Do’s and Don’ts when visiting Anna Maria Island

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Room with a view on Anna Maria Island

We are so fortunate to have spent a week on the beach in Florida before COVID-19 really set in. I’ve been dreaming about going back ever since. Here are a few things we learned about Anna Maria Island so that you can start planning your trip right now.

Shrimp tacos at the Gulf Drive Café & the Kokonut Hut

Do’s
1. Hit both ends of the island. Pine Street on the north end and Bridge Street on the south end are where you’ll find lots of places to eat, drink and shop. The free trolley makes this a breeze.
2. Ask friends who’ve visited the island (like me!) for recommendations. That’s how we found the restaurants we liked the best, like…
3. Eat at The Sandbar Restaurant. We liked our first meal so much that we went back a few days later. Get there early if you want to sit on the patio at sunset. Five stars for the shrimp stuffed with crab!
4. Eat at the Gulf Drive Café & the Kokonut Hut. We got a table outside the bar from which we could watch the sun setting on the beach and listen to the live reggae music. Get a drink to share. Five stars for the shrimp tacos.
5. Eat at the Bridge Tender Inn Restaurant. It’s just off the Bridge Street Pier with a view of the water. Great food and reasonable prices. Five stars for the Baja Mahi Tacos. Plus, for my husband who’s not a big seafood fan, they had a great hot dog.
6. Go beach hopping! There are lots of choices, including Bean Point, Holmes, Anna Maria, Manatee, Bradenton and Coquina. It’s easy to walk from one to the next. If you like a good long walk, take the trolley to one end of the island, walk to the other, then take the trolley back to where you’re staying.
7. Check out the shops! The Bridge Street Bazaar was our favorite for traditional souvenirs like t-shirts, hats and island décor. I found some wonderful bracelets and Christmas ornaments at The Island Cabana on Pine Avenue, and a beach bag decorated with sea turtles in the gift shop at the Gulf Drive Café. The Sandbar also has a nice gift shop, where I found bi-focal sunglasses right after mine broke!
8. Visit www.annamariaislandchamber.org to help with your trip planning.

Paradise! We spent relaxing on the beach in front of our room at the Bali Hai Beach Resort.

Don’ts
1. Don’t get a rental car without some research. There are shuttles available from the Tampa International Airport. Once you’re on the island, the free trolley will take you anywhere.
2. Don’t overpack! This is really hard for me, but I’m trying to get better about it. You’ll need a pair of sandals and a pair of walking shoes. We visited in mid-February, and the jeans, sweater, rain jacket, capris and socks stayed in the suitcase. (My walking shoes are comfy without socks.) For a five-day stay, I just needed a swimsuit, a pair of shorts, two skorts, a swimsuit cover, a few t-shirts and tank tops. Of course, you’ll want to check the forecast before your visit.
3. Don’t forget the sunscreen. Use it often and wear a hat.
4. Don’t forget to look up occasionally while you’re walking on the beach. We were watching dolphins play from our balcony while others were walking with heads down, probably looking for shells. They missed out on the show!
5. Don’t accept the first price you find for lodging. I found ours on VRBO, but it was actually cheaper on Expedia.

Bridge Street Pier at the south end of Anna Maria Island

Good to know
1. If you’re in a condo with a full kitchen, there’s a Publix grocery store, a couple of independent liquor stores, a CVS and a Walgreens. Don’t over buy! We ate one big meal out each day, then snacked for the other two meals in the condo.
2. There’s a Domino’s that delivers if you don’t want to leave the beach.
3. Glass is not allowed on the beaches. Pack a water bottle or pick up a plastic cup. Our condo only had glassware.
4. There are lots of places to rent gear, bikes, golf carts, scooters, kayaks, etc. It’s a fun way to explore the island.
5. There are also many options for activities, boat charters, sightseeing cruises, tours, fishing, snorkeling, dolphin and manatee tours and parasailing. The chamber website is a good place to start.

We stayed at the Bali Hai Resort on Holmes Beach. The location and views were amazing. Our room was large, clean and comfy. The private beach is well-maintained and quiet and not too far to walk to The Sandbar Restaurant. It was a little pricey, but worth it for facing and being just steps from the beach. Our only complaint was that we were not able to get housekeeping there when we needed them.

Now, I think I’m going to have to start planning our next trip. Thanks for reading Tales From the Empty Nest!
©Mandy Gauldin

a day in Sonoma, California

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Of our four days in Sonoma County, one was spent in and around Sonoma, a historic city in northern California at the heart of the renowned Sonoma Valley wine-making region. Its history is fascinating.

According to VisitCalifornia.com, “In the mid-1800s, the town now known as Sonoma was just a collection of ranchos, governed by Mexico. Even though the U.S. government and the State of California took over the territory not too long after that, you can still sense its heritage. The centerpiece of town, Sonoma Plaza, is still anchored by the northernmost Franciscan mission in California—and it’s even the birthplace of the California State Bear Flag, created by Americans rebelling against Mexican rule. Today, however, Sonoma Plaza is lined with charming shops, tasting rooms and popular restaurants.”

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where to eat in Sonoma County: four faves

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We just got back from a wonderful, wine-filled week in Sonoma and Napa. It was an actual work trip for our liquor store. How sweet is that? Before I get to the wine, and there’s so much wine to discuss, I want to tell you about four restaurants we loved in Sonoma County. Two were recommended by winery employees. Locals have the best insights on where to, or not to, eat. The other two were found on Google.

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ruffing it with fido: how to take your dog camping

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Camping with Fido

Guest post by Aurora James

Spending time in the great outdoors with your canine companion can be quite a treat. However, if you’re planning on camping or spending the night, there are a few things you will want to do to prepare. With these tips, you’ll be ready to enjoy whatever nature throws at you. Continue reading

a tribute to outlander

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Memorial Wall at Culloden Moor

I’d love the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon if it was pure fiction. Her storytelling takes hold of me and won’t let go until I’ve finished each book, which I’ve now done a few times. The fact that the series is based on real events and many real characters, and the lengths to which she has gone to make it as historically accurate as possible—except perhaps for the whole time travel thing—makes me love it even more. This really hit home when we visited Scotland in 2013. Continue reading

travel tuesday: weekend in steamboat springs

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Sunrise at Stagecoach Reservoir State Park

Sunrise at Stagecoach State Park

Our first official outing with our new truck camper was at Stagecoach State Park, about half an hour outside of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. We’ve camped there a couple of times over the years, but this campsite was the best yet. We completely lucked into it, too. It was the very last site available, and just so happened to be right on the lake. Score! Continue reading

New Year’s Greetings from the Nest

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On the Pauite Trail

Riding the Paiute Trail

Happy 2017! Facebook has been quite diligent in reminding me weekly that the Tales From the Empty Nest page is woefully inactive, so I thought I’d start the year off with a blog post in hopes that I’m a little more consistent over the next 12 months. No promises, but I’m hoping to spend more time writing this year. Continue reading

Missing Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day

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A little reminiscing in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. I thought you might like a visual tour. Pour yourself a pint and enjoy the views. If you get the chance to visit Ireland, take it. Thanks for following Tales From the Empty Nest. Sláinte! Continue reading

travel tuesday: take the long way home

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We’re not kidding around when we say we’re taking the long way home. After weekend visits with our daughter in Denver and son in Colorado Springs, we took the scenic route back to our home in New Castle. This included some of my favorite scenery in the state. Continue reading