Bella Vida by Letty

florida

Florida Road Trip in the Chevy Suburban 2016

s6 Collage

This summer has been a blast.  I love when my family comes down to visit and I get to show them some of the places I love and share what makes Florida so special.  Some of our stops you will recognize as popular and others are gems that are off the beaten path.  The Chevy Suburban comfortably accommodated seven passengers as we explored some of the fun unique places Florida has to offer.  With our extended family in tow, cooler with water, picnic and beach supplies in the trunk, we caught up while we hit the road.  We didn’t have to split up.  We were able to enjoy each others company the entire trip.  The Suburban is perfect for large families.

Florida is a state where it is warm year round.   If you are not used to the heat, summers can be uncomfortable.  One of my favorite features of the Suburban are cooled seats.  Not only are the driver and front passenger seats cooled but so are the second row seats.  Another feature that saved us from the blaring heat is the fact each person can adjust the air conditioning to their liking.  I know some of my family members disagree on how cold it should be.  With the ability for each person to adjust the a/c to their liking made everyone happy and we were able to cool off much quicker than other vehicles.

South Florida

Florida makes is fun and easy to plan road trips.  There are wonderful highways that will take you all across the state.  When you are in Miami be prepared for traffic.  Especially on the weekends.  The first place I wanted to share with my family was the art district of Wynwood Walls in midtown Miami.  This entire place is a canvas for artists.  Everywhere you look you will find images and secret messages.  It is a very special place with a vibe you will not find anywhere else in the world.  I come away inspired every time I visit.  My family was blown away.

The Suburban drives so smoothly and the rearview camera with image outline made parking a breeze.  If you get nervous driving in traffic the Suburban has many safety features to put you at ease; the forward collision alert, the lane keep assist, lance changer alert with side blind zone alert, rear cross traffic alert, rear vision camera and tire pressure monitor system.  You and your family can enjoy yourselves without worry.

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Beaches

Florida has no scarcity of beautiful beaches.  Take your pick from North to South and East or West coast.  There are beaches to be on the look out for celebrities like South Beach, or spend some quiet family time on the Hollywood Broadwalk or enjoy more quiet beaches where the locals hang out.  We love to picnic at the beach on weekends.

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Florida Springs

An off the beaten road trip you might not know about would be visiting a Florida Spring.   There are many beautiful, clean, clear water Springs throughout central and north Florida.  I chose to visit Wekiwa Springs in central Florida.  Only a 40 minute drive from Orlando it was the best way to cool off after visiting packed theme parks.  For only $6.00 per car we spent the entire day canoeing, picnicking and swimming.

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Everglades

Every time friends and family visit I make sure to take them to experience an Everglades sunset.  No where else in the world will you get a spectacular view like this.  As the sun begins to go down you’ll probably see a gator or five.  Hundreds of thousands of birds flock to the flora for a safe nights rest.  The adventurous will get on boat rides to explore the Everglades, the river of grass.  The night I drove my family to see an Everglades sunset we bumped into a group of people going bow fishing.  That’s were you use a bow and arrow to catch your fish.  I’m always come away learning something new on every road trip.

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So here are my must do and see when visiting Florida:

Experience art like you’ve never experienced art before at Wynwood Walls in midtown Miami.

Splash and play on one of many Florida’s clean soft sand beaches.

Cool off at one of Florida’s most beautiful natural wonders, the springs.

And finally try not to leave without viewing an Everglades sunset.  Beware and stay away from the gators.

Have you experienced a Florida sunset?

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Wekiwa Springs Florida State Park

Wekiwa springs florida state park

Some of the best natural attractions Florida has to offer are its cool refreshing springs. Springs are the point where groundwater flows out of the ground where the aquifer surface meets the surface of the earth and Florida has one of the largest concentrations of springs on earth. There are many beautiful clear freshwater springs throughout central and north Florida. I was blown away at my first visit to Rainbow Springs Florida State Park. So much so I am determined to visit more of them.

Wekiwa Collage

The springs are great for cooling down, swimming, picnicking, paddling, canoeing, camping, hiking and nature watching. The best time to visit is summertime because these bodies of water remain relatively cold, about 72 degrees year round. It is the perfect way to keep cool on a hot summer day.

wekiwacanoe

Florida Springs are a great alternative to pricey theme parks.

Wekiwa Springs is only a 40-minute drive from Orlando theme parks located in the town of Apopka. We visited during the week but if you are heading out there on a summer weekend call in advance. They do close their gates when they reach capacity. Admission is only $6.00 per vehicle. A big difference from pricey theme parks and we had just as much fun.

Wekiwa 3

Wekiwa Springs has a very large walled off swimming area unlike other springs. You are allowed to canoe, kayak, paddleboard other areas just be respectful of nature. There are alligators everywhere. In addition there are miles and miles of hiking trails. Be aware that Florida has a large black bear population. If you plan on hiking go prepared. The only hiking I did that day was on the boardwalks scattered around the swimming area. I saw raccoons and a variety of birds including a few gorgeous swallowtail kite.

If you visit during summer weekends arrive early.  We spent an entire day swimming, canoeing and exploring the trails.  They have a gift shop and small concession stand which serves snacks, burgers and hot dogs. Or you can bring your own picnic.

Have you been to Wekiwa Springs?

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Sky Zone Fort Lauderdale Coupon Indoor Trampoline Park

Sky Zone Fort Lauderdale is the ideal combination of Fun and Fitness, appropriate for almost any age or ability level.

SkyZone Fort Lauderdale Coupon

Soar high on our main court the sky is the limit, try your best trick into our foam pit and Sky Slam basketball, or challenge your friends in a thrilling trampoline-based game of Ultimate Dodgeball! Located in Pompano Beach close to I-95 and Atlantic Blvd.

My Readers receive $5 OFF OPEN JUMP OR $50 OFF BIRTHDAY PARTY. Spend $20 and receive $5 off at Sky Zone Fort Lauderdale

CLICK HERE for coupon 

 

Sky Zone Fort Lauderdale indoor trampoline parks featuring freestyle bouncing, dodgeball, fitness programs & more.

