Florida’s Best Small Beach Town Vacations

If  you’re sick of the crowded beaches and high prices of Florida’s huge winter vacation towns you might consider spending some time this season in some of Florida’s smaller beach communities.   They are quieter and less expensive but they offer enough activities and restaurants to serve all tastes.

Here are our favorites:

* NEW SMYRNA BEACH has the same beach as Daytona Beach across the inlet, but a nice condensed beach downtown, the historic  RIVERVIEW INN (see pic), and enough activities.

* ISLAMORADA is our choice of the small villages of the Upper Keys.  Better for boating and diving than swimming, the island town has great charm and friendliness.

ENGLEWOOD BEACH, near expensive Boca Grande, has a better beach, a mainland village, and low prices compared to the region.  Walk down the state park beach to Stump Pass with your picnic stuff.

LAUDERDALE BY THE SEA is surrounded by larger beach towns, but if you rent a motel or condo near the pier, once you park the auto you’ll be surprised at the selection of quality restaurants (see pic) and nightspots within walking distance.

DESTIN is our choice for a Panhandle vacation that is not packed with snowbirds or college students.  Great restaurants and resort/motel choices.

DUNEDIN‘s beaches are out Honeymoon Island and Caladesi Island (via ferry), but the incredible downtown restaurants and shops and activities put this town on our list.

* VERO BEACH on the Treasure Coast has the right blend of small town personality, good beach, and fine tourist facilities.

VENICE has only a few beachfront motels but they are at the end of a great little downtown with an active theater life.

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Tampa Landmarks Turning Into Boutique Hotels

floridatraveler tampa palace floridian hotel restored

Recently Tampa architect Alberto Alfonso announced the development of a new hotel on Ybor City’s historic 7th Avenue at 14th Street.  The hotel will incorporate Ybor’s wraparound balconies, utilize real structures, and restart the Las Novedades restaurant, for decades an Ybor City destination.  This is wonderful.

In the last two years Tampa has seen the rebirth of several Tampa landmarks.  Thanks to the amazing efforts of Clearwater’s Antonios Markopoulos the 19 story 1926 Floridan Hotel (see photo above) has reopened as the 213 room Floridan Palace.  All the rooms were modernized with bathrooms. The famous Crystal Dining Room is back as is the famous Sapphire Room where WWII airmen met their future wives.

 A few years ago few Tampans felt the structure that once once the tallest building between Washington DC and Miami would be saved.

Three blocks away the 1905 U.S. Courthouse is now Le Meridien boutique hotel with 130 guest rooms and suites.  Climb the huge stairs into the courthouse facade and you arrive at the Bizou Brasserie, complete with French pastry shop, and the Longitude Bar.

floridatraveler lobby bar of le meridien hotel

What was once the entrance-way to the Downtown Post Office takes visitors to the hotel lobby (see lobby bar photograph) and check-in.  What is wonderful about touring this hotel is that elements of the old courthouse (including doors to courtrooms and judge’s rooms have been restored and incorporated) are everywhere.

I hope Tampa continues to modernize downtown by restoring its historic structures with new purposes.

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Florida Has Become The Shopping Mall Center of the USA

floridatraveler BAL HARBOUR SHOPS

Just returned from shopping at Tampa’s International Mall and saw visitors from Asia and Europe already Christmas shopping at Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Apple, Diesel, Montblanc, Hugo Bass, Louis Vuitton and more.

As impressive as this mall is it doesn’t rank in the top five malls in Florida.  When it comes to sales in dollars per square feet, Florida has four of the nation’s most profitable malls.  The Bal Harbour Shops just north of Miami Beach might be fifty years old but the gloriously landscaped mall (see picture) has annual sales of $3,010 per square foot, the highest mall figure in the nation.  They just added a 6,400 square-foot Hillstone Restaurant.

Down the road is the Aventura Mall, the second largest in the nation, and at $1,500 in sales per square foot Number 6 in profitability.  Aventura is adding a new 241,000 square foot retail and another seven-level parking garage.

In Orlando The Mall at Millenia is 7th with $1,400 in sales per square feet.  This 1.2 million square foot luxury mall with its huge LED screens atop 35-foot masts remind me of a giant football stadium filled with clothing and accessories.

When people talk “outlet mall in Florida”, it often means the Orlando Premium Outlets, ranked 8th at $1,385 sales per square foot.  The monster outlet mall is just two miles away from Disney World so it gets a good chunk of the 48 million people who vacation here.

