Backyard Gem – Tampa Bay

This post is my entry into the TBEX Blog Carnival Contest sponsored by Choice Hotels International Services Corp. Follow Cambria Suites #backyardgems on Twitter for more fun weekend getaways in your own backyard!

Smiling Dolphins

Smiling Dolphins

Grab those flip-flops, boardies and bikinis…and don’t forget the sunscreen!  Forget about the airplane, we’re going on a vacation close to home. A place where beach and sun lovers rejoice. Come join us as a magical weekend awaits in Tampa Bay, Florida!

We’re already hearing some moans and groans from the locals. It’s not a real vacation if I can’t fly… what could be exciting in my hometown?…and BORING!!

On our adventure you’ll see wild dolphins frolic, scream from dizzying heights on a parasail, and sample some of the country’s best fresh-caught seafood. And did we mention the sunsets?

Just an hour separates home from a weekend at the beach, proving we don’t have to travel far to find a gem like Tampa Bay in our own backyard. Since sunsets here in the summer typically arrive around 8pm, it’s easy to to be checked into our bungalow (Inn on the Beach) on Pass-A-Grille Beach and sipping a rum runner high atop the Hurricane Restaurant before the nightly twilight celebration. While at the Hurricane, a world-famous grouper sandwich and a piled-high plate of boiled shrimp make a welcome Friday toast to a wonderful weekend!

Yummy Shrimp Goodness

Yummy Shrimp Goodness

After being lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves outside your window, Saturday morning breakfast is a short walk along the beach to the very casual open-air Seaside Grill at 900 Gulf Way, St. Pete Beach. Dining is outdoors and you may be sharing your food with the friendly seagulls, but the gulf view is worth it.

Plan on leaving the car parked for the weekend. The Suncoast Beach Trolley begins at Park Street Terminal in downtown Clearwater and continues all the way to Pass-A-Grille. The  colorful Trolley runs every 20 – 30 minutes from 5:05 a.m. to 10:10 p.m., Monday through Sunday, including holidays, with service until midnight on Friday and Saturday. Look for special trolley bus stop signs located frequently along the route. Trolley fare is just $1.75 per ride, or ride all day with an Unlimited Daily GO Card. GO Cards are $4.00 and are available onboard the trolleys, buses, or at various locations countywide.

Our destination this fine morning is Johns Pass Marina where we’ll have a tough time deciding between parasailing, waverunners or perhaps a shelling tour or Dolphin Racer speedboat ride. We opt for parasailing, and despite the look of horror on Lisa’s face, it was an absolutely thrilling ride!

Hanging on Tight!

Hanging on Tight!

Time for lunch. Oh yeah! It was a tough choice between Bubba Gump’s, Friendly Fisherman, and Scully’s; but Gator’s On The Pass boasts one of the world’s largest waterfront bars in the world — how could we resist? We didn’t try the fried alligator bites, but the burgers and cold beer were great after a few hours in the sun and salt. While we were eating outside, a pod of dolphins treated the crowd to a show.

That settled it! We were signing up for the afternoon Dolphin Watch Sunset Boat Cruise from Hubbards Marina. Free Beer & Wine – woo hoo! The cruise took us down the Intercoastal Waterway through Treasure Island and out Blind Pass, returning on the Gulf of Mexico. Prices are very reasonable. Adults: $16.82. Children (11 & under):  $8.41. Children (2 & under): Free. With daily departures at 5 pm through the winter and 7pm through the summer, this is one of the best deals on the Pass and an excellent way to enjoy our local pelicans, osprey, herons, and friendly dolphins.

Dolphins Playing in the Water

Dolphins Playing in the Water

It’s been a busy day, but the Trolley is waiting to take us back to Pass-A-Grille Beach. We hop on and talk excitedly about the family of dolphins that followed our boat and the enormous osprey we saw snagging a fresh fish right in front of us! It’s been a fantastic day, but there is still time for a short walk down the beach with powdery sand between our toes. The moon is bright and the water quietly laps warm on our legs. It’s hard to believe we’re only an hour from home.

Sunday morning comes way too fast. But we still have today to take advantage of the fun, so it’s another short walk to breakfast to fuel up on a stack of blueberry pancakes from the Sea Horse Restaurant at 800 Pass-A-Grille Way. The delicious smell of fresh-brewed coffee will bring you in from the street. Omelets are superb with generous portions…you won’t leave hungry.

Reluctantly, we leave our beach retreat where we’ve been pampered and spoiled to expand our intellectual horizons just a little. On tap today is a visit to The Dali Museum in downtown St. Petersburg, just an 18 minute drive from the beach.

The Unusual Exterior of the Dali Museum

The Unusual Exterior of the Dali Museum

Here we feast on the Surrealist’s expressive art and iconic methods which made him such a force in the art world. The Dali Museum itself  is listed by AOL Travel News as “one of the top buildings you have to see before you die” and it’s no wonder. The Glass Enigma, a 75 foot geodesic dome, covers the building in 1062 triangular glass plates and none are the same size! Regular adult admission is $21 and the museum makes a nice transition for us from the beach world to the sur”real” world.

It’s always fun to discover gems in our own backyard. We feel especially lucky to have found such a treasure chest in Tampa Bay!

 

About the author

Cheryl MacDonald

Cheryl MacDonald left the corporate world in 2007 to pursue a dream of living life to the fullest. She and her partner, Lisa Chavis continue to travel the world inspiring others to Live Their Dream!

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