Life’s a Beach | Florida 2015

I’ve decided to kick  the year off strong – with a blog post of course! If you’ve been keeping up with me on my various social media platforms, you know that my family and I went on vacation to Florida over Christmas.

We had been to Florida several years before, but on the Atlantic side, near Daytona Beach. This time, we stayed on the Gulf side, in Sarasota, on Siesta Key. The way the area over there works is the general area is Sarasota, but Siesta Key is part of the Keys on the Gulf (the others are Lido Key, Longboat Key and Anna Maria Island).

Siesta was the perfect place for a vacation, seeing as it consists of white sand beaches and crystal clear blue waters. Siesta Beach itself has been voted #1 best beach in the USA. The beaches are literally something out of Greece, they are that gorgeous.

Voted #1 beach in the USA
Voted #1 beach in the USA

We spent about a week on Siesta Key and then we headed up to spend a few days in the Clearwater/Dunedin/Tarpon Springs area before flying back to Denver.

Siesta Key

Siesta Key is truly a resort area, and for being a resort area, it wasn’t too crowded the week we were there. We were fortunate enough to be able to get a condo right on the beach, where we would walk down and the beach was right there. Our condo was on Crescent Beach, which neighbors the famous Siesta Beach. I spent a lot of time walking up and down the entire shore of Siesta Key, so it made walking up to Siesta Beach easy.

A view of the beach from our condo complex
A view of the beach from our condo complex

The weather was about 15 degrees above average, so we were in the 80s everyday we were there. It was 86 degrees on Christmas Day! I know, paradise. Since we were by the beach, it was breezy so we didn’t feel too much of the humid heat.

I’m not going to lie, I got a lot of good sun, which was nice considering how pale I usually am in the winter. I can say that I got a nice golden tan while I was there (guaranteed it will fade by the time school starts up again).  It was the perfect amount of color for December.

One of the highlights of my trip was going out for my first legal drink with my parents. We haven’t been able to do that since I celebrated by 21st in Fort Collins and I haven’t really been home since. It was nice to have a drink at a beach bar. We tried two of their signature cocktails – the Captain Cooler (Captain Morgan, OJ, Pineapple juice, and grenadine) and Siesta Lemonade (lemonade, vodka and cranberry juice). Both were absolutely delicious and perfect to have by the beach.

The Captain Cooler and the Siesta Lemonade we had at the Sniki Tiki in Siesta
The Captain Cooler and the Siesta Lemonade we had at the Sniki Tiki in Siesta

Another highlight of our time in Siesta was driving up to the different keys and eventually ending up at the top, at Anna Maria Island. We drove up through Siesta Key, then Lido Key, then Longboat Key, then Anna Maria Island. Each of the keys has its own personality – Siesta is the main resort key; Lido is home to St. Armands Circle, the major shopping district on the keys; Longboat is very upscale and reminds me more of Greenwood Village; and Anna Maria embodies an older Florida beach community. We stopped for lunch at The Sandbar in Anna Maria, a place my mom went to when she used to work in Florida in her 20s. We also stopped at St. Armands for a little bit (mostly to window shop!).

A highlight for the boys was their fishing excursion in Sarasota Bay. On Christmas Eve, they went out on a boat to do some fishing – and they caught a lot! They caught a bunch of different varieties of fish, including perch and pompano among some others. A fun fact about pompano is that it is really rare to catch in the Bay, and runs for $30 a pound at the fish market. My brother caught a five pound pompano, so essentially, $150 of fish. Needless to say, that was our Christmas dinner!

The boys on their return from fishing
The boys on their return from fishing

While they were fishing, us girls went into Siesta Village, the main area of shops and restaurants on Siesta Key. It was quiet since it was Christmas Eve, and during the week. I used this time to do one of my guilty pleasures on vacation: souvenir shop. My mom bought each of us kids a Siesta Key ornament to add to our individual ornament collections. She wanted to get us each one so we could each remember the trip when we would see the ornament.

