getaways & day trips

Florida Fun

By May 18, 2010No Comments

As the sun sets over the Gulf of  Mexico

at Clearwater Beach, eyes are drawn to the horizon as brilliant shades of pink and lavender stretch across the sky. Sunsets at Clearwater Beach have been voted among the top in Florida, second only to Key West.

After a cold winter, lovers of warm weather set their sights on fragrant breezes and lazy days digging their toes in the sand under a beach umbrella.

In the spring, the sparkling waters on the Florida coast of Clearwater, St. Pete and Tampa beckon with sun-drenched days offering three of the 10 top beaches in the country, numerous attractions and abundant restaurants.

Two hours before sunset at Clearwater Beach, craftsmen and musicians gather for Sunsets at Pier 60, located on the promenade portion of the fishing pier. The festival is held daily year-round, weather permitting.

If you are spending the day at Clearwater Beach, be sure to try Frenchie’s for lunch. No need to change from a swimsuit to enjoy a crispy grouper sandwich. The portabella mushroom sandwich is also delicious.

Our favorite restaurant for many years has been Salt Rock Grill in Indian Shores. Located on the waterway where some diners arrive by boat, the restaurant offers superb food in a lively setting with indoor and outdoor seating. When walking into the entrance, don’t miss the wine cellar visible under a glass-floor section.

The steaks are excellent, aged on the premises and grilled over an oak-and-citrus wood pit at 1200 F. The menu also offers plenty of seafood and other specialties including duck, veal and lamb, among other choices.

A tasty appetizer for sharing is the Kingston Trio with marinade skewers of grilled filet mignon, chicken and pork tenderloin.

Entrees are served with a house or Caesar salad, fresh bread with herbed olive oil, and a choice of Mediterranean orzo, garlic mashed potatoes or baked potato.

If you are looking for an interesting restaurant in Tampa or St. Pete, try Ceviche, a Spanish restaurant offering flavorful dishes in a Spanish décor. On Tuesday nights, tapas are offered at a special $4 each. This allows for sampling a variety of Spanish specialties. Favorites are artichoke bottoms stuffed with ham and shrimp in a sherry-cream sauce, eggplant with mushrooms, hummus and potatoes tossed with aioli. On the dessert menu, the bread pudding is noteworthy.

The most famous Spanish restaurant in the area is also the oldest. Columbia restaurant first opened in Ybor City in Tampa in 1905. There are now several Columbia restaurants in Florida, including at St. Pete Pier and Clearwater Beach.

The Columbia restaurant at Clearwater Beach offers a pleasant change from beach restaurants with tablecloths and arched windows overlooking the intercoastal waterway. Dine indoors or on the covered porch.

The menu is extensive, but must tries are the 1905 salad prepared tableside with their garlic dressing and the original Cuban sandwich, made with smoked ham, roast pork, Genoa salami, Swiss cheese, dill pickle and mustard on pressed hot Cuban bread. The combo with the salad and sandwich is a great deal.

The landmark Columbia restaurant in Ybor City opened over 100 years ago as a corner café for local cigar workers.

Among the attractions in Tampa is the Florida Aquarium, which displays the scene 2,000 feet below the Gulf of Mexico. View more than 5,000 aquatic plants and animals from Florida.

Busch Gardens in Tampa Bay has one of North America’s largest zoos. Spend the day exploring animal habitats and enjoying live entertainment.

Tampa Bay also offers a variety of sports events and Broadway shows at the Performing Arts Center.

At the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, visitors can observe and touch dolphins and sea turtles.

Along with Clearwater Beach, other beaches in Pinellas County include the Fort De Soto Beach, voted the number one beach for the second consecutive year. Also in the top 10 is Sand Key.

In St. Pete, the Pass-A-Grille Beach is located in an undeveloped area.

While there is a wide selection of accommodations along the coast, two upscale hotels in St. Pete are the Don CeSar Beach Resort, long known as the “Pink Palace,” and the Vinoy Renaissance Resort and Golf Club. Both offer fine amenities and dining options for a restful getaway.

If you are weary of cold days and heavy jackets, perhaps the warmer temperatures along Florida’s gleaming blue coast is the perfect, restorative spring break.

Salt Rock Grill is located at 19325 Gulf Boulevard, Indian Shores. Phone number is 727.593.7625.

In Tampa, Ceviche is located at 1502 S. Howard Ave. and at 10 Beach Dr. in St. Pete.

At Ybor City, the Columbia restaurant is located at 2117 East 7th Ave., in Clearwater at 1241 Gulf Boulevard and at the St. Pete Pier.

The Florida Aquarium is located at 701 Channelside Dr., Tampa. Open 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. daily.

Busch Gardens is located at 3000 East Busch Blvd., Tampa Bay

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