Sunshine Sarasota – Travel Experiences

From its small town charm to its amazing beaches, Sarasota is one of those cities that you can’t help but call involve with. Whether you are coming here to relax or for an adventure, Sarasota has something for everyone!

If you like white sand beaches and gorgeous blue water, chances are your travels are eventually going to bring you to Siesta Key right here in Sarasota, Florida. If that’s where you are heading right now then this little guide is for you. Being a local I decided to create a weekend vacation and make a list of the must-do things for you!

Once arrived in this sunshine city I highly recommend getting a car. Sarasota may have its small town charm but getting around can be a bit tricky. With a car, you are free to explore on your own time and you won’t rack up a hefty Uber bill.

Lodging

Being a popular getaway spot, Sarasota is filled beautiful hotels and resorts. Art Ovation Hotel is the perfect hidden gem. Located in the heart of downtown Sarasota this hotel puts you right in the center of all the shops and restaurants. It also has gorgeous rooftop pool and bar where you can spend your days lounging around with the perfect view of Sarasota.

Sun & Fun

Visiting Siesta Key Beach is a must. Whether you have heard of it from MTV’s Siesta Key or you happen to know that it has been rated as the #1 Beach in the US numerous times now, Siesta Key Beach certainly attracts everyone. Spend a day at the beach and then hop on a Free Beach Ride to head to The Siesta Key Village to grab a bite to eat.

Although Sarasota is best known for Siesta Beach, sometimes we want to escape the crowds. Turtle Beach, on the south end of Siesta key is the perfect spot to unwind and watch the sunset!

Being right on the ocean, water sports are very popular in Sarasota. Paddle boarding, canoeing and kayaking are some of the activities visitors can enjoy. IKayak is a SUP and kayak rental company who will provide you with the equipment you need and take you on a journey through the famous mangrove tunnels.

An unforgettable experience is the view of Sarasota from above. Release your inner adventurer and let Heli Aviation show you these gorgeous beaches from a new point of view.

Sarasota Flavors & Nightlife

Head to Buttermilk for breakfast. Try the handmade biscuit breakfast sandwiches, they are to die for. But get there early, they run out and once they are out, they are out!

Green Zebra on St. Armand’s Circle is one of the best places to grab a quick and refreshing snack. Little tip, get a Brazillian bowl and ask for a scoop of peanut butter!

A great place to pop into for an Acai bowl is Clean Juice. Added bonus, all snacks are made from USDA-organic ingredients. Get the Nutty bowl, you won’t regret it!

If you are looking to kick your day into high gear with a clean meal, I recommend heading to Lila downtown. This primarily vegan restaurant cooks with locally sourced ingredients and the results are amazing!

Boca is another farm-to-table restaurant in downtown Sarasota. They get all of their food from different local farms and even have their produce growing inside the restaurant. Enjoy your meal with the basil plant growing right next to you. I definitely recommend trying their nightly special, the staff meal!

Enjoy an Aperol Spritz and an amazing wood fired pizza at Napule which features a big screen showing old Italian black and white movies.

For Happy Hour grab a signature martini at Mattison’s City Grille downtown. Or go to Shore on St Armand’s Circle and get the P. C. Shrubbery cocktail. Another great spot for happy hour, or social hour as they call it, is Social Eatery and Bar.

Beer lovers need to make a stop at Calusa Brewery and get a flight of beer. They will pour all of their specialties for you to taste. Bonus, they have different food trucks that come daily to give you a quick bite.

For cocktails check out Pangea Alchemy Lab. If you are looking for something truly unique, this speakeasy is going to be your spot. They make some crazy fun drinks and the whole place has a very cool vibe.

Reflections of Travel to Central America

As a four-decade Certified Travel Agent, international airline employee, researcher, writer, teacher, and photographer, travel, whether for pleasure or business purposes, has always been a significant and an integral part of my life. Some 400 trips to every portion of the globe, by means of road, rail, sea, and air, entailed destinations both mundane and exotic. This article focuses on those in the Central American countries of Belize, Costa Rica, and Panama.

Belize:

Belize, the first of them, was entered in Belize City. Particularly adventurous in nature, its exploration included an expedition on New River to visit the Lamanai Archaeological Reserve, a Mesoamerican site that was once one of the Maya civilization’s major cities.

Located on 950 acres, it constituted one of the largest such Maya ceremonial sites in the country and incorporated more than a hundred minor structures, a ball court, and some dozen major buildings, the most notable of which was the Temple of the Mask, the Temple of the Jaguar Masks, and the High Temple.

