Lying along Florida’s East coast like a gold chain necklace, you’ll find barrier islands. No section of these barrier islands is as renowned as the Treasure Coast. Just a mile or so offshore of the barrier islands of the Treasure Coast are jagged reefs. It is these very reefs upon which in 1715 the Spanish Fleet met their downfall.
Why is it called the Treasure Coast?
In March of 1715, the Cartegena Fleet, commanded by Captain-General Don Antonio de Echeverz y Zubiza, arrived in Havana where he was to meet up with the Vera Cruz Fleet commanded by Captain General Don Juan Esteban de Ubilla.
With his holds full of silver and gold coins, chests overflowing with Columbian emeralds, and gold jewelry from Peru, Echeverz was impatient to begin the journey back to Spain. But Ubilla and the Vera Cruz Fleet were detained in Vera Cruz, waiting for more treasure to come from Acapulco. When the treasures from Vera Cruz finally arrived, Ubilla was ready to set sail for Havana and meet up with the Cartegena Fleet the first week of May, replenish their stores, and sail for Spain.
In the meantime, King Philip of Spain threw a monkey wrench into the fleet’s plans by marrying the Duchess of Palma. The wedding would not be consummated until a dowry provided by Philip himself arrived. The armada awaited more treasure to come and be loaded on the ships.
Late in the season, on July 24, 1715, the fleet set sail. On July 29, 1715, the weather became contrary, and the fleet was becalmed, and the weather turned eerily silent. The sea birds had vanished, even though the armada was only 20 miles from the shore. The sea swells grew stronger, and the cargo began to roll in the holds. The next morning, July 30, it was dim, and visibility was poor. As the day wore on, the sky turned pitch dark, and the winds began to howl, and waves crashed upon the decks, carrying deck cargo and men with them.
The wind, now over 100 miles an hour, began to rips sails apart and broke masts off. The fleet, at the mercy of the wind and waves, were separated. The crew started to cut lifeboats free in anticipation of wrecking on the reefs that were coming closer with each minute. Ubilla’s ship, the flagship of the fleet, the Hampton Court, was the first to hit the reefs. Rudderless and helpless, her bottom was ripped apart by the reef at 2:30 a.m. on July 31. The entire crew was washed over the reef and were presumed dead.
A handful of survivors made it to shore and sought shelter as the early season hurricane continued to shriek for several more hours.
In the 1950s, Kip Wagner found a coin – a “piece of eight” that set off the hunt for treasure along the coast stretching from Stuart to Sebastian, Florida. This find is what led this stretch of Florida’s East coast to be named the Treasure Coast.
Today, treasure hunting along this stretch continues. But the real treasures that so many come to find on the Treasure Coast are the stunning beaches, water sports, and golf. Let your imagination wander, and there is sure to be something that fits on Florida’s Treasure Coast.
Where to Play on Florida’s Treasure Coast
The Treasure Coast is filled with delightful food choices, craft breweries, charming shops, waterfront eateries, fantastic golfing, boating, world-class fishing, beaches, and nature.
Downtown Stuart is the place to be for quirky, eclectic, and funky little shops and delicious restaurants that are tucked away in plain sight. The authentic and unique Florida architecture enhances the walkable downtown.
One of the greatest treasures is the historic House of Refuge Museum at Gilbert’s Bar. The House of Refuge is the oldest building in Martin County. The House of Refuge at Gilbert’s Bar is the only remaining House of Refuge, out of the ten built along Florida’s east coast. Initially designed to shelter shipwrecked sailors and other travelers along the east coast of Florida during the time of sailing ships.
The House of Refuge at Gilbert’s Bar has weathered its share of storms through the years and sheltered many shipwreck survivors. Today, the Museum offers a look back in time to a bygone era along the coast. The Keeper’s living quarters have been restored just as they would have looked like back in 1904.
Another spot that we love to visit is the Elliott Museum and is one of the coolest museums we’ve seen on the Treasure Coast. The Museum is named for Sterling Elliott, who held more than 125 patents during his life. One of Elliott’s most innovative inventions was designing, building, and selling a bicycle that met the needs of female cyclists.
The Elliott Museum also houses one of the most impressive collections of vintage cars we’ve had the opportunity to see. Any trip to the Treasure Coast should include a visit to the Elliot.
With easy access to the Atlantic Ocean and its location on the Indian River, the fishing is world-class! Take your boat out for the day, and you are almost sure to bring home dinner.
The vibe of Port Salerno is laid back and relaxed. Almost anywhere you go, shorts, t-shirts, and flip flops are acceptable. Port Salerno is a historic small-town fishing village that is home to artists, art galleries, and some of the best waterfront dining on the Treasure Coast. If you are a seafood lover, you are in luck; “Hook-to-table” is as fresh as it gets. As the hub for commercial fishing in South Florida, it’s still a working waterfront.
Port Salerno’s Sandsprit Park is ideal for launching your paddle board or boat to discover the gorgeous waterways. Sandsprit Park also has bike trails, a fishing pier, picnic sites, and a playground for the little ones.
Jensen Beach is known as the “Pineapple Capital of the World.” John Laurence Jensen, who immigrated to the area in 1881 and set about building his pineapple plantation in what is now Jensen Beach.
The pace in Jensen is quiet and slow, and as you walk the streets, you just seem to let all the stress and chaos go, and you relax, enjoying this more leisurely pace of life.
