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Grassy Key - To Do Something Right, You Need to Do it Twice

“Whatever happened to Vicki_H?”

“I heard she went off the grid and is living in a yurt in Montana with 27 rescue dogs.”

“No, no, no….she’s down in St. John running a bar called the Blue Bucket.”

“Not St. John, it was the Bahamas, and it’s not a bar, she’s running a shelter for stray peacocks.”

“I heard she died from mixing Pop Rocks and Mountain Dew.”


Life happened to Vicki H, folks. So. Much. Life.

I was on a TV show. We had a hurricane. We lost a boat. We lost a house. I cut my hair off. I grew it back. We had a pandemic. I stopped highlighting my hair. I turned 50. I celebrated my 20th anniversary. My Dad broke his hip. We recovered from a hurricane. My Dad got better. I turned 51. We bought another house in Abaco. My dog got paralyzed. My dog recovered. My mother-in-law passed away. My mom celebrated her 5 year cancer-free anniversary. We bought a boat. I turned 52.

And now I’m turning 53.

Good gravy. Where did the time go?

Despite my absentee status, I am alive and well. Better than I deserve to be. I have not lost my love for travel, but just failed to write about it for a while. I have finally realized there is no way I can go back and catch up 4 years of trips. (and there were some really good ones, y’all!). But maybe I can just start today and go forward. If I get the time to do some looksbacks, I’ll do my best!

But today, in honor of the big 5-3 coming up, let’s talk about my birthday last year.


The Keys to a Happy Birthday

Two fifty-somethings in the middle cays.

I only had 3 days. So it had to be quick and easy. But good.

Like a microwave cake.

My microwave cake was a cheap flight down to FLL and a rental convertible driving through the Middle Keys.

Not quite a bakery cake, but definitely better than a Moon Pie.

FLL to Grassy Key

I used miles for free flights on Allegiant to Fort Lauderdale, which seemed like a great idea until we actually made the drive from the airport to Key Largo, seeing nothing more exciting that a ton of hot traffic. Strike one.

I also made the less than stellar decision to rent a convertible. Again, my vision and reality did not quite line up. They Keys really require a tall vehicle. We saw lots of guard rails that I am sure had beautiful water views on the other side. Strike two.

I also decided to use the Turo app for the first time. While Turo and the vehicle were absolutely fantastic, we were totally unprepared for the extra steps that one does not encounter when renting a car from a car rental agency at the airport. Like the owner forgetting to send us information to get to the car and waiting outside in the heat until she saw our frantic messages. And having to send her a photo of Matt holding his driver’s license with the car in the background…and waiting for her to approve it…then waiting for the code to get into the car. But wait! There’s more! And then having to photograph every single inch of the car and send her the photos to document the car’s condition prior to starting the engine.

Strike three.


By this time, we’d been in the hot parking garage at the FLL airport for over an hour sitting beside a car we couldn’t get into and sweating buckets. We were ready to get this show on the road!


Fast forward 2 long, boring, hot hours later (in addition to being too low to see anything, a convertible is a very HOT option when sitting in south FL traffic….), when we stopped at Gilbert’s Resort and Tiki Bar before crossing over to Key Largo to enjoy some boobies.

Not that kind of boobies.

THIS kind of boobies.


Frozen boobies were definitely in order to get the birthday weekend started.


Our next stop was Marker 88 in Islamorada for lunch with a view.


We continued on, making a final stop at Robbie’s of Islamorada, where I had heard I could find an epic bloody Mary. It was indeed epic!

Yes, yes...I know Robbie's also has some big fish you can feed, but who cares about big fish when there are bloody Marys with BACON to be consumed?


I also found a painting I couldn’t resist. Is it just me, or does that parrot look like it knows something?


We made the rest of the drive, stopping a few times so we could see more than the concrete barriers and guard rails.


We finally arrived at Grassy Key and checked into Grassy Flats Resort.

I had a heck of a time trying to decide where to stay and had narrowed it down to several places, ultimately choosing Grassy Flats because it had an “adults only” building and pool (don’t judge) and because it appeared small and laid back, both qualities that appeal to my hotel-despising nature.

The Wreckers House at Grassy Flats was absolute perfection. Our room was beautiful with an outstanding view. The resort itself was low key and had a relaxed, bohemian vibe that we really loved. The grounds were absolutely lovely.


Our favorite part, no surprise here, was the resort bar, Barrel and Bale. It was breezy and very boho chic, with soft chill music playing whenever we went it. They also made incredibly good craft cocktails.


We grabbed a couple of drinks and headed straight for the pool. The “adults only” pool….that is…


After some down time, we got cleaned up and headed out for “birthday night.”


We had booked a sunset boat trip out of Marathon. We weren’t really expecting much, but it turned out to be very pretty.


Next, it was on to FL Keys Steak & Lobster. It had stellar reviews, but when we pulled up, it reminded me of the old school seafood restaurants we used to go to in 1977 when my parents would take us to Gulf Shores.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover,” was spot on. The food was fantastic and we ate so much, I didn’t have room for birthday cake!


Grassy Key & Marathon


The next morning we enjoyed a beautiful sunrise.

Looking for something “different,” I had booked a jet ski cruise. We headed back to Marathon.


It was not a smooth day.

Anyone who has been on a jet ski in the ocean when it was not a smooth day knows exactly what I mean by that.

