The point of arrival for any resort tells you a lot about the experience that lies ahead. By that standard, the Hutchinson makes big promises when you come through the front doors. The lobby is spectacular. A three-story space offers a visual symphony of natural materials and beautiful understated beach colors, all designed around a pair of life-sized glass sailfish suspended from the high ceiling. As dramatic as the sailfish are, don’t let them distract you from the endless subtle touches. The gorgeous white stones that climb the walls, the reclaimed woods and the textured flooring all come together to make exploring the resort a harmonious experience. Tiny features abound, with one of my favorite being the flock of hanging glass globes that separate the bar from the lobby. Each glass orb captures the beach in miniature—white sand, driftwood, spiky shells and bits of dried lichen.

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Rooms at the Hutchinson are comfortable and spacious. We loved our small private balcony, and views directly onto the beach. In the morning, once we pulled back the smart black-out curtains, radiant sunlight made for a happy awakening. The breakfast menu is unusually lush, offering everything from french toast to grits, from smoked salmon to short rib hash, and from buttermilk pancakes to “create your own” omelettes. The kids ate with gusto.

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For adults, the Oceanside Mary is amazing. A signature Bloody Mary made with Tito’s Handmade Vodka, San Marzano tomatoes, lemon and celery juice, balsamic vinegar, grated horseradish, sea salt, Old Bay on the rim, and a garnish of pepper jack cheese, red piri, pepper stuffed olives and colossal shrimp counts as a complete breakfast in our opinion. Everything a relaxing parent needs on holiday.

It’s easy to spend your day moving from pool to pool and enjoying the beautiful walk-able beach. There are multiple pools. The one beachside is perfect for sun-worshippers—the rear pool called to us. It’s bright and open to the sky, but for much of the day the building and the nearby palm trees throw some shade over the deck and the water. A pool with a little shade is something we consider to be a great perk. It’s nice to let the kids have all that extra swim-time with a little bit less sun exposure, and in our case, that also made it easy for Dad to watch the kids while Mom snuck off to the spa for what she reported to be a wonderful Opal Oasis Body Renewal massage.

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Be sure to check the beer menu. The Hutchinson stocks a wonderful selection of beers on draft, the best of which are born out of a partnership between the resort and the Clearwater, Florida-based Deep Blue Brewing. The Hutchinson IPA is excellent, with a lovely hint of citrus that captures the Florida spirit. My favorite was the Drift Tangerine Wheat. Wheat malts have been taking off recently with a lot of beer aficionados, and the Drift showcases why—sharp and bright with a clear color and just a touch of acid.

The Bar Bites menu offers some excellent upscaled bar food done right, like the Drift Wings and Short Rib Slider. I was especially happy to see that the menu carried some lighter fare too. The Tuna Poke, made with avocado salsa, citrus ponzu, scallions, toasted sesame seeds and spiced orange oil, was as mouth-watering as it sounds. The kids demolished the Roasted Garlic Hummus and Crispy Flatbread. I’d tell you how it tasted, but it was gone before I got a chance to try it! That counts as a very enthusiastic recommendation from the younger set. And, while at the bar, be sure to enjoy one of the Hutchinson’s cocktails. For me, the Whisky Smash, Jim Beam Bourbon Whiskey, muddled mint and lemon, simple syrup topped with club soda, and garnished with mint and lemon, goes perfectly with the ocean view.

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We were looking forward to dinner on-site, but the hospitality staff insisted that we not miss The Gafford, a family-owned and operated restaurant in historic downtown Stuart. The Gafford has a comfortably casual interior with a creative and exciting menu. We fell in love with the Parmesan Roasted Cauliflower, highly recommended. The humbly named Meat and Cheese Board is expansive and decidedly creative. My eight-year-old son has become a Caesar salad fanatic, and he declared that The Gafford Caesar salad was “perfect!” This time I did manage to get a taste and he was right. The Gafford is known for their signature steak (tender and wonderful), and for Mabel’s Fried Chicken (crunchy and traditional), but I am going to dedicate a whole paragraph to waxing poetic about the Salt and Pepper Smoked Sweet Potato.

The Salt and Pepper Smoked Sweet Potato is a simple dish, but all by itself, it will bring me back to this excellent restaurant. A jumbo sweet potato is smoked for four hours and then stuffed with roasted local corn, house pico de gallo and avocado. A light ahi amarillo cream is then drizzled over it. Everything was perfectly balanced, and the soft sweet potato will come out of the casing in succulent scoops of your spoon. It warms its way to your stomach with each bite. Light, healthy and truly satisfying, the technique used, cooking by smoking, takes this humble tuber to high places. The sweet potato is offered as vegetarian, but can be adjusted to vegan, if desired.

