Other than the already centuries old Spanish domains in the north and the panhandle, south of St. Augustine Florida in the early 19th century was a land of bayous, forests, gators and mosquitoes. Fortunately, Florida’s still that way in some places.
Yet by the 1890s the Tampa Bay/Clearwater/Pinellas County Gulf of Mexico shore had been discovered by affluent Americans traveling by the new railroads that opened Florida. Their vacation homes would reflect the styles of the day from simple cottages to Edwardian mansions and Craftsman houses.
Over two dozen historic structures – and growing – comprise the the 21-acre Pinellas County Heritage Village representing Florida life from the mid-1800s to the outbreak of the Second World War. You can continue the story at…
Peru is not what comes to mind when wandering Mount Dora’s Victorian and Arts & Crafts streets. Yet among the myriad number of restaurants and cafes Mr. Cebiche Peruvian Cuisine is an innovative addition to the town’s American Modern standards.
But its culinary choices are not limited to people. Piglet’s Pantry has been baking all-natural dog biscuits for nearly 20 years.
Decorated artificial trees can be seen in the window walls of downtown condos, the cafes on Beach Drive are full of festive diners inside and out on the sidewalks and kids are talking to Santa under the Live Oaks on a balmy Saint Petersburg Christmas season evening.
It’s starting to feel a lot like a tropical Christmas.
South Florida is the American mainland tropics and a festival based on a return of the sun – winter solstice/Christmas – seems lost when the sun shines for only a couple hours less during this season. Yet of course Christmas is beyond climate and all areas of the globe have their own expressions.
Lighted boat parades are a Florida tradition and why not considering the enormous number of privately owned sea craft in the state. Both towns and yacht clubs put on numerous floating displays during December.
Especially for children, St. Petersburg turned North Straub Park into Snowfest 2015 the first December weekend. Complete with 65 tons of snow that created a sledding area under the Banyan trees, the festival boasted an artificial ice skating platform, karaoke Christmas carol singing, crafts and, of course, sno-cones.
Traditional decorations on houses and the streets are popping up as if the tropic in all its natural glory does dress up for the holidays.
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Among Florida’s Roaring Twenties grand hotels it seems Al Capone slept in many, including Casa Marina. The mid-1920s Prohibition era was profitable for Florida including Jacksonville Beach. The beachfront Mediterranean Revival club-like Casa Marina, complete with a sprinkler system, opened in 1925 to a high living bi-coastal clientele.
Ninety years later on the deck of the Penthouse Lounge & Martini Bar overlooking the Atlantic’s pounding surf Casa Marina serves a premium Tequila Margareta – without the slushy ice – that I’m confident infamous Al would approve.
Read what intrigued even the big Al to Jacksonville Beach…
Blessed with Florida’s agricultural and ocean abundance at their doorstep, restaurants in St. Petersburg don’t have to search far for quality ingredients.
A relaxed Gulf of Mexico life style and plenty of Florida sunshine draw residents and tourists to a plethora of cafes, fine dining, bars and beach side venues serving traditional fried fish platters to truffled wild mushroom risotto. With an emphasis on independent ownership St. Petersburg chefs have the freedom to experiment or just create the best grilled grouper sandwich on the beach. Here’s a dozen to try in the St. Petersburg area…
Lest one think St. Petersburg is an example of the old joke that Florida is ‘God’s little waiting room,’ the attendees at September’s Grand Tasting were well under the age of this seasoned culinary journalist. St. Petersburg is attracting residents from a vibrant cross-section of educated world citizens that thrive on the arts, sun, beach, boating and fine food. An explosion of fascinating venues more than satisfies all of these eclectic tastes.
With a rapidly recovering economy after the 2008 downturn, St. Petersburg, Florida has established itself as an art and restaurant destination on the Gulf of Mexico coast. Fourteen restaurants and eight wineries are featured in…
Both the Museum of Fine Arts and the Morean Arts Center are masters at engaging the imagination of visitors whether through first century Roman iridescent glass or discovering the best cupcake artist in St. Petersburg.
