Best Kept Secrets Of The Gulf Coast

Old Feb 18th, 2014, 10:45 AM
Join Date: Aug 2003
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You may already know about Trader Joe's which is one of our go-to places on the west coast....

Trader Joe's Sarasota (761)

4101 S Tamiami Trail
Sarasota, FL 34231

Apparently there is a new one opening soon in Tampa as well
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Old Feb 18th, 2014, 01:10 PM
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There is a fabulous Dali Museum in Saint Petersburg. The old museum was torn down and a new building built in its place recently, and it's an architectural marvel. it's absolutely worth a visit.

There is also a museum with a large collection of Chihuly glass that is supposed to be fantastic. We didn't have time to visit it when we were there, but if we ever go back it's on the top of my list of things to see.
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Old Feb 18th, 2014, 02:03 PM
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Also on the 'gulf coast' is one of our favorites...Pensacola. Several great state parks offer RV sites....and the Naval Air Museum at the Pensacola naval air station is a total 'must see' for any American. It's much more than you may think! Downtown Pensacola is an old florida city/town to the core. Well worth a visit for anyone!
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Old Feb 18th, 2014, 02:34 PM
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It might be just a bit north for you, but consider visiting the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park. It's in Cross Creek, nestled between Orange Lake and Lochloosa Lake. Reading one of more of her books (probably The Yearling and/or Cross Creek would enhance the experience.

If you do go, consider eating at The Yearling, a nearby restaurant named for the book and serving "Florida Cracker" food (a Cracker is a person, not a savory biscuit).

Some quaint towns (or at least they used to be) in the vicinity include Micanopy and McIntosh.
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Old Feb 19th, 2014, 07:32 AM
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We enjoyed the Pinellas Bike trail - goes from Tarpon Springs to St. Petersburg. We rented bikes at a bar in near Tarpon Springs (the Neptune Lounge) and rode to Dunedin - charming town. Loved the town for exploring and loved the bike trail and of course had a beer at the lounge when we returned.
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Old Feb 19th, 2014, 08:57 AM
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sandragoodlife: - the bike trail is exactly what we were looking for. Top tip
Cranachin: thanks - The Yearling is next on the kindle.
Sara: I like the occasional museum and I love Dali and glass. Thank you.
jpie: good to hear you have a few Trader Joes.
And thanks to fernerobin, Fra-Diavvolo, hikchick et al.

Can I try one more question? We will be stopping for three nights in the Tampa Bay area. Seems a busy area, what with Tampa, Saint Petersburg, Clearwater, Bradenton, plus lots of roads, bridges and islands. I think we will choose one place and travel out each day. Can anybody suggest a good base? Thanks in anticipation.
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Old Feb 19th, 2014, 12:51 PM
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yeah we are california based for half the year so TJ's isn't a problem here-but last time I was in Florida it was still mostly the land of the piggly wiggly stores
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Old Feb 20th, 2014, 05:42 AM
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Bookmarking for all of the great suggestions. Thank you.
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Old Feb 20th, 2014, 07:43 AM
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Well, it's about an hour from Sarasota up to Tampa, without traffic. I might suggest staying in Bradenton? Then it's 20 minutes down to SRQ and probably 40 minutes up to TPA.

Oh one more little secret -- on the way to/from Tampa, right at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge -- are the remainders of the old bridge that have been made into fishing piers. There's a quick exit to get off the highway and you can park down at the piers, and go watch the people fishing, and see the pelicans swooping down. Great place for photos. Plus, also nice to stretch your legs.

Also, not sure if this is relevant for you, but there is a very large retail outlet center right outside of Bradenton -- Ellenton Outlets or something like that. You can see it from I-75. It's very nice and there's lots of parking and while it's the usual retail suspects, it's super-handy if you need an extra polo shirt/shorts/whatever.

hope this helps.
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Old Feb 21st, 2014, 01:13 AM
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Thanks hikrchick - will look into Bradenton. We are also considering Gulfport which has been recommended as a handy base. We will definitely make time to find the old old bridge: sounds like a great place to stop. Thanks again.
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Old Feb 21st, 2014, 06:24 AM
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I was going to suggest visiting Gulfport, rickydicky....or staying. It is a funky little town with no big hotels, but a few guest houses and the Peninsula Inn seems quite nice. This area would make a great base with plenty to do. Downtown St Petersburg gets better and better every year with a slew of good restaurants, many with al fresco dining. Gulfport has several good ones as well, in a VERY laid back atmosphere. My favorite Gulfport restaurants are Pia's, Pegs, and Backfin Blue. Everything is ultra casual bordering on funky. Pegs is a micro brewery as well. Peninsula Inn runs hot and cold, but tends to be on the expensive side for that area. The biggest draw always is O'Maddys facing the water in Gulfport. It is always so crowded we don't bother with it, but it is a big tourist draw. They have karaoke some (all?) evenings. I can attest to the fact that they have fun, and some nights anyway, stay open until 3 AM, when they have awakened me with someone screaming into the microphone. We sleep with doors and windows open across the bay from them. . This is the one time DH's declining hearing serves him well!

Another fun place to go is Billy's Crab Shack, which is on the same road that leads to Ft Desoto, but set of those spots you have to know about as it can't be seen from the road. Upstairs is an open air bar overlooking the backwaters and mangroves of Tierra Verde. We watched dolphin catching their dinner last time we were up there. Walking distance from there is the Island Grill, which has a little better food than Crabby Bills.