For the next 45 minutes, I alternated between desperately hanging onto Matt while my butt flew up off the seat every 10 seconds and worrying about being suddenly launched out to sea and eaten by a shark or getting a salt water enema. By the time we reached our destination, my tailbone voted for being eaten by a shark.

While it was a truly beautiful spot, I was mostly just happy to get off the stupid ocean bronco for a while. We explored for a while and, when I felt my butt could take it, we hopped back on for the return trip.


Now I remember why I stopped riding these things when I was 25.

When the jet ski ride was over, or as I like to call it, “Bullriding 101,” we headed to Castaway for lunch. I only hoped they had soft seats.


On pretty much every FL Keys “Can’t Miss It” list, Castaway was the perfect kind of eclectic, divey, locals place with incredibly fresh seafood, unique dishes, and great water views.

But if I'm completely honest, they had me at "padded chairs."


Known for their sushi, of course we had to try it. Amazing!

We also sampled the “tunachos” and the spicy tuna dog, a charred hot dog topped with spicy tuna, avocado, panko, green onions, masago, spicy mayo, and eel sauce. So yummy that I momentarily forgot about my sore tush.


On the way back to Grassy Key, we saw some more lovely water views (aka, guard rails and concrete barriers).


We had tropical cocktails on our mind, so we stopped at a cute tiki bar. When we walked into Sunset Grille, there were at least 12,897 people in there and at least ¾ of them were running, screaming children (don’t judge), so we made a u-turn and headed back to the car.

A little farther down the road, we came to Island Fish Company, another cute tiki bar that was crowd free and didn’t have a plethora of small screaming persons running about.

We sat at the breezy bar facing the water and had a couple of drinks before heading back to Grassy Flats.


I already told you that the bar at Grassy Flats had already won us over, so we headed down before dinner to have a drink and fell in love with their Mai Tai.


Then we made the .4 mile drive to Hideaway Café.

I will admit that I struggled with my decision to make a reservation at Hideaway Café. It’s no secret that I like to pour over the interwebs before I make decisions about where to go when I travel. By the time I actually go, it’s like I have already been there.

Hideaway Café has almost no online presence. While it was very highly recommended, information was limited. Add to that the fact that I actually had to call and speak to an actual person to make a reservation, and I nearly lost it.

Seriously, I'll struggle for 45 minutes with an online reservation system before I'll call an actual person and spend 30 seconds making a reservation. I'd sooner send a messenger pigeon with my request tied to its leg than speak to someone on the phone.

But something in my gut said to give it a try.

When we pulled into the Rainbow Bend Resort, my apprehension doubled.


It was pink, old school, and we were greeted with a giant sign straight out of 1957. What we didn’t realize yet was that this quaint resort was a hidden gem with lovely rooms, a stunning beachfront view, and an absolutely top notch dining experience.

We headed up the stairs to the Hideaway Café. When we walked inside, we were greeted by the glow of candlelight, white tablecloths, and roses on every table. Not to mention a view of the ocean from every seat.

With upscale French cuisine, fresh seafood, and a lovely wine list, I can’t recommend this restaurant enough. We ate so much….I still didn’t have room for cake.


Grassy Key to Key Largo


Grassy Key is known for kiteboarding…something Matt has always wanted to try, so we grabbed some bagels and he hit the beach for a kiteboarding lesson, while I hung out at the beach.

It was now 2 days post-birthday, and I still hadn’t had a birthday cake…a first! So, I did the only thing I could. I bought myself a key lime pie and ate it for breakfast.


As I sat and watched Matt’s 4 hour introductory kiteboarding lesson, I couldn’t help but ask myself….why would one want to strap oneself to a giant kite and attempt to ride a surfboard? As expected, a first lesson is more “kite-dragging” than “boarding.” The longer I watched, the happier I was sitting on the beach with a mai tai and pie.


Then, as soon as it began, our time at Grassy Flats was over. We had booked a room in Key Largo for our final night to make the drive time to the airport shorter the following day.

We headed back up toward Key Largo, stopping at Lorelei’s for appetizers, the Postcard Inn Tiki Bar for drinks, and the Fish House for more appetizers to break up the drive.


We were feeling good, with bellies full of drunken shrimp and key lime martinis when we arrived at Azul del Mar, a small waterfront guest house in Key Largo.

Want to know how to kill a perfect day drinking buzz in 7 words or less?

“I locked the keys in the trunk.”

Our little convertible was parked in the parking lot. While Matt went into the registration office, I thought I would be helpful and get our luggage out. In the process of doing so, I put the keys inside the trunk and proceeded to close the trunk.

We searched for a trunk release inside the car for 30 minutes with no luck. There was no car manual in the glove compartment. I Googled. Nothing.


What we found was a way to get into the trunk from inside the car, we thought, so Matt set about dismantling the car piece by piece in the 97 degree heat, sweating and cursing.

I honestly didn’t think he could get any angrier at me.

That was, until I found the trunk release that I said I couldn’t find, after Matt had been sweating and cursing for 45 minutes trying to dismantle the back seat of a Fiat.

You'll be happy to know that one thing hasn't changed during my travel blog hiatus....I am still an idiot.

This is not the face of a happy man.


Being married to me is hard, people.

