Hello, bellas and fellas! I’m back, and this is where I spent most of my last weekend. On the beach in the fabulous Florida Keys!

This year will mark a decade that I’ve lived in Miami, and consequently, I’ve gone on many a jaunt down to the Keys. We typically go camping in Big Pine Key — my husband’s family has been doing it as a tradition for more than a decade now — and it is always a good time. Here’s the thing. I am a lady who loves luxury. I need a bed. I need a private bathroom. I enjoy having four walls around me and a door to lock at night. I am not particularly outdoorsy, but I can be a trouper when it’s required. The benefits of camping in Big Pine versus shelling out bigger bucks for a hotel in Key West, becomes more than apparent when you add up your holiday expenses after the trip has ended.

The cons of camping —

if your tent’s far away, you have to do the 100 yard dash if you need to hit the loo in a hurry during the night. THAT SUCKS.

You tend to wake up super early, because the birds in the tree directly overhead are singing, and bright sunshine is beating down on you.

Bugs. Ick. Ouch. Where’s the Off?

I came home with a mystery rash on my arms, thighs, and elbows. No idea what that’s about.

The pros of camping —

Super affordable, and in a place like Bahia Honda state park, you can get a beachfront site for a ridiculous price. Sleeping in a tent isn’t THAT bad, if you’ve got a decent air mattress even better. And I absolutely adore our new Eureka N!ergy Family Tent. I highly recommend it to any reluctant camper.

I love Key Deer, so the chance to see them so up close is great. You REALLY aren’t supposed to feed them, but little kids always do. As I am sure I would, if I was six years old and a deer the size of a Great Dane came hungrily wandering up to me, batting its huge, adorable eyes. Awww.

There really is something magnificent about being in the great outdoors. The moon is so bright and the constellations so distinct. It’s romantic and beautiful and can be quite charming. But then, bugs. Ick. Ouch. Where’s the Off? And why do I have this frickin’ rash?

Every day is all about soaking up the sun, enjoying the beautiful weather, lying on the beach, and chillaxing to the max. Every night is about a delicious dinner, and there are so many great restaurants, fantastic beach bars, and great stores to check out throughout the Florida Keys. If you’re considering a vacation, allow me to point out my favorite things-to-do along the way.

On my way there, I discovered a fabulous, fabulous plus size swimwear outlet called Lion’s Lair Swimwear. Giant billboards promising special attention to measurements encouraged me to stop in on my way through beautiful Islamorada, and I was beyond impressed. It’s next to Burger King, at Mile Marker 82. Online, their selections are just alright. In store, it’s really impressive — a wide variety of colors and patterns and textures, with prices ranging at around $100 to $200, and there was like a 30% sale happening or something. A very friendly lady named Kim told me you can contact them and let them know if you’re looking for a leopard print tankini with DD cups, for example. They take photos to e mail to you and everything. I stpped by and bought an wide brimmed roll-up beach visor hat by Scala, which leaves my big afro puff poking out the top like I’m some sort of funky pineapple. It was super cute, cost $28, is made of 100% paper but didn’t melt when it got inevitably drenched in seawater.

You can find the nicest beaches at Bahia Honda state park. Peaceful, relatively shallow aqua waters, pale sand, and enough breeze for kite surfing, which is super fun to watch. There’s a little concession place that sells spicy, spicy Jamaican curry chicken patties. Don’t forget your sunscreen, your beach umbrella, and a big widebrimmed hat or sun visor — we don’t want you to get burned. I prefer a high SPF, and my current favorite sunblock is the Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock with SPF 30. It really just absorbs effortlessly into your skin, and protects you extremely well. For lips, Shu Uemura’s Depsea Therapy Moisture Recovery lip balm is the way to go.

No trip down to the Keys is complete without cocktails, and there are some fantastic bars to discover. You can stumble along Duval Street for the usual suspects, but be forewarned — if you’ve got kids or innocent older folks with you, you’ll probably have some ‘splaining to do — there are hoochies and drag queens and head shops and porn and raunchy teeshirts displayed in storefront windows all along the street, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. That’s what makes Duval Street, Duval Street! I advise you skip Sloppy Joe’s, Margaritaville, and Hog’s Breath, and venture off the main path to find out where the locals go. I always enjoy the Green Parrot, which is actually on the parallel-running Whitehead Street — service isn’t super great at the bar, so you might want to have a few before you stop by this Key West landmark for live music and drunken conversation with friendly strangers. Last time, we were able to enjoy the Conch Republic Independence celebration, which includes a drag race, a parade, a bar crawl (of course), and lots of wasted people dressed up as pirates and wenches.

For a more relaxing time, hit up the Southernmost Beach Cafe, which is all the way at the end of Duval Street, on the water itself. You can sip a brown sugar mojito and stare out at the lapping waves. Definitely order the coconut shrimp — it is to die for. I wish they’d serve more than four! They are so, so yummy. Across the street is the gorgeous and historic Southernmost Point Guest House, and right down the street is the actual sign for the Southernmost point in the continental USA, a great place to pose for a picture.

On the way back to Miami, we had to stop at one of our absolute favorite restaurants, the Islamorada Fish Company. It’s a nationwide chain now, but the original location in Islamorada is absolutely gorgeous. It’s right on the water so you can enjoy a great sunset, there are big tarpon fish milling about, a live steelpan player (who was keeping things authentic by playing Lord Kitchener’s The Bee’s Melody as we approached, much to my delight). And the food! Oh, the food. I had the grouper portofino — fresh grouper, blackened, topped with Key West shrimp in a brandied lobster cream sauce. OMG, amazing. There was a wedding taking place right across from us, and it occurred to me that this would be a fabulous spot for a reception. We had a blast, and the cocktails are killer. Guava margarita! Need I say more?