Although most of the other sites offered similar configurations with ceremonial structures and surrounding plazas, the Lamanai site featured those that lined the west bank of New River and the New River Lagoon, with residential structures occupying the northern, southern, and western sections.

Lunch under the dense rainforest umbrella here included the typical Belizean meal: Chicken, rice and beans, and plantains.

Altun Ha, another pyramid-provisioned Mayan archaeological location some 30 miles from Belize City, consisted of a complex of tombs, pyramids, and temples, which all once served as a trading nexus during the Mayan Empire’s Classic Period, from 250 to 900 AD. Meaning “Rockstone Pond” in Yucatec Maya, it consisted of a man-made lagoon.

Ambergris Caye, only a short hop from the mainland in a six-passenger Britten Norman Islander turboprop, was the country’s largest island and offered abundant swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, and other watersport opportunities. Its Hol Chan Marine Reserve, one of the main dive sites in the Belize Barrier Reef located off the eastern shore, featured the 124-meter-deep Great Blue Hole, along with significant sea life.

San Pedro, accessed by a golf cart ride from the small airport, was the island’s main town, and, Ramon’s Village offered an immersion into tropical life.

Styled after the Tahitian cottages on the Polynesian island of Bora Bora, it consisted of cabanas built from native materials by craftsmen utilizing the same skill and techniques the islanders once had in the days of the great sailing ships. A sanctuary nestled in a tropical garden of Royal Palms, bougainvillea, lilies, hibiscus, and numerous other types of tropical flora, it was punctuated with Mayan sculptures that provided a glimpse into the civilization that preceded it in what can only be labeled a Caribbean paradise.

Costa Rica:

Costa Rica was visited on several occasions. Characterized by volcanos, it offered numerous opportunities to explored and gain insight about them.

Located in the northeastern part of the country, the conically shaped Alajuela Volcano, for instance, was more than 1,600 meters in height and had a crater 140 meters in diameter.

The Irazu Volcano was another one. Because its summit was close to the tree line, the local area wind produced a virtual a moonscape. Its numerous craters were rimmed with gnarled, scorched trees, and its rain-fed mineral pools were brilliant in color.

The Arenal Volcano, stretching to 1,657 meters or 5,437 feet, loomed large and ominous over the pastured green hillsides that surrounded its base, and had been the country’s most active one during the past four decades, its thunder-sounding rumble periodically piercing the otherwise lush, tranquil setting.

As a powerful symbol of the geothermal forces that formed Costa Rica, the Poas Volcano revealed a sulfuric, bubbling, green rain-fed lake surrounded by smoke and steam rising from the fumaroles at its bottom when the mist and clouds parted. Water, seeping through cracks in the hot rock from the lake, continually evaporated and built pockets of steam.

An easterly drive on the Guápiles Highway from San Jose through the Zurquí tunnel transported me from the modern world into the rain- and cloud-forested Braulio Carrillo National Park, whose hiking trails and aerial tramway facilitated views of some 500 species of birds and mammals, such as howler and white-faced capuchin monkeys, tapirs, Deppe’s squirrels, white-nosed coati, northern tamandua, jaguars, white-tailed deer, ocelots, pacas, and racoons.

Unique to a subsequent trip was an off-road adventure. Undertaken in a 1984, it uniquely incorporated an expedition in a 7,500-kilogram Zyl Terra-X6, once a Russian missile launcher truck equipped with two 4.5-ton, 600-mile-range capable SAM surface-to-air missiles, but was subsequently retrofitted with a bus’s cabin. Passing through the Valle Estrella and threading its way through banana plantations, it stopped on the banks of the Bananito River for a picnic refreshment and a viewing of wildlife.

Other noteworthy areas included Alajuela, the Bananito River, Cartago, Limon, the Orosi Valley with its lush vegetation and coffee plantations, and, of course, San Jose, the capital, with its Pre-Colombian Gold Museum, La Sabana Metropolitan Park, the Catedral Metropolitana (Metropolitan Church), and the Casa Amarilla.

Panama:

Panama was also the destination of more than more trip.

Synonymous with the 40-mile-long Panama Canal, it attracted notoriety when it was completed in August of 1914, allowing large ships to avoid the otherwise 8,000-nautical-mile circumnavigation of South America and facilitating their direct passage between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean by means of the Miraflores and Gatun locks.

A 30-minute drive from Panama City was the Gamboa Rainforest, whose activities ranged from visiting an indigenous tribe, taking a night safari, and spotting wildlife on the riverbanks to staying at the Gamboa Rainforest Resort for ultimate, area luxury.