We were finally able to go into our suite and relax. Azul del Mar was just lovely.


When Matt had fully recovered emotionally, we cleaned up for dinner.

Before dinner, we decided to stop in at the Caribbean Club. Open since 1938, it’s the oldest bar in the upper keys. It had character, stiff drinks, live music, and a great sunset. Interestingly, it’s the only place in Key Largo where the movie, Key Largo, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, was filmed. The rest took place in Hollywood.


We wrapped up our last night with big bowls of pasta at DiGiorgio’s Key Largo, because spaghetti is always a good idea.


As we made the dull 2 hour drive back to the airport the next morning, Matt and I agreed that we absolutely loved Grassy Flats and wanted to return. Matt wanted to try a proper 3-day kiteboarding lesson and I wanted to explore more of the upper keys.

Who knew we’d be back so fast!

Grassy Key 2.0: Suite Dreams Are Made of This

Matt and I returned to Grassy Flats just 7 months later.

Grassy Flats Resort was opened by retired professional kiteboarder Matt Sexton and his partners in 2019. Despite opening just before the pandemic shut everything down, Grassy Flats survived.

Thank goodness it did.

Grassy Flats is an eco-friendly watersports-oriented boutique resort reborn from three old Florida mom & pop resorts that had gone by the wayside. There are less than 40 guest rooms, keeping Grassy Flats small, personal, and nostalgic.

We were excited to return.

It was late evening when we flew into the Key West airport. There would be none of this “driving from Fort Lauderdale” nonsense this time. There would also be no shorty convertible this time.

Once inside our properly tall Jeep, we headed toward Grassy Flats.

It was late when we arrived and our key had been left for us by Poppy, so that we could let ourselves in. Although we had reserved a basic room, we had been upgraded to the beautiful Galleon Suite at the Wreckers House.


Wanting nothing more than sleep, we climbed into that big, beautiful King bed and were out!

We enjoyed a beautiful sunrise on the deck the next morning with coffee.


Today was supposed to be Day 1 of Matt’s 3-day intro to kiteboarding. We got up super early and grabbed a quick breakfast at Island Fish House.


We had booked specifically for the end of February because that’s when wind is almost guaranteed.

Unlike death and taxes, wind on Grassy Key is not certain.

The water was flat as a fritter. Wind? A mouse fart would generate more wind than we saw on Grassy Key that week.

So, with several days that were now free of kiteboarding lessons, we did the only thing we could do….see how many places we could eat and drink before it was time to go home!

We headed to lunch at Bongos at the nearby Lagoon, Grassy Flats’ sister property, a 50 acre day resort with watersports, a tropical café, and botanical garden.


Bongo’s was a tropical explosion of orchids, garden paths, and art murals next to a shallow lagoon. Breezy tables sat under umbrellas as mango mimosas and Bloody marys flowed to the music of a live band.

There were worse ways to spend the morning.


After wasting the morning at Bongo’s, we wasted the afternoon at the Grassy Flats pool with mai tais from Barrel and Bale.

There were worse ways to spend the afternoon.


We ventured to the far end of Marathon for dinner at the Isla Bella resort’s Polynesian-inspired restaurant, Mahina.

Isla Bella was a beautiful property and Mahina was visually stunning.

Tables sat scattered under the swaying palms as soft music played and the sunset glowed low in the sky.

There are worse ways to end the day.


With no lessons to get up early for, we spent a lazy morning enjoying the beach at Grassy Flats.

The water was shallow here. Wide flats of shallow water hug the ocean side of Grassy Key where the resort is located. Soft reggae played from the speakers at the poolside tiki bar. Hammocks swayed in the breeze. The resort’s kayaks, paddleboards, and Hobie Cats sat in the soft sand waiting for someone to jump on board for an adventure.

We realized this was a truly magical place.


Grassy Key doesn’t have the celebrated status of Key West or the dive-capitol fame of Key Largo. Nor does it have the gated exclusivity of some of the smaller keys. What Grassy Key has is the salty essence of true Florida and we loved it.

We enjoyed brunch at Sparky’s Landing, where the BOGO mimosas and seafood ciopinno were calling, but spent most of the day simply enjoying Grassy Flats.


Sunset called for cocktails at Barrel and Bale.


We also decided to return to Hideaway Café for another lovely dinner.


The following day was supposed to be the 3rd day of Matt’s kiteboarding lesson, with us returning to Key West in the afternoon, but with no lessons, we decided to head to Key West as soon as we checked out.

After enjoying one more lovely sunrise, that is.


What to do with a bonus day in Key West? Eat brunch at Blue Heaven, of course!


Followed by painkillers at the Rum Bar….


And margaritas at Sunset Pier……


And don’t forget oysters at Pepe’s……


There was nothing left to do but crash in our blessedly cool suite at Winslow’s Bungalows, so early that I am embarrassed to tell you what time.


Because we never really had dinner the night before, we woke up ravenous.

We grabbed breakfast at the nearby Key West Cuban Coffee. I’m glad we were hungry, because the chorizo and eggs were MASSIVE (and delicious!).


We spent the day shopping, eating, and drinking our way through Key West, because that’s our favorite thing to do!

With only 1 day, we hit all of our favorites. There were mimosas and bloody Mary’s at Hanks, tacos from Garbo’s, more rum from the Rum Bar, more oysters from Pepe’s, sunset from Mallory Square, zombies from the Tiki House, and nachos and margaritas from Amigo’s.


