Thursday, April 26, 2018

April Beach of the Month: Pensacola Beach, Florida

The Florida Panhandle is known for it's sugar sand beaches, it's raucous spring break parties and it's aqua green water - so much so that it's nicknamed the Emerald Coast. After a brief stopover there a few years ago, I had always wanted to go back. Unfortunately, it's a 10 to 12 hour drive away for us so it couldn't just be a weekend jaunt. That is, until budget airline Allegiant started offering flights from my neck of the woods to New Orleans - a two to three hour drive to the beaches of the Gulf. So for an extremely low fare, a backpack in lieu of a suitcase and a brief two hour flight later, we were visiting Pensacola Beach, Florida as our April Beach of the Month. 
The famous Pensacola Beach beach ball water tower

Santa Rosa Bay

Pensacola Beach is located on the Gulf Coast barrier island of Santa Rosa, just across the bridge from the historical city of Pensacola. It has quite a few high rises, a boardwalk with shops and entertainment, Gulf Islands National Seashore, a family friendly zoo and a military fort from 1834. We spent the majority of our visit on the beach enjoying that sugar-white sand and watching a few of the brave take dips in the ocean. We lucked out with a windy but sunny day with perfect temps for a gorgeous beach day. Here's the details:

Where to Stay
Holiday Inn Resort
We used our Holiday Inn points and stayed at the family friendly Holiday Inn Resort. Located right on the Gulf, with a heated lazy river ride, two hot tubs and a tiki bar, the Holiday Inn Resort is a favorite with families. It was crowded, but not overly so, and the service was excellent. Free parking is included and you can walk to shops and restaurants. 

The view of Santa Rosa Bay

Margaritaville Beach Hotel
Singer Jimmy Buffett has branched out into owning Margaritaville restaurants, hotels and even retirement villages. If you love the parrothead lifestyle, then this is where you want to stay in Pensacola Beach. It's done up in true beachy style and includes the Frank and Lola Love Pensacola cafe (from the song Frank and Lola love Pensacola) and the Landshark Landing Beach Bar which is, just as it sounds, a beach bar with volleyball, hammocks and a fire pit. The price for all this is a bit hefty, though, in my opinion. But if it's worth it to you, then go for it.
The white building in the distance is Jimmy's Place

Holiday Inn Express
Holiday Inn has a newly opened Holiday Inn Express located on the more residential and quieter side just up the beach from Margaritaville. Rates include breakfast and there is an oceanfront pool. Unfortunately, it was sold out the weekend that we were visiting.


And per usual, you can try your hand at Air BnB, Home Away or VRBO for a condo or studio.

What to Do
Gulf Islands National Seashore 
This National Seashore is located along the coast of Florida and Mississippi including 7 islands. There are recreational opportunities by land and by boat. The cost to enter is $20 per car.

Fort Pickens
This military fort was built in 1834 to protect Pensacola Bay. You can take a self-guided, or guided, tour daily. It's located within Gulf Islands National Seashore.


Gulf Breeze Zoo

Take the family to the zoo and enjoy seeing the animals, a farm, train ride and wildlife preserve. 

And, of course, visit the beaches. It's what Pensacola Beach is most known for. If you're not staying oceanside, you can visit Casino Beach which has it's own parking lot, lifeguards, the pier and restrooms. A word of warning  - this public beach was extremely crowded on the weekend we were there. 

Where to Eat
Shaggy's is a chain of seafood restaurants - this one is located on the bay - that has been voted one of Coastal Living's Best Seafood Dives. Coastal Living has never steered me wrong before but I was quite a bit disappointed in Shaggy's. The outdoor dining and view was fine but the food was definitely off. Mr. UR and I can eat just about anywhere - and neither of us liked our meal. And that's saying something. So hopefully if you decide to go here - or one of it's other locations - your luck will be better.

Frank and Lola Love Pensacola Cafe
Located inside the Margaritaville Beach Cafe, Frank and Lola's is a fun beachy cafe with ocean views that serves breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner. We ate breakfast here - the service was great and the food was good, too. Mr. UR loved his blue crab, shrimp, and chorizo omelet topped with hollaindaise sauce. 

Red Fish, Blue Fish
A casual bay side eatery that gets good reviews, this is where I wish we had gone instead of Shaggy's. But hind sight is 20/20 - coulda, woulda, shoulda, right? Next time.

