All posts by Cathy Salustri

Cathy Salustri loves Florida. She writes about her travels across the state, using her MLA in Florida Studies to explore every corner of the Sunshine State. When not traveling Florida, she's writing, reading, and cooking Florida things.

Jimmy Buffett, My Dad, and Florida Road Trips

A man in glasses and a woman in glasses. They are father and daughter, down by the water, like in the Jimmy Buffett song

Jimmy Buffett died last night.

This isn’t a post about that, not really.

While I’ll miss hearing new music from him, I don’t mourn him. I didn’t know him; I have no illusions that I had a clue about the man behind the legend. Few similarities exist between the Gulf and Western icon father and my own dad, but I feel a heartbreaking kinship of mourning with his daughters.

A few weeks ago, my dad died unexpectedly.

I have a lot of wonderful memories of my father. His death was so unexpected, and still so raw, that those memories still assault me at odd times. Grief is like, my friend Tamara says, a ball banging around inside a box. Sometimes it slams into the side of the box, and other times, it doesn’t, and you never know what it’s going to be.

In Backroads of Paradise, I wrote about my earliest experience with Florida’s salt water, with my dad, as we made our way to what would be our forever home in Clearwater:

“Look at that, Cath,” my dad said, his voice reverent. “Look at how clear it is, not like Staten Island at all.” My father still made the sign of the cross on himself when we passed Catholic churches, but not until this moment had I heard such hushed worship in his voice.

I nodded and peered out the window, feeling something new and familiar inside my chest as I gazed at the sandy landscape offering itself to me. I recognized this, much later, as the sense of coming to where I needed to be.

I figure today y’all will see a lot of “Margaritaville” tributes to Jimmy Buffett on social media, but I never had much use for that song. I’ve always been a bigger fan of his B-sides (so much so I wrote this review about his concert a few years ago.)

One song in particular, “Delaney Talks to Statues” has a special place in my heart. Since the day I first heard it, made me think of every wonderful thing about my dad.

Father, daughter/Down by the water

We moved to Florida when I was 7. I loved going to the beach with my dad. Some weekend mornings, we’d get up early and go to Clearwater Beach. Early mornings at the beach — before the crowds — is when you might find shells. I still have some of those shells we collected down by the water so many years ago.

Shells sink, dreams float

There’s a lot more to say about my dad — a lot that doesn’t have anything at all to do with Jimmy Buffett — but one giant takeaway is that he instilled in me a love of road trips.

Shortly after we moved to Florida, my dad had surgery, and he couldn’t work for a few months. Once he recovered enough to drive, though, we’d go on long drives and talk.

This continued for years. As an angsty teen, I’d go for drives with him, and he’d let me talk. He always treated me like an adult in those conversations, those wonderful, rambling conversations that unfolded and went in different directions, much as the roadways we traveled. We never set out with a destination; we simply drove and talked, talked and drove. I saw a lot of Florida’s central west coast on those drives with my father. I remember a lot of trees on those drives, and a lot of love.

Life’s good on our boat

While I won’t paint everything as sunshine and roses in our home growing up — I hate how people deify the dead — I will say that yes, overall, life was good on our (metaphorical) boat. I had two parents who loved each other, loved me, and made sure I knew it. We didn’t have lots of money for big cross-country or international vacations, but we took road trips. My mom and dad both embraced Florida life, never once looking backwards to what they’d left behind in New York. I credit them both with a lot: Instilling in me a love for Florida, for facing life head-on, even when it hurts to do so, and for all the good parts of me.

The Captain and The Kid

My dad and I had a wonderful relationship. Oh, sure, we fought. More than once he left my home in a fit of anger, but he always came back, and there was always a hug and “I love you” after the fight. There’s not a day I’ve been alive when I ever doubted my father’s love.

And in my memories, my love for Florida is tangled up with my parents and their love for it. My passion for road trips is forever linked to those drives I’d take with my dad.

The last drive we took was in 2019, shortly after I’d left full-time work at a local alt weekly. We drove south over the Skyway, out to Anna Maria (another beach we’d visited as a family when I was younger). We drove as far south as we could along the barrier islands, then turned around and headed north along US 41.

That would be our last road trip together.

My dad and I talked about when we could go again, but then… the pandemic came. After that, my dad had some health issues that made longer road trips unpleasant for him. Finally, a few weeks ago, when he was the healthiest he’d been in decades and at the cusp of being able to take a longer drive with me once more, a freak set of circumstances meant we’d never take a road trip together again.

And so this morning when my husband read me the news of Jimmy Buffett’s death, my first thought was of my father — and then of Buffett’s daughters. Because I didn’t know the man, but I knew a man a lot like the man who sang about his daughters.

And so I close with this thought from another Jimmy Buffett song I love; one that also evokes images of my dad, and also my grandfathers: And though I cried, I was so proud/To love a man so rare.

Florida’s Historic Hotels (Where You Can Stay the Night)

a white hotel — the Belleview Biltmore one of many of Florida's historic hotels
Take a virtual — or real! — road trip to Florida’s historic hotels..
(State Archives of Florida)

My friend and fellow historian Joey Vars and I recently gave a talk about historic hotels in Florida where people can book a room and spend the night. The talk proved popular, garnering an encore performance at OLLI at Eckerd College. That second session also filled up fairly quickly, and I promised those who attended I’d list the hotels and their booking information in a post they could reference.

Below you’ll find a list of Florida’s historic hotels still welcoming overnight visitors. The year next to each hotel denotes the year the hotel opened for business.

