Florida’s Best Beachfront Bed and Breakfast Spots

May and June are great months to spend on Florida’s beaches – the water has warmed up and the summer crowds, dominated by families, have not descended upon the Sunshine State.   Here are some of my favorites:

Fernandina Beach, in the northeast tip of Florida, is a wonderful Victorian town filled with B&Bs, but our criteria is for “beachfront” and the award-winning Elizabeth Pointe Lodge on the Atlantic Ocean offers a Nantucket-style vacation along a great 13 mile beach.  With service including daily breakfast to luncheon meals to evening wine and hors d’oeuvres, the staff gets raving reviews from visitors.

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Five hundred miles to the south in Florida’s other B&B paradise Key West is La Mer & Dewey House on the beach at the southern end of Duval Street. This is an adults only four-diamond, Conde Nast type of resort with 19 rooms with oceanfront balconies.

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La Mer Looks Onto Key West’s South Beach

This is a good time of the time for visiting Florida’s low key Panhandle beach communities and a good choice for a laid-back vacation is Lisbeth’s Bed and Breakfast By The  Sea in tiny Seagrove Beach.  It is across scenic Highway 30-A from the Gulf, but the service and breakfast is first class and the unique Victorian Village of Seaside is a mile down the beach.

Henderson Park Inn in Destin is a 32-room beachfront B&B selected by About.com as the #1 most romantic hotel in North America.  I am not so sure about that rating but visitors love the restaurant, the service, and the amazing Destin beach.

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Henderson Park Inn On Destin Beach

On the Florida Gulf Coast is the long time favorite Harrington House on casual Holmes Beach on Anna Maria Island.  There is a main house and bungalows in the scenic Bed and Breakfast By The beachfront complex as well as top notch service.

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Harrington House on Anna Maria Island

If you want something old-fashioned and very private there is the five cottages and private house complex of Islands End Resort, located on the southernmost tip of 26 miles of St. Petersburg Beach.   The waterfront tropical oasis is a block from Pass-A-Grille Beach, but you’ll feel you’re living on a small Caribbean island.

You can enjoy historic Saint Augustine as well as the Atlantic beaches if you stay at the beach house or cottages at Beachfront Bed and Breakfast over at Saint Augustine Beach.   If the Space Coast is your favorite vacation spot, you should look into the Port d’Hiver Bed and Breakfast Inn on Melbourne Beach.  This beachfront entry is one of the most romantic and luxurious inns in the United States.

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Beachside Luxury in a B&B

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The Legend and Myth of the Highwaymen

There are two historic buildings in Fort Pierce that pay tribute to Florida’s most popular impressionistic landscape artist – the Albert Ernest “Bean” Backus House and the Bean Backus Art Gallery, dedicated to his work.

FLORIDATRAVELER BEAN BACKUS

Bean Backus: Dean of Florida Landscape Artists

 While Backus (1906-1990) is viewed by many to be Dean of Florida Landscape Artists, he is widely and incorrectly associated with the rise and story of Florida’s most interesting twentieth century art group – the Florida Highwaymen, a group of vigorous African-American artists who have produced for sixty years over 100,000 landscapes of Florida.

FLORIDATRAVELER BEAN BACKUS MUSEUM GALLERY

Bean Backus Art Gallery and Museum

While Backus, a white artist of some note by 1960, loved to teach local Fort Pierce artists his deft and bold use of his palette knife to quickly cover his canvas into a colorful masterpiece, he had just one future Highwayman as an art student.   But that painter was Alfred Hair, a man with a vision that selling Florida art to tourists was a better occupation than working in a field or digging a ditch.

 Hair also realized that an unknown black artist could not sell his work for the $200 Backus made in his studio.    Thus, he developed a style which he called “Fast Painting” still emphasizing the bright colors and romantic designs of Florida beaches, roadways, and tropical plants, the type of topics a new Florida resident would be willing to put in their bedroom for $25.

