Two Ways To Live – Sarasota, FL

A shot of us on Turtle Beach on the day of the Superbowl

A shot of us on Turtle Beach on the day of the Superbowl

From St Petersburg we trekked south a wee bit (less than an hour if memory serves me correctly) to Sarasota, Florida. Someone had recommended Turtle Beach Campground on Siesta Key. Siesta Key is another of those beaches that was voted “Best Beach in the Universe” or something so of course we wanted to check it out.

Turtle Beach Campground, facing the entrance to the beach. That's us on the left.

Turtle Beach Campground, facing the entrance to the beach. That’s us on the left.

The campground is a small county campground, I think there were maybe forty or so spots. We were able to get in for four nights… there was a red tide that had washed in before we came and a couple of campers had cancelled their reservations due to that so we got a spot. If not for that red tide, I think we would have never been able to get in. The whole “snow birds in Florida for the winter” thing is oh so true, so much in fact that we have had quite a few campgrounds that we’ve wanted to stay at that are totally booked until April. Oh, and the red tide here is completely different than it is back home. At home, when it’s red tide, the whitewash of the waves lights up phosphorescent at night and you generally stay out of the water because it looks a bit murky. Here in Florida, the red tide (which is an over-bloom of some sort of algae or bacteria usually due to unseasonably warm water) was so strong it washed up a bunch of dead fish onto the beach. It also affects you… it makes your lungs tight when you breathe it in. Before we came down to Turtle Beach, the lady we booked our reservation at the campground with told us over the phone they were having red tide and if there was anyone in our party with asthma we shouldn’t come. Chris and I were both thinking she was taking the whole thing a little too seriously, after all we’d experienced red tide plenty of times back home on the California coast and it was no big deal. When we got to the campground we soon figured out the red tide in Florida was a bit different than what we were used to. We caught the tail end of the red tide (thank goodness it was only present the first day we were there), and literally when you are outside just a few minutes you can feel your throat kinda close up and your lungs get tight. We walked down to the beach just a few hundred feet away from our campsite, and saw a couple of dead fish on the beach. I figured that was the red tide leftovers, and then we went back to our site to start making lunch. I felt like my breathing was a bit labored, and my chest felt like someone sat on it. I didn’t realize it was connected to the red tide air at first, I thought “I feel like I have bronchitis without having been sick. That’s weird.” Then Chris said to me “is your chest tight?” and I was like “Yes! How’d you know?!” He said his was too, and it must be the red tide. Needless to say, we stayed inside the rest of that day. By the next morning, however, the air was breathable and we felt just fine. And we made lots of friends at this campground. It had a real community-like feeling.

All the campers convene on the beach for sunsets.

All the campers convene on the beach for sunsets.

Everyone was social, and you’d see just about everyone from the campground down at the beach at sunset. We even went to a Superbowl party hosted at one of the campsites. There were stories floating around that the couple who hosted the party traded their Winnebago for some of the wife’s famous pulled pork (which we partook of at the party) but I never got to verify this with the hostess.
The day after we arrived at Turtle Beach, I ventured to a place I had seen as we drove into town that made me very very happy/excited/nostalgic/maybe I whooped with joy when I saw it and scared Zeph. What could make me react this way? Besides the gelato I ate at the Whole Foods in Orlando made by these people (they had a flavor called something like “the undertaker”)? TRADER JOE’S, that’s what! Oh Trader’s, I didn’t know I’d not see you all the way from California until Florida. How does the rest of the country survive without you? Your frozen kale is one of a kind. Your salsa so delicious. Your deli meats, your breads, your treats… ahhhh. I drove, but I could have run, straight over there as soon as I could. This Trader Joe’s (TJ’s, as it’s known in our house) was pretty good size, and super busy. And guess what? The parking lot sucked! That must be a prerequisite that the builders look for before they build a TJ’s… “let’s find a spot that will create mad traffic in the parking lot and build there.” Anyways, once I managed to find a parking spot I spent a good hour inside just cruising the aisles slowly, pretending I was back at home, although I didn’t run into anyone I knew like I usually do at TJ’s.

The strangest way to store a boat I've ever seen...