Stick a fork in me, because I was done! We had painted the town AND the front porch and we’d eaten anything that didn’t eat us first. I felt as fat and happy as a boardinghouse cat.

It was time to go home.

The best part? Well, we’d have to come back now, wouldn’t we? I mean, we still had those kiteboarding lessons to do…..

Posted by vicki_h 20:18 Archived in USA Tagged beach island tropical florida key_west marathon islamorada fl florida_keys key_largo middle_keys grassy_key grassy_flats Comments (6)

Mon bon AMI: An 18th Anniversary on Anna Maria Island


Nestled along the emerald coast of the Gulf of Mexico, Anna Maria Island is a mere whisp of land that’s barely a shell toss from Tampa. There are no sprawling resorts, no historic waterfront, and nothing anyone could call a “high rise.” It’s more bike paths, palm trees and brightly colored beach cottages. It’s like visiting the Florida from my childhood except that the thing I hated the most as a kid is the thing I love the most now: there’s not much to do.

Anna Maria is a narrow barrier island just off Sarasota that’s only seven miles long and less than 2 miles wide. Made up of three quaint beach communities: Anna Maria to the north, Holmes Beach in the middle and Bradenton Beach to the south, it’s loaded with old Florida charm.

It seemed like the perfect place for a quick anniversary getaway.

Before heading to AMI, we made an overnight pit stop in New Smyrna Beach on the east coast of FL to drop our friends off. The beach at New Smyrna was expansive, with rich dark sand littered with shells and not a soul in sight.









Their home enjoys frontage on both the beach side and the river side, so we had the opportunity to do a short kayak trip up the Indian River.








The best part of the day was when a small group of dolphins joined us for about 30 minutes. I have enjoyed dolphins from the boat in the Bahamas, but this was entirely different. Being at water level with them, and so close, with no competing sounds was phenomenal. You could hear their breath each time they came to the surface. Pure magic.


We spent a night in New Smyrna and then made our way to the west coast of FL, landing in at the Sarasota-Bradenton airport just before lunch on a gloriously sunny Friday in April. The FBO staff pulled the rental car up to the plane just as we were parking, so it was a quick 5 minutes before we were on our way!

We were STARVING so we stopped en route to AMI at Cortez Village, just before crossing the bridge across the intracoastal waterway. There we found Tide Tables, an unassuming little restaurant at the marina rumored by good friend and fellow blogger TraceyG to have amazing fish tacos.










We started off with some chilled shrimp while we waited.


The wait was short, very short, and within minutes we each had a basket of gorgeous fish tacos, tangy slaw, and carrot salad.




With our bellies filled, the sunshine on our faces, and a slight buzz from the cheap wine, we were feeling mighty fine.

It was still slightly before check-in time, so we made another stop on the way: the Anna Maria Oyster Bar at the Bradenton Beach Pier. Matt needed an oyster fix and we had an hour to kill.





The oysters were plump and salty, but the real show stopper was the salted caramel vodka cake.



Our trip had been planned at the last minute, so we didn’t have a lot of accommodations to choose from. Not planning to go anywhere for our anniversary, we had agreed to take our friends to FL and, since they were paying for the fuel, thought….why not make a weekend of it?

Despite the fact that pickings were slim when I was trying to find beachfront digs, I was delighted to find the ever-so-simple but incredibly adorable Love Shack.

I mean really, where better to spend an anniversary than the Love Shack?


There were certainly nicer places to stay, but we wanted to be nestled right on the beach, where we could simply walk out the back door and have our toes in the sand. What the Love Shack lacked in “fancy” it made up for in location.


I knew that Anna Maria was “old school” Florida, so it seemed fitting that they cottage reminded me of the places I used to stay with my parents when I was 9, with gently sloping cracked linoleum floors, brightly colored wood paneling, and old style tri-fold beach chairs.







It was perfect.

Within minutes, we had dumped our bags and were sitting on bright turquoise Adirondack chairs sipping chilled rum punches and listening to the waves.



After sufficient chill time on the beach, we cleaned up for dinner and went out our back door to enjoy the sunset with a glass of wine.





AMI is the kind of beach town where everyone gathers for the sunset, treating it with reverence and awe, as though it isn’t something that happens every single day.

I loved it.










It was just a couple of miles down the beach to Beach House, where we sipped cocktails at the edge of the water while we waited for a table.




I had an amazing margarita but Matt….misordered. He ordered what was called a “dirty monkey” and expected something like this...all deliciously ice-creamy and milkshakey:


What he got was more "black rotten banana that should have been thrown out yesterday:"


He forced it upon me to confirm that it was indeed terrible and, with one sip, I knew how it got its name. It tasted like a monkey ate a banana and crapped it out.

Dinner, however, was decadent. We were so hungry by the time we sat down that we overordered and ended up with a feast of the house smoked fish dip, farmhouse salad, and the gulf scampi for me and the seafood capellini for Matt.





Saturday morning I woke early and saw that Matt was sleeping like the dead. I let him be and wandered outside.

I love the beach in the morning, before it’s littered with bodies and screaming children. It’s quiet and peaceful, the world softly waking up around the ocean. The sand is scattered with tiny shells, the waves lap gently at the shore, and the day is full of promise.









