Hutchinson Island has an abundance of pristine beaches with easy public access, the way Atlantic beaches used to be. You remember the days — when you could just pull off State Road A1A almost anywhere, park on the sand and stroll through the dunes to the ocean.
There are four dozen public access points on the island, many of them sandy pocket parks hidden in dense vegetation behind the dunes, and that’s the charm of this island. Just drive along SR A1A and pick one to suit your taste.
Story includes Things to Do, Hotels, Camping and Unique Places to Eat
Many of the smaller pocket parks are deserted, even on weekends, and some are hard to discover.
“I feel like I’m in Florida again,” opined my wife Kathy, even though she has lived in South Florida for almost 40 years. You’ll feel that way, too.
Parking is FREE at Hutchinson Island’s beaches
Hutchinson Island is actually two barrier islands, but the island most associated with the name is 24-mile-long South Hutchinson Island, from Fort Pierce south to Stuart. The island is anchored in the middle by Florida Power & Light’s twin-unit St. Lucie Power Plant, a nuclear facility that is undoubtedly the reason most of the island’s development is isolated to the north and south ends of the island.
The Beaches of Hutchinson Island
The busiest beaches are near the island’s three access roads, causeways in Stuart, Jensen Beach and Fort Pierce, but if you want to get your bare feet in the sand on a magnificent pristine beach, drive past the obvious to the middle of the island, closer to the power plant.
Frederick Douglass Beach Park, Ride Horses — This is a beautiful beach that stretches for miles in both directions, and every Saturday and Sunday, and sometimes during the week by prior arrangement, one-hour tours on horseback are offered at Frederick Douglass Memorial Park, about 4 miles south of Fort Pierce Inlet (and 4 miles north of the power plant). The cost is $45 per person for a 3-mile ride along the surf line. Sunset rides are also available. Call 772-468-0101 for reservations. Details at www.beachtoursonhorseback.com This beach has a restroom, picnic tables and pavilions.
Blind Creek Beach Park, Get Naked — Bare more than your feet at Blind Creek, the island’s unofficial clothing-optional beach a few hundred yards north of the power plant. I was unaware it was a nude beach, so my eyes popped when I crossed the dunes! There were no warning signs, and the beach was packed. Blind Creek is a finger of water off the Indian River Lagoon that reaches deep into the narrow island almost to the beach, and at the A1A bridge over Blind Creek, you’ll find boat ramps offering access to the Indian River Lagoon. You can also hike a trail to the beach here more suited to anglers and surfers. The park consists of more than 400 acres and includes a network of hiking trails through the coastal eco-system. Plenty of space to steer clear of the nude beach.
Walton Rocks Beach, Bring Fido — The pawfect place to bring your canine, although on weekends it gets crowded with dogs running everywhere. (It’s an off-leash dog park). Nevertheless, dogs need a place to play in the ocean, and this is the place. The 24-acre beach is also popular for fishing, but get their early so your lines don’t get tangled by rambunctious dogs running in and out of the surf. I love this beach for its hard-pack-sand access road behind the dunes. The dog beach is at the end of the road, but you can pull off before the end and find a more isolated beach access. You would never know this beach is there unless you’re looking for it. 6700 South Ocean Drive, Jensen Beach.
Jensen Beach Park, Where the action is — Possibly the most popular beach on Hutchinson Island, Jensen Beach Park has something for everyone: volleyball courts, picnic pavilions, restrooms and showers, a concession stand and lifeguards. There’s plenty of parking, although on weekends with nice weather, the cars overflow onto the shoulders of A1A. Personally, I drive right on by this park for the more secluded beaches further north on A1A.
Bathtub Reef Beach, Bring the family — A near-shore reef protects an idyllic lagoon, taming surf and offering shallow pools of water and easy snorkeling. This may be the island’s most well-known beach, and has been completely restored since it was battered to oblivion during the 2016 hurricane season. The beach has plenty of parking, but arrive early on weekends. Lifeguards are on duty on weekends. There’s a bathhouse with showers and pavilions for picnicking. Take MacArthur Boulevard off A1A a few hundred yards from the Stuart Causeway and drive a half-mile past the House of Refuge.
Don’t limit yourself to the beaches I’ve highlighted here. Take a leisurely drive along SR A1A and find a pocket park you can call your own. Be aware, though, that lifeguards are not on duty at any of those pocket parks, only at the major parks.
Beaches near the power plant are my usual destination because they are mostly devoid of crowds, sometimes deserted, and they offer an unmatched opportunity for successful surf fishing, aided by a near-shore reef that corrals fish in the trough between the reef and the beach.
Your gear should include at least a medium spinning outfit, pompano rigs, pyramid sinkers and a heavy jig to bounce along the bottom. A long surf rod would be even better, allowing you to cast further into the surf. Cut a pointed edge on a 3-foot section of PVC pipe for a rod holder and stick it in the sand to protect your rod and reel. In fact, bring two.
