Florida Travel

Six Months in Florida

October 6, 2017

Clearwater Beach, Florida

This year has has been one of the most interesting and challenging years of my life with our move from California to Florida back in February. This month marks the seven month time period of us living on the East Coast, but with evacuating for a few days,Β travel, and work trips here and there we’ve really been in Tampa Bay for six. So many have asked for a Tampa Bay travel guide plus thoughts on moving from coast to coast. I know most of you come to this blog for beauty-related reviews and insights so it makes me happy to find a lot of you are interested in other parts of my life as well.

We moved from San Diego to Tampa Bay in February of this year. Both Andrew and I had lived in San Diego most of our lives and were ready for a change. We didn’t know exactly where we wanted to live, but we knew it would be somewhere sunny. The timing happened to coincide with the fact that Andrew’s parents found their dream house in Apollo Beach, Florida and decided to buy it for retirement in a year or two. They asked us if we’d consider moving and renting from them so they wouldn’t have to find strangers to rent it and we agreed. We packed up everything we owned from the modern loft we rented into a 16-foot Penske moving truck with our three fur kids and drove across country to Florida in 5 days.

Our plan was to rent their home for a year while we explored Florida to decide where to settle down. We explored things all over the place fell in love with pretty much everything. Each area has it’s own unique charm! Unfortunately things don’t always go according to plan. Long story very short, Andrew’s parents told us they were going to move/retire earlier than they expected. They changed their move date twice and by mid-July we learned they would be in Apollo Beach by August. We had to find a new place in a matter of a couple weeks. To say I had a freak out about the thought of not having a place to live would be an understatement. With pets finding a place to rent or buy isn’t an easy process and for sure isn’t something you can do quickly. Andrew, being the glass half full kind of person that he is, calmed me down and said we should look on the bright side, take advantage of not being tied down, travel month-to-month in a few vacation rentals and do some real exploring to get a sense of the different areas in Florida.

In less than 5 days we packed, found a storage unit, moved most of our belongings there and found a vacation rental that would take 3 pets. We signed up with a parcel delivery service for our mail and packages. We each packed a suitcase and a few bankers moving boxes to bring essentials with us. Finding a monthly vacation rental was easy, but finding one that would take 3 pets with a fenced yard was a bit of a challenge. We looked at Airbnb, HomeAway and VRBO and it took hours of searching. As this post is being published, we are now on Month 3 of living the nomadic life in three different areas of Tampa Bay and it’s been quite an adventure. Stressful for sure, but still we’ve managed to have a lot of fun, explore like tourists and also live like locals. We’ve learned a lot.

Fort De Soto Park

Now that I’ve shared my story, here are some thoughts on each place we’ve lived, a list of my top places to see and where to eat in Tampa Bay. We still have a long list of places we want to visit! Florida is such a huge place we’ve barely scratched the surface.

Sunshine Skyway Bridge Tampa Bay

Where we’ve lived:

When people ask me what it’s like to live in Florida, my answer is that it really depends on where you are. Florida is a really big state, we’ve only really explored Tampa Bay which is enormous. The only thing consistent across Tampa Bay is that the weather is warm, it can be hot and humid and it rains frequently. We loved that the weather is so warm you can swim in the ocean without freezing! In the three cities we’ve lived we’ve found so much wildlife – each area has different kinds of animals that gravitate towards those areas. Some that scare me to death like snakes, geckos and lizards and some that are cute like pelicans, cranes, squirrels and dolphins.

Apollo Beach is a city south and east of Tampa. Much of the area was developed to be a waterfront community so there are a lot of man-made canals which is unlike anything I had ever seen before. My in-law’s house is located in one of the gated communities along the water where every house has a boat dock in their backyard. Manatees, dolphins, fish, birds and all kinds of wildlife surface which is really amazing. Andrew and I loved everything about our neighborhood and the house had a lot of charm: two stories, four bedrooms, huge backyard and a pool. The only downside was it was far from everything we were interested in seeing, doing or eating – most places are at least 35 minutes away to an hour drive.

