A Seafood Lovers Vacation to the Florida Gulf Coast

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  • June 09, 2019

Exploring the Ringling, shopping on St. Armand’s Circle and dining at seafood restaurants across Tampa, Sarasota and Long Boat Key while on vacation on the Florida Gulf Coast.


Sandy white beaches, sunshine, seafood and a slower pace were the goals of my recent trip to Florida’s Gulf Coast. My ultimate destination was Long Boat Key, exploring Sarasota’s dining and art space along the way.

Flying in to Florida’s Gulf Coast

While choosing the airport you fly into is usually based on other factors than the food scene within the terminal, this was actually a decision maker for me. Having learned that the Tampa International Airport did a massive $154 million renovation with a focus on their design, culinary and concessions, I wanted to see what this meant from a traveler’s standpoint.

trip Florida Gulf Coast Tampa

I was fortunate to be given a private tour of the airport where I learned about the history and notable “firsts” which we, as passengers, take for granted. While this terminal was built in 1971, they were the first airport to house people-movers.

vacation Florida Gulf Coast Tampa International Airport People Mover

With the completion of the airport renovation, they now offer 69 new shops, spas and restaurants. As a traveler, you may have noticed some airports that are making an effort to offer a “taste” of local foods and brands with visitors. At TIA, forty percent of the merchandise and foods are from the surrounding area.

vacation Florida Gulf Coast

Where to Eat and Drink at TIA

In fact, you will find award winning Cigar City Brewery with in one of the terminals. There are only two airports in the world that offer the opportunity to brew craft beer in an airport: Tampa and Germany.

vacation Florida Gulf Coast

vacation Florida Gulf Coast

The food and beverage options are extensive from restaurant chains to open air cooking to upscale dining venues. Local and international coffee and tea shops have locations across the airport.

vacation Florida Gulf Coast

vacation Florida Gulf Coast

Craving grilled oysters? Then stop by ulele in Airside F.

vacation Florida Gulf Coast

Airside F is where you will find The Café by Mise en Place which has an extensive wine collection in addition to an upscale menu. Business meetings are held here as well as requests for meals to go. 

vacation Florida Gulf Coast

Shrimp and white cheddar grits with Carolina BBQ glaze

vacation Florida Gulf Coast

Mise Mezze with Piquillo Pepper Hummus

Travel Tip

Priority Pass members are able to use their benefits at locations like The Cafe by Mise en Place.

vacation Florida Gulf Coast

Art and Design

There is an expansive art collection that you see as you travel through the airport. TPA has implemented a $2 million Public Art Program to enhance terminals that showcase different artists and their visions completed in sculpture, paint, beads and lighting to name a few.

In addition, the newly remodeled terminals have an open and airy feeling. The traditional design of formalized spaces with walls that touch the ceiling are now gone. Instead, there are floor to ceiling windows that emphasize the height bringing the outdoors in.

Artwork is modern, historical, whimsical and creative. 

vacation Florida Gulf Coast
vacation Florida Gulf Coast

This is on the ceiling when you first enter the airport terminals: Loggerhead Sea Turtle

vacation Florida Gulf Coast

There are four outdoor patio bars/restaurants to dine at to enjoy the Florida weather.

vacation Florida Gulf Coast

Hard Rock Cafe under construction

Tampa Airport Philosophy

The beauty of this airport is their focus on providing quality services to their visitors, guests and residents. You don’t need to be traveling through the airport to take advantage of any of the features mentioned. On Saturdays, they offer All Access passes to those that have made a reservation 24 hours in advance to shop or dine at a single airside past the security checkpoint. For more information, visit here.  

A Vacation to the Florida Gulf Coast: Seafood and Art

Sarasota is filled with dining, entertainment and culture making for a vibrant downtown area. Across the bridge are the Keys which include Siesta, St. Armands/Lido, Longboat, Manasota, Casey and Venice. Each has its own ambience, activities and pace. While the weather wasn’t the best during my stay, walking the beach, sitting on the dock and enjoying the peacefulness of the waves offered a serenity that was welcomed, sunshine or not. 

Where to Eat on the Gulf Coast

There was no shortage of good food on this trip. Our day started out with breakfast at either Blue Dolphin Cafe or Harry’s Restaurant where we found the friendliest people. Sit outside at Harry’s and enjoy homemade pastries. Order the light and fluffy omelets or the blueberry pancakes at Blue Dolphin Cafe. Fresh orange juice is a must, of course!

As you can imagine, seafood is plentiful on the Gulf Coast. Each restaurant has their own ambience from upscale dining to fast paced and high energy to casual dining. The creative menus offer only the freshest of fish, no matter which restaurant you choose.

