Miami, Orlando, Jacksonville, The Everglades, Sarasota, and beyond — I’ve been all over The Sunshine State. But despite logging tons of time with family in Tampa, I’d rarely crossed the bay to one of the most popular tourism destination on the American Gulf Coast — The Sunshine City.
St. Petersburg, Florida logs an average of 361 days of sunshine per year, landing the Guinness World Record for most consecutive days with sun after one particularly bright 768 day stretch. My own trip featured an incredibly unusual forecast — four days of rain. As a certified Vitamin D addict, that kind of bad luck can usually leave both a physical and metaphorical cloud over a new destination for me.
But St. Pete, I quickly learned, is special — and a destination of contrasts. A hip downtown and a retro beach strip, big city attractions with a small town vibe, a sunshine city with crazy amounts to do in the rain. A friend had described St. Pete to me as Florida’s answer to Austin or Portland, and while I’ve yet to visit either of those cities, I knew exactly the vibe they invoked. Bohemian. Creative. Local. Hip.
“What took me so long to get over here?” was a pretty constant chorus running through my head throughout my trip. I’m not sure what did — but I do know it won’t be long before I’m back. Here’s why.
The Museum Scene is Amazing
The Dali Museum, called “one of the most beautiful museums in the world” by Condé Nast Traveler in 2016, is the undisputed queen of the St. Pete museum scene. I visited a few years ago — one of my few forays across the bay to St. Pete — and couldn’t wait to return. While the building, gardens and café feel larger than life, the galleries themselves, home to works by one of the world’s most creative minds, are relatively small and won’t take all day to tackle. (Not too small, though — it is world’s largest collection of the artist’s work outside of Spain.)
The Dali is more than just a museum. Fun, community-minded events like Yoga at the Dali, Coffee With a Curator lectures, and ArtFlix, an art documentary film series, make this space a living, breathing part of St. Pete. Movie buffs shouldn’t miss Cult Classics @ The Dali, a free movie following extended museum hours — bring a lawn chair and enjoy food and craft beer from local food trucks and breweries while watching a beloved flick on an outdoor screen.
St. Pete is also renown for its glass art scene. The Chihuly Collection is a must-see, as is the included Hot Glass Shop demonstration across the street. The $20 admission was the one purchase in St. Pete that gave me pause — it’s a pretty small museum, frankly — but I just couldn’t stand to miss it. If you’re doing tons of attractions across the bay, Tampa’s CityPass is a good value. Perhaps one of the included guided tours — which we didn’t take – would have made it feel like a higher value.
Still want more? Browse works by the masters at the city’s Museum of Fine Arts, or browse affordable works by local artists at the brilliant Florida CraftArt, which also offers local mural tours (more on those this week!)
Watching your wallet? The Duncan McClellan Gallery is a stunning collection of one local glass artists work, the Morean Arts Center shows contemporary work from around the world, and the Morean Center for Clay shows pottery in a renovated historic train station — all for free.
Want to be the artist? Zen Glass Studio offers workshops in blowing wine glasses, glass pendants, glass ornaments, and beyond. The Morean Arts Center offers courses in glass, clay, and more, and you can learn beading, felting and other craft skills at Strands of Sunshine’s workshops.
And it’s not all about the arts. History buffs should head to The St. Petersburg Museum of History (an exhibit on Alligators and Oddities explores Florida’s classic taste for kitsch — it’s on my list for next time!) and The Florida Holocaust Museum. Sports fans will get a kick out of the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame at Tropicana Field, and families will enjoy running around with the kids at the Great Explorations Children’s Museum.
I wasn’t kidding — St. Pete takes its gallery and museum-ing seriously.
One of the things I love most about traveling in Florida is the price tags. Aside from the fairly pricey museum admissions, St. Pete will constantly surprise you with its affordability. From my fantastic $99 beach hotel to 99¢ ice cream, you can have an amazing vacation here that doesn’t break the bank — nor feel like you’re on a tight budget.
The Market Scene is Insane
I was incredibly lucky that my visit coincided with the monthly St. Pete Indie Market, a haven for local designers, indie artists, and bohemian crafters. In the winter, the market is held outside at Green Bench Brewery; in the summer, they beat the heat at the historic State Theater.
As we walked through the doors, I felt as if I’d been transported back to Brooklyn — though endless wares embroidered with Florida’s unmissable outline reminded me where I was. Artisan snacks, massage tents, a bustling bar, great music, and tons of pups contributed to the street party atmosphere, which graces downtown St. Pete the first Saturday of every month from 11-3pm. I bought letterpress cards, my aunt grabbed a vintage jacket, and we oohed and aahed over succulent gardens, screen printed totes, handmade jewelry, and enough gifts to knock off a full Christmas list in one swoop.
And there’s more. Brocante Market is a monthly vintage market housed in a 15,000 square foot former piano factory, Crafty Fest is another local indie market held once a month in the spacious alley of a local gallery, and Corey Sunday Market and the Saturday Morning Market are weekly events with a more farmer’s market feel.
