Headed to the east coast over a mild Kansas City weekend was a bummer, but the ocean was so worth it. We headed via Southwest airlines to the Tampa Bay/Sarasota area. Southwest offered huge discounts on their flights to Tampa earlier this year making it an affordable flight at $98 per person roundtrip. Not to mention the frequent flyer points you can rack up. The flight was smooth despite some low clouds that had a few major air pockets. Once we landed it was a rather warm and humid 90 degrees.
We decided to explore the St. Pete’s Pier area prior to checking into our hotel. We drove down to the pier area and parked a few blocks away by a shopping center for free. It was 3 hours free parking street side. Walking down the pier was breezy but the sun was blazing hot. If I could do it over again I would have parked closer. The pier was full of people fishing. Once inside the pier’s center there were a few unique stores, but nothing mind blowing. After a long day of traveling we were hungry and decided to grab a bite at Captain Al’s Waterfront Restaurant & Bar. It was affordable and seemed to have a pretty good selection for lunch. Due to the humid conditions we decided to eat inside. I choose the buffalo chicken sandwich and my husband ordered a shrimp wrap. Chicken sandwich was average, but the shrimp wrap was great! The service was below average. It took forever to get our food and our server was lacking in checking in on us. I could not understand why as the restaurant was pretty slow at this time.
After lunch we headed to the rooftop for a view from St. Pete’s pier. Offering stunning views of the city this was one of the best things about the pier. Following a rather dull experience on water we headed to our hotel. We took lodging in at the Helmsley Sandcastle Resort. Upon arrival I checked and found the lobby very appealing, complete with a tropical fish tank as a backdrop to the guest services counter. The staff was very friendly and efficient. I had booked us a standard room for two nights for only $260 (including taxes). A great bargain for a beachfront resort. After checking into our clean room we headed to the beach. We walked down the hallway and found sand. Literally only 50 steps from the beach. It was perfect.
The beach was very clean and the waves were mighty. A storm had just passed through and it made for an exciting day in the water. After a fun afternoon in the sun we headed out for dinner. Choosing a waterfront bar & grill known as The Old Salty Dog. A dog friendly outdoor bar that sits on the water. Feeling homesick from my own pets I saw a bull dog, lab and poodle that made me not so homesick. We ordered shrimp poppers and crab legs for dinner. They were excellent and the service was A+. I also tried the specialty drink and it was $10 but oh so delicious. Looking for some night life action we wound up at the Gator Club. Cover charge was $5 and it was a two story bar that had a live band downstairs and pool tables upstairs with a DJ. A very energetic club that had reasonably priced drinks. After a long day we headed back to the hotel to turn in for the night.
The next morning was our beach day. Before hitting the beach we ate breakfast at our hotel. It was only $9 per person for the buffet and it was very filling. After eating we headed to the beach and grabbed our complimentary lounge chairs and basked in the sun for the most part of the day. Later in the afternoon we headed to the local mall known as Westridge. They have most of your average stores plus a few extras. Shopping completed it was time to head back to the room and get ready for a night out. Looking for my favorite style of food (Mexican) we choose Two Senoritas to dine at. They offered a wide selection of food, even puffy tacos which are very hard to find back home. The food was delicious and the salsa was very fresh. Service was good and the interior of the restaurant was very low light and romantic. It was a perfect dinner for our last night in the city.
Heading to Siesta Key was next on the venue. Once there we found several night life spots with bars and live music. Our first stop was into the Daiquiri Deck, a bar with over 13 daiquiris to choose from. I settled on the pina colada and it was superb, one of the best drinks I had on the trip. It is a non-smoking establishment that also serves food. Offering some great happy hours between 3pm – 7pm. We decided to head down Ocean Blvd and visited the Beach Club. Another great nightlife spot with a live reggae band. This club seemed to have a larger following with people of all ages. It turned out to be a great spot to hang out and drink.
We finally awake to our final day on the beach. It didn’t start out great as it was raining non-stop till 11am. I was worried about the weather as we were planning to parasail. Finally the weather subdued and the clouds cleared to sunny skies and we set off to Anna Maria Island. My favorite secret spot in Florida where the beaches are crystal clear and wonderful. We decided to hit up our favorite dining spot in Anna Maria the Gulf Drive Cafe. Home to some of the best pancakes. This place is on the beach, offers outdoor seating and has some of the best food and service I have found. If you ever visit Anna Maria you HAVE to dine here and try their pancakes. After a late breakfast it was time to parasail.
We used YOLO (You Only Live Once) parasailing. At an affordable $60 per person we were suited up and ready to fly. I was nervous at first but once you are up in the air it is so peaceful, all your cares just brush away. On our parasail trip we took off and landed from the boat. The expenses included 1 hour on the boat, 15 minutes in the air and a souvenir CD of photos from the day. It was so worth it and I would do it again.
After spending a few more hours beachside it was time to head home. As much fun as I had and as sad as I was to head home I know I will be back. This is one of my favorite spots to visit. The beaches are beautiful and the weather was perfect for our weekend.
My final review would conclude:
Southwest Airlines – transports you right to Tampa Bay only 30 minutes from all beaches
St. Pete’s Pier – Not worth the drive and rather disappointing
Captain Al’s Waterfront Restaurant & Bar – Average food & Poor Service
Helmsley Sandcastle Resort – a stunning resort that is very affordable and beachfront. Offering a gorgeous pool with poolside bar.
The Old Salty Dog – Outdoor bar & grill with fresh seafood; dog friendly establishment
Gator Club – Two story bar with live music; Cover charge
Siesta Key – perfect spot for nightlife action
Daiquiri Deck – Great selection of Daiquiris and perfect spot for sports watching
Beach Club – Fun with live entertainment and energetic bar patrons; NO cover charge
Anna Maria Island – white sandy beaches; great destination for dolphin and whale watching
Gulf Drive Cafe – Pancakes that are superb and inexpensive
YOLO Parasailing – Offering an affordable new view of the beaches.
Westridge Mall – Average shopping experience on the outskirts of town
Weather – temperatures in the upper 80’s and sunny; storms will likely hit the area but are scattered and only last 30 minutes or less