Living in Florida means living in the world’s top tourism destination and traveling to Orlando is a breeze. Oftentimes I need to remind myself how fortunate I am living so close to attractions others take years of planning before visiting. I’m always reminded how lucky I am when friends visit.
That reminder happened earlier this month when a friend from Buffalo visited. I helped her find the best value airfare to Florida including airfare to Orlando, Tampa, Sarasota-Bradenton and Fort Myers and once on the ground she wanted to see as much of the Sunshine State as possible. With North Port as my home, at the end of her nearly six-day visit we burned through three tanks of fuel, covered nearly 900 miles and barely scratched the surface of things to see and do in Florida.
Following is a rundown of what we experienced ranging from Southwest to Central Florida.
Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands
Christmas Canal Cruise -We don’t dash through the snow here in Florida, we catch a wave and cruise the waterways. Such was the case when we grabbed seats on the 9 p.m. Christmas Canal Cruises with King Fisher Fleet to see Punta Gorda’s holiday spirit. (1200 W. Retta Esplanade, Punta Gorda: Tel: 941-639-0969)
Village Fish Market – We grabbed dinner before the holiday cruise at the Village Fish Market, a cute little waterfront restaurant with a New England flavor in Fishermen’s Village, where King Fisher Fleet tours launch. Ironically, we both ordered the yummy seafood casserole. Service was quick and food was piping hot. (1200 West Retta Esplanade Punta Gorda; Tel: 941-639-7959)
Snap Fitness – Since I knew lots and lots of eating was part of this mini-vacation, we participated in an abbreviated version of boot camp at Snap Fitness. I’ve been a member for several years and when I go, I see results. (Unfortunately, the gym closed in 2018.)
Al Thurston, the gym’s trainer is awesome. Wish I could afford to have him follow me around and grab food out of my hand! Again, when I follow Al’s recommendations, I see results. (Sadly, Al passed away unexpectedly during the Summer of 2018.)
Cha Cha Coconuts – A walk (or two or three) around St. Armand’s Circle for shopping in the more than 130 shops and boutiques is a must when visiting Sarasota. During one of our trips around the Circle we popped into Pepper Palace for a little browsing, tasting and buying. Aren’t my spicy lollipops cool? They’re in flavors of jalapeno, habanero and red chilli. We grabbed lunch at Cha Cha Coconuts which included conch fritters (pronounced “conk”) and fish tacos. (417 Saint Armands Circle Sarasota; Tel: 941-388-3300).
Der Dutchman Restaurant – Honestly, this was not my first choice for lunch, but thanks to the popularity of Yoder’s and what seemed to be an endless line, we enjoyed some comfort food at Der Dutchman Restaurant, located in Sarasota’s Amish community neighborhood Pinecraft. Although they offer a bountiful buffet, I opted for liver and onions. Yum! I even had a slice of sugar-free cherry pie, warmed. This was also a favorite of my beloved Grandma B. so I was kind of happy we ended up dining here. (3713 Bahia Vista St., Sarasota; Tel: 941-955-8007 )
Old Salty Dog – After picking my friend up from the airport on a Wednesday night, we rolled on over to the Old Salty Dog on City Island. Although it was dark, we sat by the water with a couple of boats tied up. For friends visiting Sarasota, I always recommend lunch or dinner here, it’s a great representation of the destination. And if you’re wondering, a Salty Dog is a 1/4 pound hot dog dipped in batter and fried to a golden brown. Now do you understand why I added a trip to the gym? (1601 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota; Tel: 941-388-4311)
Owen’s Fish Camp Restaurant – This is another one of Sarasota’s must-eat restaurants and there’s almost always a line for seating. Arriving just after 9 p.m. on a Saturday, we were lucky to be seated right away at Owen’s Fish Camp and ate a healthy meal of smoky fish spread and a rockin’ mixed green salad with crab, shrimp and lobster tail. Oh, yeah. I’m hooked! (516 Burns Ln., Sarasota; Tel: 941-951-6936)
Atomic Holiday Bazaar – This is my favorite holiday shopping event of the year, although I didn’t buy much. As a Christmas gift, my friend bought me a cool globe cut out to be a hanging lamp. Perfect for my office! The Atomic Holiday Bazaar is not your grandma’s bazaar…OK, we did see grandmas and great-grandmas shopping…let’s say it’s not your traditional bazaar.
