Florida Beaches are Simply Sublime

Florida Beaches are Simply Sublime

Wahoo! I was just there – Gulf Islands National Seashore in Pensacola – a long ribbon of bright white sandy beach so alluring it had to be singing a siren song:

“Come, sift the sand between your toes. Stay here. Stay here. Forget your worldly cares. Stay . . .”

Floarida beaches - beach sand
Different types of beach sand. Photo by David McRee

And the emerald green waters of the Gulf of Mexico echo the beach promise of sun and fun.

Florida beaches will have their way with you

Yep. Florida beaches can and will have their way with you. The sand sighs as you take off your shoes, sink into the sand and sift sand between your toes. There is the promise of natural detox plus getting gritty and feeling great. All this without even getting wet yet. Just stroll and watch the pelicans skim the water’s surface. Bend down and do the shark tooth shuffle, looking for castoffs from the deep. Inhale. Renew. Revive.

And the sunsets, ah well, line up and enjoy the awesome sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico. Here’s a thought – go to the Sandbar Waterfront Restaurant in Anna Maria, take an outside table and have a front row seat for the sunset.

Floarida beaches - sunset
Sunset photo by David McRee

Sunrises over the Atlantic are pretty spectacular too. Once a photographer and I showed up at Anastasia State Park early, before sunrise, to do a newspaper story on a gentleman doing sandcastle building practicing for a national competition. As the sun came up, casting golden light on the water and the beach, his castle grew taller and taller and more amazing. I looked around and thought: “It doesn’t get any better than this.”

You are nodding your head. You know what I’m talking about. Still it comes as a nice surprise that others are nodding their heads too. Nine Florida beaches, including Gulf Island National Seashore in Pensacola are among the top 25 beaches in the United States, just named in a Travelers’ Choice 2013 award posted by tripadvisor.

The other beaches are Canaveral National Seashore, Titusville; Caladesi Island State Park, Dunedin; Pensacola Beach, Pensacola; Clearwater Beach; St. Andrews State Park, Panama City; Fort DeSoto Park, Terra Verde; Siesta Key Public Beach, Sarasota; Pass-a-Grille, St. Pete Beach.

Florida beaches - Mexico Beach
Mexico Beach in the Panhandle. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias

My goodness! The only other state to come close to those numbers is Hawaii. These Travelers Choice awards are like winning the Oscars. Everyone wants to go see the movies that won. Let’s go experience all the beaches that one – a nice spring project for you.

Florida beaches include some friendly for dogs

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Obi, my Welsh corgi, accompanied me to the Panhandle last week. Dogs are not allowed on Pensacola or the Gulf Seashore beaches but we found a small beach on a bayou that did the job. Obi isn’t about to get his paws wet. At Bayview Park dog park in Pensacola he enjoyed running around in the sand with other dogs while one dog got really serious about digging a deep hole at the waterline – all the way to China?

Florida beaches - dog beach
Dogs getting acquainted at Bayview Park, Pensacola. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias

Patricia Collier is the keeper of a site for Florida Pets that includes lists of dog-friendly beaches. For example, one of the award-winning beaches, Fort DeSoto Park in Terra Verde has a Paw Playground and beach so if your best friend has four legs and likes water, here you go.

Florida is shaped like an upside down boot dipped in water on three sides with a total of 663 miles of beach and 2,276 statute miles of shoreline. Oh, and in addition, Florida has more than 11,000 miles of rivers, streams and waterways – many of these shorelines sport sandy beaches.

The beach sands are calling. Will you answer the call? I have to go now, the sun is setting on Lido Beach and I don’t want to miss it.

Florida beaches - Lido Beach sunset
Lido Beach sunset, Sarasota. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias

In my Florida travels I meet fantastic people who are travel writers, residents, newcomers, guides and entrepreneurs, all are digging into the Florida places they love and finding treasures worth keeping.

In his own words, here is David McRee whom I got to know when he served as Beaches Expert for VISIT FLORIDA the same time I served as Authentic Florida Expert. David loves Florida beaches and he is the real deal, he grew up near Florida beaches. Be sure to check out his beach blog. You will like it.