Can’t stand shopping in the Florida heat? Head to one of the summer night markets like the St. Pete Side Lot’s Night Market, the Fringe Flea Market, or the Summer Nights Exchange, a brewery-based event featuring 50+ vendors, music, interactive installations, and a tattoo art show. Find a full list of local markets here.
The Food Is Crazy Good
The bar and restaurant scene in St. Pete is so robust, I’m dedicating a whole upcoming post to it. And again, the drum beats to all things local — fresh ingredients sourced from nearby farms and taps filled with the newest offerings from breweries all along The Gulp Coast.
I assumed the area’s notorious microbrewery scene wouldn’t have anything to offer a non-beer drinker like me, but found myself pleasantly surprised by the selection of locally produced wines and ciders. More coming soon!
It’s All Kinds of Green
St. Pete made headlines last year when they vowed to be the first city in Florida to use 100% renewable energy. It wasn’t the first time they were recognized — St. Pete was the first in Florida to be designated a ‘Green City’ by the Florida Green Building Coalition, and also lays claim to Florida’s first LEED GOLD certified home.
St. Pete has made a clear commitment to sustainability and conservation — and that leaves an eco traveler like me looking like the heart-eyed emoji.
The City Feels Young
Florida isn’t known as “God’s Waiting Room” for nothin’. But St. Pete has a lively, youthful feel that breaks the stereotype. And it’s not just subjective. A well-weighted ranking of Florida cities put St. Pete at the top of the best cities for millennials, with its millennial population increasing 6% since 2010.
But don’t worry, that old nickname hasn’t been retired — God’s Waiting Room now refers to a trendy speakeasy serving craft cocktails in the heart of downtown St. Pete.
Shopping Local is Easy — and Amazing
Forget the big box stores. St. Pete locals and visitors alike are committed to shopping local. Regular blog readers know I’m not much of a shopper (local markets are an exception!) but even I couldn’t resist the lure of Central Avenue’s fun and affordable boutiques.
My favorite store of all was Haslam’s, Florida’s largest bookstore — and an independent gem in the Amazon age. A fabulous section on all things Florida highlighted world-famous authors that love St. Pete. Chief among them? Jack Kerouac, who lived in St. Pete from 1966 to his death in 1969, and was a frequent customer of Haslam’s himself.
A local organization Friends of the Jack Kerouac House organize occasional bike tours and book clubs to raise funds to turn the author’s final dwelling into a local museum.
Nature is Not Hard to Find
I had big plans to spend my days in St Pete stand up paddling along its lovely shores, kayaking to Caladesi Island, biking the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail, taking the Shell Key Shuttle to an abandoned beach, and searching for dolphins in Vinoy Park. The weather had other plans, but I now have a list to tackle when I return!
With the Gulf of Mexico on one side and Tampa Bay on the other, St. Pete is literally surrounded by beautiful waters and dotted with lovely parks, bike paths, and other reminders of the beautiful land upon which this city sprung.
The Beaches are a Beautiful Nostalgia Bomb
Due to the weather I spent most of my time in St. Pete exploring the downtown area — however, I loved staying at vintage vacation spot The Postcard Inn on The Beach. With less than a twenty minute drive between them in my cute red rental from Avis, I really felt like I got the best of both worlds. (However, if you are super keen to stay downtown, you can do that too — check out The Avalon, recently renovated and looking fresh!)
For every degree hip that downtown is, the beach strip matches it in retro cuteness. Even in the rain I loved driving from the very southern tip of Pass-A-Grille all the way up to St. John’s Pass in Madeira, getting a feel for the different vibes of the various beaches along the way. Business names like The Undertow Beach Bar, The Freaky Tiki Surf Shack, and Polynesian Putter — open since 1967 and one of the oldest mini-golf courses in Florida! — left me swooning with an undeserved nostalgia for the Old Florida I was too young to really known.
But I love that on St. Pete beach, I could get a taste of it.
The Fitness Scene is Fabulous
When I planned this trip I thought I’d be running on the beach and taking SUP yoga classes — instead, I found myself seeking indoor fitness options. Which turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because these were some of my favorite finds of the trip.
I kicked things off with Yoga at the Dali. This weekly Sunday offering is a mere $10 for members and students, and just $15 for non-members. To visit the galleries on the same day is just $10 more. Since regular admission is $24, you’re basically getting a $1 yoga class! And it was a great one — I loved how the teacher incorporated her thoughts on art and creativity into the class, and I can’t think of a better view than the museum’s iconic organically-shaped glass walls.
Yoga in unusual places is having a moment in St. Pete — throughout my stay I also saw signs for Yoga On Tap at a local brewery, and Awaken Yoga classes at the roadside retro attraction The Sunken Gardens. Local gem The Body Electric offers wild workshops and classes all over town, from clothing optional classes to poolside sessions to SUP workshops to yoga in a local fixed gear bike shop.
Another morning, I turned to ClassPass to look for a workout with an easy commute from The Postcard Inn. I stumbled on Barre Central, and fell in love from the moment I walked through the door. This sweet locally-owned and operated studio has a multi-generational legion of fans. I left with a huge smile on my face — not just because of the amazing butt-kicking workout I just had, but also because of the sense of community I felt from just one class.
