• Nina Dudko

A Week on the Florida Gulf

Updated: May 7



Today is my first day of school! I start at George Washington University for my master’s degree, and while I’m really nervous, I’m looking forward to the next two years in my program. But with the first day of school comes the last day of my summer vacation. One of my favorite places to spend my vacation is Florida, with my grandparents. I recently spent a week with them in North Port, Florida, which is about an hour north of Fort Myers. The week I spent with my grandparents was amazing. I came back to DC well fed, well rested, and rejuvenated.

If you look up North Port on a map, there’s not really much to do in the town itself, but it’s not that far from some really nice attractions (and when I say not far, I mean maybe an hour’s driving, which isn’t the worst considering how large Florida is). I’ve been visiting North Port since I was a baby, and I always look forward to coming here. My trip was filled with sun (with only a small sunburn thanks to the two bottles of sunscreen), seafood, and sleep. So while I’m still unpacking my suitcase, let’s unpack my trip to Florida in my first travel recap post.

Manasota Beach, Englewood

This beach is a family favorite. It’s only a 15-minute drive from my grandparents’ house and is hardly ever crowded. The sand can get hot, especially in the summer, so walking from the car to the shore barefoot is definitely not a good idea, but once you get to the shore and set yourself up, it’s picture-perfect. The water is a beautiful aquamarine blue, and on the best day, it can be so clear that even when you get to the point where you can’t stand anymore, you can still see your feet. The water during the summer is so refreshing, especially if you’ve spent a good chunk of time baking in the sun. Although, as it gets to be later in the day, the water does warm up a bit. The sun will do that.

The shore can get pretty shelly, and this beach is a hotspot for finding fossilized shark teeth. This is a family pastime that I’ve learned from my dad, and we’ve accumulated a pretty nice collection over the years. It’s always fun to come to this beach and just dig around in the sand looking for these teeth. It’s become pretty popular, too. Along the shoreline you see many people with special shovels scooping sand and digging for these teeth (I prefer the old-fashioned way of just using my hands). Over time, the teeth have become overfished in a sense. The more impressive teeth are harder to find, but I was able to find one or two (and I proceeded to lose them in my bag somewhere . . . oops).


Since this beach is so close to home, it’s my favorite place to watch the sunset. The sunsets here are absolutely stunning. I was only able to see one sunset this time, since Florida decided to be uncooperative and be cloudy every night, but the one sunset I saw really made me appreciate how beautiful nature is.

Venice

Just a few miles north of Manasota Beach is Venice. Established in 1924, Venice is a quiet little town with an equally quiet beach. Just like at Manasota Beach, the water is a beautiful aquamarine, but the sand is definitely less shelly. The best part about this beach is that if you’re lucky, you might see dolphins. I was lucky to see a whole pod of them, and they were super close to the shore. I started swimming out toward them, but stopped before I got too close. A local beachgoer told me that you can apparently get arrested for aggravating them. Definitely not interested in spending my vacation in a jail cell.


In addition to spending some time at the beach, I explored downtown Venice. The downtown area is really cute and is very welcoming. Shops along the main street ranging from a stationery store to cafes to ice cream shops. I’ve been craving seafood basically all week, so I tried Daiquiri Deck for lunch. I wanted to go to Left Coast Seafood, but when I drove to the restaurant, I found out it was closed until September 5. I really wanted oysters so I googled with my 1% battery what places in town had my little shellfish, and I found myself at Daiquiri Deck. It is apparently a chain place with locations in Sarasota as well, and it felt touristy. I grabbed a seat at the bar, ordered a glass of Islamorada beer (it was the only thing on draft that wasn’t Bud or Coors Light), a half-dozen Apalachicola (try saying that three times fast) oysters, and per the bartender’s recommendation, the Mahi Mahi bites. The bartender at the restaurant was a lifesaver, and went out of his way to find a phone charger to remedy my 1% situation.

The beer was alright, tasted a little watery, but it did have a little hop to it. The oysters were very meaty and mild, and paired nicely with the horseradish sauce. As for the Mahi Mahi bites, they needed more seasoning but tasted good with the restaurant’s fruity hot sauce. Overall, Daiquiri Deck was okay . . . although I really wished that other place was open.

Naples

So one of my best friends, Ashley (who has a fabulous blog that you should check out: www.ashleyinman.com), was in Florida the same time as I, by complete coincidence. She was visiting her family in Naples, which is only an hour away from North Port, so we planned a beach day together. I’ve never been to Naples so I offered to drive to her. We spent the afternoon in Bonita Springs at the Club at Barefoot Beach. The beach was secluded and peaceful, although the water was an interesting brown; probably because of the recent rain in the area.


After a few hours of cocktails on the sand, we had lunch at Pelican Larry’s. An oyster craving was calling, so this place was perfect. My favorite part about this dive bar was that they were playing pre-season football, and my New York Giants were playing. I seriously can’t wait for football season.

I had the pleasure of joining Ashley’s family for dinner at the Vineyards Country Club, where we noshed on crab, scallops, and I ate this mountainous cream puff ice cream sundae (food coma shortly followed). It was a day well spent.

Siesta Key, Sarasota

This beach is always listed as one of the most beautiful beaches in the country, and with good reason. The water is calm and clear, but the sand is what makes this beach a tourist attraction. The sand is mostly quartz and looks like sugar. The best part is that the sand doesn’t get hot in the sun, so it’s very pleasant to walk on barefoot.

Since it’s such a tourist hub, parking can be a bit difficult. There is a free parking lot, but it fills up fast. If you do visit Siesta Key Beach, get there early and claim your parking spot, or else you’ll be circling the lot for hours, or will need to find parking elsewhere. If you are unable to find parking, a few miles south of Siesta Key Beach is Turtle Beach, which is much less crowded. You can definitely find parking there, and it’s a very nice beach. The sand isn’t as white, but the beach is nearly as beautiful.

Siesta Key and Sarasota are great places for shopping and eating. Over at St. Armands Square you can find a bunch of eateries and boutiques in the outdoor strip mall. On a beautiful sunny day, it’s a great place to grab a cocktail or ice cream, and people watch. On my endless seafood craving, I ventured to Walt’s Fish Market, per the recommendation of a gentleman at the beach. This place was wonderful! I had a half-dozen oysters which, when enjoyed with lemon juice and horseradish, were very fresh and mild in flavor. I also liked that these weren’t briny. Accompanied with a nice hoppy beer and Bahamian Conch Ceviche, this was a great seafood lunch. Everything in the restaurant is fresh and sustainable, and you can buy fresh fish at their market section.


After my seafood craving was sated, I wanted ice cream. First of all, Siesta Key Village is adorable. The shops are quaint, and you see people walking around or biking leisurely throughout the village. I found Subzero Ice Cream & Yogurt, which is liquid nitrogen frozen ice cream. I love science. Especially fancy food science. Having ice cream frozen in front of your eyes is neat. Siesta Key in Sarasota is a lovely way to spend a day.


The downside of Florida is the heat. I’m a winter baby, and I prefer the cold to ridiculous heat. But with a beach nearby, it’s tolerable. A week in Florida flew by, but it was a week well spent. The seclusion of North Port allows for the night sky to really glow, and I lucked out to see the Perseid meteor shower. Stars are hard to come by when you live in DC. Looking up at the night sky speckled with hundreds of twinkling balls of hot gas, contemplating the universe. I love Florida, it’s my second home, and I’m already planning my next trip back.

Hope you enjoyed my first trip recap, and are inspired to book a trip to Florida.

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