The Florida Manatee

During South Florida’s mild winter months a grayish brown lump with thick wrinkled algae-stained skin gets a ton of attention. The Florida manatees return from their summer homes along the rivers of the Carolinas, Louisiana, and sometimes even from as far north as Massachusetts. Some with calf in tow, others on their own, gather in shallow warm waters to graze on seagrass.

manateeIt’s estimated that about 6,000 manatees live in the shallow rivers, bays, estuaries and coastal waters in the U.S.—and they all come to Florida for the winter. They are gentle beasts, slow-moving, and often playful. When stressed or excited, they squeak at one another. But usually, they simply eat and rest.

Places to see manatees in and around Martin County include the Manatee Lagoon. Owned by Florida Power & Light, the wild manatees gather, sometimes by the hundreds, near the warm-water outflows of FPL’s Riviera Beach Next Generation Clean Energy Center.

Manatees can be spotted along the Treasure Coast in most of Martin County’s inland waterways, near docs, waterside restaurants, bridges, and rivers during the winter. A short drive to north to Ft. Pierce is a great way to learn about these fascinating winter visitors. The Manatee Observation and Education Center in Fort Pierce is a waterfront environmental education and wildlife viewing center. Closer to Floridays, the Hobe Sound Nature Center leads walks along the intracoastal waterway to look for manatees gathering between the Center and Jupiter Island, and Jonathan Dickinson State Park (JDSP) [https://www.floridastateparks.org/park/Jonathan-Dickinson ] offers canoes, kayaks, and guided tours in comfortable, dry pontoon boats—all great ways to spot manatees in their natural environment.manatee

Beyond the Treasure Coast, in central Florida, the manatees gather in shallow clear waters in Crystal River. Thousands visit Crystal River in January to celebrate the manatees’s return. By now, the crowds have thinned and vendors shuttered and gone…the perfect time to rent a kayak or go on a snorkel tour at the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge. Whether you do it up fancy at the Plantation at Crystal River, or go local at JDSP, the manatees are waiting.

What To Do at Floridays

Floridays’ hometown is Hobe Sound—a truly unique small town that today IS what Old Florida WAS. With its canopies of ficus trees, one-of-a-kind shops in a quaint and quiet historic downtown, friendly people and slower pace, it offers a quality of life reminiscent of yesteryear. In Martin County, it’s the perfect place to relax and get back to nature.

Nearby Jonathan Dickinson State Park features 11,500 acres of sand pine scrub, pine flatwoods, mangroves, and river swamps—and all the wildlife to go with it. You can rent canoes or kayaks in search of the elusive manatees that frequent the river in winter or hike the trails by foot or on horseback. Mountain bikers will find both easy and challenging trails throughout the park, and it’s a birdwatcher’s paradise for those who prefer their feet firmly planted on the ground. Ospreys and bald eagles build nests in the forest and along the Loxahatchee River. It’s not uncommon to spot deer, foxes, otters, and alligators.

The park’s newest addition is Palmettos on the Loxahatchee, an outdoor food and beverage garden overlooking the river serving wine and beer and fresh food using local, sustainable or organic foods when possible.

Just across Highway 1 from the State Park is the Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge with 300 acres of hiking trails and a charming Intracoastal Waterway beach for long walks at sunset. On January 7, you can join an “EarthCache Adventure” to learn from naturalist Lis Wight about the unique features of the Hobe Sound Refuge’s ecosystem through the use of GPS coordinates. Reserve your space at (772) 546-2067.

Martin County’s Hobe Sound Public Beach is a short bike ride away, but even if you drive, parking is free. Public facilities include restrooms and a covered picnic area. Locals like to grab a sandwich “to-go” from Publix’s deli section and head to the beach just before sundown to catch the sounds and sights of the Atlantic Ocean.

For fishing aficionados, there are plentiful docks and piers throughout Martin County along the Intracoastal Waterway. Jimmy Graham Park offers a public boat ramp with restrooms and 50 parking spaces. The waters around Hobe Sound teem with every kind of saltwater fish. See the list. Check here for licensing information.

Getting to Hobe Sound

bridge roadWhen you come to Hobe Sound it just “feels different”. Everything slows down. Even motor traffic on Florida’s infamous U.S. Route 1 is less crowded. Big box stores are nowhere to be seen and folks shop local. Parking at the beach is free and main street is lined with small, independently-owned shops—many with murals painted by local artists and Jimmy Stovall, one of the original Highwaymen of Florida.

RVers coming up from the Florida Keys using U.S. Highway 1 (the scenic route) motor north through the congestion and craziness of Miami and the Palm Beaches before finding a certain quietness somewhere around Tequesta, just north of Jupiter’s historic lighthouse. Beyond County Line Road, it’s a pleasant 55 mph through the 11,000+ acre Jonathan Dickinson State Park on your left and snapshot views of the Intracoastal Waterway on your right. This is Martin County, with its beautiful beaches and more than 75 parks, and the most diverse lagoon ecosystem in the Northern hemisphere. At the crossroads of Hwy 1 and Bridge Road, you enter Hobe Sound and step back in time to the days of Old Florida and a slower pace of living.

Just a few blocks north of Hobe Sound’s only waterfront restaurant (when it rains) Harry & The Natives, you’ll find Floridays RV Park.

If you discover Hobe Sound from the north through Brevard County, US 1 wanders through the lower section of the Indian River Lagoon Scenic Highway and winds along the tree-lined streets of Sebastian before entering St. Lucie County, famous for it’s fabled 1715 Spanish treasure fleet that sank off its shores. Further south, Hwy 1 crosses over the St. Lucie River into Stuart, the largest town on the Treasure Coast and known as the Sailfish Capital of World. Arrive on a Sunday morning to check out Stuart’s quaint downtown and Sunday morning Green Market.

Coming from the west, RVer’s want to take Martin Highway (County Road 714) with it’s beautiful 12-mile Martin Grade Scenic Corridor shaded by a canopy of 100-year old oaks and surrounded by pastures, groves, swamps and woods that are the perfect prelude for the timeless nature of Hobe Sound. We’ll keep the lights on!

Learn more about Hobe Sound’s history and imagery at Florida Living Realty.