09 December 2016

 
Take a stroll on one of the many beautiful beaches in Florida
Is there Florida without Disney?
Tim Carroll meets dolphins, pelicans and an astronaut in a cartoon-character-free corner of the Sunshine State
See our offers to
Tampa
View our hotels in
Tampa
t’s New Year’s Eve and I’m sitting on a kayak beneath a blazing sun. Spread before me is an enticing sub-tropical panorama of mangroves and a lagoon of deep, alluring blue. Suddenly, the water’s placid surface is shattered when, with a noisy flutter of feathers, a flock of pelicans decide to visit. I think to myself: this was definitely a good idea. It was my wife Linda who suggested spending the week after Christmas on Florida’s Gulf Coast. With year-round sunshine, what better way of forgetting about the impending gloom of January? The other consideration was that we wanted a good place to meet up with our old friend Elizabeth and her son, who now live in LA.
I
Thus we found ourselves on Anna Maria Island, a Tampa Bay idyll of clapboard houses, palms, beaches and year-round blue skies. We took a three-bedroom apartment at The Beach Club at Anna Maria Island, across the road from a pictureperfect Gulf Coast panorama. Anna Maria Island proved to be an inspiring
Richard Gonzmart, Columbia Restaurant Group boss, in his cellar
Pelicans take a dive
"We could have quite easily embraced this gentle routine for our entire stay."
place to stage our little reunion. A slender slither of land south of St Petersburg, it’s an hour’s drive from Tampa but a million miles from the more effervescent delights of the Sunshine State. There are few high-street chains, no high-rise buildings and no sign of Mickey and Co.

Everything is low key.The island’s appeal is in the more gentle pleasures. Apart from strolling the beach, the most exhilarating activity is idling over a plate of freshly caught seafood at some beach shack. Scott MacGregor is a typical Anna Maria Islander, a marine biologist who runs kayaking jaunts from Beach Bums on Pine Avenue. Before Captain Scott took us out on the water, he presented a riveting lecture about the science and biology of Florida’s mangrove biosystem. That night, we welcomed in the New Year nursing glasses of wine as a fireworks display on the beach lit up the star-spangled sky. The following day we sat in the hot dunes captivated by the dolphins dipping and diving in the Gulf of Mexico. We settled into a routine.

Breakfast was a muffin and coffee at a bustling diner. Our favourite place for lunch was a casual seafood haunt at the end of a rickety pier. Dinner was preceded by cocktails at a beachside bar watching the sun go down. We could have quite easily embraced this gentle routine for our entire stay. There’s no need to drive. A free trolley bus takes you up and down the island. But we took time out to explore the Tampa Bay coastal region. From the white sands of Clearwater Beach in the north to Sarasota in the south, there are a host of communities offering unique beachside lifestyles for every taste. One evening we drove down the sun-splashed archipelago of Anna Maria Island, Longboat Key and little Lido Key.
At Lido Key we found a Florida legend in the form of the Columbia Restaurant, a Spanish affair with open windows and a dining patio of hand-painted tiles. The food is a mixture of seafood and steak; the atmosphere is Havana 1950. For those who crave extra stimulation, the region has much to offer.

Tampa itself is home to several family-friendly attractions, including Busch Gardens, the huge theme park that combines zoological inquiry with fairground fun. The Florida Aquarium is an engrossing introduction to the sea life of the area. There are half a dozen major wildlife and adventure parks up and down the coast and plenty of opportunities to take dolphin and manatee-spotting cruises.
And you should drive from one coast to the other and visit Kennedy Space Centre. We took up the popular offer of ‘lunch with an astronaut’, who in our case was Barbara Morgan, the first teacher in space. ‘What does it take to become an astronaut?’ one child asked. She replied: ‘To have faith in yourself and know that nothing is impossible.’ In those simple words she encapsulated what makes so many of us love America.


Original article published in Nov 2014. All info and prices correct at time of publication.


"We took up the offer of ‘lunch with an astronaut’, who in our case was Barbara Morgan, the first teacher in space."
Beach Bums, where you can book a kayak tour
Astronaut Barbara Morgan
Anna Maria Island pier: a great spot for lunch
 
 
 
0330·100·2220i 0330 calls are included within inclusive minutes package on mobiles, otherwise standard rates apply. X 0330 calls are included within inclusive minutes package on mobiles, otherwise standard rates apply. X
 
Close