Tag Archives: gulf coast

Sunscreen Required – Melting Optional

It’s not exactly a well-kept secret that summer in Florida is HOT and insanely HUMID. While similar weather might draw people away from Houston, our gorgeous beaches, breathtaking views and ample sunshine continue to lure people in no matter what the temperature. But if you’re no good with heat like I am, you’ll need the perfect way to stay entertained and cool while still getting a tan and feeling tropical. A tall order almost anywhere else, here’s a list of the best ways to enjoy a Florida summer without melting – or parking yourself in front of the A/C:

  • Jetpacking

A truly awesome experience, this combines the fun of the water and sun while FLYING. Yep, you saw that right. Jetpacking involves strapping on an apparatus made of a pod and two hoses to your back, from which water projects out allowing you to quite literally fly over the water. The jetpacks enable you to fly 30 feet in the air, dive 30 feet under water and reach a top speed of 30 mph. It’s essentially the Jetsons meets the Gulf.

  • Flyboarding

Similar to jetpacking, this experience is even more surreal and awe-inspiring. It involves strapping a board to your feet and using your own weight to move left, right, up or down – kind of like Iron Man. In fact, you should probably bring your Iron Man Halloween costume when you do this.

  • Pontoon Boating

A Gulf favorite, pontoon boats are the perfect way to get around the warm, typically calm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Bring plenty of family and friends aboard, grab some good food and a cooler, and drive around or find a sandbar, like Crab Island in Destin, to hang out at. As long as you’re along the coast, it’s pretty difficult to go more than 100 feet without running into a place to rent one of these beauties.

  • Jetskiing

An oldie but goodie – jetskiing could never be boring. Most rental places will allow anywhere from 1-3 people to ride on a single jetski, but being in the driver’s seat is by far the best way to go. And if you think you’ll be hard pressed to get out of your comfort zone, ask the rental company for tricks that are daring (but safe) – you’ll be surprised at the answers you’ll get. Get out there and be cooled off and amped up in no time.

  • Aqua Triking

These hilarious-looking, giant, plastic tricycles are a bit of a workout, but a lot of fun. Much tamer than the above activities, it’s an interesting experience to feel like you’re literally biking on top of the water. Generally built for two people, aqua trikes are a perfect date activity or fun day out with a friend or relative.

  • Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddle Boarding

No explanation required – these are all fun and extremely low-cost ways to beat the heat and enjoy Florida this summer!

No matter your tolerance for heat (trust me – mine is LOW) or your budget, there are tons of ways to enjoy Florida this summer. So get up, get out and come visit! The water’s warm (but refreshing), the people are friendly, and the photo opps are endless.

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X Marks Anything You Want

We’re not pretending to be doing anything crazy revolutionary or ground breaking here. I’d love to say that we are, but I promised not to lie to you guys. It’s not going to be the best thing since sliced bread – hopefully that title will be able to be saved for a healthcare system that actually works. But what it is going to be is a new spin on an old trick. Here’s why:

Every state has a tourism council that puts together a magazine/booklet/website that tells you why their state is the greatest thing to ever happen to America and why you should use your vacation time to visit them over anyone else. And I have nothing against these – heck, I’ve used these plenty of times. It’s always pretty interesting to find out the quirks and attractions about a state you may never have given a second thought. However, all these guides are generally pretty generic in who their audience is, and they all boast that they have been contributed to by born-and-raised locals. Now before I put my foot in my mouth, I have nothing against born-and-raised locals. The one place that I can claim that for myself, I will probably be more arrogant about my know-all than anybody. It comes with the territory of being familiar with a place to the point of having a list of 147 different back roads to take to avoid traffic or construction. That being said, there’s a certain advantage you get to having the insights of a transplant.

Explore Florida is a brand new (just launched on Friday 2/7) virtual publication about (drum roll)… Florida. Yep. Shocker. What makes it unique is that it is put out by my wonderful company, Military Media. Most of my co-workers have lived here a lot longer than I have, but only one of us are from here originally. Otherwise, we hail from Rhode Island, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Colorado, New Jersey, California, Texas, Honduras… the list goes on. Why is that a good thing? Because we have our local girl keeping us in check, but we get to take our extremely varied life experiences and form opinions about places some locals may have never thought of. And what’s more is that, as our name hopefully gives away, our roots are in the military. We are contracted by bases all over the country, and everything we do is in the interest of pro-military. So while Explore Florida is definitely useful and user-friendly regardless of your military status, it was designed with the mindset of fun things to do on a day-long or weeks-long leave.

Now that I have talked your ear off – here’s what we did. Explore Florida is basically a virtual magazine – the pages are designed for you to “flip” through. The home page showcases our five main sections – fun, food, lodging, shopping, and transportation – as well as Florida-related articles by yours truly, links to our social networking sites, and links to some of Florida’s great businesses. Pay special attention to the social networking links. We want to be different, and your input will help. Explore Florida is going to be a constant work-in-progress. We’ll be adding more businesses, pages, topics, and articles all the time. Using the social network links to share with your friends or give us your feedback will help make this thing as much catered to you as possible. And wouldn’t it make you feel important to have all these people here creating content just because you said so?

