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Hub of the Treasure CoastHub of the Treasure Coast

Fort Pierce, FloridaFort Pierce, Florida

The airport restaurant was rated No. 1 in the United States. The airport was rated the No. 1 location for U.S. Customs clearance to The Bahamas. The nearby U.S. Navy SEAL Museum is a must-see. The town is right in the middle of Florida’s spectacular Treasure Coast. And it’s less than 100 nautical miles from Sun ‘n Fun. Let’s fly to Fort Pierce!

  • Aerial view of the inlet that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Intracoastal Waterway at Fort Pierce, Florida. Also known as Sunrise City, Fort Pierce is the sister city to San Francisco, aka Sunset City. Photo courtesy City of Fort Pierce.
  • If flying to Fort Pierce’s Treasure Coast International Airport (FPR) from Sun ‘n Fun (shown here) at Lakeland (LAL), follow V-441 via a heading of 080 degrees, which will keep you north of all the MOAs and R-2901 A&B. Unless you’re below 3,000 feet msl, this route takes you into Orlando’s Class B airspace, so call Orlando Approach for a Class B clearance. At ODDEL intersection, turn southeast direct to FPR. Arrivals from the south must be especially vigilant about checking notams. During President Trump’s frequent weekend visits to his Florida estate, a large TFR is in place, centered over Palm Beach International Airport (PBI), from the surface to 17,999 feet msl. Its outer ring extends 30 nm in all directions. Photo courtesy Sun ‘n Fun.
  • If you’re headed to The Bahamas, FPR is a great airport from which to depart. The FBO, APP JetCenter, rents lifeboats and jackets and can assist with paperwork and other preparations. U.S. Customs is right next door. Prior to mid-2016, the airport’s name was St. Lucie County International Airport. You may still see it referred to as such on some websites or older charts. Photo courtesy Bahamas Ministry of Tourism.
  • Also adjacent to APP JetCenter is Airport Tiki, which the 'Wall Street Journal' declared America’s No. 1 airport restaurant for its food and service. Along with great airport views, the restaurant offers big breakfasts, burgers, mahi fingers, blackened mahi sandwiches, fish po’boys, and hickory-smoked barbecue pork loin sandwiches. Photo courtesy Fly ‘n Things.
  • New in 2018 are 50 white cruiser bicycles and nine parking stations scattered across Fort Pierce and Port St. Lucie as part of a countywide bike-share program called Zagster. Anyone over 18 with a cell phone and valid debit or credit card can use them, no membership fee. Sign up online or via the Zagster app. Trips are managed using the smartphone app or by texting the number listed at bike stations and cost $1 for every hour for up to 24 hours. Instructions to unlock and rent bikes are listed at each station and on the app. The app maps station locations and number of available bikes. Photo courtesy City of Fort Pierce.
  • The National Navy SEAL Museum is the only museum dedicated solely to preserving the history of the U.S. Navy SEALs and their predecessors. The museum resides on the training grounds of the original Navy combat divers, the Frogmen. Photo courtesy SEAL Museum.
  • Beautiful and uncrowded Pepper Beach is also a great place for scuba diving. Fort Pierce is centrally located along the 70-mile 'Treasure Coast,' so called because a 1715 hurricane sank a fleet of Spanish galleons loaded with gold. Numerous artifacts have since been recovered, totaling about $175 million of the estimated $400 million worth of treasure the ships carried. In 2013, a family discovered $300,000 worth of gold coins and chains while scuba diving only 150 yards offshore. Photo courtesy City of Fort Pierce.
  • Water clear enough for you? The waters around Fort Pierce are great for practicing your swimming, snorkeling, or diving skills. Photo courtesy City of Fort Pierce.
  • Lobster harvesting season generally runs from early August to March; check MyFWC.com for regulations and permit information. A 'diver-down' flag must be displayed. Dive and snorkel gear can be rented at Treasure Coast Dive Charters, which also offers charter boat trips. Photo courtesy St. Lucie County Tourism Offices.
  • The 30,000-square-foot building at Marine Connection Liquidators has everything for the boating enthusiast, including rolls of vinyl upholstery cloth, anchors, cleats, bilge pumps, thousands of analog and digital gauges, inflatable life boats, flare guns, diving equipment, and much more. Photo courtesy Marine Connection Liquidators.
  • Bonsai is a highly refined and ancient art. In October 2009, Bonsai Master Jim Smith donated 100 of his finest bonsai to Heathcote Botanical Gardens on the condition that they would be properly maintained, displayed, and protected. To bonsai enthusiasts, Heathcote Botanical Gardens is an international treasure. You’ll also find a Japanese Garden, Reflection Garden, Herb Garden, Rainforest Display, Native Plants Garden, and a Palm & Cycad Walk. Leashed, well-behaved dogs are welcome. Photo by David Martin.
  • If you traveled Florida Route 1 in the 1960s, you may have encountered young African-American artists selling beautifully painted Florida landscapes from the trunks of their cars along the side of the road. Segregation prevented the painters from entering galleries. It is estimated that they created and sold more than 200,000 paintings by the end of the 20th century—for $15 to $25. Many of the young painters were inspired and mentored by Fort Pierce’s world-renowned landscape artist Albert Earnest 'Bean' Backus, creator of richly detailed depictions of 'Old Florida' scenery. Encouragement from Backus and others helped 'the Highwaymen' paint their way out of farm labor, using wallboard as their canvas and crown molding for frames. Painting by James Gibson, courtesy TheHighwaymenTrail.com.
  • Lisa’s Kayaks rents crafts for paddling on the Indian River. There’s even a dock right next to the Mellon Patch Inn. Photo courtesy Lisa’s Kayaks.
  • Also located on the Indian River is the area’s consistently No. 1-rated Original Tiki Bar & Restaurant. Patrons sit under a huge thatched roof and enjoy views of the city marina, pelicans, and sunsets. Food is tropical, and attire is shorts and flip-flops. Live music at select times. Photo courtesy Original Tiki Bar & Restaurant.
  • Now we know where Santa spends his off-season....diving the warm, clear waters off Fort Pierce! Photo courtesy City of Fort Pierce.

