As I watched my beloved football team fall out of the play-offs last night [UGH!], I was surrounded by friends, family and the sea. That’s right, the ocean. We watched the game from a favorite beach bar located on St Pete Beach. And when the sun slipped into the Gulf leaving a palette of creamsicle orange and tangerine globs smearing the sky, we stopped and snapped photos.
If you are anything like me, and addicted to the sunshine, the sand and the surf, there is no better place to be than on a beach or overlooking one. It is where I feel the most relaxed and can write about what I love, and the words just seem to flow. By design, my office has views of the water which fuels both my wanderlust for my next adventure and my writing.
Did you know that I live on the west coast of Florida? It’s true; I live on an island in southern Pinellas County, Florida. The entire county is actually a peninsula that sticks out into the Gulf of Mexico near Tampa and is fringed by lots of islands that offer shelling, boating, beaches and swimming right nearby. I am a lucky gal, because I am close enough to jog down to beautiful St. Pete Beach anytime I need a beach fix. The sounds of the seagulls and the waves, the scent of the salty air, and the feel of the soft sand beneath my feet help keep a perpetual smile on my face.
I love exploring the beaches near me and finding all the quirks and differences among them. Each one has its own personality and elements that make it different from the next one, and I love that! If you’ve never visited the St. Pete/Clearwater area, you should be making plans to escape the cold right now!
St. Pete Beach
Nearest and dearest to my heart, you’ll find St. Pete Beach and Pass-a-Grille Beach, along Gulf Boulevard in the southwestern corner of the county. There are numerous gray-weathered boardwalks to take you over the natural dunes and sea oats to a gorgeous white sand beach and great views of the Gulf. Some of the beach can be accessed through public entry areas without using boardwalks. Lots of cool resorts and smaller Mom and Pop hotels, like the Bon-Aire, and restaurants and bars with live music dot the beach. One of my favorite spots on St Pete Beach is the beautiful pink palace; the luxurious Don Cesar Hotel. It was the inspiration for the first few chapters of my novel, Diamond Island.
Excerpt from Diamond Island:
<< There was a feeling of accomplishment when Ryleigh brought the binoculars to her eyes and spotted the pink castle on the long shoreline to the east. Scanning over the whitecaps ahead of her, the painted structure of the Don Cesar Hotel, a pink spec on the horizon, helped guide her back to the marina. She returned her gaze to the horizon and took a moment to train her eyes on the sea behind her. A cold chill gripped her spine as she realized the lights of the mystery ship were gaining on her. >>
If you like nature and wildlife, this is the place to be. Laid back and tranquil, Fort Desoto park is actually five small and connected islands (keys) and has several beaches to explore, one with a great view of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. This park offers up nature like no other – from the mangroves or wetlands to sandy beaches, you can expect to see a wide range of bird species and nesting sea turtles if you visit between spring and fall. Fort DeSoto is regularly named to lists of top beaches.
If you’re feeling adventurous, and the tides are low, you can wade and swim to the west to a newly formed island, nicknamed Sand Dollar island. Bunces Pass’s newest island is a long sandbar that has mushroomed out of nowhere the last few years, nicknamed Sand Dollar Island, but official maritime maps and google earth do not recognize the name known only to locals. Named so, perhaps, because of all the sand dollars washed onto its shores. Sand Dollar Island has grown from a small spit of sand in 2001 to an overcrowded partying island large enough to anchor hundreds of boats.
On your drive to or from Ft DeSoto, stop at one of my favorite restaurants, the Island Grille and Raw Bar,
nestled in Tierra Verde Marina, and enjoy fresh seafood, live music and friendly staff and locals.
Honeymoon Island and Caladesi Island
Just a few miles north of Clearwater Beach lies the small town of Dunedin, with its kitschy little downtown area filled with boutiques and independent restaurants, part of the 40 mile long Pinellas Trail that is famous with joggers and cyclists, and wide open Gulf of Mexico views on Bayshore Boulevard. This little town has a pair of great, unspoiled beaches. You can get to Honeymoon Island by drawbridge, but to visit the other, you have to have your own boat or kayak, or wait for the Caladesi ferry.
If you’re coming to Florida for Spring Break or the party atmosphere, Clearwater Beach is the spot. Always lively and jumping with activity, no matter what time of day or night, Clearwater Beach is world famous and often very crowded. Restaurants on the beach typically have live music, great food and crowded patios, for obvious reasons. Don’t miss Frenchy’s and their fresh Grouper fish and She-Crab soup. Trust me, you will thank me for that tip!
A few more beaches and cool spots around this area: The small town of Gulfport, FL has its own little municipal beach, a nice fishing pier and a strip of beach restaurants and bars along with lots of cool boutique shops, as well as an Art Deco style 1930’s casino building that is now used for events. Madeira Beach is located near John’s Pass Boardwalk Village, which is a great place to shop for cool island, nautical, and beachy decor, jewelry and clothing as well as get your fill of fresh seafood and the best island drinks around. It’s also a great spot for dolphin watching. In the Greek sponge-fishing village of Tarpon Springs, FL, there are a few lazy beaches located on small islands- Howard Park and Sunset Park. While in the area, don’t miss the amazing Greek food and pastries at Hella’s and the cool gift shops on Dodecanese.
Even with such a cool “home”, I cannot help but wonder what other places and other beaches are like and I hope to explore them all one day. With 372,000 miles of coastline around the world, I have my “work” cut out for me, but I will do my best, and promise to share my adventures with all of you!
What is your favorite beach? What makes it the most special?