Tallahassee Florida and Beyond

Rich in historical roots with an array of museums and historic sites, South Georgia and Central Florida’s panhandle offers a glimpse into the past where the rolling hills, lakes, forests, and nearby cost allows one to step out into nature for some of the South’s most distinguishing assets. Right in the center of this is the state’s capital where Tallahassee offers hundreds of miles of trails, gardens, city parks, and state parks for any outdoor enthusiast.

The trails in and around Tallahassee range from short, easy to long, and more difficult with each trail having its own unique characteristics. Just a short distance apart on the East side of Tallahassee is home to three different parks, ideal for hiking, biking, picnics, and a children’s playground. The Lafayette Heritage Trailhead starts in the center of Lafayette Park where the trail to the East curves around the banks of Piney Z Lake to a levee, which crosses the lake to the JR Alford Greenway. The return trail traverses the backside of the Piney Z community. The loop towards the West connects to Tom Brown Park where the trail has steep inclines and descents making it more challenging. The two loops make up a 5.9-mile hike through some of Tallahassee’s most beautiful woodlands.

More than 800 acres of hardwoods, pastures, a freshwater swamp, and a lake make up the JR Alford Greenway where over seventeen miles of multiuse trails will satisfy every type of nature lover. Unlike the Lafayette Trail, the trails here are relatively flat where the biggest incline is the wooden boardwalk covered bridge over the railroad tracks, which connects the two parks. Tom Brown Park is Tallahassee’s favorite and most used park with large open fields, tennis courts, and ball fields. In addition, the park has several unpaved nature trail loops, a paved 1.5-mile trail which stretches from the northwest corner to the Southeast corner, and a shared use biking trail. The trails combine for just over 5-miles of a pleasurable hike through the woodlands.

Along the edges of the city are several parks with picnic tables and other outdoor activities for one’s enjoyment. On the South side of Tallahassee are the Munson and Twilight trails, which wind their way through the Apalachicola National forest. The Munson Trail loop covers 8.3-miles wrapping around a lake while the Twilight Trail covers 10-miles. Combine the two trails using the connector trails for a full day of outdoor adventure. Along the Eastern border of Tallahassee is the Miccosukee Greenway trail. The trails four loops account for 7-miles of hiking across flat and open land to hilly where the trail twists its way through oak woods with diverse scenery. This greenway winds its way through protected living treasures with some homes dating back to the late 1800’s.

For the person, which is short on time, one will find several parks right on the edge of down town Tallahassee where the trails are much shorter. The 3-miles of loop trails at San Luis Mission Park is a great place to escape into the lightly forested woods where the beautiful Lake Esther sits in the middle. A classic park for Tallahassee is Lake Ella where the.7-mile sidewalk, which encircles the lake, provides benches for some leisure time where one can just take in the beautiful scenery or admire the wildlife of ducks and geese. The Fern Trail in Governor’s Park is a short 1.8-mile loop, which winds its way through a forest of hardwood and pines where some fall colors are on display. The half-mile one-way Kohl’s Trail will combine the Fern Trail to the 1-mile Bog Path loop, which twists and turns its way along a narrow path crossing several streams through a thick wet forest, leaving one with the impression of being in a rain forest. Sitting amidst seven surrounding neighborhoods and covering 72 acres on the Northeast side of Tallahassee is A.J. Henry Park, one of Tallahassee’s newest parks. The park has a wooden walkway overlooking a lake, picnic areas, playground, open play areas, and hiking trails. The two loop trails are a short 2-miles combined; however, with the hillside and crossing through the ravine makes for a little more of a challenging walk.

Tallahassee not only has trails for one’s enjoyment, there are museums and gardens around the city as well and is the home to a mid-1900 English style Tudor home, where a short path leads to a 3.5-acre site in a whimsy lush forest where the home has sweeping garden views. The beauty of the large oak trees and labyrinths will surly give the impression one is far away from the city wondering through an oasis fairytale. Just a few blocks from downtown are six acres of a lush Florida garden filled with camellias, azaleas, palms and other native flora giving the park an ambience not found anywhere else in the city. The history of Dorothy B. Oven Park dates back to the mid-1800 when Congress awarded the property to General Marquis de Lafayette in 1834. The main home on the property is a classic manor-style home with rare magnolia paneling, wood floors, and antique furniture, ideal for weddings and receptions. Near downtown Tallahassee is the Goodwood Museum and Gardens, the originally home to a 1,600 acre cotton plantation dating back to the early 1800’s. Today the property is on the National Register of Historic Places and covers some 20 acres of century old live oaks and gardens where the main home features the original family furnishings, glassware, and art. Around the main home are 20 other structures dating from 1835 to 1925, the original swimming pool and an outdoor skating rink.

