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Red Tide St Petersburg 2021

No one likes dead fish on the beach or in the water or foul-smelling algae.

But it happens sometimes.  Almost every year in fact, in some part of Florida or the other. Often it stays far offshore and doesn’t impact the beaches.

In other years, 2018 being an example, it hangs around for months.  Most of the time it impacts the area for short periods and rarely wrecks an entire vacation.

Fortunately, 2021 seems to be a mild year so far for the naturally occurring algae known as “red tide”.  Which seems only fair considering we all felt the brunt of Covid in 2020. 

St Pete Clearwater had a Beach Conditions page where you can check all sorts of beach conditions, including UV levels, wind and the occasional presence of red tide.  This site will also tell you whether a specific beach is closed for any reason.

To see where this red tide is in the greater area, you can check out this map.

This link takes you to a tool that attempts to forecast whether respiratory irritations may develop for asthma sufferers.

2021 4th of July Celebrations St Pete/Clearwater Beaches

Covid is (still) causing a number of postponements and cancellations of fireworks in 2021.  So if you have a tried and true favorite place to watch fireworks, you may need to be a bit flexible in 2021.

Gulfport has canceled their 4th of July festivities in 2021, but Treasure Island’s are still on.  Check out this page from the Visit St Pete Clearwater site for a list of fireworks locations in the area, along with links to the individual events.

https://www.visitstpeteclearwater.com/event-guide/fourth-of-july-festivities

The Fusion Resort in Treasure Island is having s special 4th of July event planned, with a low-country boil and rooftop viewing of the fireworks.  Visit the resort’s Facebook page for details.  It is a ticketed event.

Hiking and Walks in St Omer & Nopera

New Zealand has thousands of kilometers of hiking trails, including the famous Great Walks.  Marlborough Sounds is home to the Queen Charlotte Track, running almost the entire length of New Zealand’s Queen Charlotte Sound.  This track is a long track (73 1/2 km one way), and it is full of coastal views, native bush and, of course, the Sounds themselves.  

While there are short hikes on the QC track that come close to the drive out to St Omer Hide Away, for the most part it will be more convenient just to do short walks in the area if staying in St Omer. 

Following are descriptions of local walks in our area, presented in order of increasing difficulty.

St Omer and Kenepuru Roads are easy walks with little traffic

Walk along St Omer Road or Kenepuru Road

By the time you reach our area you are close to the end of any roads, paved or otherwise, so there’s generally not much car or truck traffic on the road.

St Omer Road starts right at the bottom of our driveway. The public portion of this gravel road leads to the St Omer Jetty and beach and then becomes a private road a little further on.  However, if you round the bend at the bottom of our driveway and take Kenepuru Road on foot, you’ll walk past a farm on your right, followed by the Nopera golf course and have lovely views of the bay on your left. 

This route is quite flat with only a modest slope here or there. 

The Beautiful Kenepuru

Skiddaw Farm & Scenic Reserve

I estimate that this is about 8 kms from St Omer Hide Away. It’s probably about 5 kms to Raetihi, then another 2 kms to Hopewell and the walk starts at the end of the road behind Hopewell.

See the map and photos.

It is well marked once you park the car and start walking. 

You’ll reach a “Y” in the road and the Hopewell Loop Track goes off to the right and the track to Skiddaw goes straight (or to the left of the Y). 

There are sunny sections, sections full of beech trees, and sections full of tree ferns.  At the end you’ll come to a gate that marks the entrance to Skiddaw Farm.  The owners request that you not enter the pasture but instead walk along the fence line down to the water’s edge. 

If the tide is out there may be a beach of sorts that you can walk on, but in a very high tide you’ll be stuck right there at land’s edge, where native bush comes right down to meet water’s edge.  By stuck I mean with the water in front of you, thick bush to your left and a fence to your right. My understanding is that the forest there is native bush that has never been milled.  

This is an easy walk with only slight elevation changes. 