It was 10:00 before a groggy Matt wandered out onto the beach. Sleeping that late is very unusual for either of us so I knew he needed it and was thankful we had this glorious weekend to get our batteries recharged.

We set our cheap tri-fold beach chairs up in the sand, grabbed a morning mimosa, and watched the world go by.
















After a couple of hours of sunning and swimming, we were hungry, so we threw on some clothes and headed down the beach to Skinny’s Place, a hole-in-the-wall that serves up wide, juicy patties on toasted buns with plenty of toppings and an impressive variety of beer. They are also known for their colossal onion rings, fried to crispy perfection.

Skinny’s was funky, Old Florida at its best.





The menu said to say “Mayo” or “No Mayo,” which made me wonder why, down here in the south, there would even be a choice. Nothing beats a burger slathered with a hearty helping of mayonnaise, preferably Duke’s or JFG.



The burgers were everything they promised to be and left us ready to do some shopping and strolling around Anna Maria’s cute beachside town.











Every place we stopped was bright, unique, and eclectic, but my favorite had to be Shiny Fish. I’m not sure what won me over the most….the swing outside, the incredible décor and selection of awesomeness inside, or the PAINT YOUR OWN SAND DOLLAR TABLE!








I really wanted to paint a sand dollar, but Matt was getting over estrogenized and needed a shopping break.


We ducked into The Donut Experiment, where you can order a soft, still warm cake donut topped with your choice of icing and your choice of topping.


I went for the vanilla icing and candy sprinkles while Matt opted for caramel icing and sea salt.

That donut was like a gift from god.





We walked over to the beach and thought about getting a drink at Sand Bar until we saw how long the wait was. I could swim to Puerto Rico and get my own bottle of rum before we would have a drink in that place, so we strolled around town a little more before heading back down the beach to our end of the island. Anna Maria was a perfect blend of quirky, cute, and funky, with just enough "WTF?" to keep it from being boring.







We stopped in at a cute little beachside bar, the Kokonut Hut. It sat right on the sugar white sand and served up wicked little buckets of rum punch.






After a bucket of rum punch, a frozen rum punch with a 151 floater, and a Pussers painkiller…there was nothing left to do but take a nap.

We woke up in time for sunset and enjoyed another beautiful evening on the beach behind the Love Shack.














We had dinner reservations at Blue Marlin on Bridge Street, so we headed to the Drift-In Lounge’s outdoor tiki bar for a pre-dinner drink. The Drift-In was an incredibly cool little dive bar. Everyone seated around the bar appeared to be a local or a regular and they were cranking out my favorite 80s tunes over the ancient speakers. The tough, tattooed bartender made us a fantastic pina colada, which, side-by-side, looked a lot like boobs.


Or maybe I had simply had one drink too many.


We found the Blue Marlin practically across the street in an adorable little blue cottage with warm lights. This cozy little bistro cranks out some of the freshest seafood on the island.




As we perused the menu, the waiter brought us….not bread…..edamame. Odd…but delicious.


We had a delicious burrata salad, swimming in rich olive oil and basil and we both ended up ordering the shrimp and grits which, much to my delight, came served with an adorable little hushpuppy. Dessert was a decadent pecan pie with vanilla bean ice cream.




After dinner, you can sip wine and listen to live music in their outdoor patio area, the Trap Yard….only 351 miles from Abaco!


It was Sunday morning and the official “ANNIVERSARY.”




We started the day with celebratory morning cocktails at the Coquina Beach Café. You can’t be a $3 mimosa with a view like this.














Next to the café was the weekly Coquina Beach Market, filled with everything from original art and jewelry to fresh baked goods to home-made dog biscuits.








We had worked up an appetite and stopped at Wicked Cantina on our way back to the Love Shack.


It was $5 margarita day. For $5, I expect a pretty sub-par margarita. These were anything but sub-par…they were strong and freshly squeezed.




Even though I don’t like avocadoes (literally one 3 foods on the whole planet I don’t like…), I was intrigued by the fried guacamole. Cover anything in dough and fry it and I’ll eat it.



Matt ordered carnitas tacos with rice and charro beans.



Matt’s tacos looked amazing, but I am a nacho fan. I LOVE NACHOS. You could say I have a ….


These nachos were absolute perfection. The only ones I can remember having that I liked more were at a little divey beach bar on St. Croix on my honeymoon, but that memory might be clouded by the fact that 1) I was on my honeymoon where everything seemed sparkly and magical and 2) I had been drinking rum all day.


After lunch, we headed back for some beach lounging, sun, and cold slices of watermelon.






As the sun began to dip lower in the sky, we headed out for the official anniversary dinner.

First stop was at the Doctor’s Office, an adorable craft cocktail bar in….what else…an old doctor’s office.










Dinner was beachside at the Beach Bistro. I chose it because it has a reputation for being the best restaurant on the island. I left knowing it is.

The location, right on the beach, was a show stopper in itself. However, as we stepped inside, the interior took my breath away. It was tiny and intimate, delicate and elegant, with white tablecloths and a single, red rose on each table.


They wished us a Happy Anniversary and brought us each their standard complimentary cocktail – a refreshing blend of blueberry infused vodka with a splash of St. Germain and lime juice.