Apollo Beach Florida

St. Pete Beach is one of the best beach towns I’ve visited. If you’re looking for a great vacation spot this is such a cute area with lots of fun coffee shops, restaurants, cute hotels, beaches with cabana rentals and more. We rented a cute beach house in August, also with a pool and fenced back yard. It was the first time we had used VRBO and we had a great experience. It’s easy to navigate, search, filter (a key for us pet owners) and book. We were a bit worried it would also be too far from Tampa and it is, however there is so much to explore in the area. Treasure Island is a lot fun (they have an amazing salt water taffy store there and I don’t even like taffy, but the ones there are amazing!), Pass-A-Grille has beautiful beaches to relax, and St. Petersburg is only 30 minutes away.

St Pete Beach Florida

Saint Petersburg was our third Florida destination to live. This area was my favorite for food. In the month we lived in St. Pete Beach we found ourselves constantly driving the 20-30 minutes to Saint Petersburg for coffee, lunch and dinner so we decided to live there for a month. This was our second experience VRBO where we rented a charming cottage.

Beach Cottage Vacation Florida

Places to visit:

We’re still exploring Florida and I’ll most likely create a separate page that I’ll update as we see more. In Florida I think the most frequently suggested place to visit is Orlando because of Disney World and all the other theme parks. I had been to Disneyland in California many times growing up and actually liked that one better. Our favorite places that we visited:

  • Clearwater Beach has the best soft white sand out of all the beaches I’ve visited. It’s a great place to stop by for a day visit. Sunsets are just so beautiful! Where we stayed in Clearwater in this post here.
  • St. Pete Beach is one of the most fun areas to live and explore. We stayed at the Kimpton Hotel Zamora in December which we would definitely go to again. After we moved the first time we spent a day renting beach chairs and umbrellas at The DonCesar Hotel and had an amazing time. It’s on our list to stay at for stay-cations, the property is beautiful!
  • Fort de Soto Park is a unique park and beach area that’s quite spread out so it’s not as dense with people as some other beaches. There is a lot to explore, you can bike, walk, or swim. There is a historic fort there as well.
  • Pass-A-Grille is part of St. Pete Beach past The Don Cesar hotel – it’s lined with beaches all the way to the Gulf. It’s really beautiful here. We took several day trips here when we lived at the beach to just sit and relax. You definitely need to bring some beach chairs and umbrellas with you.

Clearwater Beach, Pass-a-Grille, St Pete Beach, Fort de Soto | The Beauty Look Book

  • Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is a little over an hour north. It has two main parts, one is Buccaneer Bay which has a mini theme park feel with water slides, mermaid show, restaurants (it closes starting October, check site for when they reopen) and the other part is the kayaking along the Weeki Wachee River which is open 365 days a year (they will shut down if there are thunder/lightening storms). It took us 4 hours to kayak 5 miles and it was the best thing we’ve done in Florida.
  • Anna Maria is south close to Sarasota, visiting these beaches on a clear day makes you feel like you’ve found paradise. The water is clear and the brightest blue I’ve ever seen. Something definitely worth seeing.
  • Hyde Park Village in Tampa is a cute shopping and restaurant area. They have Sprinkles, Sur la Table, Bartaco, Anthropologie and a cute Blue Mercury store!
  • Bayshore Boulevard is a long continuous sidewalk along Tampa Bay, it was unique and interesting for us because the view of the water and houses in the area is just amazing! The entire sidewalk is 4.5 miles long. We watched the fourth of July fireworks from here.

Weeki Wachee Kayaking, Anna Maria, Bayshore Boulevard, Hyde Park Village Florida

Top places to eat:

Through a process of trial and error we’ve found some really amazing food in Tampa.