The strangest way to store a boat I’ve ever seen…

I talked to a very nice woman in the produce section, as I had to share the excitement of my discovery of the place with someone. She was very gracious, told me there was another TJ’s in Naples south of Sarasota if I needed more on our way down the coast. After I calmed myself down and checked out with my goodies, I returned to the campsite with a few bags chock full of chocolate cat cookies and hard boiled eggs ready to eat (I suck at hard boiling eggs).
Siesta Key was beautiful and quirky. It reminded me a bit of a larger version of Catalina Island. Lots of colorful buildings and tourist shops selling shells and silly t-shirts, one sort of main drag that the tourists hung out on. And Siesta Beach really was pretty epic. Very wide, soft white flour-like sand beaches with the see through turquoise water that I’ve grown attached to since we’ve been on the Gulf Coast. We found some great places to eat while we were there. The Sun Garden Cafe had almost perfect ratings on Yelp,

Sun Garden Cafe... our favorite hang out on Siesta Key

Sun Garden Cafe… our favorite hang out on Siesta Key

so we figured we should try it. Man, we were not disappointed. Of the five days we were on Siesta Key, we ate at Sun Garden Cafe five times. Yep, once a day. By the time we left the servers and hostesses knew us and our eating habits pretty well. We felt like temporary locals. Sun Garden does breakfast and lunch, and the menu has standard offerings with clever names (I had the “old schooler” for breakfast a few times – two eggs, the best pepper-edged bacon of my life, and toast) and some not so standard food (the sweet potato pancakes… yah, those were delicious). One of our favorite parts of eating at Sun Garden, besides all the friends Zeph made us by being his normal charming self, was the playlist of songs always in the background. Everything from Buffett to Mraz to the Beatles to the Dead, I don’t think I heard one song I wasn’t singing along with in between bites. Across the street from Sun Garden was an ice cream place called “Sub Zero” that I made Chris go into with me. I’d never experienced a place like this, which is saying a lot considering the amount of ice cream I ingest. At Sub Zero, your ice cream starts off as a liquid. You can choose your base (premium ice cream, custard, yogurt, non-fat ice cream and lactose-free ice cream were some of the options). Then you choose your flavorings and mix-ins. The list is exhaustive: everything from licorice to dutch honey to tigers blood (which is a mixture of fruits – I had to ask) and just about every standard flavor in between. I went for a custard base with coconut and berry flavor, with coconut chunks and berries mixed in. WIN! I think we ate here the same amount of times we ate at Sun Garden.

My Old Schooler breakfast at Sun Garden Cafe... notice the delicious pepper-crusted bacon. Wow!

My Old Schooler breakfast at Sun Garden Cafe… notice the delicious pepper-crusted bacon. Wow!

I am a diehard ice cream fan so I needed to test as many flavor combinations as I could. I did a dulce de leche/brownie combo one day (too sweet) and a lemon berry combo also. Chris stuck to his usuals: tart and things involving peanut butter. Oh, and I didn’t tell you the coolest part! So your ice cream starts off as a liquid, then they use liquid nitrogen to freeze it. The theory behind this is that the ice cream gets flash frozen, thus avoiding air bubbles and making it all around creamier and tastier. I would say the concept works pretty well, we obviously enjoyed it.
We ventured out one day about thirty minutes from our campsite at Turtle Beach to Myakka River State Park, one of the places that we’d tried to get a spot at but was booked solid for months. There are all sorts of cool things to do there.

Chris shot this row of canoes... so artistic!

Chris shot this row of canoes… so artistic!

Airboat tours, tram tours through the backcountry, birding, kayaking, and just plain ol’ being one with nature. We got on the tram tour which takes you on some roads that aren’t accessible by car and the tram driver gives you a bit of interesting history about the park. The land was donated by a lady (well, her sons after she passed) who used the land to raise cattle. She was a rich woman from Chicago and only came to the farm once, to purchase it. After that she hired a ranch manager who lived there with his family and kept the place going. There were lots of animals (deer, alligators, all sorts of crazy looking birds) to see and Zeph had a great time in the tram. We drove the car around the park for awhile while Z napped, it’s really a beautiful place. There are tons of sabal palm trees (the State Tree of Florida) and Cypress trees and Slash Pines (named that because back “in the day” people would slash into them for their sap and make turpentine out of it).

Driving through the Spanish Moss covered trees all over Myakka River State Park.

Driving through the Spanish Moss covered trees all over Myakka River State Park.

