Search This Blog

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Key West Day Dream

I was recently eating lunch at the Elm Hill Marina (Nashville, TN) looking out over the water watching the boats bob up and down, I couldn't help looking back to a vacation gone by, thinking back on the docks of the A&B Lobster House in Key West Fla. absorbing the thought of being completely satisfied and untroubled, I didn't have a care in the world all of the while soaking up the astounding beauty of the Key West sunset. If you have ever heard the saying "island time" but never bought into the meaning, just wait until you're following the flock of people (locals & tourists alike) slowly making their way towards Mallory Square to witness the Key West sunset celebration a nightly festival that brings just about everyone together on the island to watch the glowing orange, pink & red sun sink into the Gulf of Mexico horizon. "See you at Sunset!" This iconic phrase has embodied the spirit of Key West since the event began in the late 1960s! Beginning two hours before sunset, the celebration and views are sure to captivate the masses with local musicians, artists and food vendors coming together for an incredible cultural experience

 Taking the drive down US-1, which is also known as the Overseas Highway south of Florida City to the Keys is a narrow, two lane highway and is the only main road connecting the Keys to the mainland. Although some would find the long straight drive from Miami to Key West to be miserable and would discourage such a thing, many have planned their complete vacations around this drive. Starting at mile marker 127, just south of the Florida mainland, patiently work your way down to mile marker 0 Key West.  I would recommend at least 3 days, taking time to explore the distinct towns and islands along the way. Several regional airlines, including American Eagle & US Airways Express offer daily nonstop flights from Miami to Key West International Airport. Their is something special & exciting about boarding an island hopper in Miami and dropping into the Keys with the beauty of the islands and mangroves below.

If you're coming to Key West for the beach maybe you better reconsider your travel plans. The island is a deep-water port , which is great for docking your yacht, if you have one? However Fort Zachary Taylor State Park is the site of a nice little beach with a few spots for snorkeling and fishing. The fort also includes nice nature trails, concessions, a cafĂ© serving the finest island cuisine and if you're a history buff don't forget to tour the fort.

I found it is much easier on the wallet to stay on the eastern side of the island in a resort hotel close to Key West International Airport on Roosevelt blvd.  (free shuttles run from the airport to resorts all day). However this can be harder on you if you have to pay for parking or a taxi every time you take the three mile ride into Old town, but there are many options to help avoid this dilemma. It is easy to take in Key West on a moped rental, learning the Key West streets you'll soon find yourself as I did, taking side streets and alleys to avoid traffic. This is also a good way to find the "laid back" Key West that still exists only in the backyards of popular guesthouses or a secret garden. Due to the narrow streets and congested traffic areas, this option can be risky, especially since there are no helmet laws in Key West. There are hundreds of serious accidents each year, so do your homework and be sure that a helmet is included in your rental agreement.  Their are plenty of other budget friendly rental options to consider including electric cars & bicycle rentals.

Key West's nightlife starts on Duval Street, known by some as the "Bourbon Street of Florida" you'll find bar after bar serving stiff drinks and live bands to patrons who bounce from one to another. Cover charges are unheard of, so start at Truman Ave. and head up Duval to check them out for yourself.

Key West is a two part island. part small-town America, part tropical island, Key West life is uninhibited but still feels quaint, with proud local residents who protect their culture from the visiting tourists. Ironically, the island's quirky personality is what attracts the tourists to the island. Living like a local in Key West requires a live and let live attitude that has graced the "Conch Republic" with a world renowned personality that is appealing for all types of travelers.  