Sky Zone is the world’s first indoor trampoline park. We’re the inventors of “fun fitness” and the makers of trampolines as far as the eye can see. We give you one of the greatest workouts ever combined with awesome, healthy fun. We’ve been voted the number one “out of the box” workout and the “best party ever.” Experience WOW – the weightlessness of bouncing, flipping and landing in a pit filled with 10,000 foam cubes.

SkyZone Fort Lauderdale Coupon

My Readers receive $5 OFF OPEN JUMP OR $50 OFF BIRTHDAY PARTY. Spend $20 and receive $5 off at Sky Zone Fort Lauderdale

CLICK HERE for coupon 

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Sampling the Miami Spice Menu at Toro Toro Miami

Toro Toro Miami Spice

This week I was invited to experience the Toro Toro Miami Spice menu and it was one of the most amazing food experiences of my life. Miami Spice is a mouth-watering restaurant promotion highlighting the very best of Miami cuisine. Running from August 1st to September 30th restaurants offer three course meals featuring signature dishes by world-renowned chefs at reduced prices. It’s an affordable way to try something new.

Toro Toro is located in the elegant Intercontinental Hotel near the American Airlines arena where the Miami Heat plays. The restaurant was brought to heart of downtown Miami by acclaimed Chef Richard Sandoval. Chef Sandoval is known for combining authentic Latin ingredients with international flavor and inventive techniques to create new and unexpected cuisines such as modern and coastal Mexican, Latin Asian, Peruvian and Pan Latin. The food is an array of hot and cold plates tapas style, steaks served a la carte and savory side dishes meant for sharing plates.

Enthusiasm is contagious. When you get a sneak peak behind the scenes of a restaurant you get to experience this first hand. The passion and zeal of the staff and chefs for what they do comes across in the service and the quality and flavors of the food. My impression was that everyone there was happy to be there and really enjoyed their job. Seeing the care that was taken with the preparation of the food highlighted my eating experience.

Toro Toro Miami Spice

Upon our arrival we were taken to a private area near the kitchen for special guests and greeted with cocktails and h’ordevors. I enjoyed a very sweet Downtowner, which is a citrus, and vodka based drink garnished with orange peel. After a delicious appetizer, stuffed shallot with a buttery white sauce we were escorted to a private dining area with views of the kitchen to sample the Miami Spice menu.

We were brought course after course a large variety of plates with distinctive flavors. This is a great place to go with a group of friends to have drinks and share plates to explore and discover new favorites. Toro Toro’s Miami Spice menu is impressive for its variety.

If you enjoy meats I highly recommend ordering the generous Churrasco Platter. A selection of the best meats and cuts of picanha steak, prime ribeye, lamb chop, chorizo sausage and achiote chicken.

If you enjoy spicy food with bold flavors I recommend the Smoked Swordfish Dip. It’s a smoky spicy dish with pickled chilies, aioli and tomatoes served with plantain chips.

Toro Toro Miami Spice

If you appreciate seafood like I do Toro Toro has lots to offer. I sampled and enjoyed the freshness of the Ceviche Nikkei with tuna, avocado, ponzu, leche de tigre, cucumber and quinoa. The Chicharron de Camarones is another dish you must try especially if you love shrimp. And my favorite dish of the evening, which just melts in your mouth, was the Chipotle Miso Seabass. The fish was perfectly seasoned with sesame seeds and eel sauce. This is a great example of how Chef Sandoval combines Latin flavors with seasonings of other cultures.

For dessert I highly recommend La Bomba which is dulce de leche mousse, strawberry ice cream, almond cookie crumbles, berries served in a chocolate shell.  You will get a kick out of the way it’s served right on the table.

 

You can check out what else is on the Toro Toro Miami Spice menu by clicking here.

Have you been to Toro Toro Miami? What was your favorite dish?

 

 

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Things to do in Florida at Hollywood Beach Broadwalk

hollywood broadwalk

Here’s an insider tip for things to do in Florida.  One of my very favorite hometown hangouts is the Hollywood Broadwalk.  No, that’s not a typo. The city named the boardwalk The Hollywood Broadwalk.

Did you know there is a city in Florida named Hollywood?

Not very many people do.  It’s the complete opposite of the one out in California.  Located between Miami and Ft. Lauderdale this small beach town is very diverse receiving visitors from all over the world. It’s relaxed, laid back and family friendly.

Hollywood Boulevard ends at A1A where you can access Surf Road and the Hollywood Broadwalk. The Broadwalk stretches for about two and half miles.  On one side of the Broadwalk are seven miles of sand with the view of the gorgeous Atlantic Ocean, which changes from jade to turquoise depending on the light.  The other side of the Hollywood Broadwalk is lined with shops, cafes, ice cream shops, restaurants, hotels, inns and other businesses.

Experience South Florida the way the locals do.

Hollywood Broadwalk Collage

See

If you park at the north end at Sheridan Street there is a viewing deck where you can climb up a few stories to take in the beautiful beach view from above.

Eats

The Hollywood Broadwalk gives you the opportunity to have a seaside meal. At the north end of the Hollywood Broadwalk, just off of Sheridan Street you will find plenty of parking, shade and picnic tables.  You can use the grills or bring your own.

On the weekends there is a fresh market at the south end of the Broadwalk where you can find organic produce and drink a refreshing smoothie made from locally grown fruits and vegetables.

And in between you will find a great variety of restaurants, cafes, ice cream parlors, pizza joint and just about any type of food you’re in the mood for.

Sleep / Stay

You will find various types of accommodations along the Broadwalk from large chain hotels, small mom and pop hotels. If renting is your thing you can find anything from luxury to casual beach house.

Play

Just off of Garfield Street you can find a playground, ball courts and even an interactive dolphin fountain for the kids to splash and play.  Charnow Park features shaded seating areas and picnic pavilions.