After dinner, be sure to leave time to wander the small shopping district. Many of the shops seem to close early, so we did more window-looking than shopping. Signature Sweets, an ice cream and chocolate shop, offered six(!) different types of over-the-top chocolate ice creams with great varieties like “Captain’s Chocolate” and “Baja Chocolate” to keep us happy.

Stuart is a wonderful place for a family to vacation. The softer, slower pace is a welcome change from some more built-up parts of Florida. On the way in, we got off I-95 early and drove smaller roads so as to see more of the area. The wild growth that appears in much of Florida has clearly not swept the area yet. Humble houses do still sit on waterfront views, and areas that would be mega-malls and mega-developments in other regions are still populated with cows and lush grasses. This authentic, traditional Florida feel does not mean there is a lack of activities. Quite the contrary, I think many vacationers will find they cannot get to every destination in a weekend vacation, and there will be more left to do for next time.

Children’s Museum of the Treasure Coast is quite near to the resort, and it was a great find for the kids. My five-year-old daughter spent almost an hour working hard as a veterinary doctor on an assortment of stuffed animals, while my son found his place on the two-story indoor pirate ship, complete with canons, exhibits and an intricate pulley system that the kids used to transfer “cannon balls” from the ground to the deck above.

The Florida Oceanographic Society may not have a catchy name, but is a great eco-activity center with stingrays, sharks and sea turtles on exhibit. The staff really excels here. They have a passion for the work they do, and for the animals. We left well informed about the sea turtles, about the Everglades and about a recurring algae problem that has troubled local waters. And that’s not even getting started on the lifecycles of black drum fish and mangrove snappers. The kids liked having the freedom to run around as well—the shape and the layout of the park allowed us to give them this freedom to wander without ever really being out of our eyesight.

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In between attractions, we searched for a highly recommended local food truck called Ital Bowls. The happy young women manning the window were quick to tell us the healthy virtues of the acai and fruit bowls, the all-fruit smoothies and the organic “bullet” coffee, but all we know is that everything was delicious and filling, while leaving you energized. After our acai bowl lunches, instead of wanting to go back to the Hutchinson for a nap, we had the energy to spare. And we needed it; there was more to see.

The Elliott Museum is hard to explain, but well worth a visit. Sterling Elliott was a successful mechanical inventor who lived from 1852 to 1922. His creative mind made him a fortune, and a portion of that fortune was turned into a collection designed to inspire. This modern glass building houses a tremendous collection of classic cars, trucks, bicycles and boats, baseball memorabilia, local history, Americana, a variety of art, a tribute to actress Frances Langford, a Foucault pendulum and examples of Mr. Elliott’s inventions. The crowning jewel has to be the three-story garage housing dozens of classic cars on an open framework. A robot arm lifts the cars, one at a time, and brings them down to be admired for a bit, before swapping the car for another. It’s sort of hypnotizing, and the whole family placed bets on which car was coming down next. Something about the way the space is designed and the overwhelming randomness really snagged the kids’ imaginations. Historical museums can be a hard sell for children, but they were in no hurry to leave the Elliott.

The House of Refuge Museum is a home run for any history buff. At the turn of the last century, there were “refuge house” established down the Atlantic coast of Florida. Their purpose was to offer succor to survivors of shipwrecks who managed to find their way to shore. This museum is installed in the only original refuge still standing. Sitting on one of the most beautiful beaches in Florida, the House of Refuge is a deep dive of historical artifacts and information. I could have stayed all day, reading plaques and imagining life in centuries past.

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Back at the resort, we discovered that the restaurant has a special surprise. A large glass window allows guests to watch the chefs working their pasta-maker, cutting the different varieties and then sending it all straight into a pot of boiling water. Order pasta for dinner and it comes from the freshly made stock of the day. After watching the pasta be made, the kids couldn’t wait for dinner.

The chef at the Hutchinson has developed a menu that is consistently good, and surprising creative. I wish we could have tried all the house pastas—they offer spaghetti, rigatoni, penne, linguini, bucatini and pappardelle, each in its own signature dish, and each sounding better than the last. I chose the Old Country Pappardelle, with braised short rib, garden tomatoes, roasted garlic, imported pecorino, and Tuscan kale, and was very happy I did so. The menu also offers Tuscan Chicken—chicken medallions topped with prosciutto ham and fontina cheese, that was perfect for the kids, and a house-brined Duroc Center Cut Pork Chop that came juicy and delicious. We ordered the Rustica wood-fired pizza as well. Assessing the menu, we realized that there were five pastas and three pizzas we had not tried, but that’s fine, it just leaves something for next time. 

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An ideal vacation spot is one that you feel calling you to return, even as you pack to leave. Stuart, Florida, and the Hutchinson Shores Resort & Spa had tantalized us with full days and happy tastebuds, but we left knowing there was still more to see, eat, and do. So, fair warning, a trip to the Hutchinson is probably the start of a new family tradition, and that’s very high praise indeed.