A black and white photo of a two-story hotel Florida historic hotels
The Florida House Inn in Fernandina is the oldest hotel in Florida still in operation.
(State Archives of Florida)

1857: Florida House Inn (Fernandina) 

How to book: or 904-491-3322

1859: Cedar Inn (Cedar Key) or 352-543-5455

1888: Casa Monica (St. Augustine) or 904-827-1888

a 1955 of Florida's historic hotel The Breakers in Palm Beach
One of Florida’s historic hotels, the Breakers, on Palm Beach. This postcard dates to 1955.
(State Archives of Florida)

1896: Breakers (Palm Beach) or 844-285-3297

1904: Oak Park Inn (Arcadia) or or 863-494-9500 or 863-491-8852

1907: Gibson Inn (Apalachicola) or 850-270-2190

1911: The Plaza (Daytona)

Due to damage sustained during Hurricane Ian, the resort has closed through 2023 for renovations and repairs but expects to re-open in 2024.

1922: Park Plaza (Winter Park) or 407-647-1072

1924: Terrace Hotel (Lakeland) or 863-688-0800

1925: Casa Marina (Jax Beach) or 904-270-0025

1925: The Deland Hotel (DeLand) or 386-624-6710

January 1926: Seminole Inn (Indiantown) or 772-597-3777

1926: Biltmore (Coral Gables) or 305-445–1926

1926: Tarpon Lodge (Pine Island) or 239-283-3999

1927: Putnam Lodge (Cross City) or 352-440-0414

a grand lodge with a green lawn Florida historic hotels
The Wakulla Lodge is a Florida historic hotel — the only one inside a state park.
(State Archives of Florida)

1937: Wakulla Springs Lodge (Wakulla Springs State Park) or 850-421-2000

1938: Clewiston Inn (Clewiston) or 863-983-8151

Florida Historic Hotels: Tampa Bay Hotels

Because we both live in the Tampa Bay area, we looked at historic hotels in that part of Florida. Tampa Bay and the Gulf beaches have a treasure trove of historic Florida hotels still open to guests.

a white hotel — the Belleview Biltmore one of many of Florida's historic hotels
While the Belleview Biltmore no longer looks quite as grand, you can still book a room here.
(State Archives of Florida)

Jan. 15, 1897: Belleview Inn (Clearwater) or 727-441-1774

1904: Peninsula (Gulfport)

Temporarily closed for renovations, but expect to open in the coming months. or 727-346-9800

1915: Crystal Bay (St. Petersburg) or 727-914-7676

1918: Castle Hotel (St. Pete Beach/Pass-A-Grille) or 727-289-8767

1922: Ponce de León (St. Petersburg) or 727-550-9300

Jan. 8, 1928: Fenway (Dunedin) or 844-569-9879

1926: Vinoy (St. Petersburg) or 727-824-8015 or 888-236-2427

Jan. 1, 1926: Floridan (Tampa) or 813-225-1700

Jan. 26, 1928: Don Cesar (St. Pete Beach/Pass-A-Grille) or 727-360-1881

1926 Pennsylvania (Marriott Courtyard) (St. Petersburg) or 727-450-6200

This is by no means an exhaustive list of Florida’s historic hotels, so if you know of an historic hotel still operating in Florida, let me know!

Take a Florida B-Movie Road Trip

Aside from sunny beaches, warm winters, and crystal-clear springs, we’re home to some truly horrible, made-in-Florida, B movies. We’re talking movies so bad, they’re amazing.  This week on our podcast, Rick Kilby and I take a B-movie road trip around Florida, using some of the best of the worst films made in Florida as a guide. Follow along!

St. Cloud: 2,000 Maniacs

Right next door to tourist-swollen Kissimmee, you’ll find St. Cloud, where filmmakers made this delightfully bad film — from which 10,000 Maniacs got its name — in 15 days. Stop by St. Cloud, an area with some fascinating history, and don’t forget to eat at The Catfish Place. Watch the trailer.

Green Cove Springs: ZAAT

Take one mad scientist, a catfish, and a human, and what do you get? ZAAT. Filmedin Green Cove Springs, a small town on the St. Johns River well worth a visit. It’s a beautiful Florida town that evokes whispers of yesteryear. It’s changing rapidly, though, so go see it now. At Christmas, they have an annual Parade of Trees, a mailbox with a direct line to Santa, and Christmas on Walnut Street. Watch the trailer.

Marianna Florida: Sharkansas Women’s Prison’s Massacre

Don’t be fooled by the name — This film is all Florida. Check out the scenes filmed at the caves at Florida Caverns State Park. A Jim Wynorski classic. Watch the trailer. P.S.: Jim, if you’re reading this, whatever happened with CobraGator? The trailer looks amazing!

Everglades City: Devil Fish (Monster Shark)

A visit to Everglades City isn’t complete without an airboat ride and a look inside the lobby at the Everglades Rod & Gun Club. Check out Joannie’s Blue Crab down the street, and don’t forget to check out the Lucky Cole photography in the bathrooms. Watch the trailer.

Orlando: Miami Connection

Grew up in Florida in the 1980s? This is so your movie. Seriously. Hungry? Go grab a bite to eat at one of Orlando’s amazing restaurants. Rick suggests Hot Dog Heaven, which opened around the time the film hit theaters. Watch the trailer
A newspaper ad for the 1972 Florida B Movie, Frogs
This Florida B movie features Sam Elliott in his breakout role. Seriously, the now-mustachioed star appears without one in this 1972 film, shot in the western end of Florida’s panhandle.
(Photo credit for newspaper ad for Frogs: American International Pictures, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Santa Rosa Beach & DeFuniak Springs: Frogs 

This 1972 eco-horror film asks the question, “Suppose Nature gave a war and everybody came?” and then answers it in the most bizarre, wonderful way possible. Watch the trailer, then you can stream Frogs. Plus, you need this Frogs t-shirt, you really, really do.
(Photo credit for newspaper ad for Frogs: American International Pictures, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)