Group fitness addicts, don’t miss this one. After class, stock up on organic and healthy treats next door at Earth Origins Market.
It’s a Treat for Travelers To Get To
With frequent and affordable flights arriving to both St. Pete Airport and Tampa Airport, it’s a pleasure to fly to. And it’s quick. With direct flights clocking in at less than two and a half hours from New York, it’s quicker than a drive to the Hamptons.
Plus, you’ll be following in the steps of some serious aviation history — In 1914 the world’s first commercial flight took off from St. Pete and landed 23 minutes later in Tampa with one passenger who paid $400 for the ticket. That would be just under $10,000 today — thank goodness fares have dropped!
If you’re tacking St. Pete onto a trip to one of Florida’s other famous destinations, you might be pleasantly surprised by the drive — it’s a quick two hour zip across the state from Orlando. Coming by boat? Nearby Tampa has Florida’s largest and most diversified seaport — and regular cruise ship departures.
Clearly, I’m pretty smitten with St. Pete. What’s not to love? It’s got the art and food scene of a big city with the charms and natural beauty of the beach town. The focus on local business and sustainability? It just pushes everything over the edge.
While I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty serious Miami girl, this trip had me seriously reconsidering my ranking of favorite Florida cities.
What’s your favorite city in The Sunshine State?
One thing I’ve been hearing from you guys is that you want to hear more about my current travels right after they happen. Well, ask and ye shall receive! I’m jumping in to start sharing some posts from Florida and Tennessee, a trip so fresh I just unpacked from it.
This post is brought to your by VISIT FLORIDA. I maintain full editorial control and as always all thoughts, opinions, and declarations of love are my own.
One thing I’ve been hearing from you guys is that you want to hear more about my current travels right after they happen. Well, ask and ye shall receive! I’m jumping in to start sharing some posts from Florida and Tennessee, a trip so fresh I just unpacked from it. This post is brought to you by VISIT FLORIDA.
So, usually you pick a destination then start looking for accommodation, right? In this case, planned a trip kind of backward — I started with a vintage vacation spot I couldn’t resist, and built a solo trip to St. Petersburg, Florida from there.
And on this trip I learned a secret – The Sunshine State is home to a treasure trove of hidden gem boutique hotels.
When VISIT FLORIDA invited me to explore one of the state’s beautiful boutique hotels, I knew I wanted to be on the ocean. I also knew I didn’t have huge budget tastes, but I craved great design. And I knew that anything that could further my obsession with classic retro Florida vibes was a win. That’s when I found The Postcard Inn on the Beach.
St. Pete has a laid-back beach vibe that’s reflected in the affordable, hip and casual Postcard Inn, originally built as The Colonial Gateway Inn in 1957. Before restaurateur Stephen Hanson gave the property new life as the surfer chic Postcard Inn, it was a Travelodge, and plans to demolish and rebuild were strongly opposed by the community, eventually encouraging Hanson to renovate and preserve the historical motel instead.
Postcard Inn avoids the downsides that can often befall famed boutique hotels – high rates and snobby attitudes. “Howard Johnson meets JetBlue,” is how the team behind the easy-going Postcard Inn creation described their end game.
The results are, in my humble opinion, the happy place where budget and bohemian make a baby, with room rates starting at $99 out of season (July through December) and $189 in season (January to June). Pets are welcome for a reasonable $75 fee per stay — as if there wasn’t already enough to like.
The chic lobby is lined with a bright rainbow of books on built-in shelves in one direction and a chalkboard displaying the times of sunset, sunrise, the tides and the temperature on another. There’s a cute breakfast nook, and in the mornings free coffee and tea are served, and a microwave is available to guests.
Although I was traveling solo, I opted for a classic double queen for my stay, drawn to the collection of surf photos by local St. Pete artists pasted into a visual headboard. I swooned over the full size surfboards in each room, the brightly colored Tommy Bahama toiletries, and the vintage table lamps on the desk.
Larger cabana-style rooms boast wooden carved headboards with detailed maps of the local area, chilled-out private patios with hammocks, and a small kitchenette. Other rooms feature floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall photo murals of longboard surfers catching a wave, or a series of bold quotes by legendary surfers — as well as Thoreau, the Beach Boys, Warhol, or Jay-Z.
The two-story, U-shaped motel is made up of just under 200 rooms, with an Olympic-sized pool and a lush garden patio in the center. Rooms facing into the courtyard and pool are slightly higher priced, while those offering the best value face outward toward the parking lots for each wing.
Bonus! Parking is included in the $25 per night resort fee, along with Wi-Fi, bicycle rentals, and use of the other hotel amenities.
The weather was unseasonably rainy and cloudy during my stay, which gave me plenty of time to explore downtown St. Pete, though less to explore the beach and pool. Still, when the rain paused one morning I walked down for a breakfast picnic on the sand and could see why beach bums flock here.
For those who prefer to stay busy, a serious of lawn games and two beachside gyms provide alternative entertainment. In the lobby, a vintage photo booth, a library of art books, and a caricature artist who set up shop in the corner offered even further distraction. “Dive in” movie nights, where films are projected over the pool, are a popular weekend event.
