From the archives. This snowy winter day seemed like a good time to remember a warmer, more hospitable time and place.
The Gulf of Mexico makes a great backyard, though it’s a lot different than life on the Wisconsin/Illinois border near the perpetual chill of Lake Michigan. Palm trees replaced maples. Sand, instead of grass was the new lawn. Lush tropical vegetation, instead of evergreens, still half dead from the last winter’s brutality. No mosquitoes replaced the kamikaze squadrons in my northern backyard. So, we were able to eat most of our meals on the patio, enjoying the ocean breeze. Bare feet worked better than shoes. Shirts were for dress-up occasions. Skimpy bikinis replaced yards of clothing.
For nine days we lived on a barrier island, eight miles long and about a block wide, the Intracoastal Waterway on the east, the Gulf on the west. It’s a little known gem among the vast oceanfront of Florida, usually cluttered with high rise buildings housing thousands of tourists. “Our” little island is “Old Florida,” structures over two stories are prohibited .
About two-thirds of the island is covered by amazing mansions of celebs and other people loaded with assets. The rest is divided among more modest, but still very pricey homes, and a few old-timey motels, apartments, and condos. The only other businesses on our favorite little sliver of land are a beach beach concession stands and a fishing shack. It is the unique combination of extravagant and quaint that makes it a totally charming place.
Each end of the island is accessible by a historical bridge, one is a draw bridge, the other, a rare swinging bridge, and there is a restaurant by one bridge and a couple by the other. You can walk out on the jetty at the south end and see dolphins and manatee on most any day. The jetty fishing shack is an old, cluttered, and quaint place where you can find bait and burgers, and old codgers telling colorful stories.
The other big attraction on the island is the drum circle on Wednesday and Saturday at sunset. Lots of drums. Lots of dancing. Some interesting characters, and a lot of people having fun celebrating the end of another beautiful day in paradise as the sun performs its grand finale. It is an island ritual to carry your chair and glass of wine to the shore to view the sunset, which can be full of a hue of various colors when there are a few clouds to reflect the last rays of the day.
During our stay, I loved having a few “Kenny Chesney days” (no shoes, no shirt, no problem). One day, I never wore shoes, and only put on a shirt to go to the drum circle down at the public beach.
We took in a few attractions in the area, but the very best days, were the ones we did nothing, but enjoy living in paradise.
Originally published July 2, 2014.