When flying to Treasure Coast International Airport from Lakeland, stay north of the military airspace. From the south, watch for a potential presidential temporary flight resriction. In 2015, Fort Pierce was voted the No. 1 location for U.S. Customs clearance in FltPlan’s Pilots Choice awards (see photo captions for details on all the above).

The city was named after the Fort Pierce Army post built during the Second Seminole War (1835 to 1842) by Benjamin Pierce, brother of President Franklin Pierce. It wasn’t long before settlers were shipping fish, oysters, turtles, pineapples, and citrus up the coast from this tropical paradise to customers in the Northeast. Today, tourists relax on the beaches along the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway, while dolphins and manatees frolic in the Indian River Lagoon.

The Naked Warrior guards the entrance to the National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum. The bronze statue honors the original Navy divers in World War II. Often the first to attack enemy shores, they wore only face masks, swim trunks, and fins and were armed only with a Ka-Bar knife. Photo courtesy SEAL Museum.

In 1943, preparations began for the World War II assaults on the beaches of Normandy and southern France. The first volunteers for Naval Combat Demolition Units and Underwater Demolition Teams (UDTs were the forefathers of today’s SEALs) trained on the beaches of Fort Pierce. Today, you can visit the National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum, which honors these “Frogmen” and their contemporary counterparts, the highly trained and specially equipped men and women of the Navy SEALs (Sea, Air, Land). This museum showcases the secret world of naval special warfare. Displays include a steel-plated Humvee armed with a .50 caliber machine gun and automatic grenade launchers, a Sikorsky UH–60 Black Hawk helicopter deployed on missions around the world and shot down three times, the lifeboat where Somali pirates held Captain Richard Phillips captive in 2009, and “swimmer delivery vehicles,” which can transport up to six SEALs underwater as they breathe compressed air from the craft’s internal life-support system.

Take the path behind the museum to Pepper Park Beachside and swim in the crystal-clear water. Just 100 yards off the beach, snorkelers and scuba divers can access a beautiful reef, 15 to 30 feet below the surface. Bring your own gear, rent some, or charter a boat. Between the SEAL museum and the inlet you’ll find Fort Pierce Inlet State Park. Leashed pets are welcome in the park, though not on the beach. Look for roseate spoonbills, large pink waterbirds that use their spoon-shaped bills to filter out small animals from soft mud. Ibises have long, narrow, curved beaks. Bobcats patrol the dense foliage in the park. You can fish for snook, redfish, and speckled trout from the inlet’s shore.

The Treasure Coast Pirate Festival, usually held in February, features pirate-themed attractions such as a Living History Pirate Encampment, Blackbeard's Pirate Ship, a Little Buccaneer Kids Zone, Costume Contests, Treasure Hunts, Mermaids, and Pirate Weapon Demonstrations. Festival Admission is free, though a $2 (Buck-an-Ear) contribution is appreciated. That be Two Dollars for ye Landlubbers! Photo courtesy Treasure Coast Pirate Festival.

Boaters might want to stop at Marine Connection Liquidators; this giant facility is like the Home Depot for everything marine; they have some diving equipment, too. Gardening fans will want to visit Heathcote Botanical Gardens to see the largest public tropical bonsai collection in the U.S., plus a Japanese garden, a rainforest, colorful bromeliads, and a gift shop. Head to the marina early on Saturday mornings for the farmer’s market and craft show, full of good food, produce, flowers, and quality handmade arts. Visit the A. E. Backus Museum and Gallery to see this self-taught impressionist painter’s depictions of Florida’s tropical landscapes. Living modestly, Backus gave generously to numerous individuals and charities and mentored many new artists, including numerous African-Americans who would later be called “The Highwaymen” because they sold their work from the trunks of their cars while sitting alongside old Dixie Highway. Check out the Highwaymen website and then head out on the Highwaymen Heritage Trail, a self-guided tour around town.

The pet-friendly Seahorse Beach Bungalows have small kitchens and are near Fort Pierce Inlet State Park. Relax in their tropical courtyard or make the short walk to the Atlantic. Conveniently located just north of Pepper Beach and the SEAL museum, the Mellon Patch Inn provides tropical décor, lush gardens, and hot breakfast. Rent a kayak and paddle the Indian River; the dock is adjacent to the inn. Make sure you dine at the Original Tiki Bar & Restaurant, also on the Indian River. Conch chowder, freshly shucked oysters, and Cuban sandwiches make this the perfect place for a tropical feast. So, fly to Fort Pierce for a perfectly tropical getaway!

At the SEAL Museum you can often meet Raven, the museum’s multipurpose canine. Raven is adept at tracking, search and rescue, and protection training. The young Belgian Malinois is almost always onsite, honing his skills. Photo courtesy SEAL Museum.

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Crista Worthy

Crista Videriksen Worthy

Crista Videriksen Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association. To suggest future destination articles, send an email to aopadestinations@gmail.com.
Topics: US Travel

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