Saturday, August 16, 2014

Travel Port St. Joe & Gulf County are home base of Florida's forgotten coast

With a home base like Port St. Joe & Gulf County you're sure to find something for all of the personalities in your travel party. Port St. Joe & Gulf County are the perfect starting point for limitless day trips to choose from, starting just 22 miles north of Port St. Joe on Highway 71 you will find the community of Wewahitchka and the awe-inspiring scenery of the world-famous Dead Lakes. The impressive setting is the perfect place to forget it all. We set up camp at the Dead Lakes County Park a RV park with primitive campsites offering restrooms, showers, laundry facilities, playground, picnic area, walking trails, and boardwalks over two lakes. Whether you are a sportsman, boater, or naturalist the stunning beauty of the Dead Lakes region is world famous for its Flathead Catfish, bass fishing and abundance of wildlife. The 6700 acre Dead Lakes in the middle of the Chipola river is fisherman's paradise, I was completely mesmerized by the floating homes and shacks along the river's edge and vowed that someday I would call this home.  We spent the day bass fishing and then later in the evening we turned our attention to the catfish. Local lore says that the catfish bite best when the hoot owls start hooting and for us this turned out to be true. We caught enough catfish that we were able to share our catch with our neighbors at the campsite as we hosted a two family catfish fry. We spent our evening sharing & enjoying some warm entertaining companionship cleaning, cooking, and eating our catfish around a campfire. Our fish fry guest (Jerry & Amy) turned out to be locals from the Tallahassee area that enjoy taking weekend trips in the area parks and were very helpful in future planning of our trip with suggestions about what to do and what not to waste our time with. Jerry insisted that we return to Florida in May for the Tupelo Honey Festival which includes Arts & crafts, food vendors, games and live music are just some of the activities Jerry talked about. Amy also insisted that we stop by to stock up on Tupelo honey to take home and to take a Honey House tour. The next morning we left camp and at the invitation of Jerry & Amy we drove 25 miles east of Port St. Joe to visit historic downtown Apalachicola Florida. Once the third largest port on the Gulf of Mexico, Apalachicola's colorful history is still visible today. Strolling the wide tree-lined streets where Victorian homes bring to mind the Old Florida charm that everyone has been telling you about. The Historic Downtown waterfront shopping district- a string of diverse shops & outstanding dining where over 90% of Florida's oysters are harvested from the ample waters nearby. With over 200 historic homes and buildings on the National Register, beautiful Apalachicola has a little something for everyone. On our last day in Gulf County we decided to stay in Port St. Joe and were fortunate to find that The Port St. Joe Salt Air Farmer's Market was happening in the City Commons, downtown Port St. Joe. The market is more than the typical farmer's market offering fresh, seasonal produce from local farms. Regional fruits, vegetables, Gulf Seafood, handmade art, and live music are the main feature in the market's offerings. The market operates on the 1st and 3rd Saturdays April through November. You really can't miss in Port St. Joe, a small town sitting right on the edge of one of Florida's most immaculate, untouched bays. Port St. Joe is home to some of the friendliest people you'll ever meet who seem to always have something to celebrate, so check your calendar for an upcoming festival or event.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Travel Not a care in the world in the white sands of Cape San Blas

Standing atop the white sandy dunes of Cape San Blas you begin to understand why the cares that you have been running from are so easy to forget. With its limitless views it is easy to under estimate the beauty of the seventeen-mile long barrier peninsula, Cape San Blas curves around St. Joseph Bay and is truly the best of both worlds, offering white sandy beach & a playful surf on the gulf side, with an enjoyable hike across the sandy dunes to sparkling water & fantastic fishing on the bay side. There is so much more to do than swim in the clear blue water and gentle surf that Cape San Blas is known for. I spent most of my days relaxing on the beach but quickly realized that I was missing something the first time I rode my bike down Loggerhead Run bike trail, that runs from the beach  and ends at some friendly beach stores, that offer everything from ice cream to fresh bay shrimp. It was at the ice cream shop where I met a friendly local named John who invited us to go snorkeling for scallops in St. Joseph Bay. I had never been snorkeling or scalloping for that matter and was a little nervous about the adventure but my mind was soon at ease in the shallow waters of the bay that is perfect for learning to snorkel. Very little is needed to snorkel so we brought along a mask, & snorkel for the trip and our host John provided mesh bag & ice chest for collecting & storing the scallops. Snorkeling is easier than I thought and Scalloping is even easier. Scallops can be found resting on the grass beds or in the sand below the grass beds in two or three feet of water in St Joe Bay. The best way to spot them is to look for their glowing blue spots along the edge of their shells. It was a good thing we had an ice chest with us because it didn't take long to catch our limit of scallops and we continued to snorkel, enjoying our little adventure in the life size aquarium called St. Joseph Bay. There is so much sea life in the bay that we actually spotted a school of bottle-nosed dolphin swimming in the area. I noticed several people on the shore wading into the protected waters of St. Joe Bay to gather some scallops and later laughed with my new friend John that I could have been scalloping from the shore the whole time. We returned to land after several hours of snorkeling to clean our catch of scallops and prepare them for a much anticipated dinner on a secluded beach near John & Sarah's home. While relaxing on the beach we enjoyed the sunset with a bonfire and shrimp boil. John's wife Sarah cooked the scallops using an old family recipe and once I tasted the little morsels I knew that I would return the following day for another bucket of bay scallops. John and his wife Sarah were the picture of southern hospitality and are now friends for life. This is only part of the reason I find Florida's Forgotten Coast so unforgettable.   (St. Joseph Bay is one of the few remaining areas in Florida with a significant bay scallop population & must be in season so Please check local laws before scalloping).