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Taking a Much Needed Break in Treasure Island

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.

Sunset Vistas resort

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.

John’s Pass – Can you spot all of the dolphins in the ocean? 👀

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?

Smuggler’s Cove Adventure Golf in Madeira Beach

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!

Middle Grounds Grill

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.

John’s Pass

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.

Ybor City

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.

John’s Pass

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 ✈️

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Adventures in Isolation: Destin, Florida Style

Sunrise, Sunburn, Social Distancing, Sunset, Repeat

My travel plans looked a little different this summer. I had a previous trip scheduled that I had to cancel (and now I have a Southwest Airlines voucher I’m not sure what to do with) and my personal goal of using my passport for the first time to visit a new country was out of the question. The travel bug was biting, but there was nowhere to go. Or so I thought. I’m a school-based Speech-Language Pathologist, and my district informed me summer school would be pushed back a month, giving me all of June off which I typically didn’t have. My sister had planned a trip to Destin, Florida months ago and she invited me to tag along. Destin has been a vacation destination for my family for as long as I can remember and even though I typically write about places I’ve experienced for the first time, I thought it would be fun to write a short post about this relaxing and fun Florida city.

Most of our mornings and afternoons were spent relaxing on the beach. We woke up early, gathered our beach bags and coolers, packed up the golf cart, and arrived at the beach around 9:00-10:00 each morning to pick out a prime spot on the beautiful white sand. I would recommend getting to the beach as early as possible, since it can be difficult to find a parking spot later in the day. However, the beach never felt crowded, even during the weekend when vacationers were just beginning to arrive. Destin was the perfect place to escape to and unwind after months of being cooped up at home. It was nice to see people hanging out with their friends and family, listening to music, playing games, and overall enjoying life.

PSA for all of my fellow St. Louisans: if you wear any STL, Blues, or Cardinals attire, be prepared to have at least one person ask about where you live. For some reason, people from STL love to vacation in Destin. Last year, I was in Destin during the Stanley Cup finals and the restaurant I was at was PACKED with Blues fans. Even the manager of the restaurant (who wasn’t born in St. Louis) is a big STL fan and was cheering on the Blues. If you visit Destin, you are bound to run into someone who’s from St. Louis or is a Cardinals/Blues fan. I think I need to make a beach drinking game the next time I visit. Should I take a drink every time I see someone wearing Cardinals/Blues clothing or take a drink every time someone asks me if I’m from St. Louis?

The Crab Trap Destin

Besides hanging at the beach, we ventured out to a few restaurants. Destin is home to a plethora of local and chain eateries that serve different types of cuisine. If you plan on visiting Destin though, you have to try their seafood. Our first restaurant stop of the week was Surf Hut for dinner. There was a wait time, due to less seating being available, but we ordered drinks at the bar and chatted until we received a text message letting us know that our table was ready. Their piña colada and Barrier Red Reef sangria held me over until my Mahi-Mahi sandwich was served. Surf Hut has become one of my favorite dinner outings in Destin. The food and drinks I’ve tried so far have been delicious, so I would highly recommend giving it a try!

After dinner we hopped in the golf cart and drove to the Crab Trap to grab a drink, enjoy the weather, and people watch (and failed spectacularly at not making eye contact with the teenagers making Tik Tok dance videos next to us). The restaurant has an outside beach bar and a huge, spacious deck where you can sip on drinks and wait for your table while you practice social distancing. This bar is also open to beach goers, no shirt or shoes required. You can walk on up in your swimsuit, order a frozen beverage, and take it back on the beach with you. The drinks can be pricey, but if you need something to cool you down after laying out in the hot sun, they are definitely worth trying! There is also an inside bar where you can order drinks or food in your beach attire. My sister and I went inside to purchase appetizers and take them back on the beach with us one afternoon. I ordered a Crab Trap favorite, the hot crab dip. In hindsight, I should have gone with something my stomach could handle on a hot day. The dip was delicious, but the combination of a full belly and the heat from the blaring sun did not sit well with me later that day.

Our next dinner destination was World of Beer. They have a $5 burger special on Mondays, which they serve all day, and hundreds of beers from around the world (like the restaurant’s name implies) on tap . You can build your burger however you like, but be aware that certain toppings will result in an upcharge. My absolute favorite beer in their lineup has to be the Secret Llama Blueberry Wheat Ale, a local beer brewed in Lakeland, Florida, which comes garnished with blueberries. It was light with just a hint of blueberry which complimented my savory burger.

Destin Harbor Boardwalk

A popular tourist attraction in Destin is the Harbor Boardwalk which is comprised of seafood restaurants, food trucks, bars, shops and outside entertainment such as live bands, outside TV’s broadcasting sports games, ziplines, and fishermen unloading their catch for the day. Parking at the harbor lot costs $10, but you keep your ticket and are able to reuse it for the remainder of the day. You could potentially go to the harbor in the morning, leave for the afternoon, and return in the evening without having to pay another $10 parking fee. When we arrived, we walked around the harbor for a bit and decided to eat dinner at AJ’s Seafood & Oyster Bar. We had about an hour to kill before our table was ready, so we stopped by Fish Heads, one of the many outdoor bars, to get a drink and watch the boats leave on evening cruises or dock in the harbor. More frozen drinks were consumed when we were seated at our table. I ordered a cup of their seafood gumbo as an appetizer and stuffed shrimp as my entree and we enjoyed our meals as a quick storm rolled through. After dinner, we explored the harbor a bit more, taking note of some of the dolphin cruise options, before heading back for the night.

