Seaside Escapes


Finding yourself daydreaming about a much-needed getaway? Maybe something with white sand, cool surf and spectacular sunsets? Whether it’s a romantic retreat for two or a fun-filled family vacation you’re after, we, the editors of Ocala Style, have put together a list of what we feel are a handful of Florida’s must-visit beaches.


The best part? Getting to any of these sun-drenched destinations doesn’t involve air travel or complicated arrangements. Instead, each is accessible in a matter of hours—and most on one tank of gas!

A Tropical Retreat


Captiva Island


Affectionately known as Sanibel Island’s smaller sister, Captiva Island is located an hour and a half north of Naples on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Considered one of the state’s hidden gems by many, Captiva Island is sure to, well, captivate you.


From Ocala: 247 mi., 4 hrs. & 24 min.



STAY Perhaps one of the most popular ways to stay on this secluded barrier island is by renting a vacation home or condo. Plenty of companies offer rentals on the island, most with searchable Internet databases. One we like is captiva-island.com, managed by American Realty of Captiva. The site is very user friendly and not only features a seriously huge selection of properties, from quaint cottages to sprawling compounds, it also showcases all the island has to offer, from water activities and tours to shopping and dining options.


EAT You can tell just from the name that The Bubble Room is no ordinary restaurant. Where else can you dine amongst old movie glossies, life-size Mickey Mouse replicas, twinkling Christmas lights and nostalgic memorabilia from the 30s, 40s and 50s—collectively known as “bubble things.”


An award-winning restaurant, the menu is filled with unique items, such as Smarvelous She Crab Soup, Cluck Gable and the Eddie Fisherman. And the presentations? They’re just as interesting.


Before bidding farewell to the Bubble Room, stop by the Emporium Gift Shop for some truly, um, memorable memorabilia!


PLAY No mention of Captiva Island would be complete without talking about shelling. After all, the island is considered one of the best in the world for collecting rare and beautiful shells. Situated along the Gulf of Mexico with an east-west orientation, the island serves as a natural collection net for a huge variety of seashells—all colors, all sizes. After you collect your treasures, head over to Sanibel-Captiva Road and the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum, the most comprehensive museum in the nation dedicated entirely to shells.


Not into shelling? No problem. There’s plenty more to do. If you’re looking for an off-shore adventure, visit captivacruises.com to select a cruise that’s perfect for you. Choose from the 90-minute Dolphin Watch & Wildlife Adventure Cruise or the one-hour Sunset Serenade with live music. If you’re interested in a longer excursion, those are available, too!


Did we mention there’s also a lighthouse and fishing pier, the C.R.O.W. Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, Captiva’s historic Chapel by the Sea, a marina and much more? You’ll have to check it out for yourself to fully appreciate all this island land has to offer.


Want The Details?


This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Captiva Island. Check out captivaisland.com for all the must-have details.


 


The Laidback Lifestyle


Amelia Island/Fernandina Beach


White sand beaches, abundant wildlife, crystal clear waters. It’s no wonder Amelia Island was named No. 5 among the Top 10 North American Islands by Conde Nast Traveler’s 2010 Reader’s Choice Awards. Visit for yourself to find out why!


From Ocala: 127 mi., 2 hrs. & 31 mins.



STAY Featured in countless magazines and on many television shows, the Elizabeth Pointe Lodge overflows with charm and luxury, and from the moment guests arrive, they are pampered and taken care of. A wine and hors d’oeuvres reception takes place every evening and a full ocean-view breakfast is included each morning.


A variety of deluxe accommodations are available, including 20 rooms and suites in the Main House, each with their own unique décor and appeal. The Ocean House features four deluxe sitting rooms, several with private ocean-view decks.


The amenities and accoutrements at the Elizabeth Pointe Lodge are too numerous to mention. Future guests can check out elizabethpointelodge.com for all the details, not to mention stunning pictures.


For a completely different experience, the Florida House Inn, located in the heart of Fernandina Beach’s historic downtown, opened in 1857. Southern charm and hospitality abounds at the inn, which includes a parlor room, an English pub, wraparound porches and lush gardens. More information can be found at floridahouseinn.com.


EAT From the sun-drenched coastline to the historic downtown area, Amelia Island and Fernandina Beach offer plenty of dining choices to satisfy every palate. There are more than two dozen eclectic eateries to choose from in the historic district alone, so good luck making that decision quickly!


With a slogan like “Eat Here, Get Gas,” how could you not check out T-Ray’s Burger Station. Housed in an old Exxon gas station, it’s where the locals go for the perfect burger. Maybe you’d prefer to check out the island’s oldest and most nostalgic restaurant—The Marina. A variety of seafood, beef and poultry meals are available, and don’t forget to try one of the yummy homemade chowders.


Founded in 1989, the Beech Street Grill in the historic district is famous for its seafood dinners, but visitors can also get a taste of Southern Low Country cooking as well. The Creole flavors are sure to add a bit of a kick to your day.


PLAY Sure, beaches are known for snorkeling, swimming and even biking. But Amelia Island is known for that and much more: a 400-year-old history that includes Scottish smugglers, Cuban freedom fighters and yes, even pirates! The city offers history buffs plenty of opportunities to explore the area’s rich history, including walking tours of the downtown and historic districts, the Amelia Island Museum of History, Fort Clinch and even ghost tours. Now come on, what trip to the beach would be complete without a ghost sighting?


Want The Details?


For a direct link to the Amelia Island 2011 Visitor’s Guide, visit amilbk.com. Check out all the cool stuff we didn’t have room for!


 


An Island In The Sun


Anna Maria Island


This barrier island at the southern tip of Tampa in Manatee County offers guests a front-row seat to spectacular sunsets night after night.


From Ocala:144 mi., 2 hrs. & 33 mins.



STAY It seems that visitors to Anna Maria Island can’t say enough good things about An Island Getaway at Palm Tree Villas. A two-minute walk from the Gulf of Mexico, these quaint rental villas come complete with full kitchens (including granite counters), full baths, semi-private garden patios and plenty of space—perfect for a family vacation to the beach. Studio to three-bedroom layouts are available, and prices are extremely reasonable. Don’t forget to stop by Publix on your way to the villas to stock up on the necessities.


EAT On our quest to find the best dining options in and around Anna Maria Island, one restaurant’s name surfaced again and again—Beach Bistro. A bit on the pricier side, Beach Bistro is known as much for its intimate ambiance as for its highly acclaimed dishes. Rated the No. 1 place to eat on the island by tripadvisor.com users, Beach Bistro offers diners stunning, panoramic views of the Gulf of Mexico, not to mention complimentary valet service. As a matter of fact, the staff takes beachside dining to a whole new level, with several tables situated right in the sand. Their website, beachbistro.com, features full menus, not to mention the pricelist.


Another option is theBeachHouse Restauranton nearby Bradenton Beach where live music adds a fun, festive flair to your beachside dining experience. The fun doesn’t stop there, though. Beach volleyball nets are set up, and there’s plenty of space for the kids to play in the sand before and after (even during) your meal. The restaurant is situated on 650 feet of beachfront property and outside dining isn’t a problem here as the vast covered deck extends from one end of the restaurant to the other. Check outbeachhouse.groupersandwich.comfor all the details.


PLAY A cool way to see the city is via a Segway. Seg’s by the Sea and Zegway by the Bay both offer guided tours that include all the stopping points in and around Anna Maria Island. Don’t forget your camera!


If a boat tour is more to your liking, try out A.M. Island Adventures in nearby Cortez (also known as one of Florida’s original fishing villages, so bring your pole). The 21-passenger cruise may include snorkeling time, sandbar searches for shells or sand dollars, and exploring the water for sea life, including dolphins and manatees.


If you have the kids in tow, you may want to check out The Fish Hole on Bridge Street. This miniature golf adventure is sure to bring a smile to their faces.


If all of that surf and sunshine leaves you longing for a little city escape, take a quick day trip to nearby Sarasota. Just 30 minutes away, this waterside metropolis boasts an abundance of recreational activities, including the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, the Ringling Museum of Art and Ca’d’Zan Mansion and the Sarasota Jungle Gardens.


Want The Details?


Wanna start planning your island getaway now? Grab your pen and paper and check out annamariaisland.com.