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Alfred Hair: THE Highwayman

His paintings sold quickly and soon  he was training a half dozen black youths from Fort Pierce to copy his technique.  There was no “art movement.” Each artist selected his own topics and designs.  Most painting was done in neighborhood backyards.  And quantity was the key – sometimes the artists had all-night sessions to produce 20-24 paintings  each to distribute the next day to shops and stores along US1

 People who own early Highwaymen paintings (I own one), will notice how they saved money by purchasing cheap 4′ by 8′ sheets of Upson board and cutting them into four 2′ by  3′ common size.   The frames of Highwaymen works were often made from crown molding purchased as scraps from construction sites.    Regular art supplies were rarely used by many of the artists.

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Alfred Hair Painting on Upson Board

In 1970 Alfred Hair was murdered in a dispute over a woman, but the twenty-nine-year-old artist had developed a cottage industry that would not stop.  By 1994, when promoter Jim Fitch gave them the moniker of The Highwaymen, there were 26 original artists whose works were on display along Florida’s East Coast.

The Highwaymen may have been a mercenary, individualistic group of artisans, but they motivated thousands of new Floridians to paint and draw Florida’s beauty in many mediums.  It might be romantic to think these unspoiled landscapes were sold along the Florida roadside, but their impact of Florida art can not be denied.

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New Disney Food Palace Is Great Boat Museum

When one visits WDW’s new Disney Springs (Downtown Disney) Boathouse Restaurant, one might wonder if it is an amazing boat museum attached to a great restaurant or vice-versa.

It is the latter.  Disney and the design team of Steve Schussler may have spent 2 million dollars on the fantastic boat accessories, but they also spent 3 million dollars on just the 8,000 square foot kitchen.

floridatraveler THE BOATHOUSE RESTAURANT complex

The Super Speedboat and the Boathouse Restaurant

The huge waterfront restaurant, managed by the top-grade Gibsons Restaurant Group of Chicago, takes full advantage of its location of Lake Buena Vista. Two hundred seats are outside on open decks or along the full-service bar on a pier and Boat Yard filled with wooden dream boats of the 1930’s, 1940’s, and 1950’s.

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Motorboats Even Grace The Main Bar Area

Two boats are available for group tours: a 40-foot wooden Italian water taxi and a wonderful replica of an 1889 steamboat Lady Rose.  The Boathouse is also  the site of a “fleet” of amphicars, $150,000 convertibles you may rent, complete with uniformed chauffeur-pilot for a drive around the Disney shopping and entertainment complex.

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Returning To Dock In An Amphicar

Disney oldsters will find this massive restaurant, with its walls lined with antique outboard motors and  motorboats parked in the bar, a little too much overkill of the imagination.   Of course, that is the intended response expected from most tourists.

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Even The Restrooms Get That Boathouse Touch

The good news is that while some of the menu items are quite expensive, the food and service provided by Executive Chef Bob Getchell and a huge staff is very good.   The menu of seafood and steaks has been carefully developed.  There are five varieties of oysters.  The S’more Baked Alaska contains 1.5 gallons of rocky road ice cream.

 I ordered a cedar plank salmon, which I later discovered was cooked in a special 875- degree oven.  It was perfect.  My wife ordered one of the more expensive items on the menu and she said her Maine lobster and crab was the best she had ever tasted.

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Plank Steak At The Boathouse

In talking to staff members at the dockside bar and in the main restaurant, I was impressed how many full-time staff members were recruited from Florida resorts from Clearwater Beach to Fort Lauderdale.   It is clear that the Boathouse management wants to be more than a boat museum with food.

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The Orlando Eye Shows Florida Tourists Still Like It “Big”

Today, Orlando Eye, a 400-foot observation ferris wheel opens on Orlando’s International Drive just off I-4 down the road from Ripley’s Believe It Or Not and the huge Lockhead Martin plant.    The Eye is the fifth largest in the world and second only to the High Roller in Las Vegas.

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The Orlando Eye Dominates International Drive

 The new attraction gives 450 people in 30 air-conditioned capsules a birds-eye view of Universal Studios and Sea World.  It is another example of how “big” in construction, technology, and imagination seems to be the trend in tourist destinations.

Down the road at the world’s largest entertainment complex, Disney is doubling the size of its shopping center Disney Springs (Disney Downtown) with some of the new waterfront restaurants already opening.  At Animal Kingdom, the enormous Avatar land of Pandora attraction is going up complete with floating mountains and flying banshees.