Myakka River State Park – We walked along the treetops atop North America’s first canopy walk then climbed the 75-foot tower for a bird’s-eye-view of Myakka River State Park. We also wandered along a boardwalk to spot birds (saw rosette spoonbills and others) and spotted alligators along the way. Again, this is a must-see place when visiting Sarasota.
Tervis Tumbler – Being a Floridian means you have at least one Tervis Tumbler in your cupboard. I absolutely LOVE this company because their tumblers are manufactured in North Venice (my backyard) and therefore American made, they keep hot drinks hot and cold drinks cold, and have a lifetime guarantee. I had fun finishing up my holiday shopping with our quick visit. Tip: Look for the Tervis brochure in brochure racks, there’s a coupon on the back. (928 S. Tamiami Trail, Osprey: Tel: 941-966-8614)
Are you staying with me? Yeah, I know. We did a LOT!
Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel
Bubble Room – Although her friends recommended the Mucky Duck, we gobbled up lunch at the Bubble Room on Captiva Island, not only because it’s a wild trip inside, but because it’s Christmastime and the Bubble Room has plenty of holiday decor on display year-round. I had the luscious Calypso Salad…and split a humungous piece of oh-so delicious orange cake. (15001 Captiva Dr., Captiva; Tel: 239-472-5558 )
The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum – It’s only appropriate a beach destination known as the best shelling spot in the U.S. and even has an act of shelling named after it – “Sanibel Stoop” – the act of bending over to gather shells – have an extension museum playing homage to mollusks. The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum has an extensive collection of shells from around the globe and interesting exhibits ranging from promoting sustainable shelling to shells used through history. (3075 Sanibel-Captiva Rd., Sanibel; Tel: 239-395-2233)
Edison & Ford Winter Estates – Science is so much cooler now than I’m an adult and I got my geek on at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates with a walk through the museum highlighting Edison’s life and accomplishments. He was one busy guy! We actually visited during Winter Nights which meant the estate grounds were lit with beautiful Christmas lights. Tip: Look for discount coupons in local tourism publications. (2350 McGregor Blvd., Fort Myers; Tel: 239-334-7419)
Shell Factory & Nature Park – This is another one of those places I recommend when visiting Southwest Florida, especially up the alley of those who appreciate quirky, almost on the verge of tacky Florida souvenirs, although the Shell Factory has a nice selection of high-end, nice gifts. Be sure to find the suit made with shells along with the model church. (2787 North Tamiami Trail, North Fort Myers: Tel: 239-995-2141)
Beach Time! Of course, a visit to Sanibel isn’t complete with a little beach strolling and we spent a few hours engaged in the Sanibel Stoop on a couple of the island’s beaches.
Naples & Everglades Area
Wooten’s Everglades Airboat Tours – “The highlight of your Florida vacation.” My first airboat was when I was a kid at least three decades ago and I still remember the boat operator shouting those words into the mic. It was with Wooten’s Everglades Airboat Tours and I thought it’d be fun to take the tour again. I’m glad to see it’s evolved with time and is more eco-focused. The boat operator no longer tosses food into the water to attract alligators and turtles. If you upgrade to the “package”, it includes a swamp buggy tour and walk through the animal sanctuary where you can hold an alligator. Tip: Look for coupons in visitor maps and guides. (32330 Tamiami Trail East, Ochopee; Tel: 1-800-282-2781)
Pinchers Crab Shack – I’ve heard much about Tin City so thought it’d make a great place for dinner. It’s a shopping, dining and entertainment complex located on the water in Naples. We dined on seafood at Pinchers Crab Shack while watching boats and kayakers lazily drift by our waterfront table.
Rosen Shingle Creek – As you may have already read, I received an invite to a pretty groovy function at the Rosen Shingle Creek, the Retro Rad Holiday Party with Food Network Star’s Emily Ellyn.
*PHEW!* Not sure about you but I’m exhausted reliving the trip! If you’re familiar with these areas, what else should we have visited? And if you’re not from around these parts, what’s your idea of a dream Florida vacation?
Disclosure: This post is supporting my traveling habit and supporting the running of SoloTravelGirl.com.