The continental United States has thousands of miles of beaches along its coastal states, but it is Florida’s beaches that reach into the warm waters of the Caribbean.

I started enjoying those beaches with my family before I could even walk. More than fifty years later those are still some of the fondest memories I have: Daddy teaching me to dog paddle, Mama trying to keep me covered with Sea & Ski suntan lotion, and me trying to eat an icy-cold banana popsicle from the beach snack bar before it melts under the hot July sun.

At the beach our senses are awakened. We inhale salty air mixed with coconut oil fragrance and we smell burgers cooking on the grill; we hear the laughing of gulls and the steady roar of the ocean; and we feel the salt from the sea drying to a crust on our skin under the summer sun.

In nature, the most vibrant places are often found at an edge, where forest meets field, where cold meets warm, where east meets west. The beach is the edge where the salt water wilderness meets the familiar.

The beach inspires wonder and invites contemplation. The stark simplicity of water, sand, and sky helps remove us from overwhelming busyness and technological distraction of modern life. We can hear ourselves think again.

Florida beaches - seashells
Seashells on the beach. Photo by David McRee

During my childhood years, my home beach was on Anna Maria Island, a seven-mile strip of white sand and tall Australian pines, with communities where the locals outnumbered the tourists for most of the year.

It was later in life that I discovered the curious variety of beaches in Florida. We have the most famous shelling beaches in the world: Sanibel and Captiva. We have some of the most important nesting beaches for Loggerhead sea turtles in the world on Brevard County’s Atlantic coast beaches.

Florida beaches - beach
Beach photo by David McRee

We have everything from crowded resort beaches with amenities that could challenge Disney World (Panama City Beach and Clearwater Beach) to quiet natural beaches on islands that can only be reached by boat (Anclote Key and Cayo Costa).

We have some of the purest white-quartz beaches in the world. But which is the whitest? It could be Siesta Key beach, or it could be one of the beaches in the western Florida panhandle, like those on Santa Rosa Island. You’ll just have to visit them all to decide for yourself.

But don’t think you have to have a beach with white quartz sand. How about looking for fossilized shark teeth on the dark gray sands of Venice? To really appreciate the beauty of Florida beach sand, dig your toes into the brown-orange sands of Ormond Beach or the biogenic sands of the Florida Keys, made up not of minerals and shell fragments, but of tiny bits of coral and forams–shells of tiny single-cell marine organisms.

Just because you’ve seen one Florida beach doesn’t mean you’ve seen them all. Explore. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll find.

David McRee writes about Florida beaches and islands at BlogTheBeach.com

Floarida beaches - Beach scene
Beach scene. Photo by David McRee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Watch the sunset in Cedar Key with your canine

Funky Florida, Cedar Key at the End of the Road

Funky Florida, Cedar Key at the End of the Road

This small Florida town calls itself a city. Pretentious? Heck, when you live at the end of the road and are a throwback to a slower time then you can be whatever you want to be.

The City of Cedar Key sits on a large spatter of an island, surrounded by more islands and kissed by the Gulf of Mexico. Get there by going west on State Road 24, a straight shot through the woods. Take the two-lane road to the very end and voila, you’ve arrived.

Cedar Key waits for you at the end of the road

Could Cedar Key be the funkiest Florida town/city ever? Yep. Could be.

Where else will you find one resident curmudgeon, the best clam chowder in the world and dogs in every block straining on their leashes?

Funky Florida - Cedar Key walking the dog
Walking the dog is a popular Cedar Key activity. Photo by Lucy Tobias

Plus Cedar Key has Second Street, just a few blocks long with more art galleries than parking places.

Funky Florida - Cedar Key Second Street
Sign on Second Street. Photo by Lucy Tobias
Funky Florida - Cedar Key art center
Mosaic art at Cedar Key Art Center. Photo by Barbara Fitos

Dogs without leashes step across the street like they know the route, part of their daily routine.

Add on the Island Hotel & Restaurant, with rooms rumored to be haunted, some of them anyway, and a restaurant that serves great dinners. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this building anchors the corner of Second and B Street and has since 1859.