 


A Natural Indulgence


Pensacola Beach


Located on Santa Rosa Island, the world’s largest barrier island, Pensacola Beach offers vacationers everything from relaxing beach activities to the hustle and bustle of nearby Pensacola, and all with spectacular waterfront views.


From Ocala: 384 mi., 6 hrs. & 13 mins.



STAY Portofino Island Resort offers guests luxurious accommodations surrounded by nature’s best offerings. Bordering the Gulf Islands National Seashore, the area surrounding Portofino Island Resort is natural and unspoiled. With 360-degree water views of the Gulf of Mexico and Santa Rosa Bay, the resort is perfect for a lazy day spent in the sand and surf.


More than 300 two- and three-bedroom units are available for rent, and each features a waterfront view, not to mention top-of-the-line amenities, including full furnishings.


Complimentary services for resort guests include beach chairs and umbrellas, a Catamaran cruise to the Portofino Boardwalk, a dolphin cruise and one round of golf each day on any of the four Emerald Coast courses. And that’s just a handful of the offerings! There are seven outdoor pools on site, a full-service (and then some) spa and honestly too many services and amenities to mention. For more information, visit portofinoisland.com.


EAT Portofino Island Resort offers guests plenty of dining options, including its signature restaurant, Terracotta, where patrons can enjoy fresh coastal cuisine overlooking the serene waters of Santa Rosa Bay.


If you’re looking for something a bit more casual, Terrazzo Grille offers al fresco-style dining that includes lighter fare, such as soups, salads and sandwiches.


For an evening nightcap or late-night snack, the Cobalt Bar is a tropical outdoor eatery that features live music and a full-service bar.


For options off resort property, the Portofino Boardwalk includes nearly a dozen dining choices and Pensacola’s famous Seville Square and historic district is just 20 minutes by car.


PLAY The aforementioned Portofino Boardwalk is a quick catamaran cruise away (Did I mention that’s free for resort guests?) and includes more than a dozen dining, shopping and entertainment options.


Plus, don’t forget all of the water-related activities taking place in and around the resort itself, including Adventure Beach. Adventure Beach features bikes, in-shore charter fishing, sailing and kayak rentals, snorkeling and more. If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, there’s Adventure Cove where you’ll find an inflatable waterpark, a water trampoline, Float Your Boat towed rafts, cruise opportunities, eco tours and more.


Want The Details?


One visit to Pensacola Beach will leave you longing for more. Plan your stay at visitpensacola.com.


 


A Rustic Delight


Fort De Soto Park, Tierra Verde


Bordered by the Gulf of Mexico to the west and Tampa Bay to the east, Fort De Soto Park, named America’s No. 1 beach by “Dr. Beach” in 2005 and TripAdvisor in 2008 and 2009, is a chain of five interconnected islands just south of St. Petersburg.


From Ocala: 133 mi., 2 hrs. & 24 mins.



STAY Although the typical resorts and hotels can be found nearby, we suggest utilizing the park’s camping facilities, where you can sleep just feet away from the park’s pristine shores. Whether camping by tent, RV or pop-up camper, the 238-site camping area offers picnic tables, grills, water, electricity, laundry facilities, restrooms, showers and a camp store. Special campsites are available for visitors who are traveling with their canine companions. Reservations are recommended and can be made up to six months in advance.


EAT When visiting Fort De Soto Park for a day trip, take advantage of the convenient concession stand located within the park that serves typical snack bar-type food, perfect for lunch. If you’re camping at the park, you’ll want to take advantage of the grills provided at each campsite. Whether grilling hamburgers and hot dogs or the fresh fish you caught earlier that afternoon, what’s camping without cooking dinner over an open fire? For a night out, take a short trip to St. Petersburg Beach and try Sea Critters Café or Paradise Grille.


PLAY Whether soaking up the sun, fishing off the pier, embarking on a canoe or kayak adventure, or exploring the historic fort, there’s no shortage of things to do within Fort De Soto Park. Rent a bicycle, hike a trail or romp with your pooch at the designated dog beach. Whatever you do, don’t miss visiting Egmont Key National Wildlife Refuge, an island a short ferry ride from the park. Visitors to Egmont Key can rent snorkeling gear for an extra fee.


Want The Details?


