Monday, July 2, 2012

Venice Beach, Florida

It seems hard to believe that a one-hour drive from Orlando is such a world away from the hectic crazy Florida lifestyle.  If you're looking for the Florida of your grandparent's or parent's era, look no farther.  Venice Beach, Florida is like stepping back in time, stepping out of the rat race and stepping into pure relaxation.

Venice Beach is primarily known as a retirement location for snowbirds but should be seriously considered as your next Florida vacation.  This locale has it all:  pristine, uncrowded beaches; quaint downtown with unique shops (where else can you find an entire store devoted to just olive oil so far from Italy?); an abundance of restaurants; tourist attractions that feature history, mystery and more--and all that without long lines of cars on every street!

The beach itself is one of the most beautiful I've ever seen.  Miles of turquoise blue water and uncrowded sand all hidden behind untouched dunes.  While the water can be chilly and choppy on some days, that much is true of any beach location.  The best part was doing something I had only dreamed about as a small child:  hunting for shark's teeth!  It is one of the only locations I've ever seen where we actually found one!  Locals say the teeth aren't as plentiful as they used to be, but industrious diggers can still get lucky!

The beach is a mecca for all ages:  in the daytime families with young children build sandcastles and frolic in the sun and at night, teenagers playing cornhole and volleyball compete for space with retired groups playing guitars in old-fashioned sing-alongs drinking wine. 

Some places that aren't to be missed:

To Eat: 
  • While at the pier, make sure to check out Sharky's On the Pier.  You can eat right on the ocean front while listening to music.  Make sure to get there early as there will probably be a waiting list anytime you visit.    Trust me, it's worth the wait!  The Brie and Apple Pizza was a culinary delight and I'm still dreaming of their giant blue maragarita's--the best I've ever tasted anywhere in my travels.   Check out their website for directions and more information:  Sharky's On the Pier
  • Snook Haven Restaurant and Fish Camp has to be seen to be believed.  After a drive down a gritty gravel road, you feel like you've driven back in time.  Set right beside the Myakka river, you can enjoy authentic Gator Bites, fried okra and other seafood delights.  They also have live entertainment many days and nights and take pride in featuring local artists.  After eating, there is a riverboat cruise the whole family can enjoy.  And, if you're a movie buff, this place claims to be the site of a 1930's Tarzan movie.  After visiting, I agree that Tarzan would be right at home in this jungle!  Check out their website for directions and more information:  Snook Haven Restaurant and Fish Camp
  • What trip to Florida is complete with orange juice?  How about a place that combines fresh-squuezed juice with ice-cream?  Make sure to visit Nokomis Groves in nearby Nokomis, Florida.  This family run establishment is part-factory and store and part-ice cream parlor.  With every citrus flavor you can imagine, Nokomis is always busy so be sure to give yourself plenty of time.  And, bring a cooler.  They sell fresh-squeezed orange and grapefruit juice that will make you redefine what juice is.  Check out their website for directions and more information:Nokomis Groves
To Do:
  • Consignments Galore! Even if you don't like to yard sale or rummage shop, you must stop by one of the dozens (hundreds, it seemed!) used furniture, clothing and rummage stores.  They were on practically every corner and one even specialized in nothing but used books (be still my beating heart!).  Some deals we found:  practically new golf clubs for less than $30, brand name clothing and purses for my brand-happy teenager, silver and marble serving dish ($3-I triple checked the price!).  I could go on and on but delving through the stores was just too much fun.
  • For history and botanical lovers, check out The Edison and Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers.  This was about a two hour drive but the drive itself was worth it.  No interstate option but rather a winding sprawl that crossed into small and beautiful downtowns full of treasures as well as riding right along some breath-taking coast.  The Edison estate was home to that famous Thomas and his family and has been restored to astonishing proporations.  Not only the Edison home but also a museum and his workshop as well as the home next door of Henry Ford.  If the museum and homes don't entrance you, the grounds will.  Lush spreads of flowers and trees have to be seen to be believed.  Check out their website for directions and more information:  The Edison and Ford Winter Estates
  • Time to Play Tourist!  If you want that cheesy tourist day, check out The Shell Factory and Nature Park in nearby North Fort Myers.  The retail store has every shell you can think of plus rooms and rooms full of inexpensive gifts, mementos and collectibles.  On site, there is a huge zoo with over 350 animals; a fun park with mini golf, bumper boats and paddle boats plus a dog park.  While there, make sure to eat at Capt. Fishbones, located on site.  As much a museum as a restaurant, their fish and chips was the tastiest we had on the whole trip.Check out their website for directions and more information:  The Shell Factory and Nature Park