Cedar Key has one zip code and many art galleries

All this and more located in one zip code – 32625.

Funky Florida - Cedar Key pelicans
Pelicans on Dock Street. Photo by Susan Peters

Cedar Key celebrates stunning sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico, has two fishing piers, hopeful fishermen, more birds than people, two history museums on an island with a census showing 927 people on a good day, great shelling, snorkeling and finally smiling locals who stop visitors like us to ask hopefully “Are you here to stay a few days?”

We began our visit to funky 32625 with food, standing outside in line waiting to get into Tony’s Seafood.

Funky Floarida - Cedar Key Tony's Seafood
Old doors, entrance to Tony\’s Seafood. Photo by Barbara Fitos

Their clam chowder has won “world’s best” two years in a row. Tony’s, on the corner of 2nd Street and D Street (SR 24), occupies the first floor of the Hale Building built around 1880.

Hale was a busy guy. In 1880 Henry Hale built a house at the west end of Sixth Street that looked out over a bayou called Goose Cove. In the 1920s St. Clair Whitman bought the house, raised a family and stayed until his death in 1959.

The house stood empty for a long time and we all know what that means. Scheduled for demolition in 1991 the Whitman family offered it for free to anyone who would move it.

Local citizens and elected officials formed a partnership with the Florida Park Service. The small red house with a metal roof was moved to the grounds of Cedar Key Museum State Park.

Funky Florida - Cedar Key Whitman Kitchen
Table in the Whitman Kitchen, circa 1920s. Photo by Susan Peters

A restoration, completed in 2002, polished the floors, expanded the house, put in furniture from the 1920’s and 1930’s and displayed some of Whitman’s extensive collections, especially shells.

Funky Florida - Cedar Key St. Clair Whitman House
The St.Clair Whitman House. Photo by Susan Peters

You can do a self-guided tour of the home as part of your $2 park visit admission fee. The park also has a sweet museum with displays of Cedar Key’s history timeline. With all the marshes and tidal flats it comes as no surprise that the Timucuan Indians liked this place a lot. Artifacts put them here as early as 1500.

Funky Florida – Cedar Key – eat, shop, soak up history

Back to the food. We waited. Unlike the Timucuans who scooped their seafood out of the water, we wanted ours already harvested and cooked by someone else. After soaking up some sunrays we were ushered inside Tony’s.

Two thumbs up. The clam chowder is seriously wonderful and well worth the wait. Plus I had steamed clams on the side and they were pretty amazing too.

Aquaculture is big here. The demise of mullet fishing (gill nets were banned in 1995) led to retraining fishermen for growing clams in beds in the Gulf of Mexico. In 1997 clam farming produced 100 million clams.
If you like seafood, keep the record numbers going by coming here to eat your share. One opportunity – attend the annual Clamerica Clelebration on the Fourth of July, named a Top 20 Event by the Southeast Tourism Society.

Tony’s sits on a busy intersection.

Funky Florida - Cedar Key signs
Colorful sign at 2nd and D streets. Photo by Barbara Fitos

Across the street is Curmudgeonalia with books (a good Florida selection), cards and gifts. The owner is a resident curmudgeon Dick Martens (I am not making this up). This is the only bookstore within 60 miles.

Funky Florida - Cedar Key Curmudgeon
Curmudgeon sign, photo by Susan Peters

On the opposite corner is the Cedar Key Historical Museum housed in the Lutterlogh Building also built around 1880. Cedar Key recycles its buildings and treasures its history.

Just inside the museum door look left to see the arched doorway that once led to the Maddox Theater. The theater is gone but they saved the doors.

A self-guided walking tour has a new color booklet you can purchase with photos and descriptions. The price will be about $10 but the tour guides hadn’t arrived when we were there and the price was still iffy.

By the time we finished lunch and moved next door to plunder a truly eclectic consignment shop called Déjà Vu, we all agreed a day trip to Cedar Key was not enough. The locals are right – stay a few days.

