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

Leave a comment Standard
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

Leave a comment Standard

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.”

Continue reading

ruffing it with fido: how to take your dog camping

Leave a comment Standard
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

months 7, 8 and 9: recuperating in sunny Arizona

Leave a comment Standard

Recuperating in sunny Arizona.

Recuperating in sunny Arizona.

I’ve been a bad blogger. My name is Mandy, and my last post was in January. The past three months have been a little rough and a lot busy. On the bright side, if all I did was write about beaches, lighthouses, mountains, wine and lobster, you’d get pretty sick of me.

Before and After

Before and After

We spent the winter in San Tan Valley, Arizona, which is between Phoenix and Tucson. On January 13, I had a total knee replacement. I’m not going to lie; that wasn’t a lot of fun. Recuperating in an RV can be challenging, but I was able to spend the first week after surgery at our Aunt Dawn’s house. It was perfect; we had our own room, there were no stairs and she spoiled me rotten with chicken soup, chocolate pudding and fresh grapefruit—right off the tree and into my breakfast. I’m a big fan of fresh grapefruit!

Knee replacements have come a long way, baby. Mine was an outpatient procedure. We arrived at the surgi-center at 6 a.m. By 11, I was wobbling around with a walker and at 1 p.m. we were settling in at Aunt Dawn’s place. An I.V. nurse, a home health nurse and a physical therapist came by frequently to take care of me. The outpatient option is fairly new; I was my surgeon’s 24th patient to try it. There were also no stitches or staples in my incision; it was glued together and covered with a single piece of gauze. You know it’s uncommon when the nurses are surprised.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

The first week went pretty smoothly until I had an allergic reaction to the glue. Hello, Prednisone, and all of its side effects. I became a little emotional. And by that I mean that I cried when we got back to our camper because the floor was dusty. Imagine that, a dusty floor in the desert. My husband is a saint.

The next few weeks were a blur of physical therapy and ice packs. We didn’t get out and about much to explore Arizona. When we did, we found some wonderful spots!

Our first outing was to the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. The Casa Grande, which means great house, dates back to around 1350 A.D. Aptly named, it’s one of the largest prehistoric structures ever built in North America, measuring 60 feet long and four stories tall. There’s a nice visitor center and museum. Two thumbs up for this historic site!

The Windmill Winery

The Windmill Winery

In nearby Florence, we visited the Windmill Winery. I know. You’re shocked that I found a winery. The real shocker is that we were just half an hour away and didn’t find it for three months. It’s located on the site of an old brick factory. They’ve used the bricks to make walkways and patios around the property, which is beautifully landscaped. It’s a popular wedding venue. Our favorites were the Dutchman’s Bold, which is made from the Norton grape, and the pomegranate wine, which neither of us expected to like but did.

Schnepf Farms and the Queen Creek Olive Mill are just across the street from each other. I recommend breakfast at Schnepf Farms—the cinnamon rolls are to die for. Burn some of the calories hiking around the farm. We were there at the tail end of the Peach Blossom Festival and enjoyed walking out to the orchard. You can pick your own fresh veggies and there’s a petting zoo with baby goats. I don’t know when the goat craze started, but count me in. Baby goats are just plain fun.

Goats at Schnepf Farms

It doesn’t get much cuter than this.

Next, head to the Queen Creek Olive Mill. There’s a large, outdoor seating area surrounded by olive trees where they hold a lot of special events like art festivals and wine tastings. You can take a tour to see how the olive oil is made, and the store sells more kinds of olives, olive oils, sauces and dressings than you can imagine. You’ll also find Arizona wines, lavender products, coffee, a bakery and a restaurant. We tried the pizza one evening and listened to live music. Good stuff.

Our home for the winter was a 55-plus RV park. They broke the age rule for us because Scott’s Dad has spent the past five winters there. We were definitely the young whippersnappers. I was actually told to slow down on my bicycle by one of the older residents. I almost fell off the bike looking around to see if he was talking to me! Then I felt like quite the rebel. Our neighbors were supportive and friendly. They cheered me on as I progressed from using the walker, to a cane, to limping and then eventually walking around the park.

Schnepf Farms

Schnepf Farms

Those retirees have a lot of fun. Many come back year after year and have developed close friendships. The cocktail hour is alive and well there, and groups gather around campfires most nights. There’s a lot of laughter, and you can occasionally hear snippets like, “and then he took off his swimsuit,” followed by even more laughter.