Waterway at the end of the Skiddaw public access

If this wasn’t your favorite blue, it soon will be

Panorama Road (aka “Road to the cell towers”)

Sadly, Panorama Road is not the official road name and you won’t find it on any map.  I’m not sure the road has a name, actually.   This is not an easy road, as it is up, up, up.  Then up some more.  However, the road is well-maintained and you’ll be climbing through a pine forest and almost exclusively in shade until you reach the top.  So just take your time.  (Sort of like walking up our driveway…) 

Once you think you’re at the top, you’re really not, but you’ll see a small road that goes off to the left and off over towards another ridge. 

This is not your road. 

You’ll want to continue on the road to the right.  To get the views you’ll need to go further and climb over a gate or go through a fence that you’ll come to.

The walkway is steep but smooth and well-maintained.  (Obviously someone gets to drive on it, just not you.)

‘Shroom Toddler

Alternatively, you may be able to walk around this fenced section on the left side of it, but there’s no trail so bring a stick and of course have good walking shoes.  If you go the through the fence route, there’s one final gate to keep the sheep and goats where they’re supposed to be (or not be) and then you’ll be up by the towers. Whereupon you are rewarded with views of Kenepuru Sound and Waitaria Bay.  Choose a good weather day with clear skies or scattered clouds to really get the best views.  Or perhaps a super moody weather day if that floats your boat.

This is a steep walk but on a good road and may take about an hour to get up.

Take Kenepuru Road past the golf course and turn right on Crail Bay Road.  After a short climb up the hill and around a few turns, you’ll see an open area on the right side of the road that looks like it could be a parking lot with some long-ago gravel piles.  Turn right into this parking area, being careful to check first to make sure another car is not coming around the corner as it is quite a blind turn there.  You can reach the walking/4WD road from the parking area directly or you can walk out to Crail Bay road a few feet and you’ll see a separate gated entrance to the 4WD road just to your right.

This gives you an idea of the magnitude of the tides

You have to work for this view

Hopewell Loop Track

This is probably the most difficult walk you can do within a short drive from St Omer Hide Away. Wear very good shoes and perhaps wait a few days if it has recently rained. 

It may be a better hike in summer or very early fall so that the sun is more overhead and shining on all parts of the track at least part of the day.  We did this track in mid-April and parts were very slick with wet clay, moss and algae.

Hiking poles or walking sticks are a must, and preferably two of them if it is wet and slick.  It might not be a problem if it has been dry. 

There are green and yellow DOC-type poles marking the path, mostly in the places you need them.  About half way through the walk you’ll come to a fairly flat, cleared section with some great views of Kenepuru Sound.  You can see Te Mahia, Portage and St Omer Bay. 

This track will have gorse, some stumps and roots but it is fairly well maintained for a voluntary track.  We are very grateful to Hopewell’s owners, Mike and Lynley, for their work in maintaining the track.

Note: there’s about an 800 foot elevation change on this walk although not a lot of up and down.  So it is mostly up on the first section, and then down on the return.    And, on the final stretch after you’ve finished coming down, you’ll go through a beautiful treed section with Manuka and tree ferns and then onto a gravel road where you’ll feel like you are walking on someone’s private property. 

Well you are, but that’s ok and just make certain you close the gate when you reach Kenepuru Road. 

You’ll see the final green/yellow DOC-type track marker and know that, yes, you did indeed take the right path out! From there turn right and walk the short distance along Kenepuru Road back to the Hopewell car park area. 

Stunning views from atop the Hopewell Loop Track

Earth – Sky – Water

Exit Hopewell Loop Track.  DOC posts will help you find your way!

Vine and Grind Treasure Island – Your Destination for Health and Taste

I finally made it into Vine and Grind on an exceptionally cold day in early January.  There were not going be any casual meals outside or walks on the beach for me that day. Our car was packed for the drive from Florida to Texas and we made it all the way from Gulfport to Treasure Island that day.  After our stop at Vine and Grind we had to rearrange the car a bit, after walking out with a large box of vinegars and olive oils.

Take a quick trip to the Mediterranean with Vine & Grind

Prior to this visit to Vine and Grind, I was not ignorant about olive oil. 

