Christmas in Tampa Bay

How was your holiday weekend?

Even though I grew up with Christmas being all hot and sunny, I became used to having a literal white Christmas since we moved to the Midwest. There’s something very romantic about swirling snowflakes outside your window while Christmas lights twinkle from every window you see. And Chicago is an undeniably Christmassy city – just walk down the Magnificent Mile and you’ll see for yourself! This Christmas the plan was to be in Chicago and have a couples’ Christmas. But then my very generous father in law stepped in and invited my husband and I to come down to Florida for Christmas with the family. The most fun part? It was a complete surprise for my mother in law!!

We rolled up on her at the airport bar to ensuing squeals of surprise and tears of happiness. And later that night my husband and I hid in a closet and jumped out to surprise my brother in law Patrick. So much fun!!

Most of my time in Florida was spent on the Miami side, experiencing South Florida and the Florida Keys. But this year my in laws moved to the Tampa Bay area, and now my trips to Florida are just as (if not more) likely to be on the other coast. And you know what? I LOVE Tampa Bay! It’s got such a different vibe from Fort Lauderdale and Miami. So much more relaxed and low key.

This was me on Christmas Eve!

What places did I love the most on this last visit? I’ll tell you!

On Christmas Eve we went to Clearwater Beach and it was lovely! Super soft sand, lots of families enjoying the afternoon and making sandcastles. And my FAVORITE part — restaurants and bars RIGHT ON THE BEACH. After a lovely stroll along the water’s edge we headed for lunch at Frenchy’s — all fresh seafood everything. Ceviche to die for. Ginormous grouper sandwiches. Oysters and peel and eat shrimp and big yummy cocktails, oh my. We had a ball, and then headed to another, more casual bar — the Palm Pavilion which was very local, chill, and fun. Mai tais were the unofficial cocktail of this holiday season, and I enjoyed quite a few there!

Christmas day was all about family time, opening presents and using Skype to catch up with friends and family who were far away. I’ll be seeing my parents soon, but it’s so reassuring to see and speak to them through Skype. I would be so much more homesick without it!

On Boxing Day we headed to St. Petersburg, which is clean, beautiful and tourist friendly. It’s a great place to visit with a family. We went to visit The Dali Museum, where the genius artwork of Salvador Dali is displayed to stunning effect in a truly remarkable building complete with glass protuberances, a spiral staircase in the middle, and a beautiful surreal garden with a labryinth in it.

It’s definitely worth a visit but I’d recommend you go on a less crowded day than right in the thick of the holiday weekend — crowds were DEEP on Boxing Day, and for an artist like Dali you want to be able to look at the art up close and also from a distance to truly appreciate the detail.

We followed the visit to the Dali museum with a delicious lunch at a tapas bar called Ceviche — notice a seafood theme? The restaurant was busy but the food was delicious — I really enjoyed the sangria, too. We ended the evening with a return to the Sponge Docks. The Sponge Docks is the Greek mecca of Tampa Bay; expect to see tons of Greek restaurants and bakeries, and of course souvenir shops selling sponges and olive oil infused soaps and body lotions. There are finds here, but the Sponge Docks is really commercial. Your best bet is to stroll along the main strip and drink in the sights, then head to Rusty Bellies for a drink on the outdoor patio and their super yummo grouper “bellie bangers.”

On our last day in Tampa Bay, we visited Honeymoon Island, a state park that’s pristine and stunning. That’s where the photo above was taken. What am I wearing?

Earrings — Steve Madden, via Macy’s on State Street in Chicago
Sunglasses — Polaroid Eyewear, via 6pm.com
Top – asymmetrical suede tunic from City Chic
Jeans — curvy fit by Eloquii — wore these every day of the trip!
Cardigan — Calvin Klein, via TJ Maxx
Purse — Charming Charlie
Flip flops — Old Navy
Bracelet — jade, and my mom gave it to me when I was 15. I’ve been wearing it ever since and literally can’t take it off.