Now, if you click on one of the five section links, you’ll find a magazine-like intro page. Click on one of the links to check a place out, or click on one of the three colorful logos on the bottom left to explore an entire region at a glance. These logos will be your guide throughout. Here’s your key:

  • Blue Dolphin: North Florida
  • Green Palm Tree: Central Florida
  • Pink Flamingo: South Florida

We know we’re not exactly the smallest of states, so we wanted to help you out. If you’re as Florida-illiterate as I was about a year ago, you’ll thank us for this.

So click away, check it out, and give us your input! Like I’ve said before, we’re a small enough company that we can make things happen pretty quickly – so speak up! Ideas, thoughts, comments, concerns, questions… we love ’em all. Happy exploring!

http://www.xploreflorida.com/

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Beachin’ Ain’t Easy

Ready to have your mind blown? Are you sitting down? Ok, here it goes…

Florida has great beaches.

Actually, that’s an undersell. They’re some of the most beautiful in the world. And yes, I know you’ve heard that. But no matter how common knowledge it is that people come here to lounge on the sand and play in the water, you’d be lying if you said you didn’t want to know more about it. As someone who has spent most of my life on one coast or another, I know just being in a town surrounded by great beaches doesn’t mean you’re going to find that great beach. My all time favorite beach back up where I’m from in Narragansett, RI is one which is off the radar unless someone tells you about it. I promise, you won’t find it on Google.

While I may not be willing to give up that secret, I’ve been compelled to give you the inside scoop on each region’s must-visit beach here in sunny Florida. Some might be hidden gems, some might not be hidden at all. But I promise, take my advice and you won’t leave disappointed that you didn’t find what you’ve spent months imagining in your head. Grab your sunscreen, folks.

North Florida:

James Lee Park

Destin

This beach is about as good as it gets. While you really can’t go wrong with a Destin beach, this one is my favorite. It’s a little ways of a drive from the bridge and down Scenic 98, but it’s well worth it. Trademark of this area, you are almost certain to find crystal clear, blue-green water and powdery, white sand beaches. The beach is kept up very well and seeing trash on the ground is few and far between. There is ample parking, convenient pavilions and picnic tables, and several dune walkovers that allow for a great view. The beach will get busy in the summer months, but I have never seen it to the point that there isn’t hardly any room to move. The water is perfect for surfing, paddle boarding, skim boarding, body surfing, snorkeling, etc. And when you get hungry or could go for a good libation, there is a local seafood restaurant right on the beach with a tiki bar and open-air deck. It is quite literally the perfect beach to lose track of the time on.

Central Florida:

Maximo Park

St. Petersburg

St. Pete is a treat in and of itself, but this beach is really something to talk about. Aside from the beautiful, soft white sand beach characteristic of the Gulf Coast, crystal clear, warm water and litany of water-related activities, this place has it all. First of all, it has seven boat ramps – things which are for some reason shockingly tough to find. Second of all, it has beachside, covered playgrounds for the kids, picnic areas and restrooms. But what makes Maximo Park really unique are all the extras that give you an unexpectedly fun break from basking on the shoreline. Bring a bike along and take advantage of the trails, or talk a walk along the nature trail and enjoy some of life’s simple beauty. For you history buffs, there’s a 70-acre archeological site to take advantage of. I won’t spoil the story for you, but Maximo Park has an intriguing backstory that most won’t find themselves yawning through. And then there’s my personal favorite non-water attraction – the 18-hole disc golf course. For those of you that haven’t played, it’s not necessarily easy, but it’s fun regardless of how terrible you may or may not be. And to finish it all off, take a hike to the top of the 50-foot observation tower that will help you soak in all the beauty and excitement you just experienced.

South Florida

Sombrero Beach

Marathon

This hidden gem on the Florida Keys island of Marathon may not have all the bells and whistles of the other beaches we’ve covered, but it is worth a day of your time. This is one of the most pristine, unspoiled beaches you will find anywhere in the world. Not your usual white sand beach, picking up a handful will reveal to you what makes it unique. You’ll find interestingly shaped grains, shells and characteristics of the special environment that exists in the area’s warm waters. Speaking of the water, it is calm, warm and almost unbelievably relaxing. Lay down on a raft for a bit, and watch in amazement of what is around you. You’ll see dolphins playing, unusual fish swimming the world below and people with a level of enjoyment on their faces you just don’t see anywhere else. There is a playground for the kids and an expansive stretch of land that won’t leave you feeling claustrophobic. Sombrero Beach is not filled with vendors, however, so bring a cooler and plan accordingly. Even if you always need action and to be on-the-go, take a chance on this beach. I promise you won’t regret it.

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So Where’s the Best Lobstah and Chowda Around Here?

We all love going someplace awesome enough that we’re considered a tourist… but we HATE being treated like tourists. It’s a seemingly unavoidable catch 22. Or is it? Get out your notebooks, folks (or just press print), I’m here to rescue you from flagging yourself as the dreaded ‘T-word’. Well, at least when you’re at a Gulf Coast seafood joint, anyway.