But I also wasn’t very educated.

Many Americans are aware of the health benefits of olive oil, but what we may not be so aware of is the blending and mixing in of other oils that is often found in so many supermarket brands. Labeling of extra virgin olive oil isn’t regulated in this country and information about where a bottle was “packaged” is often meaningless.

Olive oil is all about flavor and it health properties.  And because both can be compromised by heat, the best uses are in those dishes that don’t involve significant heating.

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Vine and Grind has a huge variety of both infused oil oils and vinegars.  Sampling is encouraged.  Various size bottles are available and the staff can offer suggestions about which oils and vinegars go best with what foods. 

Ask for help – you never know which ones you’re going to love

Sampling stations. Once you make your selection you have a number of size options.  Filled and sealed on the spot.

This is not your grocery store olive oil

Before you head over to the Vine & Grind, check out this post by Oliveoil.com – A Guide to Olive Oil Tasting. This post will give you an idea of what to look for when sampling oils, including color, viscosity, and aromas.  What to watch out for. Learn how to notice the “retronasal aroma” and impress your friends.

Insider Tip: Become an Olive Oil Know-It-All

Want to learn more about olive oil? Try – you guessed it – oliveoil.com.  Find recipes, tips and more.

All-around smoky goodness

Here are a few oil and vinegar combinations we enjoy:

Asian flavors: Honey Ginger White Balsamic Vinegar plus Toasted Sesame Oil

For Bruschetta: Garlic Infused Olive Oil plus Neapolitan Herb Balsamic Vinegar

BBQ Sauce flavor: Olive Wood Smoked Infused Olive Oil plus Neapolitan Herb Balsamic Vinegar

Kick up your pasta game a few notches

Toasted Sesame Oil, specialty pastas, a few local coffees and other gourmet food items are also available.

“If olive oil comes from olives, then where does baby oil come from?”

Jane Wagner

Gulfport Comfort Food To-Go – Two Dads

Pork belly could be on the menu

If you thought life hadn’t been the same since Wade Parrish left O’Maddy’s, your world is about to be righted on its axis.

Chef becomes a dad and decides he can’t have it all. (Who knew running a restaurant and being a parent were both exhausting? Come on!) 

Then enter the coronavirus, with restaurants closed or with limited seating or take-out only. A population stressed by social distancing and in need of some comfort

The happy ending? Take-out comfort food by two men who know their way around food and a kitchen.

 

Meatloaf

Two Dads is still in the soft opening phase, so they are not yet open every day and the menu is still evolving.  You can order online and see various daily menu choices on their Facebook page.

The menu can be found here: https://twodadstakeout.com/store/

The restaurant is located at 5133 Gulfport Blvd.

4 Day Dining Guide to Gulfport Florida

2021 Update Our 4-Day Dining Guide to Gulfport

The year that shall not be named caused many upheavals in the restaurant world.  It also changed the average length of stay for most guests staying at our vacation homes.  Quick trips are less common, providing us with an incentive to expand our 3 day dining guide to 4.

With a smorgasbord of notable and delicious restaurants in Gulfport, you’ll never be able to try them all—unless you spend your whole vacation eating. We wouldn’t judge you if you did, of course, but you’d be missing out on some quality beach time.

That’s why we (Beth and Terry of Splashy Ventures) have crafted this new, four-day dining guide, featuring the can’t-miss restaurants you have to squeeze in.

Sampling our complete list of recommended restaurants would take a full week of dining out for all three meals. So we made it bite-sized—perfect for those just visiting for an extra-long weekend or other short trip. Dine your way through our pretty little town in four days!

Note: Restaurants and businesses in Gulfport have been opening up since May of 2020 when the state began relaxing stay at home orders.  Initially many were open only for pick up or outdoor dining, but that should no longer be there case. Nevertheless, you may want to Google the business and check opening hours to confirm.  Also, almost all places suggested for dinner are also open for lunch on the weekends.

Bon Appetit!

