By Janet K. Keeler
It seemed fitting to toast Jensen Beach’s pineapple past with a juicy cocktail. So we pulled up a stool to the bar at Mulligan’s Beach House and ordered “Coastal Coladas” with pineapple rum (and others) plus a dose of mango for good measure. No brain freezes for us as we took our time slurping our Florida tropical drinks.
From outside the wide windows, we watched the world drive by, mostly pickup trucks laden with fishing poles and SUVs toting all manner of personal watercraft. A few scooters rented from Ironhorse zoom by. The Intracoastal Waterway was just on the other side of the road with the barrier islands and the Atlantic Ocean beyond that. Fishing charters, bait shops plus boat and kayak rentals are more than a hint of what goes on around here. The causeway just to the north of our Mulligan’s perch takes travelers out to Jensen Beach Park and the sandy beach on the Atlantic. For now, though we are resting and relaxing.
Our pineapple cocktails are a tasty way to end a ramble through the center of Jensen Beach, formerly known as the “Pineapple Capital of the World” for the fertile plantations that dotted the landscape in the late 1800s. By 1920, the pineapple industry collapsed due to financial woes and freezes that devastated the crops. Still, the pineapple is big in Jensen Beach.
There’s an annual pineapple festival each fall. A monthly newspaper (started in 2010!) is called the Pineapple Post. There’s Pineapple Park and more than one business honors the fruit in its name. And smack-dab in the middle of the sign welcoming visitors to Jensen Beach is, no surprise, a green-topped pineapple, the symbol of hospitality, too. We find plenty of that welcoming spirit as we wander in and out of the establishments on and off the main drag, Jensen Beach Boulevard.
Jensen Beach is an unincorporated community northeast of Stuart and southeast of Port St. Lucie. It probably shouldn’t be called a hidden gem but in some ways it is. There are likely better-known beach towns, say north on the Space Coast and farther south on the Treasure Coast. If you like a laid back town where good food and natural wonders can be had in abundance, Jensen Beach is your place.
We started our Jensen Beach discovery tour at the Maple Street Art Cottages, a tangle of sweet tin-roofed homes that have been converted into artists’ studios. Painter Karen Leffel-Massengill is at her easel when we stop in. She tells us there is always a “work in progress” at the studio. What a treat to watch her paint her Florida-inspired landscapes and get a chance to talk with her about how this beautiful part of the state inspires her work.
Painter Sally Eckman Roberts also has a studio at the cottages. Her lovely paintings of seahorses and dragonflies, herbs and fruit (pineapples!) have been transformed into all sort of home decorating items, including rugs and pillows. She can often be found working in the studio and is happy to talk with visitors about her work.
There are other artists, including watercolorist Barbara Lapham, in the village and regular musical events in the courtyard. Weekends bring outdoor markets to the parking lot and occasional yoga classes.
Just across Maple Street from the artist colony is The Pink Cottage, which could be mistaken for another studio. But it’s a day spa that offers all sorts of relaxing treatments, and might be just the place for one traveler to hang out while the others are kayaking or fishing. The Pink Cottage is going on the to-do list for next time.
A quick five-minute walk and we are back on Jensen Beach Boulevard. There’s a bit of a hippie vibe here with shops such as Ain’t Miss Bee-Haven. Raw, local honey is the focus but the store also stocks gift items such as colorful wind chimes and loads of T-shirts. We stop at the honey shop after playing looki-loos in several other stores and art galleries. We be Jammin’ is the store to shop for island kitsch such as drift-wood mobiles and signs that extol the virtues of beach living.
And now, hunger sets in. We scour the menus in the windows of various restaurants and are drawn to Mary’s Gourmet Kitchen, just around the corner from where we will eventually have those coastal coladas (and one rum runner). Shrimp and grits are always a draw for us. But alas, Mary’s closes at 2 p.m. and we’ve taken too long in the stores and galleries.
So it’s back to the boulevard and Mulligan’s beckons. Cocktails with a collection of apps that will soothe our grumbling stomachs include smoked fish spread, mahi fingers and conch fritters. We are feeling the hospitality. Plus, it’s Thursday and the stores and galleries are open late. Visiting vendors set up on the sidewalks. So we explore again on our way back to the car.