Just like you don’t go to Hawaii to snowboard, you don’t come to the Gulf Coast for clam chowda and fresh lobstah – you’re about 1500 miles too far south for that. Different regions have different things they’re known for. And down here, we have some ridiculously amazing seafood. It just might not be the kind you’re expecting. So, here it is – no funny business, no hidden agenda – just a comprehensive guide to our local seafood. Your only job is to go try some, and tell me how astonishingly accurately I described it for you. I dare you.

Popular Preparations:

Fish can be prepared in several different ways. Some fish are great any way, some are better off being single-minded. Here are the most common ones you’ll find on a Gulf Coast sea food menu:

  • Blackened: I promise, the restaurant is not trying to dupe you into buying overcooked fish. This puts a spicy spin on your dish and is my personal favorite. Chefs will create their own blend, typically of butter and Cajun spices, and flavor the fish with it while it cooks to perfection in a cast iron skillet.
  • Grilled: Depending on the restaurant you are at, the method used to grill can create a really diverse number of flavors. If you see the words ‘cedar plank grilled’, try it. It’s phenomenal and just the right amount of smoky. Grilling fish properly locks in juices and will make your mouth water.
  • Broiled: For the health conscious. Broiled is certainly not the most flavorful or interesting way to prepare a fish, but it does not add more fat or sodium, making it ideal for those on a strict diet. But let’s be fair, if you’re on vacation here, live a little!
  • Fried: Quite the contrary of broiled, this is less healthy but absolutely delectable. Each restaurant has their own recipe for breading and/or battering, meaning you’ll get a different flavor everywhere you go. Fried is the way to go for a more casual experience, if you’re getting fish n chips, or if you’re trying a famous po’ boy.

Deliciousness:

  • Black Grouper: A type of reef fish, it’s great for the seafood beginner and the nutrition lover. It has a mild flavor, can be prepared a wide variety of ways, and doesn’t dry out easily. It has a firm, meaty texture, but it’s also flaky.
    • AKA: Grouper
  • Red Snapper: Also a reef fish and plentiful to the Panhandle, it is similar to Black Grouper. This fish has a mild flavor, doesn’t dry out easily, and is a bit sweet. It has a firm, meaty texture, but it’s also flaky.
    • AKA: Pink Snapper, Vermillion Snapper, B-Line Snapper, Jobfish
  • Mahi Mahi: Not to be confused with the porpoises we all know and love, this fish is tasty with a firm texture. Not very fishy tasting, it is best prepared grilled or blackened.
    • AKA: Dolphin Fish, Dorado
  • Amberjack: A mild game fish, it has a fishier taste than reef fish, though it is not overwhelming. It has firm, flaky texture and is prepared in a variety of ways.
    • AKA: Yellowtail Kingfish, Yellowtail, California Yellowtail, Buri, Kahala ‘opio, Racing Tuna
  • Cobia: With a mild flavor, you will find cobia is an extremely tasty fish that is typically served thick like a steak. It is prepared in many different ways and does not taste fishy. Regarded as one of the absolute favorites by locals.
    • AKA: Lemon Fish, Ling, Crabeater
  • Kingfish & Mackerel: Not for beginners, these fish are tender and flavorful, but quite oily. These are best in dips, but can also be tasty if they are fresh (aka caught that day). In this case, they are typically cut thick like a steak and are best prepared grilled or blackened.
    • AKA: King Mackerel
  • Swordfish: With a moderate flavor that is stronger than most listed above, this fish is light and delicious. Typically served in thicker cuts and prepared a variety of ways.
  • Wahoo: With moderate flavor, this fish is very lean and firm. It is cut into thicker steak filets and is commonly used as the meat in some of the most delicious fish tacos.
    • AKA: Robalo
  • Yellowfin Tuna: The most prized and delicious of tunas, this fish is extremely delicious, mildly fishy, and high in protein. It can be eaten raw, like in sushi, or cooked a variety of ways as a larger steak filet.
    • AKA: Ahi
  • Yellowtail Snapper: This mild fish is delicious and slightly tangy. It has a fluffy texture when pan seared or fried properly. Not an adventurous fish, but not for beginners, either.
    • AKA: Flag, Tail, Rabirubi
  • Flounder: Renowned as one of the top three favorites in the Gulf Coast, this fish is delectable. It has a mild flavor, fine texture and is great for beginners and seasoned sea food lovers. This is great prepared any way, and can really handle a hearty sauce like a bearnaise.
    • AKA: Door Mat, Sand Dab, English Sole, Fluke, Plaice
  • Triggerfish: This guy is extremely flavorful with a distinctive taste. It has a mostly shellfish diet, so it has a hint of that flavor. It is light and flaky, and great prepared blackened, fried or grilled.
    • AKA: Fudpucker
  • Redfish: This fish has a moderate flavor and is not oily. It is a firmer fish and is best grilled, but can also be enjoyed blackened.
    • AKA: Reds, Red Drum, Channel Bass

You’re now armed with the names of some of Florida’s most adored seafood – sure to make you blend right in with the locals. Now go out there, have a little adventure, and make your taste buds love you way more than they do right now.

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