Sand

While on the sand you’ll see all types of boats out on the water.  On weekends you might see a group of twenty small sailboats bobbing along during sail school.  At night you’ll see large cruise ships and their twinkling lights as they head deep into the ocean.  The port of Ft. Lauderdale is only about eight miles away.

Sports

The Broadwalk is always bustling with skaters, joggers and bike riders.  There are at least two places I know of where you can rent wheels.  You can pick up a racket and play ball at the ball courts off Garfield Street.

Water

In the water you can swim, float, fish. If you want to play in the water you can also rent jet skis.

Entertainment

You will find various entertainments at the different bars and restaurants. For free entertainment you can find live music performances at the band shell located off Johnson Street. The Hollywood Beach Theater hosts live music five nights a week and a variety of cultural performances just 25 steps from sand to center stage.

You can see what’s happening at the beach now via this live webcam or view a map to plan your next trip here.

Have you been to the Hollywood Broadwalk?

What was your favorite thing to do there?

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10 Fun Things to do in South Beach Miami Florida

Best Things to do in South Beach

South Beach is a neighborhood in the city of Miami Beach, Florida.  Located due east of Miami city between Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean it is known for being trendy and attracting rich, famous and beautiful people.   This place is always bustling with locals, visitors and things to do.  Sobe is high energy and attracts large crowds especially on holidays.  I would describe it as stylish, extravagant and luxurious.  At night it is the hottest club scene I’ve ever been to.  Fashion and music merge on the beach with influences from Latin and European cultures.  I wouldn’t be surprised if you bumped into a celebrity or two during your visit.

South Beach is also known as the historic Art Deco District.  A trip to Miami is not complete until you visit and experience this area for yourself. You will be transported to another time surrounded by the interesting architecture, which dates back to the 1920’s.  Everywhere you look you will find fancy details from that long ago era.  Today there are over 800 Art Deco Structures lighting up South Beach in a rainbow of neon and pastel.

What is art deco you might ask?  The Miami Design Preservation League defines art deco as:

“Art Deco was a product of new ideas and movements and found its inspirations in many distinct early 20th Century European design styles such as Cubism, French Art Deco, German Bauhaus and Expressionism, Dutch de Stijl and Amsterdam School, Vienna Secession and others.”

They offer a free historic district sites map on their site.  You can take a guided tour or do it yourself.

South Beach Miami Beach Florida

Ocean Drive

When visiting South Beach I highly recommend both driving and walking Ocean Drive.  This street has served as the backdrop of countless movies.  You will see grand hotels, interesting art deco architecture, the gorgeous beach and when the sun sets the famous neon lights come on.  There are plenty of shops, restaurants and places to stay.  Most restaurants offer outdoor seating.  A great way to do some people watching or just enjoy the ambience and beautiful weather.

Be warned shopping here is more expensive than other spots.  A mixed cocktail can easily cost over $20.00.

A few famous places on the strip are Casa Casaurina, also known as the Gianni Versace Mansion, the Clevelander, Park Central, the Tides Hotel, the Cordozo Hotel and the Waldorf Towers.

Be sure to park your car and hit the beach.  Lummus Park Beach is on the list of world’s most beautiful beaches.  On the boardwalk you can skate, bike, run or take a stroll.  There are places for the kids to play as well as places to exercise and work out.  Out on the sand you will see Miami’s iconic colorful lifeguard stands, soft white sand and gorgeous blue and jade waters.

Lincoln Road Mall South Beach

Stroll along Lincoln mall which built in 1912 as a sophisticated retail spot is also one of the county’s first outdoor malls.  Today you will find casual restaurants, fine dining, high end designers, book stores, bars, theater and a Star Bucks on every corner.  There are art galleries and artist studios which open up for tours, movie theaters, street vendors and all types of street performers.  You can spend hours here.  I suggest having a seat, it’s a great spot for people watching.  You never know what rich and famous person you might bump into.

Head to the beach.  It usually rains in the afternoon during Florida summers.  I recommend heading out early.  I was able to beat the rain on Sunday and enjoy some beach time.  This beach has vendors for just about everything including snacks.  Be sure to get a peek of the famous lifeguard stands.  No two are alike.

Walk down Ocean Drive and see many familiar historic art deco hotels.  This street appears in numerous films and television shows.  There are lots of places to pick up souvenirs.

espanola way

Visit Espanola Way an often overlooked bohemian spot for shopping, dining and art galleries.  The area was modeled after the Mediterranean villages of Spain and France and was originally built as a meeting place by Miami Beach’s wealthiest citizens.  It’s very pretty at night it’s lit up by strings of light bulbs.

If you like music check out the New World Symphony schedule.  Some performances are projected on the buildings huge wall facing the park.  On certain nights they present free outdoor movie screenings.

Visit the Fillmore Miami Beach at Jackie Gleason Theater for live entertainment, concerts, comedy tours and private events.

If you love to dance some of Miami’s most famous nightclubs are on Washington Avenue, Collins and Ocean Drive.

Best Things to do in South Florida Sunset

 

My favorite thing to do at South Beach is to try and catch the sunset.  This photo was taken on the beautiful romantic rooftop of the Tudor as the sun was setting.

You can find more things to do, news and deals by reading my specially curated Florida twitter list.

 

Have you been to South Beach?  

What was your favorite thing to do here?

 

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Things I Loved About 2014 Travel Books Movies

things i loved about 2014

Before moving forward into the adventures 2015 will bring I wanted to look back at the things that brought me joy in 2014. I’m an avid reader and movie watcher making me a diehard lover of stories. So here I’ll share my favorites. If you want to see what I’m reading you can connect with me on Goodreads. It’s what I use to keep track of all the books I read.

One thing that has helped me read more is the Overdrive app which allows you to borrow books, audio and movies from your library. My favorite feature is that is syncs up with all of my devices so I can listen while I’m driving or read while I’m waiting anywhere. I actually try to arrive early so I can have some extra reading time. It’s a wonderful boredom reliever while traveling.