Stay a few days in Cedar Key

Cedar Key is a small place. The pace is slow and yet you can’t drink it all up in four to five hours. Why would you want to? The laid back atmosphere aches for slowing down, for quality time with friends and family, for long conversations and good browsing through the art galleries, then sitting at the beach or renting a kayak and exploring the islands.

Funky Florida - Cedar Key City Park
View of the Gulf of Mexico at City Park. Photo by Barbara Fitos

Consider this – if you are going to stay for the sunset show, why not spend the night? Beats the long drive back in the dark on SR 24.

Suggested excursion: a sunset cruise with Captain Doug’s Tidewater Tours, the cost is $25 per person.
The closest island is Atsena Otie Key and it is here that Cedar Key began as an army supply depot, 1836, and hospital, 1840. It is easy to see Atsena Otie Key from the new pier and dream of taking a day cruise over there to seek out the historical remains.

As we walked around we saw lots of rentals for condos, cottages, B&Bs, homes, hotels, apartments and rooms.

If it is view you want Harbour Master Suites on Dock Street all face west towards the Gulf of Mexico and that means splendid gulf views.

The Faraway Inn, a certified Green Lodging Florida, is pet friendly and sits on the site of the 19th Century Eagle Pencil Company Cedar Mill. We saw happy dogs outside when we went by.

There are 10 rooms at the Island Hotel. In keeping with historical ambiance there are no televisions or phones in the rooms of the main hotel.

Remember cedar pencils? They were made here in Cedar Key

The museums tell the story of all those pencil factories but not a whole lot of cedars to be seen today. They were chopped down before conservation policies. Backack in the 1800’s cedars were a hot item. In 1855 Eberhard Faber set off a timber boom when he bought large tracts of acreage in Levy County and started a pencil factory. You can buy a pencil smelling strongly of cedar at the Cedar Key Historical Museum.

Combine all the timber activity with Dave Yulee’s building of a cross-Florida railroad from Fernandina Beach to Cedar Key and it is easy to imagine Cedar Key as a booming port town. The population peaked at 1,887 in 1885.

Now that might not sound like much to someone from Chicago or Miami but Levy County in 1885 only had 5,000 people.

Cedar Key once called the Venice of America

A newspaper clipping from the time called Cedar Key “the Venice of America”. Well, why not? When you are living the end of the line, literally, go for it.

Is the Venice of America a city or a town? It doesn’t matter. Cedar Key is a great place. We’re going back soon and stay a few days.

Speaking of small towns, Cedar Key is one of 20 American towns selected by Budget Travel Magazine as America’s coolest small towns. Until February 11 you can vote for Cedar Key by going to their Web site and casting a vote.

Funky Florida - Cedar Key Arts Center
Mosaic fisherman at Cedar Key Arts Center. Photo by Susan Peters

Upcoming events:

Sat. Feb. 19 at 1 p.m. – Historical Society Auction to be held at the Island Hotel. Lively bidding on collectibles including china, art work, antiques and more.

Monday, Feb. 28 at 10:30 a.m. join Refuge Ranger at Cedar Key Library for a program on bats and bat houses. Did you know there is a giant bat house on the Suwannee River that holds 40,000 bats? Learn how to make your own bat house for natural mosquito control.

March 16-20, Levy County Railroad Days (150th anniversary of the completion of the Florida Railroad), events in Bronson, Otter Creek, Cedar Key, see Web site for days and times.

According to George Sresovich with the Historical Society this is going to be a really huge event. From 9-4 p.m. on March 18,19 & 20 the Cedar Key Community Center will have the Ocala Model Railroaders’ Historic Preservation Society Florida Railroad Display.

See the trains. Then go to Tony’s for chowder or get a bowl of crab bisque at the Island Hotel. Want more? You have lots of seafood choices at restaurants lining Dock Street, all with those famous Gulf views.

April 2-3, Cedar Key Arts Center presents the 47th Annual Old Florida Celebration of the Arts. Yes, it is true. Cedar Key is a very small town with limited parking. For festivals, people park their cars on outlying keys and shuttle buses bring them into town.

For an event calendar with contact information see the Cedar Key Chamber’s Web site.

