Feeding gators at a mini golf course and almost getting stuck on a draw bridge were definitely the highlights of this trip.
It’s crazy to think it’s been almost a whole year since I’ve traveled and wrote about a trip. When my friends Emilie and Jay invited my boyfriend, Zach, and I on a week-long getaway to Treasure Island, I couldn’t say yes quick enough. It turned out to be one of the most relaxing vacations I’ve had in a while. A week on the beach was just what I needed to rejuvenate my body and clear my head after some nonstop stressful months of work. As I was packing my suitcase, I could already smell the ocean air and feel the cool sand on my feet. I was looking forward to having no itinerary, indulging in all the fresh seafood, laying out in the beach with a cold drink in my hand, and exploring what the area had to offer.
After landing at the Tampa, Florida airport, we took a little detour to Sparkman Wharf before heading to our condo. Home to a plethora of food stands, bars, and shops, it isn’t difficult finding something to do at the Wharf. Once you grab your food and drink of choice, you can head to the beer garden area where they have an abundance of tables and open seating available. If you happen to come on the weekend, you can tune in to the live band scheduled to play that day. Zach and I noticed Edison’s Swigamajig serving up fresh seafood near the entrance of the wharf and after perusing the other food options we knew we had to go back and try them out. We were pretty hungry after the flight so we decided to split an order of shrimp and chips and fish and chips. We also ordered some margaritas to keep us cool while we ate our hot meal outside. The cook didn’t skimp out on the portions and we were starting to get full before we even dived into the seasoned fries.
Our condo was located in the Sunset Vistas resort in Treasure Island, just mere feet from the beach. Two pools, a hot tub, a gym, and a tiki bar were all amenities we could use during our stay. Once we arrived and got settled in, we checked out the beach as the sun went down. The sand was full of tiny, colorful shells and the closer you got to the shore the more shells there were. We also scoped out the resort’s beach bar which was small in size, but offered a good amount of specialty drinks along with well liquor for any other cocktails beach goers desired. On one wall of the bar was a sign informing patrons that they could earn a free t-shirt if they could drink their eleven specialty drinks. A menu listed out the names of each drink, their ingredients, and whether they were best served frozen or on the rocks. The bartender told us we could complete the challenge in pairs or even as a group. Never one to turn down a challenge, Zach and I asked for a punch card and ordered our first two drinks of many that trip.
Most of our mornings and afternoons were spent soaking up the sun at the beach. We honestly lucked out on the weather. It was bright and sunny the entire trip with barely a cloud in the sky. There weren’t a ton of people on the beach either which blew my mind. It was the end of April when we went, so we may have gone during a less busy time of the year. Either way, we took full advantage of the circumstances and found the perfect area on the beach to lay our towels, chairs, and cooler down. There was one thing we hadn’t thought ahead though…we needed an umbrella. My complexion and the sun’s rays don’t always mix, so spending one whole day on the beach without shade was all I could handle. There was a man renting out umbrellas and helping guests set them up on the beach for $20. I honestly would have rather used the money for other excursions, but since the umbrella the condo offered was cheaply made and stood up for about two minutes before it collapsed, the $20 umbrella was the only convenient option we had. Besides the umbrella fiasco, the time we spent on the beach was super relaxing. It was also nice having the condo close by. We never had to fight for a spot on the beach. We could easily leave our towels and chairs on the sand, head up to the room to cool off and then grab a bite to eat and restock the cooler whenever we needed to.
Besides hanging out at the beach, we did a bit of exploring. One evening we drove to St. Petersburg where we checked out the pier and stopped at some of the fun bars and restaurants located downtown. You are able to have outside drinks on the pier, so we made a stop at Hops & Props Bistro Craft Beers before we began the long trek. We took in the scenery as we walked past charming parks, interesting artwork, and fun areas for both children and adults to survey. When we made our way to the end of the pier, we stopped at Pier Teaki, a rooftop bar that was packed to the brim with people.
Starting to get hungry ourselves, we made our way out of the pier and walked less than a mile to the fun rooftop bar called The Canopy. There were a mix of casual and finely dressed guests seated at tables, in long couches next to fireplaces, or at the ornate bar. Four cabanas are also available to rent and appeared to be comfortable for larger parties. A hostess sat us at a table near the bar. Wasting no time, we ordered drinks and appetizers to share. If tequila is your alcohol of choice, I would definitely recommend the Mango Margarita. If you happen to be in the area and want to give The Canopy a try, they do have happy hour during the weekdays from 4 pm-7 pm and they also have a ladies night every Wednesday from 7 pm-10 pm. After devouring some appetizers and downing our drinks, we walked past a few more bars before deciding to stop by The Crafty Squirrel which had open outside seating by one of their bars. We happened to stop by during one of their specials. Every Tuesday from 3 pm til the kitchen closes you can order as many chicken, beef, or pulled pork tacos you want for just $2 a taco. Who can say no to cheap drinks and tacos?
We also put our golfing skills to the test and played a round of mini golf at Smuggler’s Cove Adventure Golf. They have a few locations throughout Florida that each have their own unique layout and design, but they do have one thing in common. Gators! Smuggler’s is home to around 20-30 alligators in each location that you are able to feed before and after your mini golf game. When you purchase your ticket you can also buy alligator food from the cashier. Once we reached the alligator enclosure, which was right before hole #1 at the Madeira Beach location, we found cane fishing poles that we used to feed the alligators. Quick heads-up. There were instances where the food fell off the poles as we threw the line towards the water. You may want to double check the fishing poles and make sure the food is secure before you cast the line so you can avoid losing any food. If you’re interested, you can check out my Instagram – @erineallen – to see me feeding some of the alligators on the course!