Just like fine art, culinary creations can reach artistic heights. The Morean Arts Center has sponsored the Annual Great St. Pete Cupcake Contest for the past five years. It’s an opportunity for the city’s baking artists to be judged by both professionals and the general public. You can read about the region’s burgeoning art scene at…
I’ve not posted on Travel with Pen and Palate since May. After many years in Philadelphia a permanent move to a warm climate was the order from my very intelligent wife. After all why not?
As a travel writer my only requirement is an internet connection. I’m not a stranger to living in a warm climate. I spent nine years at the start of my career in Puerto Rico. I love traveling to warm climates, and on the USA mainland Florida is our tropics.
No doubt selling a house, packing up three decades of art and antiques and moving to St. Petersburg, FL, does disrupt a writing and traveling schedule. I’ve had to turn down several great press trip invitations including El Salvador and Italy because my wife somehow thinks I should be involved in house hunting…yes, we moved without first knowing where we were going to live. Of course we had no way of knowing our house would sell in 6 days…but that’s all part of adventure.
Adventure for me as a culinary and culture travel writer is focusing on what makes a destination exciting for those who already call it home. A tourist can always find the best beach, the newest luxury hotel or today’s trendy restaurant by simply spending time on social media.
But will they discover the best cupcake? Will they think that discovery will be found in an art museum that features the glass work of Dale Chihuly? Or that an effusive city booster will be a Scot immigrant of 20 years who’s your server in a terrific cafe? I’ve discovered that and much more in my first three weeks in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Want to know about the cupcake…and Picasso’s lover…and a city that’s become a cultural mecca…with good beaches?
Walk down any Charleston street and you’ll be acknowledged. Stop and ask a question and be prepared for a lengthy and enthusiastic conversation. As one gentleman said, “Charleston’s always been unique.”
Richmond’s elegant Jefferson Hotel used to stock live alligators in the fountain of the Palm Court lobby. How does Christmas top that? Old Pompey, immortalized by a taxidermist, was the last and after his passing in 1948 the fountain was removed.
Richmond residents as well as visitors are drawn to both the lobby and hotel restaurants akin to New York’s Time Square – it’s the city’s Christmas focal point. Read why at…
In the 1820’s artist and naturalist John James Audubon lived for months in the Everglades, surviving mosquitoes, to paint in painstaking detail and breathtaking artistry its many bird species.
The Everglades is a vast subtropical wetland and collection of coastal ecosystems including freshwater marshes, tropical hardwood hammocks, pine rock lands, extensive mangrove forests, saltwater marshes, and seagrass ecosystems. The abundance of wildlife, both subtropical and temperate species, is found nowhere else in the United States.
At best, the European empires who vied for centuries over control of the Western Hemisphere considered Florida a convenient military outpost for protecting shipping lanes to and from the old world. Misquotes, yellow fever, swamps and wars are never good for real estate sales. European empires and American statehood did little for Florida’s economy. It took Henry Flagler – John D. Rockefeller’s partner in Standard Oil – to create an American Riviera and the state’s first golden age. His entrepreneurial expertise built the Florida East Coast Railroad, a plethora of elegant hotels, the cities of Miami and Palm Beach and revived the oldest city in North America, St. Augustine. From the late 1800’s through 1929, Florida basked in both its sunlight and the glint of a golden age in tourism.
More wars, the Great Depression and jet aircraft diverted attention and Florida’s luster suffered from the 1960’s to the end of the century. Yet the 21st century has witnessed a renaissance in interest in America’s sub-tropical real estate and it’s 20th century golden age.
The arts are flourishing with the revival of resort destinations such as the gulf coast’s St. Petersburg. The venerable Morean Arts Center (1917) has built a new facility just to feature America’s preeminent glass artist, Dale Chihuly.
500 years ago (1513) Don Ponce de Leon fruitlessly searched for the legendary fountain of youth and discovered Florida instead. A lot of history and visitors have followed and they all needed a bed. The building that is now St. Augustine’s renowned St. Francis Inn was built while the city was still part of the Spanish empire – 1791. Yet Joe and Margaret Finnegan have never seen Lily even though they have owned St. Augustine’s historic St. Frances Inn for nearly three decades. Of course, Lily’s not a guest…
An attentive and friendly staff of 14 oversee the many details that can make a guest of the St. Francis Inn forget they’re also visiting one of America’s great historic destinations, St. Augustine, Fl.