All in all, it was a fun two days at the beach. Pensacola Beach was one of the cleanest beaches I've ever been to - and though it wasn't my favorite beach town ever, Mr. UR really liked it and it's laid back, fun vibe. It was fun to get away for a few days, see a new place and get my toes in the sand. Cheers!

How about you? Have you been to the Florida Panhandle? 

I try my best to only use my photos for this blog. Unfortunately, I lost my camera at the end of this trip - so all photos are from my phone, hence some being a bit less than ideal. Some photos that I had taken of certain locations have been replaced by those from the internet - a source has been cited if so. If I locate my camera - which I realize is a long shot - I'll update with more photos, and high quality ones at that.

Linking up with: WATW at Communal Global, The Weekly Postcard at Travel Notes and Beyond, Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox and The Weekend Wanderlust Weekend Travel Blog Party!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

5 Fun Things to Do in Nashville

Nashville has gone from guitars, cadillacs and country music to a city of foodies, symphony orchestras and rooftop bars. Country has become oh, so cool. If you're interested in jumping on the Nashville bandwagon and going for a visit, here are 5 things you can do in a weekend visit.

1. Go Honky Tonkin on Broadway
Broadway is the main thoroughfare in Nashville and what started as hole in the wall dives for talent to be discovered in, has now become big business. You can still visit Tootsie's Orchid Lounge or Legends but  you can also honky tonk - that is, go hear live music while enjoying adult refreshments - at Honky Tonk Central, Acme Feed & Seed or Rippy's, all 3 story entertainment venues. And the Bluebird Cafe, not located on Broadway, is the hot ticket of the moment if you really want to hear some unknown talent. But make your reservations online early - or be prepared to wait in line for hours.

Read more about Honky Tonkin on Broadway here

2. Visit Belle Meade Plantation
Belle Meade Plantation started out as a log cabin with 250 acres and grew to be a thoroughbred horse farm with it's famous Greek Revival Mansion. You can visit and tour the mansion and grounds - topped off with a wine tasting - and learn the history of this farm that has served as the bloodlines for many of racing's most illustrious horses. And if you want to make a full day of it, you can eat at the on-grounds restaurant.

Read more about Belle Meade Plantation here

3. Take a Nashville Food Tour
Nashville's food scene is hot, hot, hot right now and you can take a walking food tour to taste some of it's farm-to-table and locally sourced dishes. I chose WalkEatNashville  which was a fantastic 3 hour walking tour of the downtown Nashville area - they also tour East Nashville and Midtown - that visited such restaurants as Husk, Bakersfield, the Goo Goo Shop & Dessert Bar and my personal favorite, The Farm House. I enjoyed this tour so much that I now seek out food tours in any cities I visit. 
Willie Nelson watches over the kitchen at Husk

Short rib tacos at Bakersfield

4. View The Parthenon
Due to it's many universities and being the first Southern city to establish a public school system, Nashville was known as the Athens of the South by the 1850's. This nickname was already well known when the Tennessee Centennial Exposition was held in 1897 and the world's only full-scale replica of the Parthenon was built. Still there today, you can visit the urban Centennial Park and the Parthenon including it's famous Athena statue. You can walk around the building and it's grounds or pay to visit the interior museum which also serves as Nashville's art museum (entrance fee for the museum is $6 per adult or $4 per child or senior)

5. Tour one of Nashville's unique neighborhoods
Like most cities, Nashville is host to many unique neighborhoods. 12 South houses bungalows, vintage guitar stores and the "I Love Nashville" mural made famous on instagram. If you want hip, head to Hillsboro Village - close to Vanderbilt and Belmont Universities - for street art, cocktail bars and hip eateries. Germantown includes the Nashville Farmers Market, former warehouses that are now boutiques and restaurants in Victorian period buildings. The Gulch - a former area of parking lots and railroad lines- has been transformed into a LEED certified neighborhood housing such famous restaurants as Burger Republic, Biscuit Love, The Station Inn and that famous WhatLiftsYou Wings mural. (From personal experience, I highly suggest Jeni's Ice Cream if you're in the Hillsboro neighborhood. Get a flight of ice cream including some of their unique flavors such as Bangkok Peanut or Brambleberry Crisp)

Jeni's Ice Cream in Hillsboro Village

The Gulch

How about you? Have you been to Nashville? What would you recommend doing there?

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Linking up with: WATW at Communal Global and Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox!