A&A Travel Review Of Greater Tampa Bay, Florida | RV Living
End of Week #92
Frog Creek RV Resort, Palmetto FL
Miles traveled since last week's post = 0 miles
Total miles traveled to date = 12,191 with trailer
We are winding down to our last few days in Palmetto, before we head further into into Bradenton for just a few nights next week to see my mom again. After that we will start to make our way north, and head a bit inland towards Ocala National Forest. We have already been in Florida for 4 months and it has gone by so fast! It's crazy to think that in less than 2 weeks we will be in Georgia, making our way north along the east coast...
All in all we have spent a little over a month in the greater Tampa Bay area now, and have sure done our best to explore everything we can. We have traveled all the way north to Clearwater and all the way south to Sarasota (& Venice), and taken every opportunity to check out the beaches and best places to eat along the way.
Keep reading to hear more about RVing and adventuring in Tampa Bay!
A&A Travel Review Of Greater Tampa Bay, Florida
The city of Clearwater is known for it's sunny weather and Gulf coast beaches. This is the northern most city in the greater Tampa Bay region that I will be reviewing. It is located north of St. Pete's Beach, and south of Dunedin.
Clearwater Beach - Voted the #1 Beach in the Nation by TripAdvisor in 2019 - this 3 mile stretch of white sandy beach on the barrier island of Clearwater. This beach was one of the busiest and most "happening" beaches we have come across in Florida, aside from Fort Myers beach. There is a pier and some activities for children, such as a blow up water slide, located right next to the pier along the water. There are several paid parking lots and street parking options to choose from, but it is still best to get here early to find a parking spot, or come on a weekday versus a weekend. There are several wash stations, bathrooms, and cabana chairs available for use, as well as volleyball courts in the sand. On the other side of the street from the beaches there are a lot of restaurants and bars to choose from too! The water here is quite shallow for a long way out, allowing both adults and kids the perfect place to experience the Gulf ocean waters.
Jimmy's Crows Nest (restaurant - rooftop) - What better prime location can you get than Jimmy's bird's eye view of the city, the Intercoastal, the beaches, and all that is Clearwater. This rooftop perch is small, but I would say this is the best view you can find in the entire Tampa Bay area. Jimmy's is a full service restaurant and bar located on the 10th floor of Pier House 60. The menu features American fare food, with reasonable prices. They also have an elaborate drink and cocktail menu.
Sand Bar (restaurant - beach side) - This ocean front bar is elevated along Clearwater beach, offering tiki cocktails and grub in their outdoor seating. They also feature daily happy hour specials on their drinks and select appetizers, including their nachos and quesadillas - which I highly recommend. In terms of a nice "beach bar" option in Clearwater, I would suggest adding this stop to your list!
I think I can already say that St. Petersburg is one of my favorite cities in Florida, especially on the Gulf coast. Nicknamed the "Sunshine City", St. Pete's is a popular area for boating, fishing, beaching and gulfing. It's waterfront parks host the famous Dali Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, and it is also home to the Florida Orchestra.
St. Pete Beach - The beautiful barrier island and resort city off the coast of St. Petersburg has more restaurants and tiki bars than I have ever seen in my life! There is so much activity to choose from, it's impossible sometimes to even make a choice. The beach itself is an award winning spot on the Gulf of Florida, and the area is also known for it's 1928 pink Don CeSar hotel that looms over the shoreline. This is easily one of my favorite areas to drive into, crossing over bridges and channels and looking at all of the beautiful houses and boats along the way!
Rick's Reef (restaurant) - One of the many seafood restaurants offered along the drive of St. Pete's Beach includes Rick's Reef. This restaurant has an adorable manatee statue right outside the front door, and offers outdoor and indoor seating options. They are known for their crab cakes, but also have delicious craft beers, and American cuisine too. What's awesome about Rick's Reef is they do not have ANY microwaves or heat ovens, leaving you with completely fresh cooked food options!
Beans & Barlour (coffee and desserts) - This might be the most intense and delicious gourmet coffee and dessert I have ever encountered! After seeing an old high school classmate post about this place, I just knew we were going to have to check it out. Thankfully we were able to go with our friends while they were in town and experience their seasonal Girl Scout Cookie menu items. Beans and Barlour specializes in made from scratch items and alcohol infused ice cream - my first time ever having anything like it! They also feature edible cookie dough and all kinds of tea and other shake creations. This is a must stop if you have any kind of sweet tooth at all!
Mad Beach Boat Rentals - While we spent the past week exploring with our friends, we thought it would be a really fun idea to rent a pontoon and cruise out in the Intercoastal or on the Gulf for a day while they were here. Under limited time to plan and limited availability, I was able to score a Friday afternoon out of the St. Pete Beach area, with Mad Beach Boat and Pontoon Rentals. We took out a 22 foot pontoon for 4 hours, and were able to cruise the Intercoastal channels and spend over an hour at a sand bar at John's Pass. It was an excellent experience with great guidance, maps, and suggested routes from their crew members. The only bummer was we weren't allowed to take the pontoon out into the Gulf like we had hoped, but I would still definitely rent with them again!
Tierra Verde is a census designated island off the south tip of St. Pete's Beach and St. Petersburg, and is the only point of access to get to the island of Fort Desoto. This community is at the entrance to Tampa Bay and houses a lot of condos, marinas, and beach access points for fishing and other water activities.
Fort Desoto Park - I recently reviewed our full week stay of Fort Desoto on my blog, and you can take a look at that post by clicking here. Fort Desoto is an old military fort island that served as a point of protection for Tampa Bay during the Spanish-American war. It has since been turned into a county campground, with extensive beaches, trails, fishing piers, a dog park, and a popular area to wind surf.
Ferry to Egmont Key - We were fortunate enough to take a visit with our friends to the pristine island paradise off the coast of Fort Desoto, called Egmont Key. This ferry service is offered through Hubbard Marina, and includes roundtrip ferry to the island, 2 or so hours on the island to explore, and the opportunity to explore the old ruins of Fort Dade - another military fort that was set up to protect Tampa Bay. The island is filled with over 30,000 birds (around 300 species), and the entire south end of the island is protected and remains inaccessible to humans. The north end of the island has the fort ruins, an old lighthouse that was in operation for 150 years, and miles of beautiful beaches on both the Gulf coast and the Bay side. This is also a popular area to find shark teeth and humongous shells! You can also access this island via boat, and the next time we are able to do a boat rental in Florida, you best believe Adam and I will end up here. The turquoise clear waters were like nothing else!
*You can also take a ferry to another nearby island, called Shell Key Preserve.
Andy's Ice Cream Stop - Located right near the bridge to get to and from St. Pete's, this small little Ice Cream shop offers an array of flavors, toppings, and ways to enjoy their ice cream. They also have shakes too! Plus, anyone who comes into the shop is able to draw or write on the walls with their markers they have available by the cash register.
Located on the Manatee River, on the south end of the Tampa Bay opening, Bradenton - nicknamed the "Friendly City", is the largest city in closest proximity to our campground where we have spent the past month.
Bradenton Beach - Technically it's own city, but Bradenton Beach is located on Anna Marie Island, and is just south of Anna Marie itself. Bradenton Beach is the main beach access point you encounter when you come across the bridge from the "mainland" and features free parking, public restrooms, a restaurant style concession stand, and miles of beautiful beaches. We have frequented this area a lot over the past month, and plan to make at least one more stop in the next few days! Currently they are dredging the beach here, right off the coast, bringing in pounds and pounds of sand to extend the coastline - which is something they have to do annually to maintain the beach itself or it erodes away.
Beach Market at Coquina Beach - This "World Famous" market at Coquina Beach is one of the best farmer's markets/flee market style pop ups I have come across. It happens every Wednesday and Sunday during the winter months, and is set up on the paths right off the parking lot, between the road and the actual beach itself. Vendors line both sides of the walkway and have everything from sugar cookies, to pretzels, to clothing, decorations and so much more. We spent at least an hour walking through this area, and sampling things along the way.
*Bradenton Beach is on the same strip of island as Anna Marie Island (& beach), Cortez Beach, Coquina Beach. It also connects to Longboat Key and Lido Key which are both to the south, and off the coast of Sarasota. Lido Key also connects to St. Armands Key, which includes a built up shopping center and a lot of bars and restaurants. We drove through this entire area, but did not explore all of it.
Frog Creek RV Resort and Campground (Palmetto) - Just north of Bradenton, in a small city called Palmetto, is the RV resort we have called home for the month of February. This cozy, pet friendly park is set along the Tierra Ceia Preserve, among thick live oaks with Spanish moss hanging from them all throughout the park. Frog Creek runs through the west end of the campground, and a lively tiki bar and outdoor socialization area are set up right along it. The best thing about this quaint RV park is they host a lot of get togethers and events for their guests!