Screen Shot 2015-01-01 at 1.49.26 PM

Books

All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld                        Mystery

Interesting setting and character.

 

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn     Suspense

Great storytelling.

 

The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Griffin    Mystery

Not your regular fiction it’s written as a journalists report. Great story.

 

Bully by Penelope Douglas  Romance

Perfect story pacing.

 

Instructions by Neil Gaiman                        Horror

I enjoy Gaiman’s story telling. As one of my favorite writers it’s a treat to read the specific words he choses to bring his tales to life.

 

Handbook for an Unpredictable Life: How I Survived Sister Renata and My Crazy Mother, and Still Came Out Smiling (with Great Hair) by Rosie Pérez  Memoir

An amazing true story.

 

The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller          Non Fiction

Great self help book. This is great for peeps like me who have trouble focusing.

 

Looptail: How One Company Changed the World by Reinventing Business by Bruce Poon Tip         Non Fiction / Business / Travel

Inspiring read about how this entrepreneur in the travel industry became successful.

 

Writing Irresistible Kidlit: The Ultimate Guide to Crafting Fiction for Young Adult and Middle Grade Readers by Mary Kole                   Non Fiction / Writing

One of the best books on writing I’ve ever read. I highly recommend this if you’re serious about becoming a great writer.

 

Movies

I watch the majority of films on Netflix so I watch many movies that may have been released in previous years but am just now getting around to watch. These are the movies I enjoyed the most this year and I highly recommend you add them to your must watch list if you haven’t seen them yet.

Littlerock 2010          Drama   Interesting story and characters.

 

The Motel Life 2012             Drama    Awesome story.

 

At Middleton 2013               Romantic Comedy   Loved this romantic comedy very much.

 

Aziz Ansari: Dangerously Delicious             Comedy   Cracks me up.

 

The One I Love 2014                        Sci-Fi   Great story!

 

Begin Again 2014                 Romance   Cute!

 

Sex Tape 2014                      Comedy   Lmao

 

6 Souls (Shelter) 2010         Horror   I love being creeped out.

 

Después de Lucía 2012        Mexican Drama   Heavy

 

Twice Born (Venuto al mondo) 2012         Drama / Romance   Emotional

 

Cafe de Flore (Café de Flore) 2011                        French Drama   Emotional

 

In Secret 2013          Horror   Very Edgar Allen Poe like

 

Zero Dark Thirty 2012         War Drama   Great storytelling. Study this screenplay if you want to learn how to write a good story.

 

The Punk Singer 2013         Documentary   Because punk girls rock forever!

 

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones 2014       Horror  My absolute favorite horror movie of the year. Originally creepy.

 

Disconnect 2012       Drama   Because I love heavy drama.

 

Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest 2011                       Documentary   Because I grew up with Hip Hop that was good.

 

Mud 2012      Coming of Age Thriller   Great story set in the swamps. Loved it.

 

Quotes

travel quotes

10 Quotes to Inspire You to Travel 

“Men are from Earth, women are from Earth. Deal with it.” George Carlin

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”  Plato

Travel

2015 Chevrolet Tahoe

Massachusetts

One of my favorite things is to explore new places. This summer I had an amazing road trip exploring the state of Massachusetts. I hit up Cape Cod, Plymouth, Boston, Springfield and Salem. I’ve written over a handful of posts detailing my adventures along with my best tips. There is still so much more to share with you. You will see more of the Massachusetts road trip posts in 2015.

Click here to read and see tons of photos  

 

Florida

I’m always roadtripping my home state of Florida. One of my most popular posts is a big round up with hundreds of ideas for your next trip to Florida. 

Here are some recent places and tips full of information on what to do and see.

Lincoln Road Mall South Beach

South Beach

 

Cross Collage

St. Augustine

Bridge of Lions

Cross

Fort Matanzas

Crescent Beach

Rainbow Springs Florida State Park

Central Florida

Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins

Sculptures

Rainbow Springs

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

Key Largo Round Up

The Garden District in Uptown New Orleans

One of the blogs most popular posts feature my trip to New Orleans, Louisiana.  You can expect a big fat round up post in 2015.

 

Now that you’ve read my recommendations share some of yours with me.  What where your favorite places to visit, book to read and movies to watch?

 

 

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The Courtyard Marriott South Beach #FloridaWish #Spons   

Courtyard Marriott Miami Beach South Beach

During my many travels I’ve stayed at various Marriott Hotels all throughout Florida and even Georgia.  I continue to patronize this brand of hotels because I can always rely on the cleanliness and great customer service.  As part of the Florida Wish campaign I stayed at the modern and sleek Courtyard Marriott Miami Beach South Beach.  South Beach is a trendy vacation spot where the stylish and cultured come to relax on the sand or indulge in fun and entertainment.  This hotel fits right into the South Beach ambiance.  Its decor is modern and artsy using en vogue fabrics and textures.

There is indoor and outdoor seating all along the lobby.  Being into photography I really loved seeing the framed vintage black and white photographs of South Beach history all throughout the hotel.  I thought it was a great way to balance the new while giving a nod to the history and art deco style South Beach is known for.  The lounge offers free wifi and beautiful workspaces next to a cafe style bistro.  There’s a big multi use space for casual or business to work on laptops, plug in various devices or watch television.

You know I am very active while traveling and enjoy lots of walking.  This is the main reason I would recommend this hotel is because it is smack in the middle of everything good.  A short walk east takes you to the beach, one block south takes you to Espanola Way and just north is the world famous Lincoln Street Mall.  You have fine dining, shopping and entertainment literally at its doorstep.

Another great amenity is the hotel valet service for your car.  Parking in South Beach can be tricky and expensive.  In addition there is new construction going on the roadways right now and you have to take all sorts of out of the way detours to arrive at your destination.  You can just leave your car with the hotels valet service and not have to worry.  Anything you want to do is within walking distance.