  • Bodega – best most unique Cuban sandwiches I’ve tried, since eating here I’ve put at least a dozen other places to the test and NOTHING compares.
  • Bartaco – love this place for the ambiance, food, service, they have several locations in a few states like Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia – definitely check it out!
  • Edison Food Lab – wins for most unique menu, their menu changes every once in a while which makes it interesting.
  • Casita Taqueria – in Florida there really isn’t quite anything as good as the Mexican food I’ve grown accustomed to in San Diego, this place is pretty darn good though. I live for their queso!
  • Ted Peter’s Famous Smokehouse – they have amazing fresh fish and I’m not really a fish eating person (the only sushi I do is California Roll and I know that’s not real sushi), it’s definitely a unique spot with a very relaxed atmosphere, note that they take cash only.
  • Fresh Kitchen – this is a Tampa/Southern version of Chipotle, they have bowls you can mix and match to create your own combination. One of the healthier food options in town.
  • Better Byrd – if you like chicken sandwiches or donuts (I love both), this is a way better version of Chick-Fil-A.
  • Datz – another place filled with amazing food options, warning though if you are a healthy eater and don’t eat here, everything on the menu is pretty hefty, but it’s unique and I think worth trying at least once.
  • 4Rivers Smokehouse – amazing BBQ!

Best coffee and desserts:

  • The Hyppo is probably the best dessert place I’ve tried. They have gourmet ice pops that come in the most unique flavors, aren’t overly sweet, and have amazing fruit blends. I think I could live off these alone. They have several locations – this place is a must visit.
  • Sweet Brewnette is a cute coffee shop in St Pete Beach (Madiera Beach to be exact) they have really good coffee.
  • Kahwa Coffee has multiple locations in Tampa and Saint Petersburg, in my top 5 coffee places of all time.
  • La Casa del Pane is a cute Italian Bakery with good patries, foccacia, bread, coffee and desserts.
  • Oxford Exchange is a cute restaurant, coffee bar, tea bar and gift shop kind of place. It stocks Aesop and Cire Trudon as well!

Favorite Eats Tampa

I’ve mapped out everything here in case you want to use it as a reference!

Tampa Bay Favorites

I hope you enjoyed this roundup! If you’ve moved cross country before I’d love to hear about it. It’s taken some time for me to adjust but we love the water, beaches, warm weather, food, people. It’s been a wonderful place to explore and my first time living in the South. The only stressful thing has been the constant moving and right now we aren’t sure how much longer we will be doing this. Part of us is ready to pick a place and settle down, other parts of us really love the exploring! We had hoped to be in New York or Miami the month of October but the pet situation has made things a bit tricky. If you travel frequently any tips or tricks on how to get used to it? We’ve moved four times this year and we get better and more efficient each time. I tried to keep this as high level as possible – there’s so much I could write about our experiences! If you have any questions about anything on VRBOs/Airbnb, traveling with pets or want to see more or anything else let me know in the comments!

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  • Lisa Carbone

    Great recap Sabrina! The Tampa area is my fave in Florida and St Pete Beach is our fave spot for family vacations. To me it has everything to offer…not to mention Larry’s Ice Cream and Twisty Treat! My husband and I def. want to retire to Florida down the road…I’m in Canada now and the winters are the pits! LOL We’ve also always had great luck with VRBO, renting in Hawaii several times and mostrecently in Sarasota. We stayed at a beautiful mid-century modern house in Siesta Key. 10 min drive to everything and private pool. It was lovely. Happy weekend. Cheers Lisa @littlemama71

    • So happy to hear about another good VRBO experience, I was so nervous to try it out but we’ve been lucky so far! Your stay in Sarasota must have been soooo good! It’s my dream to live in a mid-century modern house someday, even if it’s just a vacation rental and not permanent πŸ™‚

  • Rose Browne

    What a great post!!! Thank you for being so thorough with your links and photos.. it really looks like paradise! Glad to hear that you’re still enjoying your new state 6 months in.

    • Thanks Rose! Glad you found the links/photos helpful πŸ™‚

  • Suzanne Huggins

    Thank you for your update! I especially enjoyed reading about the restaurants and food. I have started looking for Cuban sandwich places in Toronto now. You have a lot of spunk and are definitely making the most of what could have been a really rough situation. Have a fantastic weekend!

  • MissJBoogie

    As a St. Petersburg native and a Cuban American, I can tell you Bodega has THE BEST Cuban sandwiches anywhere. They set the bar very high! I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed exploring my hometown and surrounding areas. My family is all in Belleair (right next to Clearwater Beach) now, but St. Pete is always going to be home.

    • NICE! And YAY for another Bodega lover. I swear it has ruined everything else now!

  • lawler

    This staggering comprehensiveness!

