Known as the sailfish capital of the world, Stuart, Florida attracts anglers from far and wide. And rightly so, as during one particularly bountiful season, enthusiastic fisherman reeled-in over 500 sailfish from the surrounding waters. But this Atlantic coastal town is also worth a stop for landlubbers; as two top-drawer attractions offer visitors a good overview of the local history, and introduce them to the diverse ecosystem and abundant marine life found in the area.
A Local History Primer
The quirky yet well curated Elliott Museum (www.elliottmuseum.org) tops the list of Stuart must-see attractions. Named after prolific inventor Sterling Elliott, the museum includes a significant collection of classic cars, as well as artifacts that chronicle the history of this Treasure Coast town.
There’s accessible parking in front, with level access over to the museum entrance. Inside, there’s plenty of room to maneuver a wheelchair in the galleries, elevator access to the second floor, and spacious accessible restrooms.
Although it’s pretty easy to see the museum on your own, an enthusiastic docent will most likely offer a short overview of the Sterling Elliott exhibit. Don’t pass on this opportunity, as the commentary will definitely offer some insight on this genius who not only invented the automobile motor steering carriage, but who also held 125 US patents.
In homage to the inventor, the balance of the first floor is devoted to an impressive classic car collection, which includes a 1903 Stanley Steamer with the Elliott steering mechanism. Other automobiles of note include a 1925 Silver Ghost Rolls Royce, a 1931 Model AA school bus (named Rusty) and a 1904 Indian motorcycle. And although the bulk of the collection is displayed on the floor, there are also 51 cars in a behind-the-glass exhibit. This multi-story robotic feature was installed to save space, but in truth it also promotes access, as slow walkers can sit back and enjoy the rotating display of cars as they revolve on a turntable.
The second floor of the museum houses everything from a collection of music boxes, to the storefront of an early 1900s barber shop. And if you look high above the open first-floor you’ll also see a replica of a 1911 Pelican-Hydro Airplane. In between the second-floor bric-a-brac you’ll also find a replica of a 1940s kitchen, complete with an old ration book, a collection of model boats, and a hometown soda fountain.
And don’t miss the Frances Langeford exhibit, which pays tribute to this actress and singer, who rose to fame in the mid-1900s with her signature song, I’m in the Mood for Love. She was also a regular — and a favorite — on Bob Hope’s USO tours, and she penned a Purple Heart Diary column for Hearst newspapers during WWII. In 1955 Langeford married Ralph Evenrude of Evenrude Motors and opened up the Frances Langford Outrigger Resort in nearby Jensen Beach, where she frequently performed. The exhibit includes lots of old photos — many autographed — of her golden days, with a bevy of familiar faces. It’s a great blast from the past, with a decidedly local connection.
Meet the Locals
For a different take on the locals, head across the street to the Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center (www.floridaocean.org). This 57-acre nature center — which includes a 750,00 gallon lagoon, nature trails and even a butterfly garden — is filled with plants, animals and marine life found along the St. Lucie and Indian River Lagoon estuaries.
Accessible parking is available near the entrance, with level access over to the ramped exhibit hall. Inside you’ll find interpretive exhibits, the admission desk, a small gift shop and a few aquatic displays. Accessible restrooms are located just behind the admission desk, and there’s plenty of room to maneuver a wheelchair throughout the building, with barrier-free access to the back door.
Out back there’s ramped access to the accessible boardwalk around the game fish lagoon, which houses southern stingrays, nurse sharks, tarpon, black drum and other game fish. Interpretive plaques are located along the boardwalk, and there’s also a level brick walkway over to the sea turtle pavilion at the far end of the lagoon.
A number of interpretive programs are presented during the day, including the extremely popular stingray feeding program. Thanks to a lowered tank and accessible pathways, everybody can participate in this program, where participants get to hand-feed the resident stingrays. And don’t miss the accessible butterfly garden, which is located behind the stingray tank.
There’s also barrier-free access to two nature trails — the mile-long Indian River Lagoon Loop, and the shorter .3-mile I Spy Loop. The trailhead for both trails begins as a hard-packed dirt trail covered in shells, and is located across from the game fish lagoon. The shorter loop winds around to the right, while the longer loop follows the path to the left.
The longer Indian River Lagoon Loop includes several boardwalk sections and a few steeper bridges, so some folks may require a bit of assistance. An accessible overlook on the Indian River Lagoon is located at the halfway point, before a dirt service road continues back to the trailhead. Keep your eyes peeled for raccoons, rabbits and even fiddler crabs along the way, as the trail transitions from a tropical hammock to a mangrove swamp. Either trail offers a pleasant stroll through the coastal forest, and gives visitors a peek at the sometimes elusive inhabitants.
In the end, the Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center is a good attraction for all ages, and when combined with the Elliott Museum it makes for a perfect family-friendly outing.