After settling in the first thing I did was head upstairs to the rooftop pool.  Wow, what a gorgeous view.  The space is designed to be a luxurious retreat for hotel guests.  There’s the pool and balconies with plush comfortable seating.  I spent a rainy afternoon up there catching up with some reading and writing.  It was so relaxing.  It was some much needed me time.

Lincoln Road Mall South Beach

After charging my batteries I was ready to hit the town for some fun.  Here are some suggestions for fun things to do.

South Beach Itinerary

August happens to be when Miami Spice takes place.  Fine restaurants around town offer three course meals featuring signature dishes created by world renowned chefs.  I was in the mood for Mexican food so I headed to Lincoln Road Mall.

Stroll along Lincoln mall which built in 1912 as a sophisticated retail spot is also one of the county’s first outdoor malls.  Today you will find casual restaurants, fine dining, high end designers, book stores, bars, theater and a Star Bucks on every corner.  There are art galleries and artist studios which open up for tours, movie theaters, street vendors and all types of street performers.  You can spend hours here.  I suggest having a seat, it’s a great spot for people watching.  You never know what rich and famous person you might bump into.

Head to the beach.  It usually rains in the afternoon during Florida summers.  I recommend heading out early.  I was able to beat the rain on Sunday and enjoy some beach time.  This beach has vendors for just about everything including snacks.  Be sure to get a peek of the famous lifeguard stands.  No two are alike.

Walk down Ocean Drive and see many familiar historic art deco hotels.  This street appears in numerous films and television shows.  There are lots of places to pick up souvenirs.

espanola way

Visit Espanola Way an often overlooked bohemian spot for shopping, dining and art galleries.  The area was modeled after the Mediterranean villages of Spain and France and was originally built as a meeting place by Miami Beach’s wealthiest citizens.  It’s very pretty at night it’s lit up by strings of light bulbs.

If you like music check out the New World Symphony schedule.  Some performances are projected on the buildings huge wall facing the park.  On certain nights they present free outdoor movie screenings.

Visit the Fillmore Miami Beach at Jackie Gleason Theater for live entertainment, concerts, comedy tours and private events.

If you love to dance some of Miami’s most famous nightclubs are on Washington Avenue, Collins and Ocean Drive.

All of these activities are within walking distance of the Courtyard Marriott Miami Beach South Beach.  You can find more things to do, news and deals by reading my specially curated Florida twitter list.

If you are traveling to Florida check out Marriott hotel deal click here.

Enter the promotional code SUM into the Corporate/Promotional code box when making your online reservation, or call 1-800-228-9290 in the US and ask for promotional code SUM.  The code is valid until October 5, 2014.

Don’t wait head on over and make your reservations today.

Sponsored post opinions mine

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Bridge of Lions in Historic St. Augustine Florida

Bridge of Lions in St. Augustine Florida

When visiting St. Augustine, the oldest US city, there’s no way you can miss the grand view of the Bridge of Lions.  The Bridge of Lions connects downtown St. Augustine to Anastasia Island and it’s most outstanding feature of course are the gorgeous pair of Medici Lions made of marble which guard the bridge.  These amazing works were created by the Italian sculptor Romanelli of Florence Italy in the mid 1920’s and donated by close friend of Henry Flagler, Dr. Andrew Anderson.  The bridge is the National Register of Historic Places and has been lovingly restored as recently as 2010 for visitors to enjoy.

I took a stroll up the bridge after dinner one early evening to enjoy the gentle warm breeze rolling off Matanzas Bay.  Don’t be intimidated, it is a very walkable bridge.  It’s not too steep and you can always stop and enjoy the view when you need to.  There is lots of traffic but there are dedicated walkways and stoplights allowing pedestrians to explore every corner of St. Augustine by foot.

el Galeon and the Nao Victoria

During my trip there were two famous Spanish pirate style Galleon Ships docked at the Bridge of Lions, el Galeon and the Nao Victoria.  What is very interesting to me is that these ships are in actual use traveling the world stopping at places like St. Augustine.  When you visit these ships you get to meet and talk to the crew which are real sailors living on board.  If you get the chance you can come aboard and explore the ship and is many exhibits and displays.

el Galeon and the Nao Victoria

On the other side of the bridge you can enjoy the view of the great fort Castillo San Marcos.  From the bridge you can even see the giant cross just beyond the fort.  You can read more about that here:   It was very peaceful watching the boats floating gracefully all along the bay.  I  enjoy taking walks especially after a very filling meal.

Bridge of Lions in Historic St. Augustine Florida

If you enjoy running, marathons or triathlons you will be happy to find out there is an annual Bridge of Lions 5k race.  This year it took place at the end of July.

I’m sure if you’ve visited the city of St. Augustine that you have seen the Bridge of Lions but have you had the chance to walk it?

 

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World’s Tallest Free Standing Cross in St. Augustine Florida

Cross in St. Augustine

The world’s tallest free standing cross can be found in St. Augustine, Florida on the historic grounds of Mission Nombre de Dios and the first Christian church in the US.  I read about it while researching my trip to St. Augustine in the roadside oddities list and was curious to see it in person.  Giant crosses are not something you see every day.

You don’t have to be religious to visit the grounds.  I’m not.  It’s a peaceful place laid out like a park with lots of shade and a winding path where every so often you will find manmade religious relics.  The path continues over a small bridge with a pond on one side and Matanzas Bay on the other leading to a cemetery and the old mission structure.  The church and gift shop are near the street and parking.  You are not required to enter either.

The stainless steel cross is located in the center of the grounds and rises 208 feet above the marshes of the Matanzas River.  It was built in 1965 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christianity and founding of the city.  It is placed where it is said the founder of St. Augustine, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés  placed a small wooden cross.  Pedro Menendez de Aviles was sent by the Spanish crown to drive out the French colonists.  Matanzas is a Spanish word that means slaughter.  These waters were named so because of the amount of soldiers killed by Menéndez and his men.  According to the NNDB database: “His letters prove him to have been a pious and high minded officer, who never imagined that he could be supposed by any honest man to have gone too far in massacring the Frenchmen, whom he regarded as pirates and heretics.”