“Big” has always been a good Florida advertisement.  Sixty miles away at Cape Canaveral stands the largest one-story container building in the world: the 526-foot Vehicle Assembly Building.  It’s not likely to be converted into a Titusville condo.

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Call the VAB The Ultimate Container Store

In North Miami the Canadian firm Triple Five Group plans to construct the four billion dollar American Dream, the largest shopping center in the world.  I don’t care much about hundreds of shops, but I am interested in the proposed artificial ski slope and lake with submarine rides.

 I still believe there are times when American tourists want to avoid the hustle and noise of all this largeness and perhaps see things on a more mundane and human scale.  That is probably why I have always pointed out the “small” things in Florida.  Like the world’s smallest post office sitting on US 41 in Ochopee in the Florida Everglades.  The 7 by 8 foot former old farm irrigation pipe shed reminds us that things started small in this country.

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It is a One Person Post Office in Ochopee

Another of my favorite “smalls” is the original Carrabelle police station – a phone booth on US98.  After a tourist from Tennessee tried to steal the attraction, the original booth is now at 105 St James Avenue (US98) next to the Carrabelle Commerce.

FLORIDATRAVELER SMALLEST POLICE STATION

It’s nice to visit big things , but never eliminate the little things on vacation.

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Florida’s Most Profitable Independent Restaurants

It is probably no surprise that Florida has some of the most profitable independent restaurants in the United States.  Which restaurants are on the list may shock you, but you must note that the number of seats, as well as the average check, are factors in adding up the profits.

Ranked as the #2 profitable independent restaurant in the land is historic Joe’s Stone Crab (1913) which grossed $35.3 million dollars in sales in 2013 with an average check of $65.  What I find amazing is that Joe’s is indeed a specialty restaurant – when the stone crab season is closed from late-summer to mid-October – the restaurant is closed.

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Joe’s Stone Crab Is A Real Miami Landmark

When I lived in Miami in the 1960’s South Beach was almost a ghost town with rooms rented by the hour in some Art Deco hotels, but Joe’s Stone Crab was doing a bumper to bumper business. Nothing has changed at the restaurant.

The #6 restaurant is also in Miami Beach: Prime 112, a neat steakhouse in an older house.  It is not shocking that the average check hits $115.00 with the USDA prime dry aged for up to 28 days and a N.Y. strip priced at $59.

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Prime 112 Is Packed With Sports Stars Some Nights

I was somewhat amazed that the most profitable restaurant on Disney property (#11 in the USA) is Fulton’s Crab House at Disney Springs.  I realized that the floating steamboat has tiers of rooms and a pricey dinner menu.  With new competition from The Boathouse and even bigger restaurants going up in the complex, it will be interesting to see how Fulton’s competes.

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Fulton’s Has Been A Star At Disney Springs

A nearby neighbor at Disney Springs at #28 in the USA is Wolfgang Puck’s Grand Café, the fancy second-floor place overlooking Lake Buena Vista.  It had $15.8 million in sales.  I must admit I usually have a pizza on the first floor.

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Wolfgang Has Three Food Spots at Disney Springs

Universal Studios gets #80 with Emeril’s at City Walk.  It is a fine restaurant, but I must admit I prefer Emeril’s Tchoup Chop restaurant next door at Emeril’s Royal Pacific Resort.

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At Universal, You Get Two Emeril’s To Select

Finishing Florida independents in the Top 100 in the USA is a romantic favorite of the Leonard household: at #90 is the California Grill on the top floor of WDW’s Contemporary Hotel.  The recent seating changes at the hotel is to get in more diners and accept less bar hoppers who want a super view of the fireworks at the Magic Kingdom.  The food is no bad either.

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California Grill At Night at WDW

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Last Days of Rebel Florida: Confederate Gold, Suicide, Escape

150 years ago the Civil War was ending and events in Florida were starting to get dramatic, even though much of the state was still in Confederate hands.

On April 1, Governor John Milton, worn down by the stress of his office and depressed with the inevitable collapse of Richmond, went to his Marianna Plantation Sylvania and committed suicide with a gunshot to the skull.

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John Milton felt Florida was treated poorly by Richmond.

