Friday, April 21, 2017

Hangin in St. Pete Beach, Florida

If you were hanging out in St. Petersburg Beach, Florida for a week, you probably would be happy to dig your toes in the sand and relax in a beach chair for the most part. After all, the Gulf Coast of Florida is known for it's golden sand beaches, calm, turquoise water and incredible sunsets. But if you felt the need to do something else, you'd be happy to find that St. Pete Beach and the surrounding area of St. Petersburg and Tampa have quite a bit to do besides beach walking - though that would be fine to do, too. I spent a week vacationing in St. Pete Beach with friends - and here's what we got up to.

Fort Desoto Park
Let's start with the obvious. Beach. Fort Desoto Park is 5 interconnected islands with beaches, camping, kayaking, picnic shelters, and a nature trail. There are two designated swimming areas with concession stands and lifeguards - and Fort Desoto is the only park in the area with a dog park where dogs are allowed on the beach. There is also the historic fort that you may explore (you can download or pick up a pamphlet explaining the history of the fort) Obviously Fort Deosoto offers enough for at least an afternoon visit. We enjoyed the caribbean blue water of North Beach - this was our only beach sitting we did. (Admission fee is charged)

Visit the Salvador Dali Museum
The Salvador Dali Museum, located in downtown St. Petersburg, houses the largest collection of Dali's art outside of Europe. The Dali is open daily, late on Thursday, and is worth a visit, if not for Dali's art but also for the building itself. Located on the St. Petersburg waterfront, which is reminiscent of where Dali is from in Spain, the museum includes an outdoor art garden, Cafe Gala - serving meditterean fare and of course, a gift shop. It's a small museum but I found it fascinating to learn about Dali, his art and his life.

Take a boat ride on Boca Ciega Bay
We chose to take a sunset sail on Boca Ciega Bay - which was wonderful! - but you can also choose dolphin watching cruises, or a boat ride out to one of the keys, Shell or Egmont. There are a couple different companies to book with - we sailed with Dolphin Landings. They're easy to book online and we were able to bring our own beverages - they put them in a cooler for you - and refreshments. And we were able to see a beautiful sunset and experience a thunder storm on the same sail!

Visit a Craft Brewery
St. Petersburg has jumped on the craft brewery bandwagon. We hit up two - Green Bench Brewery and 3-D Brewery.

Green Bench was St. Pete's first microbrewery. Located downtown in the Edge district and started by two college roomates, Green Bench has a tasting room and an outdoor beer garden. So named because St. Petersburg was "the City of Green Benches" in the early 1900's - some 2500 of them lined the streets - Green Bench has 20 ever-changing taps and overlooks Tropicana Field.

3 Daughters Brewing is the largest brewery in St. Petersburg. They offer Trivia nights, food trucks, live music on the weekends and games galore. We enjoyed some outdoor brew sipping on one of the back porches in rockers. And just so you know, the name comes from the owners 3 daughters - as in, how much beer do you have to sell to put 3 daughters through college?

Get Funky in Gulfport
Toward the south end of the St. Pete/Clearwater peninsula lies Gulfport. Known for it's artsy and quirky shops, waterfront restaurants and vibrant art scene, Gulfport is where you go if you want funky in St. Pete. Art walks take place on the first Friday and last Saturday of every month and there is a farmers market every Tuesday. It's biggest claim to fame is Geckofest, an annual celebration of the end of summer. People in crazy costumes, live music and offbeat street performers make this festival one of the funkiest - and largest. So go get your funky on and have a few drinks at a waterfront bar, enjoy a meal and peek into some of the shops.

The bar is a boat!

Visit The Don
The legendary Don CeSar opened in 1928. Once the playground for pampered society, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, it  also served as a VA hospital during World War II. Saved from ruin by a group of concerned citizens, it opened as a full-service resort, including spa, in 1973. It has served as a movie set, music video set and tv drama set. If it's a bit too hoity-toity for your blood to stay there, you can always enjoy some beachside beverages or hang out in the lobby bar listening to a jazz trio. We enjoyed the sunset from the pool bar. 