A great restaurant we tried one evening that was located near our condo was Middle Grounds Grill. We called ahead the morning of to make a reservation which I would recommend doing since the restaurant looked crowded every time we drove past it. We pored over the online menu beforehand, but we had no idea we would be dining during their Wine Wednesday special. Every Wednesday, bottles of wine that are originally priced at $200 or less are half-off! Our waiter also informed us that we could take a bottle of wine home with us if we wished. He would just have to uncork the bottle and place it in a doggy bag before we left. Zach and I couldn’t pass up the deal and splurged on two bottles of wine – a Pinot Noir for dinner and a Sauvignon Blanc we took home for dessert later at the condo. The Pinot Noir paired nicely with the complimentary bread and oil and my order of Seafood Fusilli – a flavorful pasta full of shrimp, scallops, fish, and mussels tossed in a mouthwatering lobster sauce. To say this was my favorite meal of the trip would be an understatement.
One of my favorite parts of Treasure Island was traversing the nearby John’s Pass Village and Boardwalk. We ate at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. one evening where I devoured the Jenny’s Catch and sipped on a Bloody Mary. The wait for our food and drinks was a bit long, but the restaurant was understaffed so it was to be expected. The pan-seared tilapia and mashed potatoes were well worth the wait though. After dinner, we took a walk around the area, scanning the bars and doing some window shopping until we came across Cuban Paradise Cigar & Cafe. The shop rolls cigars on the daily and if you are outside you can observe a worker in his element, rolling cigars one after the other. We ended up going to the store two separate times. I bought one to try myself and I couldn’t pass up the chance to buy a cigar in the shape of a baseball bat for my dad. The workers at the cigar shop were very knowledgeable. They were able to answer our questions and recommend each of us cigars that fit our specific tastes. The night ended with us sprinting across a draw bridge. Traffic lights began flashing and making noise as we were walking on it and for a split second we believed the bridge was about to open right then and there. Jokes on us, there was an operator working the drawbridge who would have likely waited for us to get across and a fisherman on the bridge laughed at us as we made it over safely in one piece. I have never seen a drawbridge open though, so it was pretty cool to get to experience that firsthand.
Our last full day was spent on the beach and bar hopping in John’s Pass. We stopped at Mad Beach Craft Brewing Company where I ordered the Drunken Dolphin which was a refreshing pale ale. We sat at the bar where I split an order of fried alligator with Zach. While we were sitting at the bar, it was hard not to notice the huge flight boards hanging from the ceiling. If drinking 28 flights in one sitting interests you, then their Walk the Plank option is right up your alley! This allows you to try 5 oz pours of every single beer they have on tap, but don’t think you can take this on single-handedly. A minimum of three people have to go in on it together.
While our friends left for the beach, Zach and I chose to continue drinking at the Mad Pub. We took a seat at the open bar where I tried their spicy Bloody Mary and a few more local Florida brews. Before heading back to the beach to catch some last minute rays, we stopped by an attraction full of alligators and an abundance of other Florida wildlife we could interact with and learn about. The Alligator and Wildlife Discovery Center strives to care for all 180+ animals that were surrendered by individual owners or came from reptile or wildlife rescues and were not able to return safely to the wild. After we went through the entire attraction, we paid to hold an alligator and learned more about the creatures and the center’s work from one of the employees.
Instead of going out to eat that night we opted for some New York style pizza from DeLosa’s. The restaurant is located in John’s Pass, but we were able to get the pies delivered to our condo. Feeling parched after the meal, we went to the beach bar and ordered the last drinks remaining on our punch card and a few of their rum buckets, which contained a generous mix of different liquors. Before heading back up to the condo for the last time, Zach and I collected our shirt to show that we succeeded at drinking the entire board. Safe to say that was the most expensive shirt I’ve ever gotten on a trip, but it was well worth it. They do change the color of their shirt every year so if you happen to stop by Sunset Vistas more than once and want to give the challenge another go, you likely won’t end up with the same color shirt twice.
We had a few hours to kill after checking out of the condo, so we drove back to Tampa and took a free, short trolley ride to the historic neighborhood of Ybor City. The area has a diverse range of restaurants, shops, bars, art galleries, and museums. If you keep your eyes peeled you’ll likely spot some wild chickens roaming the streets as well. Looking for a bite to eat before we made our way to the airport, we perused some of the menus posted outside of restaurants before we stopped at Gaspar’s Grotto which was completely decked out in pirate trinkets and decor. I wanted to try some more local craft beers, so I ordered the Funky Buddha, a Hefeweizen, and I tried an IPA called Reef Donkey. If I were to choose one though, I would have ordered another Funky Buddha. I couldn’t end the trip without seafood of course! The crab and shrimp quesadilla appetizer was delicious and the perfect size for a quick bite to eat.
We unfortunately didn’t have enough time to explore everything Ybor City had to offer though. By the time we finished our meals we needed to get going. The trolleys come every fifteen minutes or so, so if you’re pressed for time make sure you plan out your trolley rides accordingly. We definitely could have saved some time by driving the rental car and parking somewhere in the neighborhood instead. Our trolley driver also went on break and another trolley driver had to take over in the middle of the route, which made the ride a bit longer, but it was a pretty neat way to travel through the town. We weren’t late to the airport by any means and before we knew it we were boarding our flight and heading back home to St. Louis.
If I were to visit Treasure Island again, I’d definitely check out some of the other restaurants, bars, and local shops in the area. I’d also be curious to look into whether the area has an fun events or festivals planned now that Covid restrictions are being lifted. Maybe I’ll go on a dolphin cruise or rent a boat or jet ski from John’s Pass and take it out on the ocean, but the beach was enough for me this time around. If you’re looking for a place to get away, relax, and treat yourself, you may want to give Treasure Island a try.
Until the next adventure ✈️