Pia’s Lasagna Bolognese

Day 1

DinnerSiri’s Gourmet Burgers & Pizza

We put Siri’s on this list for a simple reason: the food is excellent. And we put it under dinner for your first night because it’s perfect for late arrivals, when you just want to eat something delicious ASAP. Everything at the airport will be closed (especially these days), and you certainly don’t want your first stop in Gulfport to be the Golden Arches.

Luckily, Siri’s is open until midnight every night except Sundays, when they close at 8 p.m.

The pizza and burgers are both phenomenal. We usually order Byron’s burger (double burger with double cheese, bacon, grilled onions and mushrooms, and mayo), a meat lover’s pizza with added pineapple, and fresh cut fries.

Or call ahead for takeout to enjoy back at your vacation rental. In the summertime, you may want to plan to dine outside or get it to-go—it can get toasty in there with all those pizzas and buns baking. 

Day 2 Stellas’s Gulfport

Day 2 Lunch – O’Maddy’s

Day 2 Dinner – Pia’s Trattoria

Day 2 Dinner – Pia’s Trattoria

Day 2

BreakfastStella’s

The breakfast here is award-winning. No, really—Stella’s won Best of the Bay in 2016 and cinched the number three position on USA Today’s 10 Best Spots for Breakfast in St Petersburg.

You can get a traditional breakfast here, but we suggest you try the Housemade Corned Beef hash and the Southern Shrimp and Grits (let’s hear it for the dining companions again). Any day that starts out with these two is already off to a great start.

Dine outside if the weather is nice and people watch—a Gulfport tradition you’ll be sure to adopt during your stay.

Also, if you’ve been to Stella’s in years past you should know that they moved up the street to the Art Village Courtyard in 2020.  More space inside and out.

LunchO’Maddy’s

Though we recommended it for lunch, O’Maddy’s is a safe bet any time of the day. They’re also open really late (3 a.m. for you night owls) so you might find yourself coming back later on.

O’Maddy’s is also one of the few places where we switch up our orders. We almost always get Sal’s Fresh Smoked Fish Spread, but that’s because fish spread is a rite of passage when you visit Florida—we order it every time we see it on a menu. Like crab cakes and key lime pie, it’s fun (and delicious) to sample the specialties of each restaurant.

If you’re in the mood for a burger, or you didn’t get one at Siri’s, O’Maddy’s are definitely worth trying. We’re fans of Donna’s Tomato Jam and Gorgonzola Burger as well as The Weiser Hammer.

If grouper is in season, try it blackened in a main or in Suzanna’s Grouper Sandwich (a Gulfport favorite, too).

Since you’re on holiday, try a Bahama mama or rum runner for a little Florida flair. Or if you just want a snack, order the Smoked Gouda Mashed Potatoes.

DinnerPia’s Trattoria

Even if food wasn’t so tasty, we might still send you to Pia’s, just for the atmosphere.

While most Gulfport restaurants are decidedly low-key, recalling a bygone era, the indoor and outdoor dining areas at Pia’s may just transport you to another continent entirely. We’ve watched Pia’s transform over the years from a small dine-in restaurant to the spacious, relaxed, and refined experience it is today. Perfect for a dinner that feels like a treat.

If the weather is nice, dining outside is simply a must. We start with the Rustic Ciabatta, carbs and all. If you want butter, or more Pesto Oil Dip, just ask. The bruschetta is can’t-stop good, so be sure to pace yourself and save room for the rest of the meal.

There’s always a soup offering and it’s always worth it. Even if you’ve never dreamed of two of the soup’s ingredients blended together, trust us, you’ll love it. And If a salad is in your plans, order the Insalata Pia

Now for the best stuff. If you eat pasta, you should get the lasagna. Period. If not, we often alternate between the Chicken Marsala and Chicken Piccata. Both come with pasta as a side dish, but you can ask for some asparagus, sautéed spinach, or sautéed vegetables instead.