Bradenton Motorsports Park - A popular destination for drag racing, this 1/4th mile strip was something we got to experience a few weeks ago to attend an event that Adam had found interest in online. A lot of "famous" YouTubers that Adam watches in the car racing world were going to be in attendance for a this event that happened to take place while we were in town.
Woody's River Roo Pub and Grill (restaurant - river front) - Located on the Manatee River, and seen above from highway 75, this riverfront paradise has tiki seating extended out from the restaurant, right over the water. They are also known for their live music, happening almost every day of the week, so good luck getting a place to park if you don't get their early enough! It's beachy, fun, lively, and has a great clothing line you can purchase. You can also come here on your boat and park it aright along the front of the restaurant!
Whiskey Joe's Bar and Grill (restaurant - river front) - One of their several locations is right here on the Manatee River, outside of Palmetto and Bradenton. Whiskey Joe's is located on the other end of highway 75, on the south end while Woody's is located on the north end. (Both restaurants are equally busy all the time). I would say that Whiskey Joe's does appear newer and it is much larger and more built up, with a very big outdoor tiki bar, open seating in the sand outside and ample space for indoor dining. Their menu was slightly more expensive than Woody's, and they also featured a clothing line you could purchase too!
The most southern city I am reviewing in the Tampa Bay region is Sarasota - which was the previous winter home to the Ringling Brother's Circus. Sarasota also houses a number of cultural institutes, and serves as a gateway to miles of beaches with fine white sand and shallow waters.
Siesta Key Beach - Ranked the #1 Beach in the USA by TripAdvisor for 2020 - Siesta Key Beach is now the top beach we have visited on the Gulf coast. I had been here once before, back when I was around 10 years of age, but it wasn't until just a few days ago that I was able to return again with Adam and our friends. I remember the beach being expansive, with the most beautiful white sand, but I did not remember it to be as amazing and humongous as it was this time around. Right from the start I was very surprised to see that they offered ample free parking and had a very extensive beach café, shop, and restroom area. Unlike other beaches made of pulverized sand, this beach is 99% quartz, which comes from the Appalachian Mountains. Oddly enough, this water also felt a few degrees warmer than other nearby beaches we had visited and we don't know why, but it was so refreshing! We took full body dips. And we dried off in the sun with a nice bucket of Pina Coladas from the beach café.
The Old Salty Dog (restaurant) - This pooch friendly British pub was featured on Man versus Food and is known for their hot dog cuisine. This place is an Old Florida favorite, located right in the heart of shops and dining on Siesta Key. There is outside seating and indoor dining available and they have a pineapple tropical coleslaw that is an absolute must have!
*Other key places to visit in Sarasota (that we did not get time to check out) include the Jungle Gardens - with 10 acres of botanical plants, and bird and animal shows, and the Ringling Brothers Museum.
Big Cat Rescue - This might sound familiar to you from the Netflix series that was a huge hit in 2020, called Tiger King... as the infamous Carol Baskin owns Big Cat Rescue in Tampa! Although we did not get a chance to visit this time around (as I believe they have also been closed due to Covid), I do still have this place on my radar for the next time around... I mean I feel like it's something you just have to do?? I do not agree necessarily with zoos, or other wildlife holdings such as this, but it would feel pretty iconic to visit at this point.
I'm sure it's quite obvious by the end of this post, but there are an insane amount of places, and things to explore in the greater Tampa Bay region. I would definitely consider this one of my favorite stops in Florida so far and it is an area I would love to come back to again and again to really soak up all it has to offer. With some of the best beaches in the country (& the world even), along with tiki bars, water sports, and a booming art and nightlife scene... I really don't know what else you could ask for in a trip to Florida!
As we start to roundup our stay in Florida this winter, it's time to create some guides for the best beaches on both the east and west coast, along with a camping guide to the best RV parks. Florida is one of the toughest places we have camped in to date, but it is also one of our most favorite states for so many reasons! Stay tuned for more.
I have recently become affiliated with Amazon, through the set up of my own storefront page. Here I am able to list and link all of the items I have purchased through Amazon and would recommend for various needs. I have lists set up for fulltime RVing, camping in general, traveling with cats, health and wellness, and even curly hair! Plus, as an added bonus, I will make a small commission on any items purchased through my link.
If you want to check out more of my storefront page, here is the link: Spark Fire Swan's Amazon
I will continue to add items as time goes on, as we are always finding something new on there that becomes quite useful to our lifestyle or for our feline friends. As a rule of thumb, I only ever link things we have actually purchased, kept, and use on a frequent basis!
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