Category Archives: Florida Tourism

Rentals on Dog Island

Dog Island Pelican Inn vs Private Home: Expectations, Cost, & When to Go

There is no store or restaurant on Dog Island. There is a landing strip for private planes and a dock for private boat and ferry. There are a few homes to rent. Expect to pay around $1200 to $1500 per week for a home that sleeps 6. Most of the available homes are beachfront, some have closer neighbors than others.

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You may also stay at The Pelican Inn, a bit less expensive (around $1000 per week), but be warned! The Pelican Inn is not for the faint-hearted. I grew up in a summer beach cottage community, so stubborn window and sliding glass door frames, corroded by salt air, ancient plumbing and fixtures stained by decades of hard water, and refrigerators that struggle to cool don’t bother me, but if you’re expecting more than a camping experience, this place is not for you.

Maintenance is not high on the priority list. At one point, my husband rummaged around the laundry room, found a hammer, and walked around pounding nails back down on the deck. An internet search reveals a scathing complaint by a guest who called it a death trap. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but the place needs work, which is not surprising, since wood structures built at ocean’s edge tend to be vulnerable to the elements. The owner, by the way, refutes many of the comments made by the guest.

My experience with her was honest for the most part. She’d told me to expect rough camping, supplies needed to be brought in, and water was not potable. She was not quite as accurate in her description of condition.

The place borders on dilapidation in places. She really, really, really needs to hire someone who can start making the necessary repairs. We could be tempted, my master carpenter husband and I, to do so, but the problem then becomes one of money, which I suspect is not in ample supply, and permitting, which we could not do for her, since we live nowhere close to her county. We would happily barter work for a stay free vacation, but materials are expensive enough these days, and that’s prior to factoring in the costs of ferrying the items over to the jobsite.

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I found the complaints about wiring unfounded, at least in our unit, but I would avoid the upstairs units. The place is a fancy beach shack. You either love it or you hate it. You get a kitchen, a bath, and a room with a bed, couch, chairs, and small table, all of it in “early Goodwill” styling.

The draw is the island itself. Seven miles of “almost” solitude, miles of beach to yourself, and abundant shelling. The few neighbors are friendly but not intrusive. The residents do resent the annual Memorial Day White Trash Bash, claiming about the wild parties that get out of hand and environmental destruction that should not be allowed, so you may want to avoid booking, either at The Pelican Inn or with a private homeowner, during that particular holiday.

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While I’d love to be able to purchase the Pelican Inn and bring her back to the glorious monument of beachfront accommodations of yesteryear, I think I’ll splurge and rent a private home the next time.

Before we leave Dog Island, let’s take one more backward glance to remember what warmed our soul and soothed our nerves, a place without telephone, TV, or internet and a time of solitude and relaxation:

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Much too soon, we are on the docks, waiting for our ride to the mainland:

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Yes, we’ll return, ready for our next adventure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mexico Beach, a Quieter Alternative to Pensacola

From Destination Weddings to Family Vacations, Mexico Beach is a Quieter Alternative to Pensacola, But That Doesn’t Mean it’s Boring There

Pensacola is a popular and fun place to visit, don’t get me wrong. But this blog is about the lesser known spaces in our state, the kind of place where a visitor can catch his or her breath and slow down a little. That doesn’t have to equate to “boring”, however.

Mexico Beach is family-oriented but is also a popular locale for destination weddings. Less prone to rip tides, the beach also boasts a good-sized turtle-nesting habitat. Located on Northwest Florida’s gulf shore between Port St. Joe and Panama City, it, too, boasts the white sugar sands of Florida’s fame. The City of Mexico Beach maintains four beach parks, each accessed by wooden walkovers that spare vegetation from being trampled.

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Pets are not allowed on Mexico Beach within the three miles city limit, so if you want to bring Fido to the seashore, nearby St. Joe Beach would be a better choice. Yoga classes are held on the beach during season and fishing tournaments, music festivals, and triathlon events are held throughout the year.