In 2020 Pia’s expanded their outdoor dining area to a really spiffy sidewalk option. They had sidewalk dining before, but now there are large umbrellas, string lights and planters that block the cars parked on the street. It’s a great spot for people-watching too.  In addition to the sidewalk dining, there is a very large outdoor patio/courtyard and two indoor dining areas as well – the bar and the main dining hall.

Best-Ever Chicken Salad Sandwich at Neptune

Habana Cafe’s Picadillo – is worth calling ahead for

Tutto Bene’s Caesar Salad

Day 3

Breakfast – GulfPerk

Charming newcomer Gulf Perk has just the vibe Gulfport needed.  Along with the coffee options you’d expect – lattes, mochas and caps – there are pastries, muffins, bagels, the obligatory avocado toast and breakfast sandwiches. 

And just in case you miss breakfast, you can try GulfPerk After Dark.  Charcuterie & wine. Thursdays through Saturdays.

Lunch – Neptune Grill

Since it’s a new day, it’s time for more lunchtime Bahama Mamas—and Neptune’s makes the best in Gulfport. Probably the best we’ve had since visiting Bahamas 30 years ago, in fact.

Though…Scully’s Johns Pass does a great job, too. Perhaps you’ll want to conduct a side-by-side taste test?

Anyway, back to the food. Ordering at Neptune is difficult because the menu is quite varied and everything—and we mean everything—is excellent.

Want a Greek Salad? Fabulous choice. How about Smoked Fish Spread again? Check! Pastichio or moussaka? You’ll think you’re in Greece.

If you’re watching carbs, you can’t go wrong with the Bacon Wrapped Filet. Substitute sautéed spinach or double vegetables for the baked potato. Or see if they’ll make the Steak Diane for you—it’s a personal favorite that’s no longer on the menu, but we’ve scored it a few times since it went away.

If you want to keep it simple, the Black Angus Burgers and fries are excellent as well. And for those who want to eat lighter, our new favorite is the Chicken Salad Sandwich. Listen to these ingredients: chicken breast, celery, raisins and cashews. It’s the chicken salad you’ve been searching for. The Lemon Chicken Soup is so, so good, too.

DinnerBackfin Blue or Sea Dog Cantina

Backfin is a Gulfport institution and always buzzing. Get there early if you can pull yourself away from the beach!

We rotate between ordering the Backfin Blue Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes, the Homemade Meatloaf (wrapped in bacon and stuffed with gorgonzola) and the Slow Roasted Choice Prime Rib. The prime rib sells out quickly—one of the reasons early dining is so popular.

Start with the Fish Spread (of course), the Crab Martini or the Puree of Corn and Crab Chowder. The Crab Cake Starter is also solid option if you’re not having the crab cakes as your entree.

We also love indulging in their loaves of warm brown bread with butter. Get an extra to take home for a late-night snack!

Backfin is still open on a fairly limited basis after Covid, open Thursday through Sunday only and table service is very limited.  (The restaurant isn’t very large to begin with, making the seating spacing a constraint.)  So we provide a worthy alternate Sea Dog Cantina, located just down the street.

Sea Dog is part of the Sea Dog brewing family, but the menu is uniquely Gulfport.  My personal favorites are the House Queso Fundido, the Chicken Tortilla Soup, Mexican Street Corn Caesar Salad, the Chile Braised Beef Brisket, and the Enchiladas made with the chile beef brisket.  They have some really creative margarita blends, including a couple on tap!

Beautiful Interiors at Sea Dog Cantina

Gulfport Brewery + Eatery – part of the Tampa Bay Beer Trail

Day 4

Breakfast – Gulfport Family Restaurant

Consistent, familiar southern breakfast foods at prices that won’t break the bank.  Pancakes, eggs, sausage, bacon, grits, potatoes, corned beef hash, country fried steak, pork chops and chopped sirloin are all on the menu. Thick Texas Toast is dipped in their French Toast batter and grilled.  Omletes are available too.

And that’s just breakfast.  They also serve lunch, with tasty dishes like Greek salads, cheeseburgers and spaghetti and meatballs.  Dinner is just what you’d expect at a diner, with food like pork chops, liver and onions and roast turkey.  (And more!)