I found that the majority of St. Pete’s most alluring dining options were a 20-minute drive or so away in the downtown core. The onsite restaurant, The Boathouse Kitchen and Bar, is an exception – I had a lovely lunch here with my aunt one day before venturing out for the day to explore, and ordered room service another night.
Between the pool and the beach is the freestanding PCI Beach Bar, and an adjacent Snack Shack, which is open in high periods (during my visit, mid-week in June, it wasn’t open.)
One night, I held a reader meet-up for fellow travel addicts in the Tampa and St. Pete area. Fourteen of us kicked off at the PCI Beach Bar, where live music and a stunning sunset made a Sunday feel like a Friday. Reclaimed wood, a recycled tin roof and license plates from around the world made me feel like we’d washed ashore and come up in the Florida Keys. Locals promised me the PCI beach Bar was the perfect spot for my reader meet-up, and they were right.
Interior designer Tara Oxley said in an interview that photographer Stephen Shore’s 1970’s American road trip images and a passage from Jack Kerouac provided some of her primary inspiration. That free-spirit, travel-loving vibe was there from check-in to checkout.
There’s so much that I adored about my stay at The Postcard Inn on the Beach, my only complaint is that I didn’t have more time to spare. But I’ll be back. Between the love of a community that spared this Gulf Coast gem from being dozed and developed, a design team that believed style is for every budget, and the picture-perfect location, this place has a lot to love.
The hotel truly reflects St. Pete, which I quickly learned is itself a funky and affordable, no-fuss kind of city, from the retro beach to the hip downtown. Even at its most upscale, St. Pete is unpretentious, the kind of city where flip-flops feel more at home than high heels. Barefoot? Even better.
Other Boutique Hotels in Florida
Looking for somewhere affordable and stylish elsewhere in the Sunshine State? Check out these other boutique hotels I’ve bookmarked for future trips.
• One Ocean Resort in Jacksonville: A slick resort with a spa and ocean views. Rates starting at $219.
• Postcard Inn in Islamorada: The sister hotel to St. Pete’s Postcard Inn, the Florida Keys location brings all the charm of the original down South. Rates starting at $209.
• Hotel Cabana in Clearwater: Another recently renovated motel with stylish rooms, affordable rates, and an Instagram-able pool. Rates starting at $120.
• Sense Beach House in Miami: This sleek and stylish 18-room boutique hotel in South Beach boasts a rooftop pool and a happening restaurant. Rates starting at $170.
What’s your favorite Florida boutique hotel? Does the Postcard Inn look like it’s your style?
This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of VISIT FLORIDA. The opinions and text are all mine.
One thing I’ve been hearing from you guys is that you want to hear more about my current travels right after they happen. Well, ask and ye shall receive! I’m jumping in to start sharing some posts from Florida and Tennessee, a trip so fresh I just unpacked from it. This post is brought to you by Universal Orlando Resort.
If there is one wedding trend you will never hear me grumble about, it’s destination bachelorette parties. A chance to get away with a group of my best gal pals? Sign me up! Let’s face it — the opportunities for girlfriend getaways are fewer and far between as time goes on, families get started and responsibilities pile up. So I’m all for making the most of indulgent time away while we can.
Plus, you know I can’t pass up an opportunity to raid the closest arts supply store! If my girl Angie’s Bachelorette Bonanza in Bonaire was any indication, it’s not a Wanderland-stamped bachelorette bash unless it’s replete with crafted and curated goody bags and coordinating outfits. Crafting is my love language, guys.
When I first told our dear family friend Ashlee that I was working with Universal Orlando for the year, she nearly fainted with excitement at the mere thought of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Not long after, she got engaged. My travel-idea wheels started turning, and soon a Harry Potter Bachelorette Party for Ashlee, my sister Olivia and I was born.
Both girls arrived on a Friday afternoon, and we spent a low-key evening enjoying dinner and girly giggles at the Royal Pacific Resort. I’d had a big week at Volcano Bay, and so I was thrilled we were having an early night in to prepare for the big day out ahead!
While we had a few delays in the morning and weren’t the first ones banging down the gates at opening time, we did take advantage of the extra hour of park admission for onsite hotel guests. We were visiting on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, so crowds should have been crushing. But by planning out our route and taking advantage of onsite guest perks, we really did make the most of our visit to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!
My advice? Check to see which parks have early admission — on this particular day, only Islands of Adventure did. (Remember, Hogsmeade is in Islands of Adventure, while Diagon Alley is in Universal Studios, and they are connected by the Hogwarts Express ride. Thus, a park hopper pass is required to visit both in one day.) So we started our day in Hogsmeade, and rode all three rides there as soon as we arrived, waiting only for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey — which in retrospect, we totally should have sprinted to first out of the three rides, since it’s the only one that doesn’t accept the Express Passes that we received included in our stay at Royal Pacific.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is definitely the standout of Hogsmeade, and it truly left me speechless! Dragon Challenge is a traditional crazy coaster that you could ride twice and have two totally different experiences, and the Flight of the Hippogriff is a more family-friendly roller coaster.