Best baits are sand fleas (mole crabs) and shrimp. Live bait, especially crabs, can be found on the island’s shorelines, or you can buy bait before you reach the island. The Snook Nook in downtown Jensen Beach is popular with anglers, but you’ll find excellent bait shops near all three causeways.
Bring a beach chair and a cooler for your catch of pompano, whiting or bluefish. You need a shoreline fishing license, which is free. For more information, check out my tutorial.
More Cool Things to Do
Besides the magnificent beaches, there are many other things to do on or near Hutchinson Island. On a hot day, you may want to seek shelter at these places of interest.
UMT/Navy Seal Museum, North Hutchinson Island, Fort Pierce. Fort Pierce is the birthplace of Navy frogmen and underwater demolition teams first deployed during World War II, known then as “Scouts” and “Raiders” who would later become a permanent part of elite U.S. Special Forces known as SEALS. The national museum is just past Fort Pierce Inlet State Park on A1A. The history and equipment used by Navy Seals and Underwater Demolition Teams are displayed here, including some fascinating underwater attack vehicles. Admission is $10 ($5 for children). 772-595-5845. www.navysealmuseum.org
The A.E. Backus Museum, Fort Pierce — A beloved son of Fort Pierce, A.E. Backus was a renowned landscape artist who notably mentored The Highwaymen, a legendary group of African-Americans who sold their artwork along Martin County highways in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. Backus, who was white, defied the norms in the 1950s when he invited talented young African-Americans into his studio to help them perfect their painting skills. The museum features Backus’ work as well as works by some of his students, including Alfred Hair and Harold Newton. Admission is $5. Although not on the island, the museum is located at the foot of the Fort Pierce’s South Causeway at 500 N Indian River Dr, Fort Pierce. (772) 465-0630 www.backusmuseum.com
Manatee Observation and Education Center, Fort Pierce. Waterfront wildlife observation and nature education center next door to the Backus Museum. The center overlooks a saltwater estuary and the freshwater Moore’s Creek, where endangered Florida manatees can be viewed in the wild year-round. The center also has a butterfly garden and a replica of a natural spring, a common habitat for manatees in colder winter months. Admission $1. 480 N Indian River Drive, Fort Pierce. (772) 429-6266 www.manateecenter.com
St. Lucie Aquarium/Smithsonian Marine Ecosystems Exhibit, Fort Pierce is a satellite program of the Smithsonian Institute. This small aquarium is on the island along the causeway. There’s a living reef exhibit and a variety of smaller tanks and exhibits. The large tank was originally in the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C., where it was one of the first living reefs ever on display. Admission is $4. 420 Seaway Drive, Fort Pierce. 772-462-FISH. www.st.lucie.gov
House of Refuge at Gilbert’s Bar, Stuart – A predecessor of the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Lifesaving Service was formed after the Civil War to rescue the crews of ships that encountered trouble at sea. They had no boats, so the keepers of these refuges – there were 10 on Florida’s coast – would walk the beaches after storms and search for victims of shipwrecks. The exhibit includes lifesaving equipment and showcases the keeper’s quarters circa 1904. About 100 yards offshore, you can sometimes see the wreckage of an Italian brigantine that sank during a violent storm that same year. Admission is $8. Located at 301 SE MacArthur Blvd., about 1.2 miles south of the intersection with SR A1A. 772-225-1875 www.houseofrefugefl.org
Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center, Stuart – A 57-acre marine life nature center run by the non-profit Florida Oceanographic Society. The center features a 750,000 gallon Game Fish Lagoon with more than 35 species of fish, a nature trail, coastal hardwood hammocks and mangrove swamp communities and a tank where visitors can touch sea rays, among other displays. Sign up for sea turtle walks from May 30 through August 1. Admission is $12. 772-225-0505. Located south end the island at 890 NE Ocean Blvd., Stuart. www.floridaocean.org
The Elliott Museum, Stuart – The Elliott Museum has built a spiffy new building with a high-tech robotic system to display its extensive collection of antique cars. You’ll also find exhibits featuring trucks, bicycles, wooden boats, baseball memorabilia, assorted Americana, even wedding dresses. Most visitors to the eclectic museum will find something to intrigue them. Admission $14. 825 NE Ocean Boulevard (SR A1A), Stuart. www.elliottmuseum.org
Places to Stay
Hotels and Inns
There are several hotels on the beach where you can find rooms for $130 a night and up, but we chose to save money and stay at the Holiday Inn on U.S. 1 in Port St. Lucie for $86 a night, including a full breakfast. Our stay was pleasant and comfortable, and it’s very likely we’ll stay there again.
Other lodging that caught our eye:
Jensen Beach Inn — Historic Inn in the middle of Jensen Beach’s quaint downtown has just seven rooms ranging in price from $150-$200 per night (summer rate). Book a second night on their web site and get your second night at a discount. Downstairs, the inn features a highly rated restaurant, Pineapple Jack’s Bistro, reflecting the history of this once-thriving pineapple-growing region. 772-334-1466. www.jensen-beach-inn.com — Book it!
