adventure.
Be prepared to stop, whether at one of the many intriguing beaches — try Walton Rocks or the Fort Pierce Jetty — or at one of the lesser-known riverfront sanctuaries (Bear Point or Blind Creek) so that you can enjoy a quiet walk along a scenic coastline.
One surprise: Breaking up the natural scenery is a nuclear power plant.
Toward the northern end of your drive, stop in for a cold beverage and a burger at Archie’s Seabreeze restaurant, a rustic-but-fun destination.
Details: St. Lucie County Tourism, (800) 344-TGIF, visitstluciefla.com; Martin County Convention and Visitors Bureau, (772) 288-5451 or (877) 585-0085, discovermartin.com.
14. JONATHAN DICKINSON STATE PARK
Would you like to see how “The Wild Man of the Loxahatchee” lived? Called “Trapper Nelson” (his actual name was Victor Nostokovich), he was a big man with big hands and big strength. He bought 800 acres and, to support himself, trapped wild animals and sold them to zoos. (Some, of course, he ate.)
His cabin — and the area where he displayed alligators, opossums, wildcats and such to tourists — is a must-see. Ranger-guided tours of the 1930s pioneer homestead are available year-round.
The park is named for a Quaker merchant whose party was shipwrecked nearby in 1696.
Other activities in this 11,500-acre park include hiking, biking, horseback riding, boating, canoeing, kayaking, camping, fishing, and simply communing with nature. The Loxahatchee Queen provides boat tours.
The Loxahatchee River is a federally designated Wild and Scenic River. The park’s 13 natural ecosystem communities include sand-pine scrub, mangroves and river swamps.
Family campgrounds, a youth/group primitive campground, and furnished and air-conditioned cabins give park-goers plenty to choose from.
Details: 16450 S.E. Federal Highway, Hobe Sound; (772) 546-2771; floridastateparks.org/jonathandickinson.
15. JUPITER ISLAND
Some of the nation’s wealthiest call this tony town home, at least during the winter months. Among them is golfer Tiger Woods, whose mega-estate sits on land he bought for $44 million in 2006. Nearby is singer Celine Dion’s estate, where she built a $1 million water park — but just for family and friends.
Dorothy Bush, mother of President George H.W. Bush and grandmother of President George W. Bush, also lived here.
It’s fun to drive or bike along the town’s narrow roads, with mansions just beyond the hedges. But don’t expect to see the rich and famous walking their dogs. This place is more like a gated community, and its residents — 584 permanent, about 1,775 seasonal — value their privacy.
16. LADY STUART DEEP-SEA FISHING PARTY BOATS
If you get a thrill from struggling to hold on to a deep-sea fishing rod that’s bent almost in two — while the reel is singing because a gamefish just grabbed your bait and is running with it — these boats are for you.
You have your choice of two locations: Stuart or Fort Pierce. Either boat will take you out the closest inlet to some productive fishing areas. You don’t need a fishing license, and the pole and bait are provided free. The crew will even clean and filet your catch.
Take a five- or a seven-hour trip, year-round. Once a month, for true deep-sea-fishing fans, a 10-hour trip is offered.
Details: Lady Stuart I: Hutchinson Island Marriott Marina, Stuart; Fort Pierce Lady, Fisherman’s Wharf, Fort Pierce; (772) 286-1860; ladystuart.com.
17. LYRIC THEATRE
The good news: This historic theater, built in 1925 as a silent-movie house in downtown Stuart, provides 500 excellent seats. The bad news: Getting tickets is often a challenge, so don’t wait too long to order them. That’s because, year after year, the Lyric books big-name talent and manages to tap the best local talent as well.
The 2011-2012 season has begun, so visit the website soon to check the schedule. The Lyric even offers a Family Series.
Details: 59 S.W. Flagler Ave., Stuart; (772) 286-7827; lyrictheatre.com.
18. MANATEE OBSERVATION & EDUCATION CENTER
At this nature center, along the waterfront in Fort Pierce, the mild-mannered, slow-moving, endangered “gentle giants” are the starring attraction. The center includes exhibits that tell the story of the manatee, and during the cold months, the lovable creatures, also known as “sea cows,” show up in the adjacent Moore’s Creek.
Visitors also can take an Indian River Lagoon wildlife boat tour. For information, call the center’s Vanishing Mermaid Gift Shop at (772) 460-6445.
Details: 480 N. Indian River Drive, Fort Pierce; (772) 466-1600, ext. 3333; manateecenter.com.
19. NATIONAL NAVY – UDT SEAL MUSEUM
Navy SEALs stay busy. But they’re never bored. They’re trained to perform a variety of tasks under any circumstance and in any environment, whether it’s the desert, the jungle, in extreme hot and cold weather, or in urban areas.