Once we had all the rides under out belt, we wandered in and out of the beautifully themed shops, took a million photos, and giggled while Ashlee did spells. While neither Olivia nor I are huge Harry fans — though believe me, it’s growing on me! — we seriously were having a blast and loving how much fun Ashlee was having.
“Is this what it’s like to be parents?,” Olivia mused, as we watched Ash waving her wand around with huge smiles. While I’m normally not much of a souvenir-buyer, wands are an absolute must for the true Potter-head. They allow you to perform spells at mapped locations all over the Wizarding World!
While this was my third trip to Universal Orlando, I had never truly experienced Hogsmeade before, so it really was a blast for me. After a Butterbeer toast to seal the morning, we were off on the Hogwarts Express — which again, thanks to our Express Passes, magically had no line!
And after a whirl on the world’s only inter-theme park ride, we arrived in Diagon Alley! I was so excited to see the girl’s reactions to this truly magical place, one of the greatest themed lands I’ve ever seen in any theme park anywhere in the world.
Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts was down temporarily, so we wandered the alleys doing more spells, splitting an ice cream, and checking out all the fab little shops and details.
Throughout the day, we were overwhelmed with super sweet and sincere compliments from Universal employees on our outfits, and Harry Potter glasses specifically. Considering they’ve seen it all, we were pretty dang proud of ourselves. The best part was, since I’d had to order an eight pack, we had extras to hand out to strangers who asked us about them — so fun!
Next up, it was time for a lunch — and air-conditioning! — break at The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar in CityWalk. I’d heard raves about this spot and while we were all boring and ordered (super delicious) salads and soda waters, I am totally coming back some night for their craft cocktails and signature Burgushi®.
After lunch, we headed back into Islands of Adventure to hit my favorite area of Universal Orlando… Seuss Landing! The girls humored me with spins on both The Cat in The Hat (which I’d been on before) and theThe High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride (which I hadn’t.) Neither had more than a two minute line.
Turns out the train ride has some of the best photography vantage points in the entire park — it’s so cool to see it all from above! So whether you’re a Seuss fan or not, if you’re coming with a camera you might just want to hop aboard for a spin.
After, we headed for my favorite ride in the park — Jurassic Park River Adventure. At this point, the late afternoon holiday weekend crowds were at their peak, so we decided to head back to the hotel for a dip in the pool and a nap before the rest of the day.
My big regret of the trip? Not taking the girls on my beloved Hulk coaster and not trying out the two water rides, Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls and Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges, when it was blazing hot! Sure, we could have fit it all in if we’d stayed in the park from open to close, but with a long weekend of fun ahead, we chose to pace ourselves — which is the exact reason I’d recommend travelers invest in at least a three day park-hopper pass so they don’t burn out while trying to enjoy all Universal Orlando Resort has to offer (which is, if you haven’t picked up on it already, a lot.)
Thankfully, by the time the sun set we were well rested for a night on the town — the town, in this case, being Universal’s CityWalk! One of my favorite things about a Universal vacation is you don’t have to get in a car once if you don’t want to.
You can eat, stay, play all in one compact, well-connected resort without fussing with rental cars, cabs, or Ubers. It actually makes it the perfect bachelorette bash port of call — between the security checks into CityWalk, the free water taxis back to the onsite hotels, and the peace of mind of keeping everyone in one place in a big group, you really couldn’t ask for a more worry-free destination for a girl’s night out.
CityWalk is bursting with dining options, which made it hard to narrow down our dinner reservations, though we finally settled on Antojitos for a festive Mexican meal. It did not disappoint! The modern and colorful interiors left us swooning — table for three in a birdcage? yes please! — and the menu left us drooling.
Don’t miss the ginger mojitos or the fresh guacamole made to your specifications right at the table!
After dinner, we rushed back into the park for Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, which we literally sprinted to when I read on the Universal App had reopened! With late summer hours, you really can make the most of your day — and night. Diagon Alley looks totally different at the dark, which made the ride being closed earlier in the day actually feel like a blessing in disguise. We got on what must have been one of the very last runs of the evening, and exited right as the nightly fireworks were going off. Talk about timing.
After, we strolled back into CityWalk ready to dance — and sing. We kicked things off at my personal favorite venue, Rising Star Karaoke, where you can croon with a live backup band and backup dancers. Unfortunately we arrived right as the band went on a lengthy break so the girls didn’t really get to experience Rising Star in all it’s glory, but our friendly waiter conceded that on a busy weekend you really need to arrive at opening to have a good chance of singing, anyway.
After a few drinks and sing-alongs, we were off to check out CityWalk’s two nightclubs, The Groove and Red Coconut Club. As very dedicated researchers, we did a thorough comparison of both — and while the dancefloors were packed and we had a blast at each, Red Coconut won out as our favorite for the retro kitsch decor (The Groove was more general-Myrtle-Beach-nightclub in comparison.) Both were totally unpretentious, with an all-age crowd all just looking to have a good time. And if you’re staying onsite, you’ll get free entry to every CityWalk venue by showing your room key — so why not check out both?
