Tag Archives: beach

Forgotten Coast

Road Trip: The Forgotten Coast, unluckiest town in Florida and a lighthouse

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 29 issue of Creative Loafing Tampa.

Lying on a Panhandle beach, I turn to Barry and ask, “Why don’t we live here?”

“You’d be too cold,” he answers, and he’s not wrong. My friends joke (but not really) that I get Seasonal Affective Disorder when the sun’s behind a cloud for more than 15 minutes, and that whenever the mercury drops below 80º I run for my sweatshirt. Right now, it’s in the low 80s and I’m writing with a blanket over me.

Nevertheless, the Florida panhandle beckons. Specifically, the Forgotten Coast of Gulf, Franklin and Wakulla counties. Sand dunes line the coast, buffeted by pine forests from the small towns selling hyper-local seafood and low-key tourist dreams. Few roads trace the edge of the land here — US 98 through Port St. Joe and, to its west, 30A. I am hopelessly, totally, irrevocably charmed by seaside forests and small-town splendor.

I’m not the first. Years — centuries — before Tampa Bay became a place to live, Florida’s panhandle attracted people. After Ponce de Leon’s 1513 discovery of Florida, pioneers opened the West — West Florida, that is, which totally became a thing as our much-maligned state bounced between five flags until becoming part of the US in 1821. Of course, statehood wasn’t an easy road — the U.S. couldn’t let just anyone in, right? So, in 1838, Floridians got together and convened a constitutional convention at St. Joseph, Florida’s largest town with a whopping 6,000-ish people.

By the time Florida became a state in 1845, that town was gone.

What happened?

In July 1841, a ship from the Greater Antilles docked there. NBD: St. Joseph was a significant port (’member, anything south of the Panhandle was a swampy morass of death, what with the skeeters and gators and lack of air conditioning) so ships came and went like it was today’s Miami. Except this ship had a passel of passengers lousy with yellow fever, which sucked for the passengers who died — but not before they infected most of the town. Of the 6,000 living there, all but 1,500 died. Of those, another 1,000 fled because they weren’t fond of death. So when a hurricane hit a couple months later, the 500 remaining residents found themselves homeless, because the storm trashed pretty much every building. Resolute pioneers that they were, they soldiered on… only to have fires rip through town a while later.

That should have been enough, right?

[read more at cltampa.com]

Backroads of Paradise Cathy Salustri

Backroads of Paradise in the New York Times

Backroads of Paradise by Cathy Salustri
The great Florida road trip, in book form.

Welp, they don’t seem to care much for Donald Trump, but the New York Times likes me.

A weeks ago, I’d shut down email for the day, except — fun fact — I’m almost always trying to clear out my email. Over at Creative Loafing, our food editor and one of my favorite people, Meaghan, always has about three or four emails in her inbox. She’s that good at clearing them out. Right now, I have roughly seventy-seven million emails waiting for me, so I feel compelled to check them from time to time, even when I’m theoretically done for the day.

So, the de facto in-laws are down for the holidays, and as we’re all watching football I start looking for easy emails to handle. I see one from a John Dorman, who says he’s with the Times and would like to do a Q&A with me. Now, we have a daily paper here we also refer to as “the Times“, so I thought, oh, OK, that’s weird, because they rejected me for the Festival of Reading and haven’t shown any interest in Backroads whatsoever, but cool.

Then I get to the signature line and it’s not the local Times. No, it’s the New York Times. Or, as I said about two seconds after I realized which paper had contacted me, The New York Fucking Times, but only in my head, because, well, I try not to say fuck so much around Barry’s parents, because I’m a goddamn lady and all.

So, um, hey, read this super-cool interview with this awesome Florida chick who’s in the New York FUCKING Times. Or buy the print version of the paper Sunday. Or do both.


White Gate Court

Road Trip: Puppy love in the Florida Keys

For years I’ve wanted to stay at White Gate Court in Islamorada. The idea of a dog-friendly — truly dog-friendly, as in, “we love dogs everywhere on our property” — appealed to me. So, this May, we piled the hellhounds in the Xterra and forced them to enjoy themselves in the Keys.

Calypso — White Gate Court
Calypso takes a break from paradise.

It worked out well for all of us and, it turns out, even though dogs matter more than humans at White Gate Court, it’s still a pretty awesome place for people.

Also, Calypso has a boyfriend.

I wrote more about this for Creative Loafing Tampa back in May; here’s the link.

Poppo’s Taqueria: Wild Pig, Fresh Tacos, Florida Vibes

Poppo's TaqueriaWhenever I take a road trip, I look for local food. This is not exactly born of some grand desire to “eat local” (although I do heartily endorse locavorism, something made easy by living in one of the best places in the world for fresh citrus, seafood, and free-range beef). No, I seek out the local food because how different regions of Florida (and the United States, and the world) eat fascinates me. Florida food historian Andy Huse told me once, “if you want to know about a culture, look at what they ate” and I’ve learned he’s quite right.

Whenever I read of an eatery that catches my interest, I note in a Florida Bucket List reminder list I created on my iPhone specifically so I can see everything in Florida. It’s driving me crazy because I can’t recall how I heard about this place. All I know is that I’ve had it on my Florida Bucket List for at least a year, and I finally made it there last week.