You know how I love a road trip soundtrack. The drive from Miami all the way to Key West is like three and a half hours long, so you need some good tunes to take you through. This time around, it was a great mix of hip hop, rock, and reggae, mostly really laid back tunes like Road Trippin’ by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Daydreaming by Lupe Fiasco, Stevie Wonder, Ben Harper, and a little Jack Johnson for good measure. All great stuff, but an outstanding musical moment was Outkast’s SpottieOttieDopalicious. It slid on while I was cruising along the Seven Mile Bridge, with the sun beaming down on aqua waters below. What a spaced-out, blissful, perfect for cruising jam. I hope it washes over your soul and soothes you today.

Go on and marinate on that for a minute. Monday’s almost behind us all, right? Right…

Farewell for now, Florida Keys — I’ll be seeing you before long, I’m sure! Bellas, have you ever been? Where’s your favorite family vacation spot?

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Wes says:
April 21, 2008, 9:50 am
Welcome back Bella- Glad you had a great time. I'm not much of an outdoorsy person at ALL but I DO love the beach!! I've never been to the Keys, although I plan on making my way down there some day soon!
Niki says:
April 21, 2008, 10:00 am
Glad you had a great time! I am looking forward to making it down to that neck of the woods in the near future, so thanks for the tips. You can't go wrong with that Outkast song--you can just ride anywhere to it--it even makes a trip to the grocery store dope as hell! LOL
tip says:
April 21, 2008, 10:13 am
Bella, a little jealous, cause I want to lay out on the beach soooo bad. I love the beach! I'm from NC so Myrtle Beach, SC is my favorite. My family have been going there since I was a baby. I love the crusing music, especially Outkast one of my favorite groups ever. I was pleasantly surprised to see Red Hot Chili Peppers on the list. They are my absolute favorite Alternative rock band, I've been a fan of their's since their Blood Sugar Sex Magic Album.
AmiJane says:
April 21, 2008, 10:22 am
Girl, I grew up in Orlando, Fl., but never made it to the Keys. You sure do make it sound heavenly. Expecially when you speak about the food. I am a food freak. I'm always down to try something new with the hopes of remixing it and incorporating it into my recipes. Thanks for the reveiw!
Danielle J says:
April 21, 2008, 11:17 am
Sounds like a lovely trip. I've always wanted to visit the Keys and after reading the good times you had, I definitely will.
nyc/caribbean ragazza says:
April 21, 2008, 11:39 am
Your trips sounds so relaxing. I haven't been camping in years...like you I also like a bed and four walls but maybe I should try it again soon.
TJ says:
April 21, 2008, 11:57 am
It really looks beautiful. Glad you had a great trip. I'm not much of a outdoors fan, either, but after seeing the fun you had, maybe I'll give in to my husband's requests to do the camping thing.
Mrs. Mckinzie says:
April 21, 2008, 12:25 pm
Hey Bella,did you forget the "Off"ha!ha!.I still remember when i went camping,and i had off ,but the bugs are so determined that they seem to eat through it,but i'm glad that you enjoyed yourself.
tanya says:
April 21, 2008, 12:49 pm
i'm glad you had a good time, bella. you have me sold on the Keys, i would love to go! i concur with mrs. mckinzie on the bug spray; i always use bug spray but they always manage to get to the places that i didn't cover like my thighs (hidden underneath my shorts) and various nether regions. the certainties in life: death, taxes, and phlebotomus flies. yuk.
1969 says:
April 21, 2008, 4:50 pm
That sounds so relaxing! Welcome back Bella. Great post....and guava margaritas? YUM.
E-Fresh says:
April 21, 2008, 8:02 pm
LOL @ "Sleeping in a tent isn’t THAT bad, if you’ve got a decent air mattress even better."
TX Girl says:
April 22, 2008, 10:15 am
Nassau Paradise Island here I come! My folks plan a trip there every Sept. in Bahamas. My plans have been set.
Mahoganydymond says:
April 23, 2008, 6:50 pm
I am glad you had a great time. I never been to the KEYS.. My family stop going on trips. We all go different places now. I always like the Vegas trip.. LOL
Winnie says:
April 28, 2008, 8:45 am
Aaaaah, that sound perfect! I'm going on a cruise in two months and reading about your trip has me READY! Thanks for the link to the great Scala visor! I just ordered one for myself....that is cool that it rolls up and fits in my bag! Glad you had fun, and welcome back!
Jennie says:
April 18, 2013, 9:07 am
Hi Patrice, My family takes an annual camping and sailing trip to the keys every year! We always stay at Bahia Honda State Park and either camp in our RV on the beach or stay in our sailboat nearby! It is my favorite vacation all year long - peace, quiet, sand, sunshine, family - who could ask for more! Glad you had an amazing trip - hope to see you soon!
Stephanie says:
April 18, 2013, 9:08 am
Great post Patrice. Thanks for the reminder. I'm booking my vacation today. Love ya!
Kisha says:
May 1, 2013, 8:40 pm
Great post! I'm traveling to Key West this summer. I didn't realize you lived in Miami, I live in Miramar. Thanks!


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