    Is that Jake in the pool? Aww. My dog would burn me alive with her gaze if I ever even attempted to put her in a body of water. Great shot.

    I can’t imagine how hard it was to find rental lodging with three fur babies. Most places are reluctant with even one cat. Glad it is working out and you’re having fun nomad-ing it up and down the coast.

    • The pool pic is actually Lucy πŸ™‚ She can’t stop swimming and even jumped off our dock at our current place to swim in the canal. I’ll call her to come inside and she just goes right back in the pool b/c she knows that is where I can’t get her.

  • Marcia Scully

    Great post as always. Hope you consider Sarasota area for your next move. It is a wonderful and cosmopolitan city. I’m sure you and Andrew will love it!

    • JoElla

      I was just going to mention Sarasota. Sebring, make sure to visit the Ringling museum.

  • Renae Evans

    Wow ! I haven’t visited Florida. And, all I have ever associated with Florida was Walt Disney World. Lol
    This post has increased my curiosity, the photos are so stunning!

    It’s amazing you were going through all of this and still you were able to manage to post. Wow. Thank you.

    I think my favorite picture was the Canoez at Weeki!

    • nic

      Come see us in Savannah if you go to Florida! Sabrina, wonderful post that actually made me miss my vacations in Florida as a kid and teenager. No Scientology!

    • Oh yes, there’s a lot more to Florida than Disney!

  • I envy your lifestyle, truly. Some work obligation, needs me to stay put but I might try this soon with regional moves.

    But climate change and sea water rise are real. I would not invest in a beach front property.

    • nic

      You are SO right about the property. Everyone on Tybee Island is now upset because their houses are basically ruined because of the dunes. I think we should be grateful for everything saved so far!

  • DRTVrMoi

    Thank you for sharing your insights on a cross-country move & the Tampa Bay area. We purchased a snowbird home in eastern Florida 3 years ago. Being in a metropolitan area is important. While the state has many charms, it can be a cultural wasteland if one doesn’t make the effort to explore and absorb it. I will second the recommendation for Sarasota. It was high on the list for our relocation. Welcome to the Sunshine State.

    • Thank you! We made a brief visit to Sarasota and I loved it! It’s definitely on the list for more visits πŸ™‚

  • wish I could visit these places on day πŸ™‚
    miki x

    https://littletasteofbeauty.blogspot.it/

  • nic

    Thank you for the place better than Chick Fil A substitute. I want one!

  • Tammy

    I LOVE this post. Please keep up the travel/lifestyle posts.

  • Lisa Adams

    Thanks for the great post. I am new to Tampa as well, and have checked out a few different beaches but trust me I will benefit from your research! We are renting while we figure out where to build our “forever” home. The climate here is so appealing.

    • Awwww thank you Lisa! Glad to hear we aren’t the only ones trying to figure out where our forever home is going to be as well. So many good places and each one has it’s own charm!

  • SoSuSam

    Thanks for the interesting and informative post! It’s great to hear you’re still enjoying your Florida adventure–even if it’s been a bit more adventurous than planned, what with constant moves and hurricanes. I’m a NYer/New Englander but have spent a ton of time in Miami because my mother and uncle have lived there (one or the other, now both) since 1988. I LOVE it there, tho it’s not for everyone. I also periodically have to go to the Cocoa Beach area for work. Are you considering moving around the state, or will you stay in the Tampa area? I’ve heard St Pete’s is the best place in the universe (clearly, my sources are passionate about it). I’ll have to visit someday–and will use your tips to guide my travel! πŸ™‚ Good luck to you as you keep moving around with your fur babies. I hope it gets easier and easier…

    • I still really want to go to Miami! It’s been on my list since December but one thing after another has prevented us from going, hopefully soon! We’re still figuring things out for our next move but thanks for asking πŸ™‚ I told the hubby it’s like we’re living a real life Choose Your Own Adventure … but he says everyone’s life is basically like that haha.

      • SoSuSam

        Haha–I think your lives are more like than most, at least right now! I hope you do get a chance to make it down to Miami at some point. My family lives in Miami Beach, which is beautiful and full of life. Downtown Miami is also fun because it feels like a real city except the downtown is tiny and it’s right on the water. Lots of good food, some odd and interesting museums, tons of great art (maybe you could go during Art Basel? That’s in Dec.) Hope you have fun when you make it down there. In the meantime, all the best with your moves!