Anna Maria Island, if you’ve never visited, is this slice of sandy paradise, although it’s losing ground to development. Beautiful beach cottages that evoke a Florida where people came for the beach, went to the beach, and stayed for the beach are giving way to slightly larger, less Florida-like homes that happen to be on the water. Like most coastal communities south of Tampa Bay, the island is given to exploding into shocks of color here and there, a rapid upshot of fuchsia here, a jolt of crimson and saffron there.

Poppo's TaqueriaThe wonderful thing about beach communities like this is the implied abundance of the sea’s bounty: mahi, grouper, shrimp, and oyster abound at local restaurants. The heartbreaking thing about these same communities is the dearth of restaurants doing anything well other than that bounty. It’s often a case of “amazing oysters” and soggy burgers, with little or no middle ground.

Poppo’s Taqueria, then, doesn’t fit at all, which makes it perfect here. It doesn’t have seafood. It’s a counter service taco place, not on the water, and not given to large groups. It’s reasonably priced. They have regular tacos here (you can get carnitas with onions, lime and cilantro for under three bucks) but I came for the Florida boar tacos (well worth the 50¢ upcharge, I might add, as was the other 50¢ upcharge, for sour cream.

Florida Boar
That’s dead pig, people. Dead, glorious Florida pig.

Two tacos (wild boar, both with sour cream) and an order of tortilla chips left me about $8 poorer, I believe. Not bad at all. And a word about those tortilla chips: while Poppo’s makes your food as you order it (think Subway with better ingredients), the chips will come out after your meal. They’re thick, salty, and unlike any other Mexican restaurant tortilla chip you will ever eat.

I fell in love with this place, which is about 15 miles from my home in Gulfport but, because of pesky things like Tampa Bay and roads that don’t get you there “as the crow flies”, it takes about an hour to get there.
Poppo's Tacqueria porch chair

It’s the sort of place that blends in to the riot of colors on the island. I know I’ve passed it before, but I’ve never noticed it, even after it fell onto my radar for Anna Maria Island. It’s a blip of a storefront, hidden in plain sight. Tropical green things surround the wood porch with its funky birdcage chairs and shabby chic cushions. Inside, it’s almost utilitarian, with a beer bar on one side (local beer, of course, plus the usual island beer – in Florida, it’s the law that if you have sand in your parking lot, you must also sell Corona Light) and a taco bar on the other.

Calypso and I ate in folding wooden chairs on the front porch and watched the storm roll in over the Gulf of Mexico. Well, from that direction, anyway. For a beach-y place, Poppo’s doesn’t really afford you a view of the beach. Or the water. But that’s OK, because they have these tacos that make it all worthwhile.

Detours & Diversions – The Other Side of Tampa Bay: Paradise in the Sand

“Anna Maria Key, lying to the south of Tampa Bay and separated from the mainland by Sarasota Pass, one of the many sand and shell islands bordering the west coast. It rises but a few feet above sea level and is covered with mangrove swamps, palm savannahs, salt flats, cacti thickets, and buttonwood trees. Anna Maria, a resort at the northern extremity of Anna Maria Key, consists of many cottages in a jungle setting.” –The WPA Guide to the Southernmost State, 1939

WHAT: Much has changed on Anna Maria Island since 1937. The palm savannahs surrendered to beach cottages, and while the island itself rises but a few feet above the warm, turquoise Gulf, bungalows at Anna Maria’s edge prop themselves like mangroves, resting just out of reach of salt and waves.

The spirit of the island remains untouched. Sand and shells abound, and the entire low-lying tropical jungle has bursts of blazing pink bougainvillea  cascading over fences and dazzling orange birds of paradise standing guard along walkways. While the other side of Tampa Bay boasts the most densely populated county in the state, the pink Don CeSar in the distance fades against the tropical landscape of colors and the ever-permeating salt air.


WHY: You can draw the silhouette of much of Florida’s coast with condominium-and hotel-colored crayons. Not so here; everything on this seven-mile strip of paradise –even her stilt homes –is short. The island draws tourists without needing tall hotels and convention centers; visitors can make their way around the island’s shell-lined streets and paths using foot or pedal power. The island has no chain restaurants, and while you can get milk at a local market, you’ll need to head to the next town over for a supermarket.


WHO: It’s a small town of locals and visitors, fishermen and sunbathers. Anna Maria is one of six incorporated cities in Manatee county, a county with a third of the people of its neighbor to the north, Pinellas.


WHERE: If you look across Tampa Bay from Pass-a-Grille or Fort DeSoto, you can see Anna Maria in the distance. By boat it’s a short hop around Egmont to Anna Maria; by car, it’s just under an hour to cover the same distance. Anna Maria is at the northernmost tip of Manatee’s nothernmost barrier island.


BEST part: Anna Maria Island evokes memories of the Florida in your heart, the sandy paradise that draws people here year after year. It’s old Florida with air conditioning, bleached shell paths that crunch under your feet, and coral sunsets dotted with crimson blossoms. It’s fishing piers and walks on the beach; it’s beer at sunset and fish for dinner. Every part is the best part.
WORST part: With beaches everywhere, it’s a shame the city doesn’t allow dogs on at least one of them. There are a few places along the bay where you can get away with letting your pooch run off leash, but they’re not designated as dog beaches and you run the risk of being told to take your furry friend off the sand. Locals say there’s talk of a dog beach.


MAGIC Question: Free. Lodging and food run the gamut. Expect to pay a premium for waterside accommodations, although you can get a room for under $100 a night. Weekly stays cost less per night.
This initially appeared in the Gabber Newspaper in January, 2012.