Our last dinner in Destin was at Pompano Joe’s Seafood House. We knew we were in for a long wait since it was a Friday night, but we were still surprised to hear that there was a 2+ hour wait. We put our names down and checked with another restaurant down the street, where we were told that they could seat us in about three hours. We decided to stay at Pompano Joe’s, passing the time at their outside tiki bar just a few steps away from the beach. There was plenty of space for people to order a drink and find a seat or stand on the sidewalk and watch the sunset. It was dark by the time we were seated at a table, but the wait was well worth it. I ordered a cup of seafood gumbo as my appetizer (I’m a sucker for gumbo if you couldn’t tell) and holy moly it was delicious! Their gumbo is famous for being a 3-time winner of the Sandestin Gumbo Festival and it was one of my favorite dishes of the entire trip. My entree was the Mahi Mahi “Bajan” – crab and shrimp stuffed Mahi Mahi – which I confidently (and incorrectly) pronounced to our waitress. It was a seafood combination I didn’t know I needed and I was slightly disappointed that the seafood gumbo had left me feeling fuller than I had anticipated. I was unable to finish my entree, nor could I box it up since we were leaving early the next morning, but the meal was delicious and the most memorable compared to the other courses I had that week. Out of all of the restaurants I’ve mentioned, Pompano Joe’s has to be my #1 recommendation especially if you are wanting to try delicious seafood right by the ocean.

If going out to restaurants multiple times a week isn’t feasible or you want to keep your distance from others with everything going on in the world, check out one of the many grocery stores Destin has to offer! We shopped at Winn Dixie the day we arrived and split the cost of lunch meat, bread, and snacks that we could easily pack and eat on the beach. We also planned on making a few meals at the house during the week (one such delicious meal is pictured above) and everyone chipped in buying and preparing different entrees and sides. Eating out in Destin can get expensive, but if you are staying in a place with a kitchen you can save a few bucks by eating in a couple times during your trip. I would also recommend checking out restaurant websites in advance and looking up their happy hour deals. A majority of the restaurants in Destin have great food and alcohol happy hours during the weekdays that are hard to pass up and can help save some money that can be used for other excursions!

One such activity we wanted to do during our trip was an evening dolphin cruise. We purchased our tickets online for the Glass Bottom Boat ($31.70 per adult and if you book online you can use code BWS to save $2!) and headed for the harbor. A big headache we didn’t consider was the traffic. There is a ton of traffic in Destin, especially if you are driving towards the harbor. Sometimes you can get lucky and miss the worst of it, but more often than not you get stuck in bumper to bumper traffic and your GPS says it’s going to take you an extra thirty minutes to get to your destination. We were getting anxious about being late and the boat leaving without us, but we found a parking spot fairly quickly and picked up our tickets with enough time to grab a drink on the harbor and get a place in line.

Once on the boat, we were ushered to the stern where we got a group picture taken (we purchased not one, but two prints because of how comical it turned out) and we were told we could order drinks at the bar, located on the top deck. We made our way up the stairs to order a drink and take in the sights. There was no drink limit on this dolphin cruise which was a plus, since other cruises we researched limited adults to two alcoholic beverages. When we set sail, we moved to the lower level of the boat to check out the glass bottom. The captain informed us that the water close to the harbor was green and not at all clear, therefore making it difficult to see anything out of the glass until we started to get farther out into the ocean. While the glass bottom is this boat’s selling point, we decided to stay on the main level which ended up being a smart move. About an hour in, we started to see dolphins from a distance, but then a few dolphins slowly started to appear closer to our boat. At one point, there were three dolphins crisscrossing by the bow, keeping pace with the ship. Check out my Instagram – @erineallen – to see some footage of the dolphins I caught!

The two hour long cruise was absolutely worth the ticket price. We paid for a few drinks, learned about the history of Destin from the captain, and saw way more dolphins than we expected. It was fun getting out on a boat, feeling the sea breeze and ocean spray, and watching the dolphins swim and jump out of the ocean. Time flew by and before we knew it the boat had docked. By that point the sun was beginning to set. Every Thursday around 9 p.m. the harbor shoots off fireworks. We decided to try out one of the many food trucks on the harbor, grab a drink, and find a spot to watch the show. The fireworks can be seen on many of Destin’s beaches, so you don’t have to go to the harbor to experience the show, but it is exciting to have a close up view of the fireworks. There are even sunset cruises you can book that will take you out on the ocean to watch the show. The harbor has a little something for everyone, and is a great place to check out at least once during your trip to Destin.

This unplanned vacation gave me the perfect excuse to get out of the house and decompress in a relaxing city. I was in a much better headspace when I returned home versus when we began the 12+ hour journey. My favorite part of the trip by far was the dolphin cruise. Most of my trips to Destin consist of eating out at restaurants and laying on the beach, but it was nice to get out on the ocean and do something different for a change. I’m hoping to try some different restaurants and attempt some new water activities (maybe parasailing?) in the future. If you have been to Destin and have any recommendations regarding restaurants, tours, attractions, or water activities, leave a comment and let me know what I should try next time!

Until the next adventure ✈️