To celebrate the end of pandemic hell, my wife and I took a drive to the Gulf Coast of Central Florida! We discovered a soothing beach, a wild museum, and ended up in a classy little city. So come along for the adventure that blows that COVID virus out like a Florida hurricane!
Being a surfing fan, I have always enjoyed the Atlantic Coast beaches like Cocoa and Melbourne. Even Sebastian Inlet was fun just for watching the surfers practice on the same waves on which Kelly Slater honed his world-class surfer style. For relaxing right in the water, though, its tough to beat the Gulf Coast beaches. The gentleness of the water, as well as its warmth, is like a natural version of a warm bath, although with sand!
Ft. De Soto Park is over 1,000 acres made up of five interconnected islands, south of St. Petersburg. In 2009, it was named America’s top beach by Trip Advisor. They weren’t wrong. I was guided by some Florida family members through much of it, past the snack bar and rest rooms, to the very end. There we found uncrowded soft sand, gently lapping water, and even a sand bar that formed its own little island. And yes, there is the ruins of the fort, complete with two cannons. Neat, if you can tear yourself away from the beach (I could not).
Another stop on our adventure brought us up to St. Pete itself. There we found a beautiful museum of western art called The James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art. The entrance recalls the sweeping sandstone of the Arizona desert, setting a grand stage for impressive life-size sculptures. It may seem out of place in Florida, but if you let yourself forget the city, you will be transported back to the Wild West of the cowboys and native Americans. I was very enamored with the colors of rust and red that jumped out of the paintings hung on the gallery walls. It’s galleries are large and well spaced, so again that open feeling of the West permeates your visit.
Finally, we traveled a bit further south on I-75 to Naples. We had heard from others about this city, and were anxious to see how the Gulf Coast handles luxurious real estate here. We weren’t disappointed, because we could actually drive right up to it! Yes, there are no gates in the exclusive Port Royal enclave, so you get up close to the beautiful estates all lined up among palm fringed inlets. You also get to see two types of trees that are rarely seen in Central Florida: the Banyon tree and the Flamingo tree (see below).
To learn more about why and who lives here, take the Pure Florida sightseeing boat tour. This one and one/half hour trip through the canals is packed with interesting details, including the names of the industry leaders who come vacation here (yes, only a few stay year-round in these multi-million dollar estates), and why Hollywood celebrities never bought here. You will also learn about the Mangrove plants that play an important part in the region’s ecology.
If people wish to live in style, they will want to shop in style too! Welcome to Fifth Avenue South, appropriately named since the street mimics the opulent stores on New York City’s Fifth Avenue. There are additional clusters of high-end boutiques spread through the city, and restaurants to match. We tried Truluck’s for dinner, and had the most delicious Carrot Cake ever!
After such adventuring (glam-venturing?), we rested ourselves at The Bellasera Resort just a few blocks from Fifth Avenue South. The service and amenities were a fine compliment to elegant Naples; we had a pool view room that would have been nice at twice the price we paid.
We didn’t spend all out time at the top-end of travel – near the boat dock was Tin City, so named because this area was where oysters were hauled in years ago. Today it is filled with cute gift shops and seafood restaurants, including a Pincher’s location. It will perfectly balance your fine shopping tastes with a tourist-sized pocketbook. Don’t miss it.