We passed a sign that said “trailers for sale or rent” as we wound our way along the coastline, and found a room at the El Governor Hotel. That evening, we enjoyed another oyster dinner and then a walk on the beach:

Our room was quite comfortable and very reasonably priced. Other lodging choices included an inn, numerous rental agencies and privately owned properties, and a couple of campgrounds and RV parks; one offers cabins, as well.

The dolphin fed on an abundant supply of fish:

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The birds are almost as hard to photograph as the dolphin (you’d think they’d learn to stay still!):

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Where the river reaches the beach:

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I love the 3-D Bird-of-Paradise detail on this building because it reminds me of Miami Beach:

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My husband tried to talk me into moving to the area. He wants to rent a store in downtown historic Apalachicola and he will build things and I will sell them and that’s how we’ll pay for my medical bills. On weekends, I’ll look for shells to make necklaces to keep him in beer money:

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Ah, dreams! Hope there’ll be enough shells:

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Sunset on the beach:

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I turned off the noisy a/c and opened the doors and let the waves lull me to sleep. It took me back to my childhood, when I wanted the windows open on summer nights, the rhythm of the waves keeping me company, rocking me to sleep. “I am here,” they tell me, “Constant. Fluid. Relax. Hear the pattern. Find the rhythm. I am comfort.”

Early morning, Mexico Beach (put yer shades on):

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We’ll come back to this area, because there is more to see: horseback riding on the beach at Cape San Blas, buying Tupelo honey in Wewahitchka, as well as touring antebellum homes and spelunking in Marianna. Our list is long and our state is big. Next time, we head to a new area, but we’ll come back to this area. Everyone always does, once they’ve visited.

Lake Placid: a History in Pictures

Surprises Await in Lake Placid

We headed up central Florida’s Rte 27 and stopped for lunch at the All American restaurant in Lake Placid. I wasn’t overly impressed. Even though the sign offered breakfast and lunch, apparently they only serve breakfast on Sundays. I was told I could have a BLT, except they didn’t have tomatoes. My omelet was fine, but the potatoes were dry and tasteless and screamed for butter, salt, and pepper, in that order.

Lake Placid was not a complete bust, though. Known as the “The Caladium Capital of the World”, we thoroughly enjoyed the pictorial history of the area, as told in murals throughout the downtown area:Lake Placid #1

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The holdup of the Tropical State Bank in Lake Placid caused quite a stir back in the day. The boy depicted, Grady Parrish, was instrumental in foiling the attempted 1931 bank robbery. He received $10 for his effort. The mural has four dollar signs hidden within the painting.

Other murals depicted the prehistoric days of the area, settlement, and significant events in Lake Placid historyLake Placid #12

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The Florida panther is endangered now. My ancestors claimed their cry sounded like a woman screaming in the woods.

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One of the murals depicted the turpentine business that boomed back in the early days of settlement, but the camps date back to Colonial times.

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Before and during the Civil War, the camps were worked by slaves. After emancipation, former slaves viewed Blacks who joined the camps as traitors who signed away their newly obtained freedom. In the early 1900s, prisoners were released to work in the camps. The turpentine camps were deep in the pinewoods, isolated and known to be rough places. Camp bosses also ran the commissary; the only place workers could buy needed items. Unfortunately, most camp bosses charged outrageously high prices, which kept the workers in servitude, since most were not pain in money, but in scrip, which could only be redeemed at the company store. Those who tried to run away from their debts were hunted down. The work was dangerous, hot, and hard. Children born in the camps oftentimes knew no other kind of life.

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The woods around Lake Placid are quieter now. The bottom dropped out of the industry in the 1940s, and by the 1950s, the market for turpentine had collapsed. Sawmills took their place, as the dead trees were turned into boards that helped to build area homes. Heart pine stood up well to the Florida elements and insects did not find a welcome home for boring in.

The town of Lake Placid is surrounded by twenty-seven freshwater lakes and is a popular tourist destination. Lake Placid itself is far more accessible that Lake Okeechobee. Originally called Lake Stearns, the name of the lake was changed by in the late 1920s by a suggestion by Dr. Melvil Dewey, the inventor of the Dewey Decimal System.

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We finished our trip with a shopping spree for antiques in Arcadia before heading home, glad for a getaway that expanded our knowledge on Florida history.

Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales: Making the World a Little More Beautiful

The Bok Tower Gardens Mission: Make the World a Little More Beautiful

We visited Bok Tower gardens and wildlife preserve on Saint Patrick’s Day. Edward Bok, a Dutch immigrant who’d made his fortune in the US during the 1920s, so loved the United States, and Florida in particular, that he wanted to give something back. His motto was his grandmother’s: “Make your part of the world more beautiful because you have lived in it.”

He chose to do that by purchasing Iron Mountain, at 298 feet the highest point in Florida, and making it into a botanical park. At the top of his mountain, he built his office: a 205 foot Gothic and art deco carillon tower. The 60 bell carillon is considered one of the world’s finest.

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Then he hired landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, Jr., famous for his work in Washington D.C. and Boston, to do his yard work. Olmsted tends toward designs that incorporate an outside perimeter circle with wandering paths in between. His genius is in creating hidden treasures: secret paths that lead to “plant grottoes”, hidden spots cleared in the middle of hedges and foliage.

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There is a seasonal home on the property, built by the President of Bethlehem Steel, last name of Buck, and is an impressive Mediterranean Revival. We did not take the $6 tour of the home, but probably will on another day. We walked for three hours. After we finished the nature trail, we went through all the Bok Tower gardens, among them, The White Garden, The Round Garden, The Live Oak Grove, The Reflection Pool, The Overlook, The St Francis and Mocking Bird Walk, and my favorite, Window by the Pond, and others. After spending time at the top, we went back down to shop and have lunch. Then we climbed the mountain a second time.

An Afternoon in the Bok Tower Gardens

The bell concert could be heard throughout the park, but I’m glad we were there at the tower for the big 3 P.M. concert because the bells’ deep tones seemed to resonate better. Not that we didn’t enjoy walking the Pine Ridge Preserve Nature Trail and listening to Menuet and Trio by Mozart, but up close listening to “Jerusalem” and “Marizapolis” (Spanish folk song) and “Send in the Clowns” seemed to resonate better. On this visit, we heard Processional, Sicilienne, and Milonga, and paid respect to the Irish, as well, since it was St. Patrick’s Day, with “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” and “Paddy Whack” and “Londonderry Air (“Oh, Danny Boy”)”.

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Funnily enough, quiet is requested, and even more strange, the bells do not sound sharp and intrusive; instead they fill the air with dancing notes as you sit back on one of the many benches and comfortable chairs and look out on the panorama of rural Florida. It is not Disney World, but it also isn’t a busy botanical garden that you rush mother-in-a-wheelchair through. It was, literally, a time to stop and smell the Camellias. And they were in full bloom during our visit, as were the Darkshadow Magnolias and the Azeleas.

It was a tranquil day, one to remind me that making my corner of the world just a little nicer lifts not only my own spirits, but others’, as well.

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St. Joseph Peninsula State Park

St. Joseph Peninsula State Park

The Florida panhandle has seen its share of storm damage. Tropical storms aren’t usually too much trouble for a Floridian, but hurricanes can be relentlessly unforgiving. As one man said, “You hunker down and ride out the wind, hoping you don’t lose everything, grateful for what’s left.” As hard hit as it seems to get year after year, I simply cannot resist going back time and again to drink in the Florida of my youth, when people stopped to do a favor and roadside stands promised just one delectable temptation at a time.

Of course, once we round the bend, our mouths start watering for oysters, so we spend a lovely morning of shopping in Apalachicola, stop for an oyster po’boy lunch and then we head west again to visit the T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park. Yes, it’s a mouthful, but then again, this park is an eyeful.

The park is on the very end of a finger of land that protects the mainland. The waters are clear, blue and not prone to riptides because of the peninsula’s protection. Nine and a half miles of snow-white sand welcomes the beach crowd on the Gulf side and bayside accommodates the boaters with some interesting accesses into the grass flats and coves that carve out the landscape.

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There is a tiny “museum” of fossilized specimens of days gone by; some, sadly, has been taken, since there is seldom an attendant on duty. There is a concession stand, but I’ve never bought anything there, since I was far too busy discovering wildlife along the 6 mile access-by-permission-only wilderness trail (there are two other, shorter, hiking trails with public access).