Not so much for the club scene? There are also some great bars in CityWalk — Bob Marley–A Tribute to Freedom has great live music (and Jamaican specialities on the dinner menu), Pat O’Brien’s boasts dueling pianos (and cajun food), and Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville has, well, a margarita-filled erupting volcano (and cheeseburgers in paradise, duh).
CityWalk’s last call is 2am, but make sure you close out your tab a bit earlier to grab late night slices at the Red Over Pizza Bakery. We took them to-go and hopped on the last water taxi of the night back to Royal Pacific, which turned out to be one of my favorite moments of my entire eight days in Orlando. Why?
When we boarded the boat, I noted that the professional young captain was a girl around our age. The only other group on the boat was another crew of ladies coming back from a big night out. As we pulled away from the dock, the captain wordlessly turned on a speaker and started blasting Madonna’s classic hit Lucky Star. When she started busting some serious dance moves at the wheel, we excitedly began belting backup from out seats. We might not have made it onstage at Rising Star, but the boat become our grandstand, the seven of us aboard rocking out for a one-song headline.
When we docked, we laughed and thanked our lovely captain for an unimaginably perfect ride home. “Well, I figured it was just us girls,” she said with a wink.
Just us girls indeed! It was the perfect day at the parks, and a bachelorette for the books.
What’s the best destination you’ve discovered for a bachelorette weekend?
This post is brought to your by Universal Orlando Resort. I am a member of the Universal Blog Squad, and have been compensated for this partnership. I maintain full editorial control and as always all thoughts, opinions, and over-ambitious craft projects are my own.
One thing I’ve been hearing from you guys is that you want to hear more about my current travels right after they happen. Well, ask and ye shall receive! I’m jumping in to start sharing some posts from Florida and Tennessee, a trip so fresh I haven’t unpacked from it yet.
I won’t lie — before my childhood friend Steve announced his wedding was taking place in Sarasota, Florida, I don’t think I could have pointed to the place on a map. But I was thrilled to make my way there regardless, one stop on a long road trip through Florida that worked out to be more perfectly timed than any of us could have imagined.
Why? Because while my other childhood friend Kristin and I — who was also making the trek south with her boyfriend Mark — were weighing up the various wedding hotels, we realized that her recently retired parents Marc and Laura would be renting a house in nearby Siesta Key at the same time while they explored future relocation spots. It just so happened to be a three bedroom house. And they just so happen to be the people I consider my second parents. And so we decided to all have a massive weekend-long sleepover party. What could be more perfect?
After a night in Tampa with my aunts, I drove down to Sarasota just in time to spend a few hours oooh and aaaahing over Marc and Laura’s cute rental before getting ready for the rehearsal dinner at Michael’s Wine Cellar.
It was a beautiful night! We got to connect with several other wedding guests, meet the beautiful bride Ali’s family, and beam through sweet speeches from family and friends.
Kristin and I even made an appearance in a giggle-worthy photo from a high school homecoming dance in the slideshow — what’s a childhood BFF’s wedding without a reminder of how badly you used to do your eyebrows?
The next day, Marc and Laura treated us to a beach day at their favorite stretch of sand on Siesta Key. I could see why they loved the place. The beach was almost Caribbean feeling! I couldn’t be happier to be kicking it in a beach chair with some of my favorite people — and a guidebook.
We didn’t linger too long of course — we had a wedding to get ready for! The nuptials were taking place at the Ritz Carlton Sarasota, so I knew we were in for a treat.
Sadly, after months and months of drought, Florida was hit hard with storms that week, and the ceremony had to be moved inside. My heart broke for the bride who’d planned such a beautiful outdoor ceremony, but I don’t think anything could kill the vibes once the live music cued up for the bridal party’s stroll down the aisle. Our friend Chris was one of the groomsmen and it was hard not to cheer when he started off the procession!
I love the Jewish wedding tradition of having both parents walk the bride down the aisle.
It was very surreal watching someone I’ve known since we were both in braces make such a beautiful commitment. I’ve grown to love Ali over the years of crashing with the two of them on some of my trips through New York City, and I truly can’t imagine a better fit for Steve — he really did crush this whole “choosing a life partner” thing.
And then the party got started! Since I know how much work brides and grooms put into their weddings, I texted them the next morning with a detailed list of everything I loved: the food was phenomenal; the band was so much fun; the room was grand and stunning.
I absolutely loved dancing the night away with some of my hometown besties!
The next morning, we went with Kristin’s parents for a hangover brunch and wedding recap at Sun Garden Cafe, which was my personal favorite meal of the trip. The outdoor seating area was adorable, and my fresh veggie omelette was just what I needed. After, we cruised around to Lido Key — which I didn’t find anywhere near as impressive as Siesta Key — and finally up to St. Armands Circle.
There, we found ourselves at the roof deck of the Tommy Bahama restaurant, where the tropical drinks cemented the magical feeling I had that I was truly on vacation. (It might have been the company, too, who I have years of traveling to Myrtle Beach with under my belt.) How I resisted the dessert tray, I’ll never know.
That night, Marc and Laura treated us to a very special goodbye treat — a sunset cruise to the sandbar off Siesta Key.
