HAPPY THANKSGIVING guys! We spent the holiday traveling – a little non-traditional for us. We usually have the whole family together and then we have friends over to share the meal with. But this time, we went to Florida! We drove south through NC, SC, GA, and FL. We stopped in St. Augustine to drop off my dad who had Thanksgiving with his brother, and then we drove west to Tampa to spend Thanksgiving with my brother’s girlfriend and her family! It was so fun to have a Puerto Rican Thanksgiving… They did have turkey and everything, but they also had rice and pork and FLAN and tres leches for dessert. YUM. I told my mom we should have rice for every holiday meal. IT WAS SO GOOD. We usually have an Italian meal for Christmas/New Year’s but our Thanksgivings are always American – so this was different and really fun!
After the Holiday, we spent the day exploring Tampa down to Anna Maria Island and then over to Orlando and back to St. Augustine!
Tampa is gorgeous. It reminded me a little of Chicago, in that it was more manicured and tidy. But it was more modern. The architecture here was beautiful. Everything is so pretty and just lovely and it sits right on the water. One of the main attractions here (aside from shopping, waterside dining, and the scenery) is the Tampa River walk.
The walk is a couple miles long and it goes along the water starting south and going north. It’s structured to take the “walker” through and under some really neat spots for unique views and experiences! Unfortunately, we had a time finding parking and we just gave up. It’s definitely something to do, though, if you’re ever in the area and looking for something to do… and can find parking.
Manatee Observation Center
So when I found out we were going to Florida, it was my top priority to swim with the manatees, because, I mean, that’s amazing. But it’s their mating season this time of year so that was no longer an option. We settled for the Manatee Observation Center. It was a cute little spot but it sat right next to a solid waste plant, which was… interesting. It was sort of an eye sore and took away from the whole thing.
AND THERE WEREN’T EVEN ANY MANATEES YOU GUYS. Okay, so there were like, 2. But they were so far away! When we were on Key Marathon a while back, the water was so clear and the manatee swam right to us. This water was so murky, my hopes were so high, and I was so disappointed!
Anna Maria Island / Clearwater Beach / Treasure Island / Shell Island
If you ever find yourself on the west coast of Florida, it’s imperative you visit the beaches! I have never been in the Gulf before so this was a total bucket list moment for me! I decided I really wanted to go to Anna Maria Island (even though Clearwater Beach, Treasure Island or Shell Island would have been great choices, too.)
SOMETHING YOU NEED: Toasted coconut ice cream.
I’m totally and freakishly obsessed with AMI. It’s a small little town with major island vibes. I want to move here.
Harry’s Grill & Bistro was a great pit stop for lunch! They serve amazing sandwiches and my salad was huge! Our waitress was also so sweet! One of the things I thought was really cool was that she didn’t give us straws. We didn’t care because the cups were disposable but a family seated next to us asked for them and she jokingly made them promise they’d keep them off her beach. It was cool to see that the people here really care about their beaches and environment!
The water was so beautiful and clear! And there were patches of little shells everywhere. You could literally scoop them up in your hand and pick out a million tiny little in tact sea shells! We even found a sand dollar!
ALL I CAN EAT PANCAKES? Yes please.
Watching the sunset was the absolute best! It was my first “ocean side” sunset and it was everything I had ever imagined. It was so funny, too, because everyone gathered along the water to watch it and as soon as it passed the horizon, everyone picked up and walked away!
So many of these cute little shells were all over the beach! I may have stolen one or two… Don’t tell anyone.
Sweet little outdoor bar!
The pier was really neat because in North Carolina the piers are massive. They’re tall, long, and fenced in because they’re up so high. Here, it was low, there was nothing keeping people from jumping right into the water, and it was just really cool.
Everyone was so happy. There was live music, a drum circle, food, drinks, and smiles. Everyone ate, moved to the beach for the sunset, and then hung around for the music. It was perfect.
If you’re looking for good island vibes, nice people, and beautiful ocean views, Anna Maria Island is IT!! Like I said, I’m convinced I need to buy a house here. Even though Kyle isn’t the biggest fan of Florida… I’m going to convince him.
Orlando / Disney / Universal / Disney Springs
Last time we were here I was like… ten? So it was fun to come back and do some shopping!
It only took us about an hour to get there and we got there around 10 before it started to get too crowded.
Sugarboo&Co. has some of the cutest shit I’ve ever seen. The owner is an artist and designed everything in the store. A lot of the items are quotes and words on different materials (canvas, paper, zip up bags, posters, wood, metal, etc.) and there were cute little ornaments, dream catchers, and other things!
The Lego store is really all I remember from when we were here last, and it was so fun to walk around there again!
We did some shopping at the 3 story Coca-Cola store, too! It was kinda cool because we’ve been to the spot in Atlanta, GA before and it was so much fun! I got a few Christmas presents and we went up to the 3rd story which was like a little outdoor cafe/Coca-Cola bar. It was really neat!
I spent way too much on a damn cupcake just so I could use the ATM. It’s about the experience right? It really wasn’t that bad. It was about 6 bucks and it was pretty cool. You could either go inside and order one, or walk up to the ATM and choose a cupcake. When you pay, the little door opens and there it is! In its cute little box.
This is a really good spot to shop, eat, drink, or come to with friends. It’s free to walk around, but you have to pay for what you want. I mean, it’s like a mall. LOL. But it’s animated and exciting and done up like actual Disney World or any kind of amusement park.
Old Town St. Augustine
I know this is technically a huge tourist trap and I really wasn’t planning to go but we ended up here on accident and I’m not mad about it. Even if I did pay 15$ for 3 lemonades.
We went to the Castillo De San Marcos National Monument and it was so cool! It was massive and just gorgeous to see. It’s the oldest masonry fort in America, which is neat. Also – when they were building it, they used “coquina” a light and porous material. It was thought that the material wouldn’t be strong enough to withhold the impact of cannon balls and other projectiles but they had no choice because the rock used was all they had. BUT, to their surprise, when struck, the air pockets in the rock absorbed the projectiles and held them (as described on nps.gov, like a bb in styrofoam).
Old Town is, well, old. There’s so much history there and you can see it in the details of some of the architecture and the names of the businesses. There are little snack shops next to old houses and old pillars in the middles of the new walls.
And then we found what was quite possibly the most beautiful church I have ever seen. Memorial Presbyterian Church had us in awe! The gold and the columns and the white and the doors and the architecture – UGH. It was amazing! I took so many pictures of it because it seemed like every time you took a step or two, it looked completely different.
& That was our trip! There is so much more to do that I wish we could have taken advantage of, but that can just be for another time! It was definitely fun to travel from the west side to the east side of the state and see how different each spot was!
I’m so thankful that I have parents that have enough spontaneity in their hearts to ditch holiday traditions and do something completely different! As much as I missed being home with the whole family and Kyle and his family, too, it felt really good to break our norm!
PIN IT! ☟