Military buffs will love this museum, dedicated to the U.S. Navy frogmen who trained on nearby beaches for the Normandy invasion during World War II. It honors the SEALs (Sea, Air, Land) and their predecessors with displays of helicopters, specialized boats and a “man-sub” used by SEALs in conflicts around the world.
Also featured are displays of weapons straight from the Vietnam and Iraqi battlefields.
The latest addition to the museum is the lifeboat that was the center of a hijacking by Somalian pirates in 2009. Three of the pirates held the Maersk Alabama’s captain, Richards Phillips, hostage for four days. Navy SEALs shot the pirates dead, freeing the captain who was being held captive on the lifeboat.
Details: 3300 N. Highway A1A, North Hutchinson Island, Fort Pierce; (772) 595-5845; navysealmuseum.com.
20. PGA VILLAGE
This nationally recognized Port St. Lucie complex includes the PGA Golf Club: three 18-hole courses designed by greats Tom Fazio and Pete Dye; the PGA Center for Golf Learning and Performance; and the PGA Museum of Golf, which features artifacts dating back to the 1600s.
Depending on the time of year, a round of golf can be surprisingly inexpensive, while admission to the museum (among the world’s top golf exhibits) is free. For golfers needing to work on their game, invaluable instruction is available.
It’s easy to see why PGA Village has been ranked among the “75 Best Golf Resorts” by Golf Digest.
Details: 1916 Perfect Drive, Port St. Lucie; (800) 800-GOLF; pgavillage.com.
21. SEMINOLE INN
The historic Seminole Inn is not your average Treasure Coast hotel. For starters, most other places don’t offer frog gigging, or a swamp-buggy tour, among their recreational activities.
Spend the night, or just visit for the Southern-style Sunday brunch served in the Windsor Dining Room. The inn dates to 1927 and boasts an interesting connection with history: England’s King Edward VIII gave up his throne to marry Wallis Warfield Simpson, whose uncle built the Seminole Inn.
Character abounds. The open fireplace, winding staircases, original solid brass wall fixtures, pecky-cypress ceilings, hardwood floors and bronze chandeliers will make this visit one that you won’t forget.
Details: 15885 S.W. Warfield Blvd., Indiantown; (772) 597-3777; seminoleinn.com.
22. SUNRISE THEATRE
The 1,200-seat Sunrise Theatre was St. Lucie County’s cultural center (and the largest on Florida’s east coast) when it opened in 1923. The theater, renovated by the St. Lucie Preservation Association, is again a major cultural center that attracts a wide variety of local and national acts, from ballets to musicians to comedians to full orchestras.
If you haven’t visited for awhile, it’s time for an encore.
Details: 117 S. Second St., Fort Pierce; (772) 461-4775; sunrisetheatre.com.
23. TRADITION SQUARE
You might call it the closest thing to a mall in St. Lucie County. The town center of the master-planned community of Tradition, 23-acre Tradition Square is open to the public and boasts retail stores, restaurants and a meeting place — all in one.
Featuring excellent attention to detail and cleanliness, pedestrian-friendly Tradition Square hosts year-round events, concerts and festivals, including a monthly WestFest celebration with live music, food and entertainment.
Details: 10489 S.W. Meeting St., Port St. Lucie; (772) 340-3500; traditionfl.com.
24. TREASURE COAST SQUARE
Is the weather hot or rainy? It’s easy to tell by the size of the crowd strolling through the only indoor mall in Martin and St. Lucie counties. The classic-style mall is anchored by Macy’s, Sears, Dillard’s and JCPenney.
But Treasure Coast Square has plenty of other stores, too, including Gap, Hecho a Mano, Motherhood Maternity, Victoria’s Secret and Yankee Candle.
There’s the obligatory food court, of course, which is close to the Regal 16 Cinemas theater complex with its stadium seating, digital sound, café bar, game room... oh, and hot buttered popcorn!
Details: 3174 N.W. Federal Highway, Jensen Beach; (772) 692-9401; www.simon.com/mall/?id=145.
25. ZORA NEALE HURSTON DUST TRACKS HERITAGE TRAIL
The famous African-American writer, who spent her final years in Fort Pierce, has been honored with her own “trail,” which recalls her life and contributions.
The trail begins at the library on Avenue D named after Zora Neale Hurston, celebrated author of Their Eyes Were Watching God and other literary works. The trail takes you to places where Hurston lived, worked and socialized, with kiosks and markers providing an interactive perspective on the author.
The writer is also remembered during the city’s annual ZoraFest, always a highlight of St. Lucie County’s spring cultural season. Details: Zora Neale Hurston Branch Library, 3008 Avenue D, Fort Pierce; (772) 462-2154; stlucieco.gov/zora.
Do you have a local favorite that didn't make the Palm Beach Post's List? Comment below to tell us about your favorite local 'treasures!'