Around each corner, you’ll find cute Florida cottages with picket fences, and carved pineapples out front. Inside are local artists.
It’s also in Jensen Beach that you find some of the best five-star dining in the area, and restaurants wearing Caribbean colors that take you back to the islands of the Florida Keys and Bahamas.
“Shop local” is a definite must in Jensen with all types of small, intimate shops that beckon you in with their wares displayed in the windows. Heading to Jensen Beach on Thursday nights is a local ritual for the street side party with entertainment, food, and of course, lots of fun.
Fort Pierce is where I call home, and this tiny fishing village is not so small anymore! We are gaining in popularity by the year, as people flock down toward South Florida to escape the brutal winters.
With over 22 miles of gorgeous beaches, you can take your choice of kite surfing, surfing, paddle boarding, or just relaxing and soaking up the sun. Our favorite beach is Avalon State Park, which boasts some of the whitest, sugar soft sand in the area, and gorgeous turquoise water. Avalon State Park beach is also a haven for Green turtles, Loggerheads, and Leatherbacks. As you walk the beach, be on the hunt for turtle nests.
Downtown Fort Pierce boasts some unique shopping venues and is very walkable. After exploring the shopping areas, walk down to Pierced Cider, Fort Pierce’s one and only cider house and taste what they have brewing. If hard cider is not your thing, then Sailfish brewery is definitely a top choice.
Take an eco-tour with Captain Chop of Indian River Lagoon and Swamp Boat Tours. You may see dolphins, birds, fish, and manatees. The Indian River is home to a pod of wild dolphins, and Captain Chop knows just where they hang out.
Where to Eat on Florida’s Treasure Coast
Sailors Return: Located in a beautiful waterfront setting at Sunset Bay Harbour and Marina, Sailors Return offers some of the area’s most stunning sunsets. You can be sure that your meal will be memorable at Sailors Return. They are open for lunch and dinner and offer an extensive menu of seafood and American fare. Each dish is fresh and well presented. One of our favorite appetizers is the tuna nachos, which is highly recommended.
Spritz City Bistro: The casual, yet upscale atmosphere at Spritz City Bistro is warm and welcoming with touches of exposed brick, and shiplap on the walls. They are one of the few dining experiences that offer tapas and small plates, allowing you to graze, taste, and share. They also offer an extensive selection of craft cocktails and local beers on tap.
Riverwalk Cafe & Oyster Bar: The Riverwalk Cafe & Oyster Bar is tucked away in one of downtown Stuart’s historic buildings. We love the atmosphere here, with the exposed brickwork and luxurious wood bar. They offer an extensive wine selection, chosen to complement their creative and fresh dishes crafted by Chef and owner Steve Feder. Chef Steve’s food presentation is elegant and simple, showcasing the delicious fresh food.
11 Maple Street: Chef Michael Perrin of 11 Maple Street focuses on showcasing locally sourced organic produce, seafood, and the best meat possible. Each dish is inventive and crafted like a work of art. Located in an older home, you’ll feel relaxed and comfortable and like family friends in this charming restaurant, tucked away from the main road. 11 Maple Street is one of our top choices for a relaxed, intimate evening meal.
Conchy Joe’s Seafood: Conchy Joe’s is perched on the Indian River, and looks like a Florida tiki bar with it’s thatched roofs and open-air dining. You’ll see dolphins cavorting in the river, and seabirds diving for their dinner as you overlook the river. The food is simple seafood fare that is fresh and tasty.
The Hoffman: One of the Treasure Coast’s most unique offerings, Hoffman’s is serving up some of the best German food we’ve tasted. With a casual waterfront atmosphere, Hoffman’s is an ideal choice for a relaxed dinner with friends. At Hoffman’s, we find ourselves gravitating toward the German offerings like schnitzel and bratwurst.
Rooster in the Garden: Rooster in the Garden is a unique restaurant in the heart of Fort Pierce’s downtown. With outside dining, restaurant dining, and interior courtyard dining, it is a perfect spot to host a large party. The food is fresh and sourced locally. The big draw for Rooster in the Garden is their Adams Ranch Beef, which is tender, tasty, grass-fed beef raised right in Fort Pierce.
12A Buoy: This is Fort Pierce’s premier seafood restaurant with a casual, laid-back vibe, that offers the best fresh seafood in Fort Pierce. Sit outside and enjoy the beautiful Florida weather, or choose to sit inside where it’s always lively. And be sure to try the tastiest lobster mac and cheese we’ve ever had!
Orchid Island Brewery: Orchid Island Brewery (OIB) is our go-to weekend gathering spot. Offering some fantastic brews, and surprisingly excellent fresh-made sangria, OIB is tucked away on a side street off of Ocean Drive. Though the menu is limited, everything is good, fresh, and tasty and made with locally sourced ingredients.
Savor Vero Beach: Savor is a newcomer to the dining scene of Vero Beach, and it is taking the area by storm! Reminiscent of a drawing-room room in a historic home, the decor is markedly masculine, its red walls and dark rich wood accents. But the vibe is casual. Savor is definitely laid back fine dining. The food is well prepared and tasty but not overwhelming. A full bar and extensive wine list make Savor a perfect stop for dinner.
With so many play and eat options, Florida’s Treasure Coast is a perfect place to experience nature, charming seaside towns, and discover some eclectic finds. Come celebrate life on Florida’s Treasure Coast.
Words and photographs by Betsi Hill