Richmond fell two days later and almost a week later Lee would surrender at Appomattox, but the story for Florida would continue.   The Confederate officials were fleeing southward, some even talking about starting a new government in Texas, Cuba, or even the Bahamas.  All of this wishful thought involved reaching the poorly blockaded waters of Florida.

Florida also had a role in the mystery of the Confederate gold – an issue that has continued to cause debate between historians and treasure seekers.  What was left of the Confederate Treasury and the money from the banks of Richmond left Virginia in boxcars allegedly containing four Conestoga wagons and nine large buckboards of money and important records.

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What happened to all the treasure in the Carolinas and Georgia is full of conflict, but here is the Florida aspect of the story.  On May 15, a small wagon train crossed into Florida and by May 22 reached the Cotton Wood plantation of Confederate Senator David Levy Yulee outside Gainesville.  Mrs. Levy told them the sad news that President Jefferson Davis had been captured on May 10th near Irwinville, Georgia.

The disturbed soldiers gave Mrs Yulee chests and bags containing Rebel records and President Davis’s personal items.  She temporarily had this material buried in one of her stables.

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Site of Cotton Wood near Alachua

That night on the grade of the Yulee Railroad, the ten men that formed the unit, divided up the money, giving each soldier 400 gold sovereigns (c $1,940 in 1865) plus $55 in traveling expenses, and another $975 to two civilian scouts and five black servants.  The next morning Senator Yulee arrived and advised them to seek paroles, surrender and return home to their families.

People have speculated if the men hide their treasure before surrendering to Union forces in nearby Waldo or Baldwin. There were reports that Confederate gold was found around Gainesville.   Senator Levy had the Davis trunks taken to his Waldo railroad depot, where Union officials seized them.   When Captain O. E. Bryant arrived at Cotton Wood to locate the wagons and remaining content, Mrs Yulee gave the Captain Jefferson Davis’ French musket.  She told the soldiers there was no gold.

Meanwhile there was one Confederate leader who did make it to Florida.  Confederate Secretary of State Judah Phillip Benjamin had been with Davis as far south as Abbeville, South Carolina.  He then decided that Davis’ plans to resurrect the Confederacy in Texas was impossible and convinced Davis that he needed to escape to the Bahamas to organize Rebel officials who were in Europe.

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Judah Benjamin: The Only Rebel Who Escaped

Although there are wonderful folktales of Benjamin disguising himself as a woman, the reality is the Danish Virgin Island born Jew pretended to be a Frenchman who knew no English.  Riding in a wagon and once an ambulance he reached North Florida but found all the ports filled with Northern troops.

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The Gamble Mansion In Ellenton

He fled south to Robert Gamble’s sugar plantation in Ellenton, on the banks of the Manatee River.  Gamble recruited blockade runner Captain Archibald McNeill to take Benjamin, who pretended to be a cook, to Bimini.  Despite two vessels catching on fire and several Union inspections, Benjamin reached England where he and his family spend the rest of their lives.

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Florida Has Largest “World Football” Stadium Now

In Florida – the land of college and professional football – it might be difficult for state sports fans to discover that the new Orlando City Soccer Team of the MLS is playing in the Florida Citrus Bowl (70,000), giving Florida the largest professional stadium in that sport.

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The Citrus Bowl Is Now Orlando City’s Home

Of course, football is king in Florida and lately the college teams have outscored the professional teams in championships.  In fact, the University of Florida’s Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (88,548) and Florida State University’s Doug Campbell Stadium (82,300) are larger in capacity than the biggest pro field: Sun Life Stadium (Miami Dolphins AND University of Miami) with its 78,468 seats.

floridatraveler BEN HILL GRIFFIN

Ben Hill Griffin – Home of the Gators

Everbank Field, home of the Jacksonville Jaquars, is in fourth with 76,867 seats, while Raymond James Stadium, which hosts the Tampa Bay Bucs and the University of South Florida is sixth with 65,647 seats.

But guess what?  None of these sports venues can match the sports stadium with the largest capacity in Florida.  The Daytona International Speedway with 167,785 seats rank second only to the Indianapolis International Speedway as the largest sports sit in the United States.

floridatraveler Daytona-Speedway

167,785 seats plus standing room

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