Cross Collage

The prettiest spot here is the Chapel of the Lady of La Leche in the small cemetery under the canopy of large shade trees.  A lovingly restored building dating back to the 1700’s made of coquina stone, a natural rock formed from seashells.  It is a small Spanish mission style structure beautifully covered in bright green vines.  The chapel houses a replica statue of Our Lady of La Leche.  It is said thousands of pilgrims come to ask the statue for motherhood and other blessings.

chapel

Recent archaeological excavations have uncovered a few other coquina structures on the property.

I recommend visiting this location for a peaceful getaway from the heat and the wonderful breeze off the bay in a park like atmosphere.

Have you visited this historic place in St. Augustine?

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Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins Historic State Park

Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins

If you’re on the road exploring central Florida, Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins Historic State Park is a great place to stop stretch and picnic.  The historical site is located in Homosassa Citrus County.  I was surprised to find the site is so small you can explore it in under 15 minutes.  It was interesting to see something from so long ago survive the harsh Florida climate.  The best part for me is just across the street.  There is a very lovely place to picnic.  You will find covered picnic tables and lots of shade provided by tall moss covered trees.

About the Site

It is preserved sites like this which reveal Florida’s true history and are worthy of contemplation.  This small site was part of a 5,100 acre sugar plantation owned by US House Representative and first Jewish Senator David Levy Yulee.  (Though after his marriage he became a Christian.)  His plantation along the Homosassa River was built and maintained by slaves.  These slaves built the mansion, the mill and in addition raised sugarcane, citrus and cotton.

The steam driven mill operated in the mid 1800’s and supplied sugar products to the southern troops during the Civil War.  His mansion at the plantation became a stockpile for ammunition and supplies.  Union Naval force burned the home to the ground in 1864.  The mill escaped damage but never resumed operation.  The only things remaining today is a 40 foot limestone masonry chimney, iron gears and a cane press.  It is a remainder of the technology used in the 19th century.

Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins

About the Man

Born 1810 in St. Thomas he was sent to the US to study in private schools.  He became an attorney and headed to the Spanish South becoming one of Florida’s first pioneers.  While in office he fought for the causes of the southern states, including slavery, and he fought for Florida’s admittance to the Union.  Due to his support of the Confederacy he was prisoner at Fort Pulaski in 1865.

While his ethics are questionable his greatest accomplishment was the establishment of the Florida railroad system.  One of the reasons he believed the railroad was important was to create economic development that would lead to white immigration to the south to ease the racist fears of Africanization, having a majority black population.  Using federal land grants an extensive system of railroads was created through wilderness including a line from the Atlantic to the Gulf of Mexico.  This enabled delivery of mail and goods across the state.  And though it seems like a conflict of interest to me he later went on to become President of three Florida Railroad Companies.

In 2000 the Florida Department of State looked beyond the atrocity of being a slave owner and designated him as a Great Floridian for his works in the railroad industry.  Plaques in his honor were installed at the Fernandina Chamber of Commerce and the Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins.

Visit Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins and learn how Florida became what it is today.  It is free to visit.  A short self guided tour is made possible with the assistance of informational signs along a concrete path.

Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins

Have you visited these ruins?

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“Where there is ruin, there is hope for a treasure.” Rumi

“Ruin is a gift. Ruin is the road to transformation.” Elizabeth Gilbert

“Maybe it’s not in the perfection of life that things make sense, but in the chaos.” Rachel Van Dyken

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Fort Matanzas National Monument in St. Augustine Florida

Fort Matanzas National Monument St. Augustine, Florida

Located off AIA on Anastasia Island slightly south of downtown St. Augustine is a beautiful national park with trails, large shady trees and plenty of tables and grills for picnicking.  The main attraction here is the Fort which is located across the bay.  A short boat ride is required to get there.  Entrance is free but you must make sure to pick up your tickets at the visitors center.  It is first come, first served.  Boats leave several times a day and the park staff who is friendly and very knowledgeable love to answer questions.

Boat to Fort Matanzas

While waiting for our boat road across the bay we splashed at the sandy shore and watched an enormous amount of tiny crabs do their dance.  It was pretty funny.  I wish I had taken a video.  There are many sandbars all throughout this area making boating and other water related recreational activities the ideal.  We saw many small boats, kayaks and jet skiers too.

Once there the tour guide told us about the Fort’s history and what it was like for the first soldiers to live there.  After that you are allowed to explore on your own.  There’s even a ladder leading to the tip top of the structure if you dare climb it.

Fort Matanzas Collage

About the Fort

This fort is an American Latino heritage site preserved to reflect and engage the diverse stories and communities of American Latinos throughout American History and for future generations.  Fort Matanzas has guarded America’s oldest city since 1740.  It was built to protect and provide advance warning of attacks.  Today it is one of our most treasured national parks.

The word matanzas means slaughter.  The river, bay and fort were all named after the execution of many French Protestant soldiers by Catholic Spaniards.  The founder of St. Augustine’s Ft. Matanzas National Monument was responsible for the execution of over 250 Frenchmen.

The Spanish maintained watch and control until an attack by English forces prompted them to build Fort Matanzas.  The Spanish Crown sent money and skilled workmen and masons were recruited in Cuba. These men were Cuban convicts, Timucua, Guale, and Apalachee Indians.  The material used to build the fort is coquina, a type of stone found on Anastasia Island.  Coquina is a type of limestone formed over thousands of years from the shells of the tiny coquina clam cemented together through time and nature into a solid yet soft stone.  To make the fort as sturdy as possible the walls were built 12 to 19 feet thick.  You will notice a common architectural feature of Spanish forts throughout the Caribbean, garita also known as sentry box.  The garita is usually located atop the walls or bastions at the corners.

Have you climbed Fort Matanzas National Monument in St. Augustine?

