Thursday, February 21, 2013

Clearwater Beach

January 27-28, 2013

Our last morning on Caladesi Island presented a fairly typical Looper scenario. We really had no plan for whether we would stay another day on Caladesi, leave and go a few miles to Clearwater, or go all the way to St. Petersburg with Jackets II. After one final walk on the beach, we decided we should move on. Jackets needed to get to St. Pete to meet one of their daughters, but we decided to stop in Clearwater for a trip down memory lane. Craig’s grandparents moved to Clearwater in the 1950s and lived there the rest of their lives, until the early 1980s. So Craig visited Clearwater many times over a long period of time, and after we were married, I did, too. We hadn’t been back for probably 30 years, though.

Craig enjoyed walking along the docks where his Grandpa used to charter a boat for them to go fishing together.


We also spotted the building overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway that used to be the Osceola Inn, the assisted living facility where Grandma for many years visited “the old people,” (many younger than her!), and where she lived in her last years. It’s no longer an assisted living place, and like much of downtown Clearwater, has been purchased and refurbished by the Scientologists.  Grandma would roll over if she only knew! She didn’t much care for the Scientologists. Her building was the one set back, with the long dark window on the top floor.

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We stayed at the municipal marina at Clearwater Beach, a nice place, but a real contrast from Caladesi,  Lots of boats, lots of tourists. We saw a Carver just like our Sandcastle back home in Cincinnati!

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We took a walk on the beach, which still has some of the softest, whitest sand anywhere. We walked to the very pink Hyatt and had a drink at their 8th floor pool bar. There’s a beautiful view from up there, and we enjoyed relaxing and watching the scenery.

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In the evening we walked to one of the famous Frenchy’s restaurants for really good grouper. Just as we ate our fill of crab in the Chesapeake, pickerel in Canada, whitefish in the Great Lakes and catfish on the rivers, we are finding ourselves eating a lot of grouper in Florida, testing every restaurant’s claim that theirs is “The Best!”  Frenchy’s grouper actually is very good, and it’s a fun, casual spot, too.


The next day we moved on the St. Pete. We decided to by-pass the Intracoastal Waterway with its many low bridges and no-wake speeds and instead travel outside on the Gulf. The water was calm and it was a beautiful day for a ride on the big water.

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We rode fairly close to shore and enjoyed seeing the various beach towns.

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As we turned into Tampa Bay and approached St. Pete, we heard music across the water.  It was this woman playing her trumpet as they sailed along.


We turned at the unmistakable St. Pete Pier and entered the really lovely municipal marina.  We docked just a few boats from Jackets II, and began a surprising and wonderful week in St. Petersburg!

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Next: St. Petersburg and a side-trip to the Ringling Museum.

(Real-time update: On February 21, we are still enjoying Ft. Myers.)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Caladesi Island State Park, FL

January 24-27, 2013

If you’ve been trying to follow our blog and have begun to wonder if we’ve sunk or been commandeered by pirates, stop worrying, everything is great.  We’ve just been having too much fun on the west coast of Florida to take time for blogging!  So just when we got very close to being caught up on the blog, we’ve fallen behind again. Oh well, as I’ve said many times, we didn’t undertake this adventure just so I could do a blog!

When we left Tarpon Springs, we followed Jackets II to a place that turned out to be one of our favorite stops on the Loop, Caladesi Island State Park, just north of Clearwater Beach. We had never heard of this place and would have missed a wonderful experience if not for the recommendations of our friends on Next To Me, who had been there the previous week. Thanks, Bob and Cathryn!

It was a short trip from Tarpon Springs, on a beautiful calm day. We passed the Anclote Key lighthouse and saw our usual daily quota of dolphins, which never gets old.

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We passed this boat along the way.  This is a dog who knows how to enjoy cruising!


Just past the Honeymoon Island bridge, we turned toward the narrow and quite shallow channel into Caladesi Island. The shallow waters plus a lack of publicity within the Looper community are probably the reasons most Loopers miss this spot.  That’s too bad, because it’s a gem.

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There are no cabins and no camping on the island, so after the last day-tripper ferry leaves at around 4:00 p.m., the only people on the island besides the resident ranger are boaters docked in the very nice marina. Our first few days on the island, in mid-week, there were five boats in the harbor – Jackets II and Blue Heron and three boats of retiree volunteers, who get free dockage in exchange for helping the rangers with various light tasks.  A sweet deal!


If you like your beach vacation bustling with restaurants, bars and lots of activities, Caladesi isn’t for you. But if you can appreciate the peace and quiet of undisturbed nature on one of the few remaining undeveloped barrier islands, you’d love this place!  Miles of beautiful beach, crystal clear waters, millions of shells (better than Sanibel!), hundreds of shore birds, a few gopher tortoises and incomparable private sunsets – that’s what Caladesi is all about. It is perennially voted one of America’s best beaches.

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Every day we walked the beach, and no matter how often we said we didn’t need to collect any more shells, we couldn’t help ourselves – they are so beautiful and plentiful, and it becomes addictive!

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This was the typical crowd at the beach – Jackets and us, occasionally a few day-trippers.

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One morning Craig, Stephen and I walked to an inland pond on the island where we saw a number of birds including herons, egrets, ducks, kingfishers and wood storks.  We saw a few songbirds, too, mostly cardinals and warblers. There weren’t as many birds as we’d hoped but the ones we saw were noisy and entertaining.

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Later that day, Craig and I walked to the far end of the island, and while he did more shelling, I was mesmerized watching hundreds, maybe thousands of various kinds of shorebirds, including American Oystercatchers, Black Skimmers, Sanderlings, and sandpipers, terns and plovers of various types. And the usual complement of pelicans and gulls, too. It was fascinating seeing so many birds milling about together on the beach. Since there were practically no other people on the beach, the birds seemed very comfortable and unconcerned.

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There were quite a few pretty birds right in the marina, too, including this Great Egret, a Reddish-Egret and a bunch of Little Blue Herons. One afternoon we had a few dolphins swimming around the marina, too.

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Every night we walked to the beach to watch the sunset. The chairs that are rented to the daytime crowd were empty and available to us as the only island residents at that hour.  It was pretty special watching the sunset with a glass of wine on our private beach.  Spectacular, in fact!

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It’s not quite accurate to say we were alone on the island. There are a few other residents besides the birds. 

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We never saw any snakes, and the gopher tortoises are shy and harmless and best left unbothered.


Dogs aren’t allowed on the beach, but are welcome elsewhere on the island, on leash. Sorry, Joey, no swimming here!


When the weekend rolled around, the environment changed a good deal, when the local boaters from Dunedin and Clearwater showed up to party in paradise.

Here is Blue Heron’s dock the first few days in Caladesi, mid-week.


Here is Blue Heron’s dock on the weekend.


But even with the weekenders there, most of them hung around their boats or the docks all day and right through sunset, so we still had the beach mostly to ourselves.


It was just a magical spot and we would have been happy to stay longer, but the Loop keeps pulling us forward, so eventually we said good-bye to Caladesi.  Maybe some winter we’ll sign up to be those free-dockage volunteers. I’d happily hand out trail maps in exchange for a month or two in this beautiful place!


Next: Clearwater and St. Petersburg.

(Real- time update: On February 20, we are at Legacy Harbour Marina in Ft. Myers.)