It was a breezy, overcast day at the beach, perfect for looking for shells during a long stroll along the sand. The beach is studded with wooden benches, and each bench bears an engraved memorial to someone loved and lost. This struck me as an especially beautiful way to commemorate a loved one.

We ended our trip to Tampa Bay with a cruise through Dunedin, a cute beachy town with beaucoup boutiques, bars and restaurants. We shared an absolutely delicious last family meal together at the Dunedin Brewery, Florida’s oldest microbrewery. The fish tacos are AWESOME, and my husband loved the red ale. Good times were had, and then it was straight to the airport. Tampa Bay’s airport is large and quite lovely in terms of restaurant selection, seating, and available charging stations — I wish more airports were like Tampa Bay’s. (I’m looking at YOU, LaGuardia!)

And that was my Christmas in Tampa Bay. I’m still coming down off the sunny afterglow. How was your Christmas weekend, bellas?

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Comments

  1. bajanflchick says:

    Oh…You were in my neck of the woods, next time have them take you to Fred Howard Park in Tarpon Springs, there is a beach there too,no bars or eateries though, that’s where I was on Boxing day enjoying the tranquility of it all..Glad you enjoyed your visit to our area. Happy New Year :-)

  2. I’m so glad you had such a wonderful trip! My mother lives in the Tampa Bay area, so I knew a lot of the areas you spoke of. May you have a wonderful New Year!! 2012 is going to be AWESOME!!

  3. Wait, you were in Tampa and didn’t call me? Just kidding :-) Sounds like you had a fabulous time. It’s always great to read reviews about your city. It reminds you that you really live in a great place!

    My Christmas vacation was great too. Spent a week in the Cayman Islands to visit my sister, my brother-in-law and new niece who live there. The weather was great and the beach, particularly Smith Cove, was breathtaking.

    They have the bluest water I’ve ever seen, makes the Bahamas water look green in comparison. Other highlights were visiting the Cayman Turtle Farm where you get to pick up Sea Turtles and we went swimming with the dolphins!

    It’s bittersweet being home now, but I’m so happy we were able to spend Christmas with our family in such a beautiful place.

    Happy New Year to you and your family!

  4. My old stomping grounds. Dunedin is a wonderful little town. Great little shops.

  5. I’m glad you had fun don in our neck of the woods. You were able to hit some great spots on your visit, but you must make it to Fort DeSoto next trip. Voted America’s most beautiful beach twice! The opposite of Clearwater beach, Ft. DeSoto is very secluded. And you’ll have to catch Salsa night at Ceviche nothing better.

  6. My Christmas was wonderful!!! I wish I knew you were in town, glad to hear that you enjoyed your time in my city the Tampa Bay Area.

  7. Awwwwwww Patrice what a fantastic time y’all had and what a great place to be!! Happy New Year to you and Steve!!! LY

  8. Hey Bella, the pictures are beautiful! I do love Chicago, but am hoping that 2012 will be the year to re-locate. Which warm and sunny area is your favorite: Miami or Southern California?

  9. OMG!! Ceviche, Honeymoon Island, some of my favorite places in the Tampa area. My husband and I moved from the area about a year ago. I do sort of miss Christmas on the beach.

  10. Pictures and story very interesting and informative – I could see the family visiting Tampa. Skyping Christmas Day was so worth it! Christmas is about family so if it is only 2 or many more I think that being together not matter where ever is just icing on the cake.

    All the best to you & your readers for 2012.

  11. You look fabulous!

  12. Looks like you had an amazing time! Happy New Year!!

    I was hoping to get to FL this holiday but, alas, maybe next year!

  13. Since moving to Redington Shores (from the Chi), about 11 miles from where you spent your Christmas I can’t imagine spending another holiday in the cold.

    Glad you had a great time!

  14. It was warm here for Christmas but not as warm and as beautiful as that! Divine.

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