Here you will find the usual oceanfront recreations: a wide variety of boating and camping choices, fishing, snorkeling, and swimming, along with fishing, biking, and hiking. Or you can choose your spot on the ten miles of white sand beach, in 2002 named as the best beach in the nation by none other than Gainesville’s Dr. Beach (Dr. Steven Leatherman), who issues a new list each year. There are public restrooms and cold-water shower facilities for day guests, hot water facilities in the campgrounds for overnight guests (although day guests can sometimes receive special permission to use the camp showers).

We want to return to the St. Joseph State Park and rent one of their “cabins”: small, tidy, furnished stand-alone cottages that sit right on the water’s edge. The units have kitchens equipped with basic cooking and dining utensils, seasonal gas fireplaces, heat & A/C, and, of course, bathrooms. There is no TV, internet service, or telephone ,and cell phone reception is poor. The price sure was reasonable: $100 per night, $650 for the week. Each cabin sleeps up to six people.

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We’ll return again one day, to build castles on the beach and watch them wash away with an incoming tide and a setting sun.

Oysters are King in Apalachicola

Apalachicola, King of the Forgotten Coast

We’d cancelled our reservations at the Gibson Inn for the murder mystery weekend in Apalachicola, mainly because the theme was football-based, which did not interest me. After we drove past it, we felt we’d made the right choice, since it sat right in the middle of town with traffic on all four sides. Great for shopping, but relaxing by the water would have required compromise. Instead, we chose the Apalachicola River Inn, which reminded me of a riverboat since the building sat out over the water.

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The view from the private balcony:

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That night, the reflection of a full moon shimmered over the still water as the buzz of distant insects played in the background, broken only by the splash of breeching mullet that landed with a plop.

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Early morning river commute:

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Later the same day:

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We’d had our complimentary drink in the bar the night before and took full advantage of the free breakfast the next morning. I ordered eggs over easy, shrimp and grits, and juice. Shrimp and grits sounds better than it is. I found it too spicy for early morning.

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The rest of the morning was spent in historical downtown Apalachicola. The art museum was closed (we tried on our way home, too, but they were still closed) so we just poked our heads in shops and galleries.

Naturally, we stopped at Boss Oyster for lunch:

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In fact, we had oysters, in one form or another at almost every meal during our too-short stay and we could not resist purchasing more to take back home. I don’t know why the Apalachicola bi-valves taste better than those harvested from other areas, but I assure you, the difference in taste as well as in size is remarkable.

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The town itself is quite beautiful with many historic homes and buildings, yet carries a certain ruggedness that only a true fishing village can. From the late 1800s to early 1900s, Apalachicola’s sponge trade was booming, helping it to grow into the third busiest port in the nation. Today, it might be less well known if not for its reputation as a source of superior oysters and shrimp. My husband offered to take me on a boat ride, but I thought the offer was rigged:

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After all, papa was a rollin’ stone:

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Funniest name I saw on a boat? “Breakin’ Wind”. I asked my husband if that was his boat, but he said it couldn’t be because the “Pain in the Butt” wasn’t moored close by!

We had a lot of fun in Apalachicola and I look forward to a return trip and more oysters. On my to-do list for our return visit: Fort Gasden in the Apalachicola National Forest, part of the Florida Black Heritage Trail, and a closer exploration of the islands that protect the Apalachicola Bay: Flag Island, Sand, St. Vincent Island, St. George Island, and Cape St. George Island.

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A Visit to Gulfport, Florida

Gulfport, Florida is a Step Back in Time

Our trip to Gulfport, Florida, nestled next to St. Petersburg, was a trip down memory lane! Little has changed over the years here and yet it has kept up with the times, offering the best of both worlds: family-friendly safe as well as eclectic Key West-style lifestyle.

We headed for Gulfport’s waterfront district, on the edge of Boca Ciega Bay. The city of 12,000 is an art community, as well as a beach community, and the seaside cottages are painted in bright colors that lift the soul.