Crab and Fin, St. Armand’s Circle

Elegant with exceptional service. Enjoyed this restaurant so much we came back twice. 

vacation Florida Gulf Coast Crab

vacation Florida Gulf Coast

Cedar Plan Oven Roasted Scottish Salmon

vacation Florida Gulf Coast

Mediterranean Branzino

vacation Florida Gulf Coast

Must have Key Lime Pie

vacation Florida Gulf Coast

The finishing touch at Crab and Fin. 

Columbia Restaurant, St. Armand’s Circle

The oldest restaurant in Florida with Cuban/Spanish dishes. High energy, Mediterranean designed rooms. 

Walt’s Fish Market, Sarasota

Live music, outdoor dining, casual restaurant and ambience with vast assortment of seafood appetizers, sandwiches and fresh fish dinners. Daily fish caught posted on wall menu. Recommendation is to try the local fish options. 

De Mare – lobster tail, Cedar Key top neck clam

Scamp – local fish known as the Filet Mignon of Grouper

Dessert on the Keys

Euphemia Haye and The Haye Loft, Long Boat Key

Euphemia Haye is a candle-lit, fine dining restaurant known as one of American’s Top 200 Most Romantic Restaurants. Upstairs is a more causal experience complete with a dessert bar with homemade cakes, tarts and pies. The Haye Loft is known for their Caesar Salads. Note that this gem gets very busy and reservations are needed.  

Chocolate Peanut Butter Mousse Pie

Apple pie with the most apples ever!

Kilwin’s Ice Cream Shop, St. Armand’s Circle

From homemade peanut brittle and fudge to the most delicious ice cream, this is a required visit!

vacation Florida Gulf Coast Kilwins

What to see on your Vacation to the Florida Gulf Coast

Learning about The Ringling Legacy

If you were ever a fan of the circus, then a visit to The Ringling is a must. This enormous property is located in Sarasota encompassing the Circus Museum, Art Museum and private home of John and Mable Ringling as well as a Visitor’s Center with cafe.

The 66 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens from entrance to Sarasota Bay are perfectly manicured with vibrant colors and paths to explore the grounds. Mable Ringling’s Rose Garden is located next to their mansion on the water. 

vacation Florida Gulf Coast

The Circus Museum showcases the history of the circus including the costumes, train cars, posters, circus wagons, and handbills. There is a replica of what daily circus life was like from train cars to what the city looked like at the time. Experiential opportunities to “walk the wire” are available for those who dare. 

As John Ringing traveled Europe searching for acts for his circus, he began collecting artwork. As his knowledge of art and subsequently art books grew, so did his desire to create a museum to showcase his paintings and art objects. The Ringling Museum of Art, now known as The Ringling, is one of the largest art reference libraries in the southeastern United States. Artwork from Europe, Asia and America has been collected, maintained and shown here. 

A mural in the entry way of the museum. 

vacation Florida Gulf Coast Ringling Circus Museum

walking the tightrope at Ringling Museum

Walking the wire. 

The Ringling Circus Museum Wagon

When visiting The Ringing, your admission ticket includes the circus and art museum. However, a separate ticket is needed for a tour of Ca’ d’Zan. Whether you choose to do the home tour or not, definitely walk the grounds including the terrace of the Ringling home. It is a beautiful view of Sarasota Bay. Plus, the details in the design of the Ringling home are stunning.  

vacation Florida Gulf Coast The Ringling CA'D Zan

Long Boat Key

Long Boat Key is approximately 60 miles from the Tampa airport along the shores of Sarasota County. Leaving the airport grounds, the beautiful views of Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico are a clear reminder that I am in Florida now. The blue shimmering water, birds gliding to and fro, and boats floating gracefully are a welcome change from the chaos of big city life. Once settled on Long Boat Key, it’s easy to feel the slower pace that naturally takes over. The beach becomes home for the day. 

vacation Gulf Coast Florida beach

Exploring St. Armand’s Circle

From people watching to dining to shopping, St. Armand’s Circle is an upscale destination for locals and tourists. With more than 130 businesses, you will find plenty of reasons to spend time wandering the stores and enjoying the environment. 

vacation Florida Gulf Coast

vacation Florida Gulf Coast

Travel Accessory Tip

Sharing my new find, BevLedge, with you as it makes those coach seats a bit more comfortable. This collapsible shelf has two cup holders and a place to store your phone (no more losing it in the seat pocket in front of you!) and slides into the window on most planes.  

trip Florida Gulf Coast Bev Ledge

A vacation to the Gulf Coast means a break from real life.  The warmth of the sun, friendliness of the people, fresh produce, delicious seafood,  views of the water that just simply hold your gaze and the ability to spend time with those that matter most to you, all in one tropical place.  

Come visit the Sunshine state and see for yourself. 

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