It was a very cool trip that included beer, or you could bring your own booze — however, the second I realized there was no bathroom onboard I abstained from all liquids. Better safe than sorry, y’all.
The tour kicked off with our guide pointing out all the notable real estate in the area, either homes built by celebrities or with wild stories of wealthy owners. We ate it up like the good little tourists we were.
We also passed a bird sanctuary, some interesting mangroves, and most excitingly — dolphins! I smiled at the memory of seeing them underwater on a dive in Honduras years ago, and found myself feeling lucky to get to be in their presence out in the wild again.
Yet the highlight was still to come — pulling up to an expansive sandbar in the sea. We were set loose to hunt sea shells, stick our toes in the sand, and wade around into the sunset.
That weekend, Marc and Laura had told us that Marc’s other daughter would be visiting the next weekend — and her boyfriend was planning to propose! We were so enamored with the sandbar that we all hatched the plan that her boyfriend should pop the question in this exact spot… complete with Kristin and I doing a full pre-enactment so Marc and Laura could work out their photography angles, ha ha.
Post-cruise, we grabbed a pizza from hip and happening Siesta Pi Pizza before turning in for the night. I couldn’t think of a more perfect note to end the weekend on.
It was such a lovely weekend full of amazing friends, and friends who feel like family. I was so grateful to Steve and Ali for bringing us all together to celebrate, to Marc and Laura for opening their home-away-from home, to Chris for being my dance-floor buddy and to Kristin and Mark for letting me be their third wheel.
I couldn’t ask for a more relaxing way to kick off Florida!
Next up, Orlando, Tampa, and St. Pete!
Happy Thursday! This post is sponsored by AVIS .
“How did you end up here?”
I can’t help it – it’s one of my favorite questions. When I talk to other travelers on the road, my insatiable curiosity kicks in and I always want to know how they picked this destination, what their itinerary is, and why they chose that particular route. I just love to know how people’s minds work when it comes to travel!
That’s why sometimes I like to give you a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into planning a trip before takeoff. These posts are a good reminder that a big part of my “job” happens off-screen – coordinating my Tetris-like calendar, figuring out when I need to be where, and what I’ll be doing when I get there.
Last year I shared a post about my holiday getaway to Siem Reap and Bangkok as a real life example of how my Wanderland Guide to Travel Planning comes to life! Now, I’m going to give you another glimpse into the planning process for an upcoming trip to Florida. Or as I like to say, here’s how I got from daydream to departure gate.
1. Picking a Destination
The destination was pretty much picked for me! Last summer one of my best friends from high school announced his wedding in Sarasota in May.
Florida is the punchline of a lot of jokes (I’m looking at you, Florida Man Twitter account) and to some seasoned adventure travelers, might not seem like the most exotic destination. But I love it. For me, since I was little, Florida has meant family and kitschy fun in the sun. Now, I have even more family members (and friends-who-feel-like-family) there than ever, so I knew I’d want to turn this wedding into a larger, multi-destination trip.
Florida with friends…
Feeling out my dates was the first step. As usual, I’m currently spending the winter in Southeast Asia, and so this year I booked a flight back to New York landing just in time to make it up to Albany for Mother’s Day weekend. I gave myself just four short days of jetlag restoration and repacking there before jetting off to Florida on May 16th (a full week would have been ideal, but you can’t have it all!)
On the other end of the calendar, I’m going back to Bonnaroo! So I knew I had to touch down in Nashville by June 7th. That gave just around three weeks in Florida to play with.
2. Booking Airfare
Traditionally, the next step is to book flights. Now I know I’m going to fly into Tampa, however some of the trip is still up in the air (and you’re going to help me finalize it!) so I’ve held off booking the return trip. And it’s a good thing, too, because I ended up fitting in a work opportunity that will take care of this for me.
USA Travel Tip: Booking with Southwest is a perfect choice for those who need a little flexibility in their schedule. Technically I booked a Southwest flight from New York to Florida using miles a while back when I saw they were having a sale, but thanks to Southwest’s amazing flexibility, I can easily get a refund for those miles and use them for another summer flight.
3. Creating an Itinerary
With quite a few items on my Florida bucket list and not enough time to pull them all off, creating an itinerary was (and actively is!) the struggle of this trip.
• First stop: Tampa
Family time! There are several direct flights from Albany straight to Tampa, and so that will be my first stop to soak up time with my hilarious aunts.
I’ve been to Tampa a billion times but I always look for something new to do when I’m there. A walking mural tour through the Central Arts District and a visit to the Tampa Museum of Art are calling to me for this trip.
• Next up: Sarasota
Wedding time! I’m super excited about watching Steve and his gorgeous wife-to-be Ali at the end of the aisle, but I’m also looking forward to time with my fellow wedding guest and childhood BFF Kristin. I’m also hoping to take in some of Sarasota’s big sights – the Ringling Brothers Museum is top of my list, as well as a possible boat tour of the tiki bars strewn around the surrounding Keys.