For Christmas, we ended up going to liturgy at St. Barbara’s in Sarasota. We usually never go to church Christmas morning, but this year we did. It was a beautiful service and the church was really beautiful as well. Surprisingly, that particular service was filled with more visitors than parishioners. After, we wanted to go out for some breakfast, but there was nothing open other than a McDonald’s, and even that only had the drive-thru open. Since it was after church and we had all fasted for communion, we were hungry, so we got McDonald’s. Let me tell you, since I don’t have it hardly ever, a McDonald’s hamburger and fries was the most satisfying at the moment.

Merry Christmas from the Phillips family
Merry Christmas from the Phillips family

We spent the rest of the day just hanging out. Katie and I went to go take photos on the beach during the golden hour (the hour with the perfect lighting for photography) and then watched the sunset. The sunset on Christmas day was the best one we got in Siesta because it was the one day the sun wasn’t engulfed by the clouds, so we could see it dip down into the horizon perfectly.

Probably my favorite thing about the beach was the sunsets. We faced the west so we were able to see the sun set behind the ocean. We get some pretty amazing sunsets in Colorado but nothing can beat sunsets over the ocean.

Christmas day sunset
Christmas day sunset

After about a week on Siesta Key, we headed up to Clearwater/Dunedin/Tarpon Springs for our second leg of the trip.

Clearwater and Dunedin were just short stops along the way, but the real excitement of that portion of the trip was Tarpon Springs.

Tarpon Springs

Clearwater, Dunedin and Tarpon Springs are all really close to each other, but about an hour or so away from Siesta Key. The main reason we went up there was for Tarpon Springs, probably the Greekiest place in the U.S. other than Astoria in New York. If you are having serious withdrawals from Greece, Tarpon Springs is worth the visit.

You may also remember Tarpon Springs as the setting for the show “Growing Up Greek,” the reality show that had a short stint on MTV.

Our first stop in Tarpon was St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas is a very old Greek cathedral, but it is also rather large in both the size of the church itself and their community center and other offices. Tarpon Springs is also home to the Epiphany celebration. Everyone from near and far comes to the celebration, including the Archbishop of America. It’s a huge deal for the community. Definitely something I would like to experience one day. That is commemorated by a statue of a diver holding the cross on display in front of the church.

St. Nicholas church in Tarpon Springs
St. Nicholas church in Tarpon Springs

Our second stop was the St. Michael’s Shrine. It is pretty close to the church, but has a pretty remarkable story: In the 1940s, this mother had gone to Greece and has brought back this icon of St. Michael. Her son then became very sick and so he requested the icon and then had a dream about St. Michael where he said he was going to heal the sick boy. He also requested the boy’s mother builds a shrine to St. Michael. The next day, the boy was completely healed. The mother then built the shrine, which drew all walks of life to get healed.

(At this point in the trip, I felt like I was back at IV; traveling to different churches and religious monuments)

After the shrine, we headed toward the famous Dodecanese Boulevard, which is the main area for shops and restaurants. We spent a majority of the afternoon down there shopping, eating and seeing the sponge docks (Tarpon also has a fairly large sponge industry). We had the most unbelievable lunch at Hellas Restaurant, which had Greek food as authentic as my own mom’s. I splurged and had pastitsio and it was absolutely delicious – some of the best I’ve ever had. We also got some pastries and I got my frappé. I ended up getting rizogalo (rice pudding). We definitely got our Greek fix.

Got my pastitsio fix
Got my pastitsio fix

Our last day was spent killing time in Tampa until our flight. Our flight ended up being delayed for five hours, so we literally took a red-eye home. Due to complications at the airport, we didn’t get home and in bed until 4 a.m. It just made for a long journey home when all of us wanted to just get home.

Overall, this trip ranked pretty high on the scale of trips I’ve taken. It was nice to go and just relax and not have to worry about anything for 10 days. It was also really nice to break out of the routine for Christmas and do something different and memorable.

Cheers to new experiences!

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