Next came a complimentary “shot” of their “one helluva soup,” the bistro blue tomato made with Parrish plum tomatoes in sweet cream with Maytag blue cheese. This was paired with a chunk of homemade sea salt focaccia with olive tapenade, basil pesto, and smoked salmon.


Salads came next. Matt ordered the caprese, a giant ball of fresh milk mozzarella surrounded by a rainbow of cherry tomatoes, drizzled with basil olive oil and balsamic. I couldn’t resist the black and blue Caesar, which was loaded with bacon and blue cheese.



Dinner for Matt was the dinner special of seared jumbo scallops, while I ordered the famous bistro bouillabaisse – a savory broth filled with poached lobster tail, jumbo shrimp, fresh grouper, shellfish, and calamari and served with crusty herbed garlic toast and aioli. Apparently, my dish required a bib.





When we were certain we couldn’t eat another bite, they brought out another complimentary dish – a scoop of ice cream rolled in some powdery deliciousness, served on top of a shot of Frangelico and topped with whipped cream and almonds.


It had been a perfect meal in a perfect setting….but the hits kept coming. As we left, they handed us a box with one of their signature truffles, a bag of toffee popcorn, and a rose.


Happy Anniversary to us!

(all that food did not stop me from ordering a slice of key lime pie to go…I’m still ME after all…)

It had been a sleepy, food-filled, fun-filled, sun-filled, relaxing weekend. The only thing that could make it any better was a piece of key lime pie for breakfast in the plane on the way home.


Matt – I love being your co-pilot and can’t wait to see what adventures the next 18 years takes us on!


What’s up next folks? Holy Life Preservers….we’re headed to the Bahamas to spend 12 days on a power catamaran going from Nassau to Georgetown Exuma!!!! Be sure to check back in June to see what happened!

Posted by vicki_h 10:11 Archived in USA Tagged beach florida sarasota bradenton anna_maria holmes_beach Comments (0)

Seagrove Beach, FL

Beauty in simplicity.

It’s no secret that I love the sleepy stretch of beach between Destin and Panama City. If you like resorts, high rises, lots of giant swimming pools and water sports, and big noisy chain restaurants, then the sweet coastal towns that litter Highway 30-A most likely aren’t for you.

They are, however, most definitely FOR me.


With names like Seaside, Watercolor, and Grayton Beach, you can just feel the charm that they exude. They are a step back in time to a simpler place. They are places where kids spend the day body surfing in the waves and building sandcastles, not lounging on a fake lazy river in a 300 acre pool with fake palm trees and playing putt-putt golf underneath the feet of fiberglass dinosaurs. They are places where you ride your bicycle down to a simple market and order a basket of fried shrimp and hush puppies and eat it on a picnic table with a plastic fork and a giant glass of sweet tea instead of eating a burger out of a treasure chest inside a giant pirate ship restaurant with waiters wearing eye patches and shouting “Shiver me timbers!” every 5 seconds. They are places where the salty sea breeze isn’t blocked by a 64 story condo and where there is seaweed on the beach because no one from the resort is clearing it away.

These are places that are quaint and authentic. They are quiet and slow. They are the peaceful, simple beach towns of your childhood.

Seagrove Beach is tucked in beside Seaside, FL, so close that you really can’t tell where one ends and the other begins. Blink and you’ll miss it.


We spent Memorial Day weekend in a cozy beach house hidden in the live oaks. It had a rustic screened porch and was filled with mismatched tables and chairs and lots of soft white quilts. The upstairs bedroom even had a clawfoot tub tucked into the corner.




We arrived early enough on a Friday to grab some lunch at the Seagrove Market. When you walk inside, you might think you are just in a convenience mart, but if you keep walking, you’ll see that there is a little café tucked in the back. Nothing fancy, just a cash register and some old tables, but they serve up some of the finest seafood on the gulf and the prices are right.




It was too early to check in so we did a little beach shopping and grabbed some cold drinks with a view when it simply got too hot to move.







Matt loves him some raw oysters, and he knows he can find them at the Great Southern Café in Seaside every day from 4:00 – 6:00 p.m. for $5 a dozen. They also have a half price bar during that time, so I was content to sip my refreshment while Matt sucked his down raw.




Unfortunately, this bargain price caused him to consume 8 dozen on that first day, which I am pretty sure is not a good idea. Ever.

About an hour later, he agreed with me.

I held out for the Red Bar, where we headed for dinner even though Matt was 110% certain that he couldn’t eat another thing, maybe for the rest of the weekend. I almost felt sorry for him as I ate my delicious plate of pasta topped with fresh gulf shrimp and crawfish. Almost.





The heat of the day and too much food had made us lethargic, so we turned in ridiculously early and called it a day.

Seagrove Beach is about ½ mile from Seaside. Apparently, it is just far enough to give you a beautifully uncrowded beach with the same gorgeous water and soft white sand that 900 people are fighting over just a short walk down the shore.


Seagrove Beach was sparsely populated and we were able to enjoy the crystal clear waters in peace.



We were shocked when we walked down the beach toward Seaside later in the day and saw that beach chairs were 3 rows deep and so close together that it was hard to find a break you could slip through to run up to grab a cold drink and cool off in front of the fan at Pickle’s.