The mall business is highly competitive in Florida’s larger towns and the new and bigger malls with their restaurant avenues are closing down the outdated malls.

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Its The Start of Art Festival Season In Sunny Florida

floridatraveler LAS OLAS ART SHOW

This weekend my wife and I are going to the 25th Annual Hyde Park Village Art Festival in Tampa as will thousands of others with five Florida festivals going on across the state..

As the rainy season ends, many artists and craftsmen come to the Sunshine State and make it a winter vacation/business selling their works to Floridians and snowbirds.  Every year the competition gets tougher – some 1100 artists try out for just 225 spaces in  the March Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival.  Artists tell me they sell best at this show.

You need to go to http://www.artfestival.com to get the complete listings, but here are some of my favorite annual art shows:

Nov 1-2  - Halifax Art Festival in Riverfront Park in Daytona Beach.

Nov 8 & 9 – 26th St Armands Art Festival in Sarasota.

Nove 29 & 30 – 51st Space Coast Art Festival now at Port Canaveral.

Jan 3 & 4 – 27th Las Olas Art Fair in Fort Lauderdale (see photo).

Jan 10 & 11 – 28th Boca Fest in Boca Raton.

Feb 7 & 8 – Mount Dora Arts Festival (huge and fun).

Feb 14 & 15 – 27th Downtown Sarasota Festival of the Arts.

Feb 14 & 16 – Coconut Grove Arts Festival (largest no. of artists).

Feb 28-Mar 1 – Gasparilla Festival of the Arts downtown Tampa.

Mar 20 – 22 – Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival.

Happy buying and watching.

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The Lincoln Road Antique Market Is Florida’s “One of a Kind” Place

floridatraveler Lincoln_Road_Antique_Market

Across Florida October means Florida’s extensive and popular flea markets are starting to expand as snowbird and vacationing vendors double the number of shops.  There are some great antique and collectible markets like Mount Dora, but to me nothing beats the bimonthly Sunday showcases on exclusive Lincoln Road in Miami Beach.

The Lincoln Road Antique and Collectible Market attracts some 125 vendors who feature stock clothing, collectibles, and “one of a kind items” from the 1920′s to the 1960′s.  Vintage Gucci and Fiorucci clothing still on a table next to 1950′s early rock and roll 45s.

The entire western side of Lincoln Road from the 800 to 1000 blocks is turned into a laid back atmosphere that attracts buyers from across Dade County.  There are lots of Sunday restaurants along the way – even a sports pub to send away the menfolk for the NFL games.

Get there early.  You’ll find some of the top buyers arriving at 8 am since Lincoln Road is a good place to outfit your Art Deco Miami Beach condo with original pieces and funky furniture.

When are the showings?  You can go to their website or just circle October 26, 2014, and then jump every other Sunday all the way to May of next year.  The website is http://www.antiquecollectiblemarket.com.

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Florida’s Version of Clam Chowder Really Packs A Punch

floridatravelr MINORCAN CHOWDER

The oldest continuous families in Florida originated from the Balearic Islands.  Most arrived with Dr. Andrew Turnbull’s New Smyrna colony and moved north to Saint Augustine when Turnbull’s community folded by 1777.

Fishing and shop-keeping were major mainstay occupations of many Minorcans in North Florida so it was not shocking they merged Florida products with those from the Hispanic world.  Datil peppers were probably brought to Saint Augustine from Cuba.

The most notable use today of these peppers is in Minorcan clam chowder, which looks like Manhattan clam chowder until it reaches the back of your mouth.  The clams, tomatoes, corn kernals, and potatoes are power-zipped by the datil peppers.   Over the years tourists to the Oldest City became hooked on the dish – even New Englanders who’d never touch a New York chowder.   Saint Augustine became the world’s top producer of the datil pepper.

Chris Way, founder of Barnacle Bill’s Seafood place at 14 Castillo Drive, even started a commercial datil pepper under the Dat’l Do-It brand.  Minorcan chowder is a popular menu item at Barnacle Bill’s with locals and visitors.  They even put datil on their crusted fried shrimp.

My favorite St. Johns County chowder house is the no frills café called O’Steen’s at 205 Anastasia Boulevard.  There is something rustic and seaworthy to have clam chowder in an unfancy establishment.  Unfortunately, chowder lovers have found the place and it is usually packed.

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Florida’s Booming College Population Makes A Lot of #1s

Florida’s Booming College Population Makes A Lot of #1s.

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