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What to Wear to South Beach #DestinationSummer #Sponsored

South Beach

 

South Beach is a neighborhood in the city of Miami Beach, Florida.  Located due east of Miami city between Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean it is known for being trendy and attracting rich, famous and beautiful people.   This place is always bustling with locals, visitors and things to do.  Sobe is high energy and attracts large crowds especially on holidays.  I would describe it as stylish, extravagant and luxurious.  At night it is the hottest club scene I’ve ever been to.  Fashion and music merge on the beach with influences from Latin and European cultures.  I wouldn’t be surprised if you bumped into a celebrity or two during your visit.  

South Beach is also known as the historic Art Deco District.  A trip to Miami is not complete until you visit and experience this area for yourself. You will be transported to another time surrounded by the interesting architecture which dates back to the 1920’s.  Everywhere you look you will find fancy details from that long ago era.  Today there are over 800 Art Deco Structures lighting up South Beach in a rainbow of neon and pastel.

What is art deco you might ask?  The Miami Design Preservation League defines art deco as:

“Art Deco was a product of new ideas and movements and found its inspirations in many distinct early 20th Century European design styles such as Cubism, French Art Deco, German Bauhaus and Expressionism, Dutch de Stijl and Amsterdam School, Vienna Secession and others.”

They offer a free historic district sites map on their site.  You can take a guided tour or do it yourself.

Ocean Drive

When visiting South Beach I highly recommend both driving and walking Ocean Drive.  This street has served as the backdrop of countless movies.  You will see grand hotels, interesting art deco architecture, the gorgeous beach and when the sun sets the famous neon lights come on.  There are plenty of shops, restaurants and places to stay.  Most restaurants offer outdoor seating.  A great way to do some people watching or just enjoy the ambience and beautiful weather.

Be warned shopping here is more expensive than other spots.  A mixed cocktail can easily cost over $20.00.

A few famous places on the strip are Casa Casaurina, also known as the Gianni Versace Mansion, the Clevelander, Park Central, the Tides Hotel, the Cordozo Hotel and the Waldorf Towers.

Be sure to park your car and hit the beach.  Lummus Park Beach is on the list of world’s most beautiful beaches.  On the boardwalk you can skate, bike, run or take a stroll.  There are places for the kids to play as well as places to exercise and work out.  Out on the sand you will see Miami’s iconic colorful lifeguard stands, soft white sand and gorgeous blue and jade waters.

I’ve styled some fabulous clothing, shoes, makeup and accessories to give you some ideas on what to wear on your visit to South Beach.

 

SouthBeachStyleBluesGreens

What to wear to iconic South Beach.  Greens and blues.

Soaked Striped Caftan Cover-Up, Croft & Barrow® Fit For You Tummy Slimmer One-Piece Swimsuit – Women’s, SONOMA life + style® Banded Platform Wedge Sandals – Women, Candie’s® Tie-Dyed Backpack, Fantas-Eyes Rimless Aviator Sunglasses, Croft & Barrow® Simulated Crystal & Square Bead Multistrand Necklace & Drop Earring Set

SouthBeachStylePinksYellows

What to wear to iconic South Beach.  Pinks and yellows.

Soaked Tie-Dye Chiffon Sarong Cover-Up – Women’s, California Waves Crochet Monokini Swimsuit – Women’s, Mudd® Crochet Wedge Sandals – Women, La Diva Laced Scoop Shoulder Bag, Croft & Barrow® Silver Tone Bead Stretch Bracelet Set1928® Gold Tone Beaded Multistrand Necklace, Converse Pedal Round Sunglasses, David & Young Straw Striped Edge Floppy Hat

South Beach Style Rocking Studs

What to wear to South Beach rocking the studs.

Journee Collection Taffy Platform High Heels – Women, Jennifer Lopez Embellished Tee, Jennifer Lopez Skinny Ankle Jeans, Everlasting Gold 14k Gold Bead Chandelier Earrings, GS by gemma simone Gold Tone Openwork Dome Stretch Ring, LORAC Breakthrough Performance Lipstick SPF 15 Leading Lady, ELLE Cosmetics Nail Lacquer Crimson Sunset, JLove by Jennifer Lopez Eau de Parfum Spray – 1.7 oz.

 

South Beach Evening Outfit

What to wear to South Beach evening.

Speechless Sequin Chiffon Dress, Exchange by Charles David Octavia Peep-Toe Platform High Heel, Sterling Silver Black & White Diamond Pendant, Ring & Drop Earring Set, Bulova Stainless Steel Crystal Watch, Gunne Sax by Jessica McClintock Origami Flap Clutch, CARGO Eye Shadow Color: Babylon, essie Encrusted Treasures Nail Polish

I’ve styled these four fabulous looks as part of Kohl’s #DestinationSummer campaign.  Which did you like best?

Have you been to South Beach?  What’s your favorite South Beach spot?

 

This is a sponsored post. Opinions mine.

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Picnic at the Hollywood Broadwalk #DestinationSummer #Sponsored

Hollywood Broadwalk Florida

Hello readers, I have some exciting news to share with you.  Bella Vida by Letty is participating in Kohl’s road trip across America.  Every few days a new blogger from a different state shares their personal picks highlighting their favorite things at their locations and you can follow along on Pinterest.   I’ve been selected to represent the beautiful state of Florida for Kohls #DestinationSummer.  Woo to the hoo!!

There is so much to see and do in my grand state. Today I want to start by sharing one of my very favorite hometown hangouts, the Hollywood Broadwalk.  No that’s not a typo they city named the boardwalk The Hollywood Broadwalk.   Did you know there is a city in Florida named Hollywood?  Not very many people do.  It’s the complete opposite of the one out in California.  Located between Miami and Ft. Lauderdale this small beach town is very diverse receiving visitors from all over the world and is relaxed, laid back and family friendly.

Hollywood Broadwalk Collage

The Broadwalk stretches for about two and half miles.  On one side of the Broadwalk are seven miles of sand with the view of the gorgeous Atlantic ocean which changes from jade to turquoise depending on the light.  On the other are shops, cafes, ice cream shops, restaurants, hotels, inns, playgrounds, ball courts and even an interactive dolphin fountain for the kids to play.  Every weekend there is a fresh market at the south end of the Broadwalk where you can find organic produce and drink a refreshing smoothie made from locally grown fruits and vegetables.

See South Florida the way the locals do.  The Broadwalk is always bustling with skaters, joggers and bike riders.  There are at least two places I know of where you can rent wheels.  You can also rent jet skis.  In the evenings you can catch live music at the bandshell.

enjoy the sun

Shown in the photo: The Big One® Stripe Beach Towel, The Big One® Geo Dot Beach Towel, Croft & Barrow® Radial Tweed Floppy Hat, Apt. 9® Groovy Textured Round SunglassesPatriotic ”America” Decor

While on the sand you’ll see all types of boats out on the water.  On weekends you might see a group of twenty small sailboats bobbing along during sail school.  At night you’ll see large cruise ships and their twinkling lights as they head deep into the ocean.  The port of Ft. Lauderdale is only about eight miles away.  You can see what’s happening at the beach now via this live webcam or view a map to plan your next trip here

take your picnic to the sand

Shown in the photo: SONOMA outdoors™ 3-pc. Melamine Salad Bowl & Server Set, SONOMA outdoors™ Coastal Melamine Salad Plate, Bobby Flay™ Acrylic Wine Glass, SONOMA outdoors™ Trellis TableclothFood Network™ Stain-Resistant Microfiber Check Napkin, SONOMA life + style® 12 1/2-oz. Mason Jar Candle

You can tell by my posts and photos one of my favorite things to do is head to the beach.  I find it so relaxing and peaceful.  Sometimes I go by myself and run the Broadwalk but I also like to gather with friends and family there.  Sometimes it’s to celebrate an occasion and sometimes simply to spend quality time together and get in some fun.  One of our treasured gathering places is Hollywood beach.  We have grand cookouts with tons of food.  At the north end of the Hollywood Broadwalk, just off of Sheridan Street you will find plenty of parking, shade and picnic tables.  You can use the grills or bring your own.

I created a wishlist with my beach picnic essentials to help you with ideas to create your own beach picnic.

Beach Picnic Essentials

Shown in the photo: Picnic Time® Windsor Picnic Basket, Rachael Ray Expandable Potlucker, Picnic Time® Striped Patio Umbrella, Picnic Time Striped Blanket Tote, Zojirushi Ms. Bento Lunch Jar & Tote Set, SONOMA outdoors™ 8-pc. Wine & Plate Party Set, Picnic Time® Pranzo Insulated Lunch Cooler, Picnic Time® Beachcomber Beach Mat, Picnic Time Miami Dolphins Cart Cooler

Did you know there is a city named Hollywood in Florida?  Have you been?

Sponsored post. Opinions mine.

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Florida Bucket List What to See and Do

Florida Bucket ListFlorida Bucket List

Whatever type of travel experience you are looking for there is something on this Florida bucket list for you.  The state is large and has a variety of landscapes; from the swampy vegetation and wildlife of the Everglades to pristine soft sand beaches.  And just when you thought you’ve seen it all, there’s more.  You can get close to nature and lounge around having fun in the sun.   Here’s a list of things you must see and do when visiting the state of Florida.
Key Largo the Worlds Dive capitalScuba dive or snorkel in the Keys.  Some famous dive and snorkel sites off Key Largo are:  The famous bronze statue of Christ of the Abyss, Spiegel Grove Navy ship, Benwood Wreck World War II shipwreck and Bibb and Duanee US Coast Guard cutters.




Fort Matanzas National Monument St. Augustine, Florida

Visit St. Augustine the Nation’s oldest city and drink from the fountain of youth.  Ponce de Leon landed here 500 years ago.  The town has many well preserved sights for you to experience like the first forts, the first lighthouse, the oldest school house and so much more.

 
Legoland FloridaVisit a theme park.  I believe Florida is the theme park capital of the world.  There are countless parks and waterparks all around the state.  Find a  roller coaster near you.  There’s Busch Gardens, Legoland, Universal Islands of Adventure or the Disney theme parks.  A few other popular theme parks and water parks are: Miami Seaquarium, Jungle Island, Old Town, Universal Studios, Blizzard Beach, Rapids Water Park, Daytona Lagoon and Wild Waters.

 
Kayaking
Go tubing or kayaking in the beautiful clear waters of one of Central Florida’s natural springs.
Take a boat ride.
See the art deco architecture of Miami Beach.
 
Graffiti murals in WynwoodSee the graffiti murals at Wynwood Walls.
 
Hollywood Beach BroadwalkWalk, run, skate or ride your bicycle on the Broadwalk.

Drive down Ocean Drive at night to see the neon lights.
Take an airboat ride in the Everglades and real alligators in their natural wild habitat.
 
Florida Beach
 Be a beach bum and spend the day catching rays on one of the many pristine Florida beaches.  Florida’s coastline consists of 1,197 statute miles and has 663 beach miles.  In addition Florida has more than 11,000 miles of rivers, streams & waterways.

Charter a boat and go deep sea fishing.
See dolphins off the Gulf Coast.
Visit a flea market.
See manatees near Homosassa Springs or Crystal River.
Ride a swamp buggy out in Big Cypress.
Eat authentic Cuban food in Little Havana.
 
Blowing Rocks, Jupiter, FloridaSee the Blowing Rocks in Jupiter, Florida.
Take part in Pensacola’s Interstate Mullet Toss
Hike Florida’s Scenic Nature Trail 
See “real” mermaids perform an underwater ballet at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
Party like a pirate in Tampa during Gasparilla
Take a cave tour at Florida Caverns State Park
Go shelling in the seashell capital of the world Sanibel Island
Watch a game of jai-alai
Visit the JFK bomb shelter on Peanut Island

Florida Bucket List

Your turn.  What are your must see or do when in Florida?

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