Johns Pass
Johns Pass is a shopping/eating/walking village right on the water at yes, you guessed it - John's Pass. There are over 100 merchants and it is set up to resemble a fishing village. If you catch a rainy day or feel you've had too much sunshine then this would be a good spot for a stroll, a meal and some boat watching. We had lunch here and then hung out at the Bamboo Beach Bar - it's quite the festive place to be with live music and drink specials. Be aware that Johns Pass is the number one tourist attraction in St. Pete Beach so you may run into crowds - especially on the weekends. Every Fall they hold a Seafood&Music Festival which has been voted the favorite festival so if you're there then you may want to check it out.

Cross the Sunshine Skyway Bridge

If you're a bridge afficionado, the Sunshine Skyway has to be on your list. Voted by the Travel Channel as 3rd in it's top 10 bridges, it is a cable-stayed bridge and is 4 miles long. The first version of the Sunshine Skyway was hit by a tanker ship in 1980 and this new version was opened in 1987. (It's part of Interstate 275 and there is a toll) And who knows? Maybe you'll see a car commercial being filmed! (You might want to reconsider this one if you don't like heights)

And finally, hang out at a beach bar and watch the sunset!

There are so many beach bars in St. Pete Beach that I couldn't name them all - or visit them all in a week. But we definitely enjoyed having a cocktail and watching the sunset with our toes in the sand.

We've hung out at The Undertow, Sloppy Joe's (the Key West favorite has a branch in St. Pete), Postcard Inn on the Beach's license plate coated bar, Caddy's on the Beach, the Bamboo Beach Bar at John's Pass(not on the beach but on the water), the Brass Monkey -which is technically across from the beach but still beachfront - and the rooftop bar at the Kimpton Hotel Zamora, which is , also, not beachfront but definitely beachview. So if you're going for those beachy bar, watch the sunset vibes, St. Pete Beach has what you're looking for. I'm sure of it!

This post is part of a link-up with: Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox, The Weekend Wanderlust Travel Blog Party and Weekend Travel Inspiration at Reflections Enroute!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Zion's Kolob Canyons!

I've made no secret of the fact that Zion is one of my favorite national parks. It has The Narrows and Angels Landing. It has the majestic steep red cliffs which can make you feel so small. And the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is nothing short of stunning. But there's a second section of Zion that most people don't know about. It's called Kolob Canyons and it's the northwest portion of Zion National Park.

Mr. UR saw this part of Zion on the map and we decided to see what it was all about. We arrived late on a weekday and I was a bit proud of us for remembering to keep our Zion admission receipt from the day before, but they were closing the visitor center for the day so it didn't really matter. We headed into this part of the park on it's characteristic red roads. It's a scenic 5 mile drive through the park.

The scenery was pretty enough and then you go around a curve and BAM!

Kolob Canyon!

It was Stunning with a capital S...The photos and my words can't do it justice.

According to the Zion National Park website "Here in the northwest corner of the park, narrow parallel box canyons are cut into the western edge of the Colorado Plateau forming majestic peaks and 2, 000 foot cliff walls." 

One of the things you can do at Kolob Canyons besides the scenic drive is hike. We found an easy one mile hike and set off to see what we could see. 

The path on the hike

Supposedly, you can see the Grand Canyon way off into the distance!

I zoomed in to see if I could see the Grand Canyon - no luck! But it's out there, somewhere!

The requisite selfie

We saw this AFTER our hike - thank goodness! And thank goodness we didn't run into any wildlife on our hike!

So check the signs - all the signs - if you are headed out to hike - this one was on a map/bulletin board that we didn't see until we returned.

If you're going to Zion National Park, enjoy all that it has to offer. And don't forget about the stunning scenery at the other part of Zion - Kolob Canyons! I'm so glad we stumbled upon it!

This post is part of a link-up with: Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox, The Weekend Wanderlust Travel Blog Party and Weekend Travel Inspiration at Reflections Enroute!