Lunch – Salty’s Sandwich Bar

We thought we’d “sandwich” the new Salty’s concept in-between two Gulfport old-timer’s.  (Get it??) Anywho, Salty’s Sandwich is located in the space that previously belonged to Tangelo’s.  Home to subs, a Fried Bologna Sandwich, a Grilled Triple Cheese Melt and of course, Salty’s Cubano.  (My post on area Cubanos is coming soon!)

Dinner – Habana Cafe

Time for your last dinner in Gulfport. We’ve been dining at this Gulfport institution since 2002.  In the restaurant world, that kind of longevity should tell you something.

Habana has options for inside dining under the sparkling, cloud-filled ceiling or outside in a private cabana.  My favorite appetizer is the Drunken Shrimp.  Favorite main dish is hands down: the Picadillo.  Ground sirloin of beef in a sofrito of onions, bell peppers, fresh garlic and tomatoes.  What’s not to like? I like it so much I will call ahead to make sure they have it.  The Cuban bread is worth getting an extra order of so you can take it home to eat with your leftover Picadillo.

Now about dessert.  I love flan.  I’ve been obsessed with it since I first had it in 1980.  Habana has not one, but two types of flan – regular Flan and Cream Cheese Flan.  I like them both, but my preferred way to consume these is to order both.  I dip my fork in first one and then the other, so that my is a combination of both.  If I had to get just one I would get the cream cheese version.   Think more “cream” and less “cream cheese” and you’ll have an idea of what it will be like.

Gulfport Food and Dining Home

The Home page has links to all of our guides and posts related to food in Gulfport


Checkout the Guide!

Gulfport Restaurant Guide

Our Gulfport Restaurant Guide has the inside scoop on our recommendations for restaurants in Gulport


Checkout the Guide!

Florida’s Sunken Gardens

Discover exotic blooms and flamboyant flamingos at Florida’s Sunken Gardens

Colorful pathways abound

It seems impossible a landscape this lush could be hidden amidst St. Pete’s hustle and bustle. You’ll just have to see the Sunken Gardens to believe it.

Originally a roadside attraction concocted by an imaginative plumber, these below-sea-level gardens are now 100 years old. They were formed by draining a four-acre lake on the property, which was then planted with citrus trees and vegetables and paved with walkways. Tropical plants were added over time.

The gardens were closed for a number of years as taste changed and interest waned. But in 1998, the city of St. Petersburg declared the gardens a local historic landmark, and years of restoration brought them back to their tropical glory.

Flamingos steal the show

Today’s Sunken Gardens are a colorful culmination of a century of planting. You’ll find over 50,000 tropical plants and flowers, including some of Florida’s oldest. A paved path twists and turns past waterfalls and breathtaking blooms: there’s a delight around every corner.

Insider Tip: Learn More About the Colorful History

Atlas Obscura has a great post on the subject here.

As if countless exotic plants didn’t provide enough eye candy, be sure to keep an eye out for the gardens’ beautiful flamingos. In 2016, a local group now called Sunken Gardens Forever Foundation launched a fundraising campaign to bring 20 new Chilean flamingos to the gardens. They joined George and Lucy, St. Petersburg’s longtime famous feathered residents.

Why did the flamingo go to the salad bar? For a little shrimp!

Insider Tip: Learn about the six species of flamingos!

American (Caribbean), Andean, Chilean, Greater, James’s and Lesser.  Learn more about the vibrant creatures who call Sunken Gardens home from Live Science.

Visiting the Gardens

Pathways are paved and suitable for strollers as well as wheelchairs and walkers. Keep in mind that this is not your typical park: it’s a place where you look and see, not a place where you run and play. It’s an ideal spot to find cover on a hot summer day—leave the beach early and find a moment of quiet in the shade of banana tree, stopping to inhale the scent of gardenias and bougainvillea along the way.

The gardens are a popular destination for groups, so for optimal serenity we recommend calling them ahead of your visit at 727-551-3102. Learn more about the Sunken Gardens and meet its flock on Facebook.