Our daughter came down for spring break during our last week in Arizona. She only had three days off from work, so we made the most of it and took her to some of our favorite places. She’s also a big fan of baby goats and petting zoos, so Schnepf Farms was a big hit. We walked around Old Town Scottsdale and loitered at the Poisoned Pen bookstore hoping that Diana Gabaldon would drop by. If you haven’t read the Outlander series, you should. We didn’t spot her, but we always love a good bookstore.

The Poisoned Pen

Looking for Diana Gabaldon in Scottsdale

Two days later, we packed up and hit the road back to Colorado. We had driven 23,146 miles since we started our road trip last July without any real car trouble. Notice the past tense. In Utah, we had to unload the Harley on the shoulder of I-70 so that Scott could ride back and forth to get the parts to get the truck running again. He had to go to five places to find a suitable replacement, but he found one and was able to make the repair.

All’s well that ends well, right? We arrived at Rifle Gap State Park about five hours later than planned, but we made it safe and sound and got set up right before the rain started. Whew!

My knee gets stronger every week and I’m pretty darn mobile, considering. What’s next for us? We’ll let you know when know for sure. Hint: It involves Colorado. Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for more Tales From the Empty Nest.

 

top 5 travel recommendations from 2014

Comments 2 Standard

 

Colonial Williamsburg Capitol travel blog

The Capitol building in Colonial Williamsburg.

Looking back on 2014, some of it is a little fuzzy. Change was definitely the word of the year. To recap, we put our house on the market in the spring, sold it in June and then had 40 days to cut our possessions in half, pack and move what we kept into storage. Scott and I headed out in the RV in early July with no plans other than to see a lot of the country and visit with friends and family. Road trip! Continue reading

month three: these are a few of my favorite things

Comments 3 Standard

McCall, Idaho, on the shore of Payette Lake.

McCall, Idaho, on the shore of Payette Lake.

We’ve been on the road for a little more than three months now, during which we’ve been to 17 different states and traveled more than 12,000 miles. Coast to coast, Portland to Portland, Newport to Newport. In honor of our first three months, here are my three favorite… Continue reading

from sea to shining sea

Comments 3 Image

We’ve been on the road for three months and have already traveled from sea to shining sea! We spent the morning exploring Acadia National Park, had lunch at Thurston’s Lobster Pound, visited the Bass Harbor Lighthouse, and enjoyed a tasting at the Atlantic Brewing Company with ribs from the Mainely Meat BBQ. I’ll write more about this magnificent day soon, but here’s a look at what we saw.

Thanks for visiting Tales From the Empty Nest! Come back soon.

© 2014 Mandy Gauldin — All content on this site, including copy and photographs, are the property of Mandy Gauldin and may not be used or copied without permission.

campground review: Pony Express RV Resort in Salt Lake City

Leave a comment Standard

Pool at Pony Express

Go for a swim at the Pony Express RV Resort.

Why camp here? There are lots of reasons to visit Salt Lake City. It was just a stopover for us this time due to other time commitments, but we hope to stay longer next time to explore the area. The 35-acre Temple Square, the most-visited attraction in the state, is top of the list of places I’d like to see. I also want to tour the Territorial Statehouse  since we enjoyed our visit to the Wyoming Territorial Prison so much. There’s a nice list of locals’ favorites on the Visit Salt Lake website, including the Epic Brewing Company and Tony Caputo’s regional market with, get ready for this, a state-of-the-art cheese cave, old-world butcher shop and the nation’s largest selection of ultra-premium chocolate. A cheese cave and ultra-premium chocolate? Count me in! Continue reading

campground review: Blue Ox RV Park

Leave a comment Standard

Springhill Winery

One of the many perks of camping in the Willamette Valley. This is at the Springhill Winery.

Why camp here? This was one of three stops during our trip through Oregon. We visited places that were new to us and chose Albany because it’s close to my cousin and his family. Boy, did we luck out. It’s smack dab in the Willamette River Valley!

The Blue Ox RV Park is located close enough to I-5 to be really convenient, but not close enough to hear the traffic. There are lots of stores, services and restaurants nearby, plus the Timber Linn Park with paved walking trails, bike lanes and the nicest dog park I’ve ever seen. Continue reading

month 2: getting the hang of it

Leave a comment Standard

State map

We’ve visited seven states in our first two months on the road.

Wow, our second month on the road flew by! We covered a lot of ground, visited some wonderful places, learned some things and spent time with family. Seems like we’re getting the hang of this full-timing gig.

Here are the facts and figures, the highs and the lows, and some random fun stuff from our first two months on the road. We’ve… Continue reading