You can rent kayaks or paddle boards at the Gulfport Municipal Marina for exploring Boca Ciega Bay and the mangroves that surround it. It is stunningly beautiful back in the mangroves, habitat for all sorts of local birds...egrets, ibises, herons, etc. I saw someone leading a tour of kayakers out from the marina yesterday, so you can have someone guide you as well, which might be good for going into the mangroves where channels go off in all sorts of directions.

Kayaks can also be rented at Ft Desoto, a beautiful island beach which is part of the Pinellas/St Petersburg area, and voted Best Beach in the US by Dr Beach, who does beach ratings every year. There is no development on the island other than the old fort, and the beaches are pristine...sand, dunes, and you...and now a fair number of other people too, thanks to Dr Beach, but it's a long stretch and you can easily walk away from them to more secluded areas. People tend not to walk too far from the beach entrances, so they are easy to escape! Our favorite section of Ft Desoto is the far north end, last parking lot, enter the beach over a small foot bridge and walk north away from the people and you'll have beach pretty much to yourselves.

Both the Chihuly and Dali Museums have already been mentioned and are well worth doing. The architect for the new Dali was an assistant on the project of the pyramid structure at the Louvre. You can absolutely see that influence in this building! The structure itself is beautiful, including the small gardens outside, but Dali is fascinating, even for those who are not big Dali fans. The docent led tours are the way to go there.

St Petersburg, and St Pete Beach are two separate entities, and SPB is a beautiful beach. There is one bar toward the south end of the Pass a Grille section that sits right on the water, just picnic inside, called Paradise Grill. Order from the window and sit and enjoy the Gulf at your feet. There is a singer there always and atmosphere is pure laid back beach. Food isn't great's the atmosphere that's the draw. One person is appointed each evening to ring the huge bell as the sun sinks below the horizon. The ice cream shop diagonally across the street makes a nice stop after the sun is down...or any time.

If you are interested in kite surfing, there are rentals just south of the Don Cesar Hotel...worth seeing too...a beautiful 20's era hotel, pink and looking like some exotic wedding cake from a distance. There is a boat that will take you out to Shell Island from the back side of the Pass a Grille area, and another that leaves from the Gulfport Marina for dolphin cruises.

Hope this has been a help in planning this leg of your trip...have fun!
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Old Feb 21st, 2014, 06:31 AM
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My profile picture is the Don Cesar, by the way, the view from our condo across Boca Ciega Bay.
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Old Feb 21st, 2014, 06:44 AM
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Little expensive but a fun place to stay. on Siesta Key, Sarasota.
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Old Feb 21st, 2014, 09:23 AM
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OO - you and I clearly have good taste because we are staying in Gulfport for two nights at the Peninsula Inn. Coincidence eh? From your many suggestions we love the sound of Pegs, Billy's Crab Shack, Ft Desoto, Paradise Grill, kayaking and the museums. We will be sure to wave to you from across the bay - it's the least we can do considering your generosity. Many thanks - Richard

AAfrequentFlyer: looks a great place. Cheers!
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Old Feb 21st, 2014, 12:02 PM
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Richard…you will love porch sitting on their big front porch, and you are smack in the middle of everything Gulfport offers. We've kept a sailboat in the Municipal Marina for 15 years, and have gotten to know and love Gulfport, but it's not everyone's cup of tea! I hope you are a couple who can enjoy it for what it is….casual, funky, very different from most of the Gulf coast communities. No need to dress up…barely any need to dress. LOL, just kidding. Not that funky. And if you do O'Maddy's just don't shout too loudly at 3 AM, OK?

You are coming at a beautiful time of year, with plenty of sun, but not yet too hot. I hope you'll do a trip report when you get back!
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Old Feb 22nd, 2014, 06:32 AM
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Believe me OO I am Mr Funk and I'm ready for Gulfport. And of course I will write a trip report , but it won't be in the usual style. A year or so ago we travelled down the Atlantic coast and then west to Texas. Here's a little taster of a few days we spent at the top of Florida -
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Old Feb 22nd, 2014, 10:41 AM
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So glad to see your blog because the 1st of April we are starting a trip kind of the opposite route of yours-going form Florida to Boston then flying to Europe. So I will be interested to read about your journey.

I am guessing with the horrible rains in England this year you are anxious to get some sun!
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Old Feb 22nd, 2014, 03:21 PM
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Jpie: I will be certain to put a link here when our holiday kicks off. Have a great time in Europe. If you're visiting England then I can certainly provide you with some tips.
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Old Feb 22nd, 2014, 05:08 PM
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The Bilmar on St Pete Bch (or is it Treasure Island Bch?) - has a beachside bar and live music on Sundays. Not much beats a cold drink, some jazz and watching the folks seriously flying kites on the beach.
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Old Feb 22nd, 2014, 05:15 PM
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Yes-I look forward to seeing your holiday links. I will try to do the same with a quick trip report since we will be in that area before you. When we go back to Europe it is to go to France since my hubby and I are dual nationals-so we will be staying although haven't decided where in France to make home yet.

We have friends in Cheltenham, so we visited them a few years back. We loved the area but of course found it pretty pricey like all of the UK
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