Last weekend, my husband and I drove to the sleepy little town of Bradenton, Florida, to visit his grandfather in the hospital. We arrived Friday night, grabbed a quick dinner at the Waffle House, and after looking high and low for cheap hotels and not finding anything last minute, we checked into the Motel 6 for the night. It was a bit of a last minute trip, one of those "hey, Poppa is sick, let's go see him this weekend" kind of things. We literally drove around the I-75 exit looking for a hotel with a vacancy sign light up when we got off the Interstate! Thank goodness for the Around Me app on the iPhone4 - that is how we found our Motel 6 and the Waffle House!
We woke up with about two hours to spare before hospital visiting hours and were happy to find a Cracker Barrel restaurant very near to our motel. After our biscuits and gravy fix, we decided to take the main road, Highway 64, all the way to the Gulf. All the way? That makes it sound like it was far...it was only 9 miles. Highway 64 goes through the small town of Bradenton, over water and into the even smaller town of Bradenton Beach, Fl. It was beautiful.
It took me a while to figure out the word I was looking for to describe this little beach town. Unassuming. That's exactly what it was. Highway 64 actually dead-ends in the parking lot of Manatee Public Beach, which is a free, local beach centered in Holmes Beach. Picture sugary, white sands, millions of shiny little clam shells and miles of crystal clear, aquamarine waters.
Being a Miami native, I don't have a lot of experience with the west coast of Florida - the Gulf Coast, as it were. Our beaches are touristy in a glaring, obnoxious way. Trash everywhere, paid parking, harsh, scratchy sand on the beaches, overpriced lounges and restaurants all along the beach, with obnoxious people tripping over your feet. This was so incredibly different.
It was what comes to mind when you think of a "sleepy beach town" - it was 100% tourists, but they were nice and relaxed. These were tourists from Canada and the Midwestern states, people eager to escape their winters and relax on the quiet beaches in the Florida sunshine. Beautiful cottages, lounge chairs out front, pink flamingos on the lawn...It was worlds apart from the glitzy tourists coming to Miami to see and be seen.
I loved it. My husband loved it. We sat down at a picnic bench beneath some shade trees (shade trees at a beach? What? Yes, it is true) and tried to relax a little. We noticed some squirrels running around and within minutes, they were running up to us and tapping our legs! My husband ran to the car to grab his snack - pistachios - and we began to feed the squirrels. They were incredibly friendly and obviously used to being fed by people on the beach. We had about five that stayed near us, each taking turns running up and taking food. We were a bit nervous, and kept our fingers tucked away, lest they be bitten - I wasn't too excited about the idea of getting a rabies shot should one of those adorable little rabies-infested squirrels bite us!
After we spent about 30 minutes feeding the squirrels (we are such dorks, we love animals and this totally made our day!), we headed to the hospital to visit my husband's sick grandfather. I won't go into too much detail, but we left later that day feeling pretty saddened by his condition.
We headed back to the beach to have lunch on the beach at Cafe on the Beach before driving back to Miami. It was the perfect way to end our trip; it was a beautiful day and between the beautiful Gulf of Mexico before us and the friendly beach-goers, our spirits were lifted before heading home. We each ordered the Turkey BLT and onion rings, and although they were expensive ($7.99 for the sandwich and $3.99 for the onion rings), they were absolutely delicious and worth it! It was honestly the best Turkey BLT I have ever had in my life. Delicious!
We left for home with plans to return to Bradenton Beach, Fl in the very near future, hopefully under happier circumstances.
Little did we know at that time that we'd be back the following weekend!
But that's another blog post...