Spanish Moss drips off of everything. And there are really awesome air plants growing off the tree branches everywhere… little “resurrection” ferns, as they are known, because they might look brown and dead but they just need a little bit of water to come back to life again. We learned about lichen on our tram tour, which is a harmless bacteria that grows on the trees and creates its own food. It’s an extremely delicate organism and will not grow where there are any sort of pollutants in the air. Lichen looks like pink and white paint splatters all over the trees. And I learned all this information about the plants from the tram tour. Who knew plants could be so interesting? Maybe it will have a positive affect my green thumb… or brown thumb. Anyways, Myakka was a cool area to explore and learn about. We saw an alligator that was probably twelve feet long. We were on a bridge, looking down on a little creek. And he was looking up. At Zephyr. Planning his next meal, no doubt.

The alligator that was scoping out Zeph on the bridge for a little snack...

The alligator that was scoping out Zeph on the bridge for a little snack…

Another sight-seeing tour we did was at the John and Mable Ringling Museum. Does that name sound familiar? John Ringling and his brothers started the Ringling Brothers Circus back in the early 1900s. By 1930 John Ringling pretty much had a circus monopoly in the US. Bad timing though, what with the depression, and he died not too long after with $300 in his bank. You’d never believe it touring his house and adjacent museum he built to house his wife’s extensive Italian art collection. There’s so much here: circus memorabilia, a private train car that the Ringlings used to travel around in with the circus that’s beautifully maintained, the Ringling’s Venetian Gothic 10,000 square foot house on Sarasota Bay, the museum of Italian art and artifacts. Fascinating is the best word I can think of to describe the experience. It’s opulent, it’s nostalgic, it’s beautiful and sad. There’s a miniature circus built by a man named Howard, with a big top and a circus train and the whole little city behind the scenes that it took to put on the miracle of the traveling circus. Chris and I have visited a lot of museums over our years together, including the big ones in Paris and London. The John and Mable Ringling Museum is one of my new favorites. There’s rich American history there, and who doesn’t love the circus?

One of the collection of vintage Barnum and Bailey Brothers Circus posters at the Ringling Museum

One of the collection of vintage Barnum and Bailey Brothers Circus posters at the Ringling Museum

The back patio of John and Mable Ringling's , 1920's Venice-inspired house

The back patio of John and Mable Ringling’s , 1920’s Venice-inspired house

After four nights at Turtle Beach, there was no longer an available spot and we had to move on. We’d read everywhere about the Sun N Fun RV Resort in Sarasota. It was only a few miles away from Turtle Beach. They have over 1500 RV sites there. It is the biggest RV park we’ve seen yet! We managed to get a spot for three nights (did I mention everything down this way is booked by the snowbirds until April?) and drove on over.

Night swimming at the Sun n Fun

Night swimming at the Sun n Fun

The place was crazy! They have a 24hour guard gate, a huge pool with poolside bar and grill, a full service restaurant, nine hole mini golf, something called a “jumping pillow” which I will include pictures of, a woodshop, a jewelry making/grinding shop, a day spa, a wellness center with an indoor lap pool and full gym, tennis courts, pickleball courts, and the list goes on. It was like its own little city. Going to this from our quaint little beach campground was a bit of an adjustment for us but we enjoyed the amenities and so did Zeph. We bought him this thing called a “puddle jumper” which is essentially a life jacket with water wings attached and he was swimming around the pool by himself with it on within a day. And the jumping pillow, which is like a trampoline pillow coming out of the ground, was a source of afternoon entertainment for us all.

Chris and Zeph sliding down the side of the jumping pillow at Sun n Fun

Chris and Zeph sliding down the side of the jumping pillow at Sun n Fun

We even had fun in their laundry room. It was great being able to ride our bikes to the restaurant and pool and post office (we had some packages shipped to us from home while we were there – thanks Ron and Kath!), but we were ready to leave the giant RV city and get back to some nature. And nature we found… more on that next time!

 

 

 

 

 

  • Hub Diggity

    I seriously felt the same way about my TJ stash when I lived in MN. (I brought a separate suitcase each time I came home to CA so I could restock my pantry.) Share??? No way. πŸ˜‰

    Meeting my guy’s Mom today for the first time today! Can’t believe she’s traveling all the way here. Keep your stories coming, love hearing about your adventure.

    Love ya! πŸ™‚

    • zephyrsunrise

      Dude you’d better let me know how that goes Jen! <3 Erin