Hutchinson Island Marriott Beach Resort and Marina — Set on 200 acres spanning the island from ocean to the Indian River Lagoon, it’s hard to miss this lavish property. If you plan to visit the House of Refuge or Bathtub Reef Beach, you have to drive through it on McArthur Boulevard. The resort’s sprawling golf course will definitely catch your eye, and so will the rates — $130 and up per night. 555 NE Ocean Blvd., Stuart. 772-225-3700. www.marriott.com — Book It!
Island Beach Resort — Oceanfront suites and a popular restaurant with a covered outdoor patio are the draw at this hotel in Jensen Beach. Great location for exploring those Old Florida pocket parks just up the road. You’ll find plenty of action at the Island Beach Resort with musical entertainment on the patio every Thursday through Sunday. The menu at Shucker’s Restaurant leans towards seafood. Try their conch ceviche. 9800 South Ocean Drive, Jensen Beach. 800-642-5630. www.islandbeachresort.com
You should also check out Hotels.com for additional listings and rates for more hotels on and off the island.
Let us know how you rate these or other hotels in the comments below.
The camping options are limited, and there are no campgrounds on the island. But we’ve collected a few ideas for your review.
Savannas Recreation Area. The Savannas is a coastal eco-system on the west side of the Indian River Lagoon. This 550-acre outdoor recreation area is managed by St. Lucie County with camping, boating, fishing, and picnic facilities. During the summer, RV sites with full hookups are $22-$26 per night and tent sites are $18 per night, plus tax. Campers have access to restrooms with hot showers, Wi-Fi and laundry facilities. Canoe and kayak rentals are available to rent for exploring the park’s lakes and marshes. 1400 E. Midway Road, Fort Pierce. 772-464-7855. www.stlucieco.gov
Causeway Cove Marina. This sprawling marina on the South Causeway in Fort Pierce has 10 RV sites with full hookups. You can also camp in your boat at the docks. RV sites are a little pricey at $60-$100 per night, and there’s no shade, but all of the sites are nicely landscaped paved pull-throughs with views of the marina and Indian River Lagoon. There is also a modest beach where you can launch a canoe or kayak, and boat rentals are available. 601 Seaway Drive, Fort Pierce. 772-242-3552. www.causewaycove.com
Fort Pierce KOA. Less than two miles to Hutchinson Island beaches. Although I’ve never visited this campground, it appears to be your typical KOA with gravel pads and only modest spacing between sites. RV rates with full hookups are $45 and up per night. Tent sites without hookups are $39, according to their web site. 1821 N. US Hwy 1, Fort Pierce. 772-812-7200. www.koa.com/campgrounds/fort-pierce
Let us know how you rate these or other campgrounds in the comments below.
Archie’s Seabreeze. This iconic Old Florida beach bar dates back to 1947 as a military shack where soldiers visiting the beach could grab a beer. Today, it is a thriving seafood shack complimented by pub grub with outdoor and indoor seating and musical entertainment seven nights a week and weekend afternoons (Karaoke on Tuesdays). A frequent stop for bikers cruising Hutchinson Island, you’ll also find the place packed with tourists and seniors. I stop here every time I visit Hutchinson Island. No shoes? No shirts? No problem! 401 S Ocean Dr, Fort Pierce. 772-460-3888. www.archiesftpierce.com
Conchy Joe’s Seafood. Another iconic eatery overlooking the Indian River Lagoon, Conchy Joe’s is a must-stop for visitors to Hutchinson Island. With its outdoor deck, tiki hut ambience and spectacular views of the lagoon and nearby Jensen Beach Causeway, Conchy Joe’s features a Bahamas-influenced seafood menu. You must try their “Famous Conch Chowder.” 3945 NE Indian River Dr, Jensen Beach. 772-334-1130. www.conchyjoes.com
Dolphin Bar & Shrimp House. Lovers of Old Florida will want to lunch at this 1950s-era restaurant founded by 1940s singer and movie star Frances Langford (1913-2005). It was originally the Outrigger Resort, capitalizing on the Polynesian tiki-bar craze of the ’50s. There is expansive outdoor seating overlooking the Indian River Lagoon, where kids can feed fish off the pier and birds are plentiful. The seafood-oriented menu is moderately priced for lunch and a bit pricey for dinner. (Try Happy Hour, 3-7 pm, for bargain-priced appetizers.) 1401 NE Indian River Drive, Jensen Beach, (772) 781-5136. www.dolphinbar.com
On the north end of South Hutchinson Island, there’s a row of restaurant with outdoor cafes looking out onto Jetty Park, next to the beach path. Although I’ve never eaten in those Jetty Park restaurants, locals tell me they all serve decent food and are worth checking out. Maybe on my next visit.
Let us know how your rate these or other restaurants in the comments below.
What else is near the island?