Just a short drive from Tallahassee families can experience state parks, state forests, and a National Refuge, which provide a variety of outdoor activities for one’s enjoyment. Just West of Tallahassee is Torreya State Park, named after the rare Torreya tree, which only grows on the bluffs overlooking the Apalachicola River. Some of Florida’s finest fall colors are on display throughout the hardwood forest and the high bluffs, plateaus, and deep ravines makes this park one of the most scenic in Florida. The park has two loop trails where the River Bluff loop is about seven miles traversing through ravines and streams where Logan’s Bluff towers some 300-feet above the Apalachicola River. A.5-mile connector trail leads to a 5-mile loop through a forest of hardwoods, longleaf pines, dogwood, and the queen Magnolia. The park is also the home of a beautiful Southern mansion built in 1849 known as the Gregory House.

One of Florida’s most hidden treasures is just South of Tallahassee at the Wakulla Springs State Park, designated as a National Natural Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The park is home to one of the world’s largest and deepest freshwater springs, where the 70-degree waters will surely refresh one on even the hottest summer days. The history of this park dates back thousands of years from early Native Americans to early filmmakers which discovered the primeval quality of the park’s swamps and wild life were a perfect fit for movies like Tarzan’s Secret Treasure (1941) and Creatures from the Black Lagoon (1954). Located between the springhead and trail head is the historic lodge, an element of Old Florida where the elegance of the lodge stands as it did in the early 19th century. The main parks trails covering just over six miles leads deep into the swamp forest through southern hardwood and maple-cypress habitats where several state and national champion trees, the largest of their species, mingle with other forest giants.

Just over an hour’s drive to the North near Blakely Georgia is Kolomoki Mounds State Park, home of the largest and oldest Woodland Indian site in the Southeastern United States dating back to the era of 350 to 750 AD. Standing at 57-feet high, the Temple Mound is Georgia’s oldest mound, surrounded by smaller mounds used for burial and ceremonials. In addition, to the campground, playground, picnic areas, and beautiful lakes the park has three hiking trails covering 5.8 miles. The Trillium loop trail traverses four natural communities as the trail winds its way through a hardwood forest along the shore of Lake Kolomiki crossing several spring-fed streams. As the trail climbs and descends the different communities, become apparent passing through native bamboo, southern magnolia, loblolly, and spruce pines. Starting at Lake Yohola dam the Spruce Pine loop trail traverses rugged terrain through a forest of dogwood, water oak, spruce pine, and magnolias, which provides a natural habitat for turkey, deer, and bobcats. Throughout the White Oak loop trail are gulley’s and ravines fed by underground springs which provided an abundance of water for survival and where the wood from this forest supplied the timber needed to build thatched huts for housing. Portions of this trail circles the mounds and passes through part of the village area.

West of Tallahassee is nearly 20,000 acres of forestland where a variety of tree species makes up Lake Talquin State Forest. The largest community of the forest is the upland pines, which sits amidst the rolling forest hills where a wealth of plant and animal diversity thrive. The Bear Creek and Fort Braden Tracts provides some excellent examples of the slope and ravine forest communities. The 492-acre Bear Creek Tract offers three trails totaling 5.5 miles of the most rugged trails in the region through wetlands, sand hills, and dramatic ravines where the section along Bear Creek has steep inclines and narrow footing. Whereas the Fort Braden Tract highlights a range of ecosystems while traversing three loop trails totally 9-miles with stunning views of Lake Talquin.

Devastated in 2018 by Hurricane Michael, The Florida Caverns State Park still provides visitors a rare glimpse into the past. In the 1930’s the Civilian Conservation Corps hand chiseled out the passageways between the cave rooms allowing visitors to see 1,000’s of years in the making. The narrow and sometimes low passageways leads through twelve fragile slippery and wet cave rooms where stalactites, stalagmites, flowstones, and draperies are still growing into a visual array of mystifying formations.

Located a short drive South of Tallahassee is the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, which offers a variety of outdoor activities for any outdoor enthusiast. The refuge consists of pine flat woods, palm hammocks, marshes, and cypress-lined ponds along the coast, and extends well inland. Scattered along the coast one will find small beaches, and tidal creeks fed by rivers. In addition, the refuge is home to the second oldest lighthouse in the state, constructed in 1842 and has become one of the most photographed landmarks on the Gulf coast. The trails in the refuge wind their way through oak hammocks, slash pines, and salt marsh providing some excellent opportunities for photographing migratory birds.