Funky Florida - cedar key - mosaic bird
Mosaic bird. Photo by Barbara Fitos

©2011 Lucy Beebe Tobias
Note: This Saturday Morning Magazine story is part of an occasional series on funky small towns in Florida. Want to share the adventures? Ask your friends to subscribe to the free Saturday Morning Magazine, it is easy to sign up on my Web site, http://www.Lucytobias.com, so they can get all the great stories about undiscovered Florida and beyond.

 

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Dog Friendly beaches in Florida

Dog Friendly beaches in Florida

Dog days of summer are here. There is only one cure – grab your leash and water bowl and head for the beach!

Obi, a Welsh Corgi, and I did just that, winding our way down A1A south of St. Augustine, looking for a dog-friendly beach recommended by Brenda Flynn and her Scottish Terrier Pearl.

Dog Friendly Beaches in Ormond Beach

“It is a well kept secret, not even the locals know it is here,” said Flynn who lives in Ormond Beach. So secret we passed right by the street sign in Palm Coast for the turn because, silly me, I thought that there would be a dog beach sign. Hey, then it wouldn’t be a secret.

The street is named Jungle Hut Road. About half way down you cross a parkway that goes to Ginn Hammock Beach and Hammock Beach Vacation Rentals. Just stay on Jungle Hut until it ends. Surprise! Here is a public entrance to the beach with a paved parking lot, restroom, showers and a dune walkover. Very nice.

dog friendly beaches -Dog signs at Ginn Hammock Beach, Palm Coast Florida
Dog signs at Ginn Hammock Beach, Palm Coast Florida

Leashed dogs are welcome. Clean up after your dog. Brenda is a regular here. She tells me low tide is the best time and in the evening, you are likely to see a dog coming down the steps from a waterfront home – carrying his leash in his mouth, his master trotting faithfully behind him.

Dog friendly baches - walk over to beach
Obi at the top of the walkover stairs to the beach

Obi, urban dog that he is, quickly decided walking on hot sand was not his thing so naturally I carried him to the dune walkover. It is so nice have a dog small enough to pick up and sit in my lap. The sand by the water was much cooler.

Pearl thought the waves were wonderful and she liked Obi a lot, charging at him in the dog version of “let’s play!” He gave me that shocked look “Mom, the women are chasing me” and ran the other way. He got his feet wet at my encouragement but water wasn’t his thing.

We moved on to the Golden Lion Café in Flagler Beach. Dogs can sit outside the rail. Brenda, Per Hans and I sat at a table right next to the rail.

Dog friendly beaches are often near a dog friendly cafe!

Dog friendly beaches - Golden Lion Cafe, Flagler Beach
Lunch with dogs at Golden Lion Cafe, Flagler Beach. Photo by Per Hans

The fish taco was excellent, so were the onion rings. How sweet to smell salt air and look across the street to blue sky, white clouds and an ocean still clean, not yet spoiled by the oil spill.

Finding dog friendly beaches and dog parks in Florida is a challenge. Some are, some are not. Best to know ahead of time before venturing out. One good source is Florida Pets. Get on their E-mail list for regular updates on everything from places to play, restaurants that accept dogs and places to stay. Their motto: “They’re part of the family, so take them along!”

Dog friendly beaches - lunch place at Flagler Beach
Waiting for lunch at Golden Lion Cafe in Flagler Beach. Photo by Per Hans

Another good resource is the Dog Lover’s Companion Guide to Florida by Sally Deneen and Robert McClure. This book is in its fourth edition.

Some towns get two paws up for being dog friendly. Apalachicola comes to mind; here people even bring their dogs to work. Sanford puts out the welcome mat, or at least the water bowls. We found several water bowls at the Farmer’s Market on Saturday.

Dog friendly - dog water bowl in Sanford, Florida
Dog water bowl at Farmer\’s Market in Sanford, Florida

Do you know of more dog friendly places? Let me know in the “comment” section and we’ll post the places. Your best four-legged friend will be happy with new places to explore.

Lucy Beebe Tobias is the author ‘of “50 Great Walks in Florida” and a freelance Florida environmental writer.

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