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As I stepped through the doors of the Gulfport Casino Ballroom, small, by today’s standards, and into the Quonset hut shaped building, I could almost hear the Big Band sound wafting from the stage and instead of tables and booths filled with Florida memorabilia, I could see the pretty girls in their rolled and pinned up hair waiting by the sidelines for a boy in uniform to ask her to dance.

The building sits by (on?) Williams Pier, which juts out over the bay. The crystal chandeliers and the worn wooden floorboards brought me back to the days of shuffleboard and bocce ball and old men feeding seagulls from park benches.

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The Tierra Verde shoreline and the Don Cesar Hotel, aka “The Pink Palace” across the bay, offer pleasing views, whether wiggling your toes in the water or soaking in the sun on a beach towel. The “Don”, originally built as a hotel in 1928 and used as a hospital for recovering soldiers during WWII, reverted back to hotel use in 1973. We stayed there once. The view was fantastic and we watched a beach wedding from our window. It is, however, a historic building and all the quirks are there, including very small guest rooms.

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Gulfport houses and stores are quaint, no high rise condos here, folks, even the library is vintage 1950s. Maybe 60s. It wasn’t terribly crowded, but it was busy. We were all there for what had been billed as “Florida’s largest show” of vintage Florida souvenirs and memorabilia. I found many treasures including a “Florida Queen” cigar box and a matchbook with matches intact. Its outside cover offered “a choice Florida home site (Only $195 per lot, no money down! Purchaser paid $5 per month per lot.). Other finds included a “Graham for Senator” political button, a quilted hat made by Seminole Indians, and shipping labels from a couple of Florida citrus companies.

I priced some textiles, but passed them up. Later, we crossed the street and had lunch in one of the many restaurants in the area. There is a wide variety of cuisine choices here and the area has been recognized in the past as a strong contender in “Best Dining Experience”-type competitions.

Ours was a day visit, so we did not get to see all the area had to offer. Next time, I’d like to explore the Clam Bayou Nature Preserve and stroll the grounds of nearby Stetson University.

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The End of Florida’s Tourist Season

Some Thoughts on the End of Florida’s Tourist Season

It is the end of high season in Florida, the time of year when people, weary of winter, migrate south, seeking the sun. January, February, and March are the peak months, but once Easter is over, the wave of visitors begins to ebb until the tide is fully out, usually by the end of May. Right now, the roads are clogged, bumper-to-bumper on the keys and in the hospital zone, but otherwise, the traffic runs steady.

It is beautiful in Florida right now. Everywhere I look is profusion of color: waters of turquoise compete with skies of Robin’s egg blue where majestic “God clouds” rise to the heavens until you think you’ve never seen a sky so big. The white sugar sand is warm under my toes.

Flowers bloom in profusion and I am taken back in time when, at the Assisted Living Facility, my mother and I picked orange hibiscus blooms and put them in her hair, which pleased her.

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Later she put it in a cup with no water, telling me it is unnecessary because the bloom dies quickly whether or not you give it water.

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It was the little things she knew, the things I was always too busy to hear, not having the time to learn which caterpillar has the right markings to be a monarch one day, those were the things I listened for then.

“Tell me the story of what Uncle Alfred did to get himself thrown in jail.”

“I don’t remember.”

“That’s okay, Mom.”

Here at home, so many years later, the soft breezes brush gently across my skin, carrying just enough chill to threaten me with a shiver, but not so much that I actually do. The air is sweet, perfumed with blooming orchids and magnolias and just the occasional whiff of salt air rising up off the gulf and floating inland.

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The soft rustles of the breeze as it played among the dead fronds hanging downward from the palms…“palm trees in grass skirts”, my mother called them…made me wonder. Did ole Ponce lift his face to the sky and breathe as deeply as I do? Did the breeze caress his face, calling him to come closer, dreaming of eternal life?

I open the windows and let the soft breeze sweep the rooms clean, carrying away the stale smells of a house too long closed up, and turn my face to the sun and drink it in, taking my fill, hoping it is enough to have some left for later, when the heat bears down and the sun sears my skin.

There are many beautiful places to live, all across the country, but my roots are deep in Massachusetts and in Florida. When people ask me where I grew up, I answer: “I grew up in the best of both worlds.”