10 JUL 2018: “Release Your Inner Hippie,” the sign on the street reads. Being a child of the 60’s I ponder how I should go about this. I’m fashioning a longer than usual hair length – as much as my increasing aging baldness will allow. I start humming one of the most famous hippie songs, “Blowin’ in the Wind.” I’ve been to Florida dozens of times over the years but this part of Florida is a new discovery. Where is this hippie inner sanctum?  

It’s at The Dirty Hippie in the city of Stuart, Florida. Located in Martin County, Stuart is less than an hour’s drive north of West Palm Beach on the Atlantic coast in an area not well known to most Canadians or to most visitors. You won’t find hordes of tourists here like you do in Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Florida Keys, Tampa Bay area or the Holy Grail of Florida tourism, Orlando. Some locals prefer it that way. You will find in Martin County and its neighbouring St. Lucie and Indian River counties affordable accommodation, the Atlantic Ocean and inland waterways and rivers, water sports, cultural attractions, numerous nature preserves and an unhurried pace.

Are you a treasure hunter? In 1715, eleven Spanish ships carrying a variety of cargo including coins were lost in a hurricane. People today are still searching for that missing treasure. It has been the subject of many documentaries and TV programs like Black Sails. The area today is appropriately known as the Treasure Coast. As I discovered on a recent visit here there are many treasures well beyond what the Spanish fleet lost at sea.

STUART’S TREASURE TROVE

Stuart, small in population with approximately 16,000 full-time residents, goes big when it comes to recreational, cultural and shopping pursuits.

Now I have little patience or interest in shopping and going to a mall would rank up there as one of the most undesirable things ever to do. I do however love quirky people and objects. At Stuart’s The Dirty Hippie I found both.

Tipped off by the local tourism representative she said it’s a must see. She was right. It’s not on the main street but drop in first at its affiliated outlet, Earth Tones by Harmony. The boutique bills itself as purveyors of cool stuff. Fun, eccentric items from biker garden gnomes, surfboard lounge chairs, edgy sayings on shirts and signs to classic Rock n’ Roll records. It’s a bohemian shopping mecca.

Steps away if you leave by the store’s back entrance is The Dirty Hippie owned by Ron Hart, who you could say he is a travelling hippie. You’ll find him playing his strum stick not just in Stuart but around the country. Walking into his retro boutique he wants you to start feeling groovy. Star Trek and Carl Sagan VHS (yes VHS) collections await your viewing pleasure. An almost shrine-like display of Cat Stevens records is featured along with racks of hippie clothing guaranteed to make you fit right in at any Woodstock reunion. A friendly sales clerk looking totally like a flower child if it wasn’t for the “Satan is a Woman” shirt and collection of bat tattoos adorning her body warmly welcomed me. We have a free flowing conversation about her tattoos to who is the typical customer – there is none. Upstairs a yoga and bead making class with ages ranging from teens to grannies is taking place. I get into the groove and flop on the comfy couch observing the comings and goings of Dirty Hippie. I dig the vibe. Stuart rocks.

WATER TREASURES

Water permeates Treasure Coast’s heart and soul and daily life whether you are a resident or a visitor. The area is blessed with numerous rivers and waterways and its largest water neighbour, the Atlantic Ocean. With all this water comes a plethora of activities for visitors to enjoy from kayaking, paddle boarding and kite surfing, to diving and deep sea fishing.

The water’s bounty is then served fresh on your dinner plate. I had a delicious blackened mahi-mahi sandwich for lunch at The Twisted Tuna in the tiny town of Port Salerno. Dozens of seafood restaurants like Chuck’s Seafood (famous for its fried shrimp), Cobalt (in the Kimpton Hotel at Vero Beach) and other restaurants and watering holes like The Gafford (meatloaf for a change from seafood) and Hurricane Grill (order the Jamaican Jerk wings) serving up mouth watering dishes, local brews and cool cocktails. The bonus of course in these parts is the scenic views of the Atlantic Ocean or inland waterways of the Indian River Lagoon lined with fishing trawlers and yachts.

WAVE RUNNING

Water is like a magnet for me. It reels me in like an angler catching a fish. It relaxes me as much as a mother calming a baby with a soother or waiting breast. Water can also excite me and be a source of fun and adventure.

Cue Riding the Waves based in Stuart. This small operation run by Maryann Maguire offers eco and cruising tours on personal two-seater catamarans. The best part – you get to drive. These boats can stop on a dime like an air boat but won’t flip over. After a quick lesson on how to use the steering and the throttle off you go to explore the river, mangroves and their inhabitants from manatees to dolphins and variety of birdlife.

It took a few minutes to get my boat captain sea legs (thankfully no exams) but after a few minutes you are zigging and zagging and using that throttle to full effect.

No motoring but just as fun was kayaking on the ocean with waves that even flipped my kayak end over end (with me in it) at Vero Beach with Paddles by the Sea. We were enroute to see a British shipwreck. Less choppy kayak adventures were at Fort Pierce Inlet State Par. I kayaked while my trusty sidekick paddle boarded. All was calm as we observed the birds, other boaters, and people relaxing on sandbars – until a storm showed its dark side and I learned the art of fast paddling as we quickly made it back to shore. Lightning strikes weren’t on my itinerary.

Though there are still lots of sunken treasures it doesn’t take a full treasure chest to afford a holiday on the Treasure Coast. Here you will find more affordable accommodation from a range of budget to 4-star hotel chains to boutique hotels, beach houses and condos for rent (or sale). Leave the designer threads at home and just show up ready for fun.

The Treasure Coast has a wealth of vacation activities to help you discover hidden treasures - you might even find some real treasure.

For further info: Visit Florida – www.visitflorida.com

 

author

Chris Ryall

An industry insider with strong, outspoken opinions that readers enjoy, whether they agree, or take issue with his point of view.

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