Where the Locals Play

    By Lynn Waddell

    Escape to beaches with only Old Florida-style cottages, mom-and-pop restaurants and small motels to discover why locals love them

    Escape to beaches with only Old Florida-style cottages, mom-and-pop restaurants and small motels to discover why locals love them.

    Fido’s Playground

    There are no flashy high-rises with grand entrances or chain restaurants on Flagler Beach, just a stretch of cottage motels, locally owned restaurants, beach bars and even a self-serve car wash facing the Atlantic Ocean. Centered by a fishing pier bearing its name, the town of about 5,000 is a throwback to Florida’s simpler days. Most properties sit across Highway A1A from the waterfront, affording everyone access to the wide beach with sand like raw sugar. 

    Crowds are kept in check by the limited number of motels. The Topaz Motel/Hotel, the Whale Watch Motel and Si Como No Inn (Flagler Beach Motel & Hotel) accommodate families including the pooch at economical rates. Yes, I said pooch. One of the special things about Flagler Beach is that you can legally walk your leashed dog along the surf.

    If you prefer more luxury, leave the kids and Fido at home and relax at the Island Cottage Oceanfront Inn, Café & Spa or White Orchid Inn & Spa. These two small oceanview properties pamper guests with gourmet meals, massages and other spa services.  

    Tropical Escape

    When southwest Florida residents get an urge to thumb through paperbacks to the sound of the sea or search for fossilized shark’s teeth along the surf they head to Englewood’s Manasota Key.
    The 15-mile tropical barrier island is home to four white sand beaches. Englewood Beach is the largest and most developed, but even still, its biggest resort has only 20 cottages.

    Locals love that the key is easy on the wallet as well as the spirit.  Parking is only 75 cents an hour, and you can dine in a fish shack for less than $10.

    Overnight accommodations are quaint and homey. The Manasota Beach Club and Seafarer Beach Resort are collections of cottages and apartments with full kitchens. Families may prefer a beachfront vacation home from Surfside Realty or A Place in the Sun Vacation Rentals.

    Beach Boho

    South of St. Pete Beach’s luxurious Don CeSar Beach Resort, the road narrows and an artist shop hints of bohemia beyond. Tucked away at the end of a barrier island, Pass-a-Grille Beach is where St. Petersburg locals come to kick back. The calm Intracoastal Waterway and the rolling Gulf of Mexico wrap this eclectic community of 1920s bungalows, stately modern mansions, small hotels, artist shops and locally owned restaurants.

    Spend the afternoon in the turquoise sea where sand dollars snuggle in the soft ocean floor. If you need a little exercise, play basketball with locals in the park or try your skill on the public shuffleboard courts. In the evening, join the crowd atop the Hurricane Restaurant, and watch the sunset melt into the Gulf to the sound of soft rock and reggae.

    No matter where you stay on this slice of land, you are never more than two blocks from the water. A handful of small low-rise hotels and bed & breakfasts, including the Coconut Inn and Inn on the Beach, sits across from the white sand public beach. Island’s End offers the best of the Intracoastal and Gulf – a fishing dock and a private beach.