It’s great to get away to Florida in the wintertime, when your poor friends are freezing up north. But what if it’s cold in Florida too? Then what do you do? First, I hope you brought your winter jacket. You never know what the weather will be like in Florida in December and January. When you pack, take a wide spectrum of clothes, from shorts and sandals to boots, a sweater and heavy socks.
This winter they’ve had some below-zero weather in Florida. That’s dangerous for the orange crop, but it doesn’t have to be deadly for your vacation. Just try to be flexible! Maybe you can’t sunbathe and swim in the ocean all day. But there are plenty of other fun things to do in Florida-not even counting Disneyworld.
Here are some places I’ve liked, and things I’ve done, on Florida’s West Coast, when the weather isn’t conducive to lying on the beach:
There are lovely places large and small in Florida where you can walk in any weather and perhaps even see some wildlife, some of the colorful birds and fish that make their homes on land or in the coastal waters. You might spot a dolphin or a manatee!
Starting north of Port Richey, where we have relatives, I can recommend Homosassa Springs and Weekie Watchee. In Port Richey itself, we were amazed to learn on this trip that a new wildlife sanctuary is being developed at the west end of state highway 52, right behind a highway packed with big box stores, malls, fast-food restaurants and traffic. We took a walk at this peaceful oasis. It’s easy to find. Just go west on 52 until it dead-ends.
Visit the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary
Pick up some brochures and attractions maps at the Florida Welcome Center as you’re sipping your free orange or grapefruit juice. A few minutes’ study of this literature will yield a wealth of places to see. On ours we found the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary, a free attraction in Indian Shores, on the coast, at 18328 Gulf Boulevard, where injured birds are taken in and cared for, then set free. You can stroll around the tiny area sandwiched between hotels and condos and see egrets and owls, woodpeckers, pelicans and more at close range. You can also walk on the lovely Gulf beach behind the sanctuary. And of course, there’s a gift shop.
Eat Local Seafood
The ocean is always beautiful, no matter what the weather. Take a drive along the coast and stop at one of the beaches there. Grab some lunch at a restaurant like Dockside Dave’s. With two convenient locations (14701 Gulf Blvd., Madeira Beach; 7141 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach), it’s the perfect casual beachside restaurant, serving such mouth-watering treats as crab cakes, shrimp, a thick pink seafood bisque, a hearty gumbo, various sandwiches including locally caught grouper and juicy roast beef, and crisp waffle fries.
As the day comes to an end, there’s no better entertainment than watching the sun set on the beach. Take some pictures. Your friends at home won’t know you were wearing gloves and a muffler when you took them!
Sightsee in Tarpon Springs You can find many other interesting attractions on the West Coast of Florida, if you just look. North of Tampa is the charming town of Tarpon Springs, a Greek fishing community. You can go out on a boat (if it’s not too cold) and see first hand how sponge fishing is done. You can eat delicious Greek food in one of the many restaurants and shop for souvenirs including, of course, a wide variety of sponges.
Enjoy St. Pete and St. Pete Beach Or go to St. Petersburg for shopping, to one of their great restaurants (fine or casual), to the Museum of Fine Arts and the Salvador Dali Museum. (Yes, that’s in Florida!). Drive across the bay to the beach and get a look at the iconic Don Caesar Hotel (“the pink hotel”). The beach is pretty here, and again, dining places and souvenir and gift shops are plentiful.
This list of things to do and see on a cold day in West Florida is by no means meant to be comprehensive; it’s just a beginning, a sampling of some of the things you can do when lying on the beach isn’t your best option. Jump in the car and keep an open mind. You’ll find things you love about Florida besides frying in the sun, and you won’t have to worry about getting a sunburn.
Watch the Sun Set on the Ocean
But do go to a Florida beach and watch the sunset. When people say, “The best things in life are free,” this is what they’re talking about.