Visit pinellascounty.org/park/05_ft_desoto.htm or call (727) 552-1862 for campsite reservations and additional information on the park and its activities.


 


America’s Top Beach


Siesta Key


With sand made of 99 percent pure quartz, there’s a reason Siesta Key was just named America’s No. 1 beach for 2011. If you’re looking for sugar-white sand, wide beaches and water so clear you can see your toes, Siesta Key is located along the calm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, just south of Sarasota.


From Ocala: 157 mi., 2 hrs. & 38 mins.



STAY While most visitors choose private home or condo rentals on Siesta Key, one luxury resort option is the Hyatt Siesta Key Beach, featuring multi-bedroom, condo-style residences, many with Gulf-view terraces, with beach concierge and complimentary poolside cabanas. Future guests can visit siestakeybeach.hyatt.com to check out rates and make reservations.


For accommodations closer to the action of Siesta Key Village and more moderately priced, check into Siesta Sands on the Beach. Located right on the water, these condos sleep four guests, offer a fully equipped kitchen and display old-Florida style decor. As a guest at Siesta Sands on the Beach, you basically have your own apartment with the beach as your backyard—what more could you ask for! Visit siestasands.com to view a photo gallery of the accommodations.


EAT Great views, live music, casual atmosphere, award-winning cuisine. Siesta Key has a restaurant to meet everyone’s need. For unpretentious dining with a lot of personality, check out the Siesta Key Oyster Bar. A few blocks from the beach and in the heart of Siesta Key Village, SKOB, as it’s often shortened to, is the perfect place to kick back and enjoy a cold beer, a dozen raw oysters and daily live music.


For a little more sophistication, visit Ophelia’s on the Bay, located at the southern end of Siesta Key overlooking Little Sarasota Bay. Voted Best Waterfront Restaurant by the Sarasota Herald Tribune, Ophelia’s offers fine dining that is known for mixing American-style cuisine with a variety of other flavors.


PLAY Visitors flock to Siesta Key for the beach, but if you can tear yourself away from the shore, there are many other activities for the entire family. For the more adventurous in your group, Siesta Key Bike & Kayakoffers guided kayak eco-tours through the shallow, protected waters of South Lido’s exotic mangrove tunnels. Make sure you make reservations, though, because tours might not be available for the same day.


If you’re up for a 30-minute drive, take the youngsters to the Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquariumin Sarasota where you can see sharks, dolphins, manatees and sea turtles, along with more than 100 other species of marine life.


And when you need a break from sunbathing, venture down to Point of Rocks, a shallow formation of limestone rocks that extends into the Gulf from the middle of the western shore of Siesta Key. Known for its geologically unusual rock formations, this part of the beach is habitat for a wide variety of fish and other sea creatures. It’s a perfect combination of fun and exploration!


Want The Details?


Can’t get enough of Siesta Key? Visit sarasotafl.org for more ways to plan the perfect vacation.


 


A Break From The Ordinary


Rosemary Beach


Inspired by traditional beach towns, Rosemary Beach, located on Florida’s northwest Gulf coast between Panama City and Destin, was designed to bring back the 1950s notions of community and convenience.


From Ocala: 324 mi., 5 hrs. & 19 mins.



STAY Visitors, or temporary residents as they are often called, to Rosemary Beach can stay in one of the many carriage houses and spacious multi-bedroom cottages available through the Rosemary Beach Cottage Rental Company, all individually designed and decorated and many with large porches and balconies. Guests of the Rosemary Beach Cottage Rental Company are guaranteed availability at Camp Rosemary. All rental guests enjoy complimentary court time at the Racquet Club and access to the Fitness Center and all four community pools.


There is one hotel in Rosemary Beach, the Pensione Inn, a contemporary European inn featuring 11 guest rooms, each with a Gulf view. Guests enjoy complimentary access to the community Fitness Center and tennis at the Racquet Club.


EAT Most of the restaurants in Rosemary Beach can be found in the town center, which is a quick five-minute walk from any of the area’s vacation homes. Restaurant Paradis offers nightly fine dining service and a full-service lounge. Fresh, seasonal fare, abundant Gulf seafood, steaks and fine wines are served in a warmly elegant, wine-country setting. Don’t miss half-priced entrees every night from 5pm to 6pm!