It was a perfect beach day, with clear blue skies and incredibly calm water. I felt like I did when I was a kid, when you’d beg to stay at the beach so long that by the time you left, you were limp from the sun, your fingers were pruned from the salty waves, your shoulders and nose were crispy, and you had sand in every imaginable place on your body, even some you couldn’t imagine. We stayed all day doing nothing but taking turns letting the sun warm our bodies and then letting the waves cool them again.




By the time we packed it up and headed in, we were starving. We had made reservations at Caliza, one of the coolest beach restaurants I have ever been to.

We had discovered it on our last trip down and had to go back to see if it was as amazing as we remembered. It was.


Set in the beautiful community of Alys Beach, Caliza is a poolside restaurant where the delicious food and cocktails are matched only by the spectacular setting.





We arrived early to have cocktails on the roof. A good thing to know is that cocktails are half price from 5:30 – 6:30 and when cocktails are $12 a pop, half price is a good thing! The cocktails were unique and fabulous. I even loved my straw.



When we were seated, we started dinner with an order of the fried green tomatoes and the heirloom tomatoes with grilled shrimp.




I nearly fainted when the waiter told me the special was a surf and turf with a crabcake over creamy corn, a filet over sautéed asparagus, and a lobster tail over cheese grits. Just go ahead and put me down for 2.


For dessert, there was a wonderful strawberry shortcake in a glass jar. I adore things that are served in cute containers. They could have served me dog poo in that cute little jar and I would have loved it.



Fat and happy, we waddled our way back to Seagrove Beach.

The next morning, we rode our bikes over to the Sun Dog Bookstore and Central Square Records, two of the cutest stores to ever exist. It was there that I found the shiny, cherry red ukulele.





My summer resolution: Learn to play the ukulele.


Day two was a repeat of day one: more beautiful sun, more incredible blue skies, and more perfectly clear water. It was a beach day at its best.






For lunch I was craving a hot dog and ice cream so we walked up the beach to Seaside and headed to the Airstreams. The closest thing to a food court in Seaside is a line of old Airstream trailers that have been converted into casual beachside eateries.



We chose Wild Bill’s Beach Dogs for a giant hot dog loaded with relish, kraut, mustard and their super secret Devil Sauce. It was beach day perfection.


Followed by an ice cream cone, I nearly passed out from happiness.

To cool off that afternoon, we headed back to the Red Bar for cocktails and live music.


The Red Bar is a funky place. An eclectic collection of old signs, music and movie memorabilia, chandeliers and string lights, and bar stools covered in duct tape, it looks more like a flea market than a restaurant and bar.




With a live band, $5 bloody marys and $3.50 mimosas, we stayed so long we had duct tape marks on our behinds.

Matt had worked himself back up in to another oyster frenzy, forgetting the oyster disaster of only 48 hours earlier, so we headed back to Great Southern Café for more. This time he kept it to a modest 4 dozen and didn’t leave wishing he was dead.


I had the sautéed blue crab claws and I didn’t leave wishing I was dead either. Those were yummy.


We decided to try a new place, mainly because it had a rooftop with a view of the water and was named after an airplane, which Matt was certain was a sign of its awesomeness. The rooftop at 83 Whiskey Bravo was indeed pretty fine.

As was the food.



We topped off the night’s eat fest with a giant slab of caramel cake from the Modica Market.



We had to head out early the next morning, so we stopped at the Donut Hole for a bag to go.



I could see below the Seneca’s wings that it was going to be another beautiful day on the beach, but we’d had our fun.

It was someone else’s turn.

Until next time…


Posted by vicki_h 09:09 Archived in USA Tagged beach florida seaside gulf_coast 30_a south_walton seagrove Comments (5)

Seaside splendor

A weekend on the Emerald Coast.

Do you remember summer road trips from your childhood? Trips that meant long languid days in the summer sunshine unencumbered by things like iPods or Wii or 678 satellite TV channels.


I remember when vacation didn’t involve TSA or carry-on luggage but meant a hard sided suitcase tossed in the back of the family Buick and a brown paper bag of peanut butter sandwiches on the vinyl seat between my parents as we drove down to Florida with the windows rolled down. I remember when there was no fancy SUV with a 3rd row seat, dual DVD players, and noise cancelling headsets, but instead I slid around, hot and sweaty in the back seat playing I Spy with my brothers and would fight with them over who had to sit on the hump in the middle. Back then, the idea of an all inclusive resort with lagoon swimming pools and waterslides was incomprehensible because we woke up in the morning to open up a mini-box of corn flakes, pour in some powdered milk, and eat breakfast with a plastic spoon in our hotel room just before running outside to splash and scream in delight in the 14 x 22 concrete pool. Those were the days when vacation dinner didn’t include words like sushi, hibachi, sliders, or tapas but was eaten in an old wooden building with a tin roof at the end of a pier and included words like fried, basket, and hushpuppies.


Summer vacations back then were pure and precious. They were uncomplicated and unpretentious. Like a fresh slice of key lime pie, they were sweet and simple.


That’s what visiting Seaside, FL is like.

Sure, there is some cash flowing, but it still manages to maintain a quaint goodness, an elegant simplicity, and a casual comfort.

We spent a long weekend in Seaside proper and loved every minute of it. It was like returning to the summer vacations of our childhood.