  • DB_Boston

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading about your Floridian adventures. You have handled the news and moves with tremendous grace and resolve — I would have been a mess. Amid all the chaos, you were able to maintain the integrity of your blog, too. I’ve saved your favorite eateries for our next trip and cannot wait to try them.

    • Awww thank you πŸ™‚ I have been a complete mess, had meltdowns and cried in the bathroom numerous times. I’ve been pretty ridiculous but I can usually pull myself back together in 5-10 minutes, lol.

  • Rebecca ZH

    My husband is from St. Pete and it’s gotten so much attention lately! There are great restaurants now – we used to visit the same old place but now there are a ton of places to go. Harvey’s is one of the great oldies, like a diner but better. When we visit we love the downtown area with all the antique shops.

    • Oh nice! I’ll have to check out Harvey’s – thank you for the rec! Yes, lots of construction going on but it’s happening everywhere! Saint Petersburg downtown especially, even in my in-laws neighborhood.

      • Rebecca ZH

        Have you been to Rollin’ Oats yet> Love that piace and happy you all have a Trader Joes now (which I can walk to from my MIL’s! and also Evo’s!!! Also, the spa (I think it’s called Oasis) across from TJ’s is great for mani-pedi.

  • Jennifer Jones

    I’m glad you both are staying positive! That’s a lot of moving in a short time and with Florida going through some big hurricanes.

    Thank you for your beautiful and informative posts. Wishing your family a smoother rest of the year.

    • Hi Jennifer – definitely trying to! Would have mentally lost it if I didn’t have Andrew + the pets to calm me down lol.

  • TheCafeMakeup .

    Oh wow–I had no idea that you were moving around so much! Although I enjoy seeing new places, I would imagine it would have its own set of challenges. I’m glad that you are your husband are doing it together! At least you can share your journeys with each other. I guess that if I could give advice, it would be to try to keep a sense of continuity as you go. I’m sure that blogging helps a lot in that regard. But also things like the candles that you enjoy–scents can be so grounding!–comforting things like soft throws. These can really make a new place feel like your own personal nest. Also, activities that you traditionally like. Sometimes its fun to explore new places and have new experiences, but sometimes its nice to balance that with the familiar. Hugs!!

    • Thanks Amy! So sweet of you to say all these things and LOL I have lugged around Diptyques with me – I can’t live without the empty ones to store my brushes!! And I also have a few to burn as we go too πŸ™‚

  • Suzanna

    I am not sure that we live in the same state :–). But we do! That’s the freakish and amazing thing about Florida: I live in the “It’s not what you think” part and you live in the “It still lives up to expectation” part. And it is only 165 miles difference between these two distant relations (I hesitate to even call it that). I love Pass-A-Grille, not just for the beach and the Don Cesar but also for the funky Florida architecture and trailing, flowering vines in February–at its glorious best then. Be careful of rattlesnakes at DeSoto. Aha! The weirdness of Florida, the unexpected underfoot. I once came across a small snake at Cedar Key and mistook it for a plaid shoelace.

    Loved your pics and I think it’s great that you are experiencing Florida’s finest places. You should try Delray Beach. There is unspoiled and undeveloped beach there, or at least a small stand of it. I also like Biscayne Bay and the lovely banyan trees in Coral Gables. Much to explore! Enjoy! (Come to Gainesville to see “the other Florida” sometime…)

    • Hi Suzanna so funny you mention that because we see differences in shorter distances for certain areas as well! Will add Delray Beach to the list πŸ™‚ Still so much to explore!

  • Antonym Cosmetics

    great post! Sanibel and Captiva and some of the smaller island around the area are totally worth the visit too.
    https://www.antonymcosmetics.com

  • mkdallas

    Loved reading this! We moved to Sarasota 3 years ago after most of my life in Texas and we really love it here. I love living by the ocean and the wildlife is amazing. The summers are sort of awful (hot and rainy), but October through April is flipping paradise. Hope you find your new home soon; St. Pete is a great place, as is most of Tampa.