Perfect for lunch with the kids after a full day on the beach, Dog Man Du, a mobile hotdog cart, is open seasonally. Dog Man Du is also the perfect stop during Moonlight & Movies and Kids’ Rock the Block parties, part of Rosemary Beach’s special summer events’ series.


For more fare that will please the young—and the young at heart—try Sno-Balls, a New Orleans-style snow cone shop, The Sugar Shak, a Willy Wonka-inspired candy store, or the newly opened Sugga Pies Cupcake Shoppe & Bakery. Talk about sugar overload!


PLAY Outdoor amenities are abundant in Rosemary Beach. The community is structured around a series of parks and green spaces, the perfect place for enjoying an impromptu game of Frisbee or having a picnic.


Rosemary Beach is extremely pedestrian friendly, so park your car when you arrive and forget about it! Everything is within walking distance, but if you need a little zip, cruise around on a bicycle from Bamboo Bicycle Company. Adult and kid’s bikes can be rented for a day or weekly, and rates average $20 per day.


During the summer months, Camp Rosemary offers kids ages 5 through 12 a series of daily events designed to enhance their vacation experience, including sports activities, arts and crafts, beach expeditions and sandcastle building, swimming pool games and more. Thursdays are Teen Nights at Camp Rosemary, and teens can join their friends for movies and other fun activities.


Want The Details?


Everything you need to know about Rosemary Beach, including vacation rental availability, can be found at rosemarybeach.com.


 


Where Quaint Meets Modern


Delray Beach


With two miles of pristine beachfront property and a vibrant downtown area featuring more than 300 boutiques, galleries and restaurants, Delray Beach, located between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, is where the intimate beach village meets big-city sophistication.


From Ocala: 255 mi., 4 hrs. & 13 mins.



STAY Delray Beach offers accommodations from quaint to luxurious, historic or modern. If you want to stay in the heart of the action, consider Crane’s BeachHouse Hotel & Tiki Bar, located off Atlantic Avenue only a few blocks from the beach. The hotel has 27 Key West-style rooms and suites. The Tiki Bar is a popular hotspot for locals and tourists alike and features live entertainment on select nights. Visit cranesbeachhouse.com to take a virtual tour of the property.


For a beachfront view, stay at the Marriott Delray Beach, located just across A1A. With 180 rooms, a full-service spa, a fitness center, shopping on site and several dining options, guests can relax on the beach during the day and experience Atlantic Avenue’s nightlife in the evening.Future guests can check out marriottdelraybeach.com for rates and photos of the hotel. Warning: Once you see it, you’ll want to go!


EAT Downtown Delray’s Atlantic Avenue is a charming streetscape filled with fine dining restaurants. For casual fare with a Delray flare, try City Oyster & Sushi Bar. The seafood at City Oyster is flown in daily from fisheries in the Northeast and filleted right in the kitchen. Open for lunch and dinner, City Oyster is also a great place for having a drink with friends and people watching, with the grand bar running the length of the restaurant.


To dine where the locals do, head over to the Pineapple Grove Arts District and check out Joseph’s Wine Bar and Café. Perfect for an evening when you’ve got extra time, Joseph’s has an amazing wine collection of over 2,000 bottles. This father-and-son establishment is the place to enjoy authentic Mediterranean cuisine.


PLAY For a taste of natural Florida, visit the Wakodahatchee Wetlands park, a free adventure where visitors can see alligators, turtles and more than 140 different types of birds. Stroll along the three-quarter-mile boardwalk through the park’s three ponds for a chance to learn about wetlands ecology and the natural history of the area.


Pineapple Grove Arts District is located just off Atlantic Avenue. The area features an eclectic mix of cafes, boutiques, galleries and spas. While here, make sure to take the Pineapple Grove Artwalk, a series of public art displayed throughout the area.


There are so many activities off the shore that it’s easy to forget about Delray’s award-winning beaches. For a more serene beach experience away from downtown, visit Atlantic Dunes Park. In addition to lifeguards, the park offers a classic boardwalk, a pavilion, public restrooms and showers, and picnic tables.


Want The Details?
There’s so much to do in Delray Beach! Want to see what we weren’t able to include? Visit downtowndelraybeach.com and visitdelraybeach.us.

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