We arrived via Southwest at TPA at approximately 10:30 on Saturday morning. We proceeded to pick up our luggage and then directly to the Budget Fastbreak location for our mini-van. If you read my review last year, you may remember that I went on and on about how nice the mini-van was. Suffice it to say, this vehicle was equally fetching (equipped with leather, navi, dvd, etc) and came at a bargain rate. I love Budget Car Rentals!
Since we had some time to kill before check-in, we stopped in at the Red Barn on our way to the island. I honestly found this to be a little overwhelming! I wish that I had printed a map and brought it with me. My daughter bought a pickle on a stick, and the rest of us stocked up on beautiful (and cheap!) produce for the week. Instead of staying for lunch, we proceeded to a Subway for a speedy lunch and arrived at the island by 1:30.
My parents checked in at their condo at La Costa early, and I will repeat my previous La Costa Review here: “I just wanted to report back that my parents had a wonderful experience at La Costa, and have already rebooked (for a month!) next year. Dan Talley was absolutely wonderful as a manager. He was able to accommodate them with a late check out (the day before Easter), and helped with all the details of their stay (wireless access, baking sheets, tennis racquets… everything that they needed!) The unit itself was spotless and updated and very private and quiet. It even had a private washer/dryer (I'm not sure if all units have them.) They loved the keyless entry (they had a lock code on their door) because it was so convenient not to keep track of the room keys on the beach. La Costa was fantastic, and we highly recommend the facility to other travelers.”
We then checked in at our condo next door at the Bradenton Beach Club, and headed straight to the beach. Pure bliss! Since we had a late start, we went to dinner later than we normally would (around 7pm) at the BeachHouse. The new décor was gorgeous, and we caught the sunset outside before our meal was over. I can’t count how many loaves of pineapple/coconut bread our party of 8 consumed. It was as wonderful as I had remembered it. So was the house salad! The Red Fish Creole was out of this world. The service was a bit slow, but, to be fair, the place was packed. After dinner, we dropped the kids at the condo with the family, and made the obligatory Publix trip at 9:30. We stocked up on all of the necessities, including our Publix Key Lime Pie and Blue Bell Ice Cream. Crowds were minimal at that time. It was a marvelous first day on the island.
The next morning (Sunday), we awoke to a spectacular, sunny day. We all enjoyed the extra depth of the beach, thanks to the renourishment project. The only real drawback was that our favorite snorkeling rocks by Gulf Drive Café have disappeared altogether. We tried (to no avail) to find a new favorite snorkeling spot. If anyone has any suggestions, please feel free to share. After breakfast overlooking the beach, we headed to Coquina Beach for a walk, and happened upon the Farmers Market. We had already stocked up on produce, but we did pick up some gifts to bring home, including some of that great smelling Sea Salt Scrub (love that stuff)! We did not dilly-dally for long because we wanted to get back to our beach. We spent the rest of the day soaking in the sun and warmth and beauty of the gulf. It was heavenly. In the afternoon, my SIL took the kids to our favorite ice cream spot (Cream, next to Banana Cabana). It was also every bit as wonderful as we had remembered. Later, we headed to the Bridge Street Bistro for our 6:00 reservations. I had the Coconut-Almond Crusted Mahi-Mahi with Tropical Fruit Salsa. Food and service were excellent, as always. We were treated to a partial sunset (it was beginning to cloud over) that was still breathtaking. We walked down the pier towards the end, but were disappointed to find it closed for safety issues. The dolphins put on quite a show for us, though, and we ended our visit to Bridge Street with full stomachs and smiling faces.
The next morning (Monday) the sun was shining. My older daughter went on a Deep Sea Fishing Charter with some friends from home, and the rest of us had breakfast overlooking the beach and then another walk at Coquina Beach. We took the short ride from there to check out the LBK Publix, which was quite large and lovely.
Then we had lunch at the condo, and hit the beach. My daughter caught some King Fish, so we went to Mar Vista at about 5:15, where they cooked our catch for $15pp. They had huge sides of coleslaw, hush puppies, and fries, served family style. The fish was served blackened, grilled, and fried. Also, the Gourmet Tater Tots are worth trying. All of it was outstanding. Then, we proceeded to Bean Point for a fabulous and memorable sunset.
The next morning (Tuesday), we cooked some of the Crème Brûlée French Toast from Ginny and Jane’s (yum!) and ventured to the Coquina Bay Walk (Leffis Key) for a leisurely walk and some letterboxing. During lunch back at the condo, it sprinkled a little outside (we were on the covered porch) and we spent the rest of the afternoon on the beach and the pool, even though it was overcast. It was still absolutely delightful. We then proceeded to the Rod n Reel for our beloved Blackened Grouper Sandwiches. I loved the refurbishment, including the relocation of the bar. Their menu has photos of the refurbishment process on the front. It was very windy, but did not rain on us, and we had no wait for our party of 10! We went for a visit with our friends at their house rental in Holmes Beach, and then called it a night.
The next day (Wednesday) was gorgeous and pretty much business as usual: breakfast overlooking the beach, walking at Coquina Beach, lunch overlooking the beach (including a smorgasbord of leftover goodies), and lazing about on the beach. We decided to take a night off from seafood, and ordered out from the new Fire n Stone location at Bridge Street. The personal pizzas were quite generous (11 inches) and were $8 each, including 3 toppings. The pizza was delicious and inexpensive. The sunset at the condo was stunning.
More in a minute...