• And then: Orlando
I am actually obsessed with water parks but strangely as a woman in her late twenties, I struggle to find friends to join me (so weird right I know). So basically I could not be more excited to be attending the opening of Volcano Bay at Universal Orlando Resort from May 22-26th!
I will in fact be seeing a lot of Orlando this summer — at some point I’ll also be bringing my sister and our friend Ashlee for a little Muggle Marriage Harry Potter themed bachelorette party! We can’t wait – though I suppose first I should actually, er, read the books.
Plus, though I’m generally not a Disney World fan (I FAR prefer Disneyland in California), I am also super excited about Pandora, the long-awaited Avatar themed land opening in Animal Kingdom this summer. My dad is a DVC member, and so we might do a family weekend there at some point as well – though we will definitely give it a few months post-opening for the crowds to thin out.
• After: St. Petersburg
Breaking news: I’ve just confirmed I’ll be partnering with Visit Florida in May to promote the state’s fabulous array of boutique hotels. I’m super excited to be spending three nights exploring St. Petersburg, a destination I’ve spent so much time near — it’s Tampa’s neighboring city! — and so little time actually in. This is my absolute favorite kind of project.
• Finally: You pick!
From May 26th-June 7th, the calendar is wide open (apart from whenever I fit in the aforementioned campaign). What to do with those beautiful twelve days? Well, I have a lot of options! The most sensible one would be heading back to Albany to rest and regroup before Bonnaroo. But I think we all know I’m rarely sensible when it comes to booking a trip. Which is why I’m also considering these three options:
— Central Florida diving trip: A road trip to Central Florida’s amazing dives (Blue Grotto, Devil’s Den, etc.) via an adorable vintage VW vans… with some mermaids and a paddle boarding side trips thrown in!
— Florida Keys camping trip: Enjoying all the great campsites and natural adventures throughout the Florida Keys from a brightly painted camper van… do you sense a theme here?
— Jacksonville and Amelia Island friendcation: Now that Angie’s officially a homeowner (!) I’m dying to get up to Jacksonville and see her new digs, hang with the extended Orth crew, and get a proper tour of the city (we never left her apartment last time I visited due to an unexpected cold snap and our resulting panic). My friend Kristin’s coverage of her recent visit has me even more excited. Plus, we’ve been throwing around the idea of sneaking off to Amelia Island for a little friend-cation, too!
4. Booking Ground Transportation
Since Florida’s destinations are relatively compact, air travel within the state is a bit silly – you’d spend as much time going through security as you would hitting the highway.
Enter Avis. I’ve been dying to put their new Avis Now app into action since reviewing it for this blog, and this is my big chance. I know that I’ll be flying into Tampa so I used my phone to reserve a car with a few simple swipes. When I land, I’m going to receive push notifications to my phone letting me know where my car is located so I can simply bypass the rental counter, find my car in the parking lot, and unlock the car straight from my phone. I’ll be able to save time and best of all, drive off the lot having never made contact with another human. Sound intriguing? Read my full review here! Fellow introverts, I know you feel me.
Right now I’m thinking that I’ll want to drop off my rental in Orlando, since I won’t be leaving the property once I arrive at Universal. Avis is the Official Car Rental Partner of Universal Parks & Resorts, which means I’ll be able to drop the car right at my hotel when I check in! How dang handy is that?
But – if I decide to change that last minute it’s not a problem. The app allows you to modify your reservation, extend your rental, and even change your drop-off location on the fly.
5. Booking Accommodation
Like flights, booking accommodation was an unexpected breeze for this trip – so far, at least.
In Tampa, I’ll be crashing with my aunts. In Sarasota, my friend and fellow wedding guest Kristin and I debated several of the official wedding hotels but decided to crash with her mom and dad, who are like my second parents and will be renting a house nearby on Siesta Key for a few months to celebrate their retirement (how perfect is that!).
In Orlando, we’ll be staying at the budget-friendly onsite Cabana Bay hotel, which I’ve been dying to check out since I toured it briefly during our retreat in October (which yes, you’ll read about eventually!)
Beyond that, it will depend on which final leg of the trip I choose! But it looks like I’ll either be camping or crashing with Angie. Both options I love!
6. And beyond!
And then comes all that good stuff that’s planned after the big decisions are made and the important stuff is booked – decisions like which artisanal donut to eat in Tampa or which tiki bar to hit up along the Sarasota Keys.
My research for my first three destinations was pretty minimal considering I’ve been to Tampa a million times, I’ll be in Sarasota with a group, and in Orlando I’ll be on a work trip where I won’t have too much control over my schedule. In St. Pete, I’ve already thrown myself into a super detailed itinerary with museums, active adventures, beach bars and more!
But whatever destination I chose for my final week, I can’t wait to really dig deep into planning some fun adventures… and man am I curious to see which trip you all are most interested in.
Did you enjoy this behind-the-scenes peek at how my May came together? Let me know and I’ll write more of these! In the meantime, help me decide which trip to take for my final week – and give me your Florida tips in the comments!
How are your summer plans coming together? Tell me all about your planning process below!
Many thanks to Avis for sponsoring this post! As always, you receive my honest thoughts and opinions regardless of who is footing the bill.