There were no high rises; no 30 story condos; no multiplexes; no 20 screen theaters; no bungee jumping; no helicopter rides; no 17 acre swimming pools; and no amusement park style restaurants with giant plastic mushrooms, fake waterfalls, or singing elephants.


Instead, it was a weekend filled with pastel cottages, sticky ice cream cones, hands greasy from fried shrimp baskets, long walks on the sugary white sand, and the simplicity of sitting on the balcony and watching the world slowly twirl in the summer haze before us.


Seaside is a planned community beside the gulf filled with adorable cottages in pastel colors or brilliant sunwashed white looking like something from a picture book. At its center is a town which consists of a quaint little post office, a green park with a small amphitheater, and a few strips of adorable shops and cafes. The colors are soft. The sounds are happy. The smells are of beach burgers and french fries.


In Seaside, “dressing up for dinner” means you take your swimsuit off before you put on your cotton sundress and flip flops. In Seaside, you get everywhere by walking or riding an old 3 speed with a basket on front. In Seaside, shopping means strolling through the sidewalk art at Ruskin Place or picking up a basket of shells from Perscipacity’s colorful outdoor market. In Seaside, lunch is found by walking up to the counter at an old, silver Airstream trailer and ordering a beach dog with mustard and onions.


The sun shines bright in Seaside, reflecting off the white buildings that are scattered about in the sand, warming their faces, fading their crisp blue shutters to a sun worn shade that reminds you of hazy August days. The air is warm and smells of magnolia blossoms and salt. The sand is as soft as sifted flour....warm at the surface, but cool as you dig your bares toes deep. The ocean swells with pride, in ever changing shades of emerald and blue.


Time seems to stand still and things feel slower here.


Mornings are spent grabbing a hot coffee and fresh doughnut at Modica Market and walking through the park. Afternoons are long and lazy, spent with your toes in the white sand of the gulf coast watching the surf pound as kids fly kites and impromptu volleyball games spring up in front of the chair rental stand. Five o’clock means it’s time to head to the Southern Café and get the $5 oysters on the halfshell, clean and crisp on a bed of ice washed down with a cold mojito. Evenings bring seafood baskets, glorious sunsets, and children laughing on the park lawn.


It was a slow and sleepy weekend, spent in blissful summer splendor, a gentle reminder that vacation doesn’t always mean jetting off to some exotic locale. Sometimes, the best pleasures to be found are the simple ones.


Posted by vicki_h 06:52 Archived in USA Tagged beach florida seaside gulf_coast 30_a south_walton Comments (1)

Sanford, FL Top 10!

A weekend fishing trip with the folks leads to some big fun.

We recently ran my folks down to Sanford, FL for a few days so that the boys could fish. Sanford is close to one of the best bass fishing rivers in the US, the St. Johns River, and mom and I decided to tag along and see what kind of trouble we could get into. It wasn't a high profile location but we managed to find some fun all the same. Here's my "Top 10" list from this quick 2 day trip:

#1: I got to hug the Big Tree.

The Big Tree, also known as The Senator, is the largest known cypress in the U.S. Estimated at 3500 years old, almost 18 feet in diameter, and 188 feet tall, it's certainly the oldest and fattest senator I have hugged to date.


#2: I saw several glorious sunrises over the St. Johns River.

I dropped the boys off at the fishing boat launch each morning just as the sun was coming up. Each morning, I took a few extra minutes to sit and watch the sky change from cool blue, to purple, to glorious orange.


#3: I kissed a fish at Victorio's Oyster Bar.

Katy Perry may have kissed a girl, but I kissed a fish....and I liked it. This big ugly guy was in a large fish tank that ran the length of the restaurant. He kept swimming by my head until finally, the waitress said, "He wants you to kiss him." So, I puckered up. He puckered right back.


#4: I had a plastic glass of wine at Gator's Riverside.

When you travel a lot and you get the opportunity to go to a lot of cool restaurants, sometimes it's nice to just let it all hang out at a local dive and be reminded that great food can come on a paper plate.


#5: I got to Sei Love in New Smyrna Beach.

NSB was a quaint, laid back little beach town that reminded me of the places we used to travel when I was a kid. On a great shopping street that leads to the beach, Flagler Ave., lined with cute cafes and great shops, I found Sei Love, an adorable clothing boutique where I found more than a few great things to take home.


#6: I got to take Mom shopping and convinced her to buy cool, hip clothes.

I'm not sure what the best part of the day spent shopping at Orlando Premium outlets was...the 70% off sale I found at Seven For All Mankind or talking my mom into trying on some super cool clothes that she ended up loving...and buying...and wearing.


#7: My Dad got to catch a "prize winning huge" bass.

While Mom and I tore it up shopping, the guys fished. Dad ended up catching a HUGE bass that made the fishing guide's "Prize Bass" page, a memory Dad will never forget.


#8: I got to take my mom to Disney for her first time.

Can you believe it? My mom had never been to Disney. My grandparents took us when we were kids. I didn't realize this was on my Mom's bucket list and we crossed it off in style!


#9: I got to see the ocean.

It might have been a gray day, but the ocean is the ocean and it always fills me with a sense of joy. Sanford is only about 35 minutes from several great beaches.


#10: I got to spend a glorious few days with my family.

Nothing's better than that, now is it?


Posted by vicki_h 09:29 Archived in USA Tagged florida sanford Comments (0)

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