After three months of meandering along the extensive coastlines of Florida, we were eager to finally point Betsy west. In early December we began our winter sojourn along the Atlantic Ocean, exiting on the shoreline of the Gulf of Mexico in March. This was our second winter in the Sunshine State, and we visited about half of its coastal regions, exploring many natural settings and strolling an array of fabulous beaches – all while being entertained by wildlife unique to the area. An added bonus was the great time we spent visiting with friends old and new.
We entered the state from the northeast, known as the First Coast. It’s aptly named as it was the first area in Florida history to be discovered and colonized by European settlers. We spent a week at Gamble Rogers Memorial State Park, and while there we drove along the 6-mile stretch of highway A1A – the Scenic & Historic Coastal Byway – enjoying views of the ocean still unblocked by condos and tall buildings. The beaches here have an orange hue due to the large amount of crushed seashells they contain.
We spent another week on the Treasure Coast. Legend has it that several Spanish ships carrying gold and silver were shipwrecked in the area over 300 years ago, losing their treasures to the sea. But the current treasure here is the abundance of fish available to anglers around Sebastian Inlet State Park, our home base for that stop. They fished from boats, from the shoreline, and from the pier – with Pelicans, Wood Storks, Egrets, Herons and Ibises as constant companions waiting for a tasty morsel they might be able to grab.
Crossing the state to the Gulf Coast, we stayed in Naples for the month of January. This area is referred to as the Paradise Coast, known for its many beautiful barrier islands from Sanibel down to Marco Island. Shelling is a big activity here, and I wished I could have taken some of the beautiful and unique specimens with me. Here’s a rundown of our stay in that area.
It was at the Nature Coast where we had the most fun exploring the “real Florida”. Read about our outdoor activities here.
At the Forgotten Coast, where a relaxed pace of small-town charm was the norm, we chowed down on the area’s awesome delicacy – oysters! Here’s my recent post about our visit to this area of coastal beauty, no longer forgotten since hurricane Michael pretty much wiped it out last October.
Just 20 miles north of Panama City Beach is lesser-known Pine Log State Forest, where we camped under tall pine trees overlooking a pond:
We thought this stop was going to be a chance to stretch our legs on a nice long walk, but we were dismayed to find that all of the trails were under water. And we had only one sunny, dry day to enjoy the outdoors – bummer!
Steve staved off his cabin fever by staying busy in the kitchen:
We learned that our virtual friends Jeff, Debbie and Rick of We are the Millers + Rick were camp hosting on the Emerald Coast at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park. We were hoping to meet up with them for a happy hour in the park, but since the weather wasn’t cooperating we got together at a nearby restaurant for some good pizza and beer. We had a lot to talk about and are hoping to see them again down the road.
During our final Florida stop we learned that the Emerald Coast got its name from the deep emerald-colored waters along the sugary white sand beaches that are typical in the Gulf of Mexico. My plans to take a dip in that beautiful water before leaving Florida were unfortunately stymied by a cold snap accompanied by cold winds that kept us mostly inside Betsy to just enjoy from a distance 😦
There were several trails at Topsail Hill Preserve SP, but our exercise was limited to taking in the ocean breezes during walks along the beach from our campsite. Not so bad!
The freezer was packed with fresh seafood during our stay, enough to carry us well into summer. We had no complaints about our 3-month seafood diet!
That wraps up our winter months in Florida. Despite the mostly nasty weather, it wasn’t so bad after all!
Next up: Continuing along the Gulf Coast