Tuesday, January 27, 2015

anna maria island: Mote Marine Laboratory & Clearwater Aquarium

One of the big recommendations that we got about Anna Maria Island was to "go to Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium". And they were right! Such a cool aquarium. Weston was in awe over all the fish and could have stayed there forever! It was a rainy, gloomy day, but we had so much fun!

The turtle playing in the plastic bar is actually blind. His name is Hang Tough, and he definitely is tough. He was rescued after being injured in both of his optical nerves. 

The turtle on the left is named Caleb, and is a Kemps ridley sea turtle, which is the rarest sea turtle on the planet. 

 The second aquarium we visited was Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Clearwater, FL. Our good friends were in Florida at the same time as we were, so we decided to meet up for the day there. This aquarium wasn't as large or diverse as Mote, but it was cool just the same. Especially because Winter and Hope (the dolphins from the Dolphin Tale movies!) live there! I couldn't get a picture of them because the crowds around them were pretty thick, but it was cool seeing a movie star just the same. :)

After the aquarium, we took a free trolley ride (that the kids LOVED!) to the second part of Clearwater Aquarium. It's a big warehouse with a ton of memorabilia from the Dolphin Tale movies. It was cool seeing it all, and the kids had fun playing the games.

 I'm so glad that we got to spend the day with Melissa's family! I love them all so much, and I can't wait for our kids to become best friends! :)


Monday, January 26, 2015

anna maria island: out and about on the island

As much as we loved our beach house and the gorgeous beaches of AMI (Anna Maria Island), we also had a lot of fun doing other stuff! I know that when we're planning a vacation, I love hearing about places that people went and enjoyed, so I thought I'd share some fun stuff with you. From restaurants to playgrounds... here are some of the fun stuff we did (and yummy food we ate!)!

Maria's Family Place
Maria's Family Place is actually the first place we ate at when we got to AMI, and it started our vacation off on such a great foot. Our server was so sweet, and loved doting on Weston. (he got a whole dish full of kalamata olives. Spoiled!) We found out that they were Greek, so we decided to try the gyro and greek salad - Kristin would be so proud! 

Holmes Beach Playground & Cafe
Further south on Holmes Beach from where we usually hung out, there's the AMI Beach Cafe, and a huge beach area, complete with rental chairs, volleyball nets and a park. We didn't go here during meal time, so I can't vouch for the food, but Weston sure liked the playground!

Waterfront Restaurant & Craft Bar
This was one of my favorite meals of the trip. I don't know if it was the gorgeous weather, the ocean views, the great sangria and food or awesome service, but we loved the Waterfront Restaurant. We stayed for quite a while on the patio, just enjoying ourselves, and then headed inside to check out their awesome aquarium. 

St. Armands Circle
My friend recommended St. Armands Circle as a place filled with lots of cute shops, fun people watching and yummy food, so we headed down there one day. Unfortunately, we picked one of the nicest days we were down there, which happened to be a Sunday, so it was packed, but it was a cool spot. We didn't stay too long, but we did get a smoothie from That's Fresh Organic Juice Bar. It was the purple berry smoothie, and it was so yummy! 

Coquina Beach Playground
Coquina Beach is another large public beach access point, with tons of parking, picnic tables and an awesome pirate ship playground. We stopped here on the way back from St. Armands Circle so Weston could run around for a bit, and I think he could have stayed here all day!!

Ginny's & Jane E's Island Bakery, Cafe & Store
As soon as I saw that there was a cafe with the name "Ginny" in it, I knew we had to stop in honor of my sister, Ginny's & Jane E's Island Bakery, Cafe & Store is the cutest place, filled with beachy decor, gifts and fun surprises. The breakfast is AMAZING (especially that cinnamon roll!) and there's a ton of food. Definitely recommend this place for breakfast!

Gulf Drive Cafe
Gulf Drive Cafe is a beachfront restaurant with tons of outdoor seating, live music in the evenings and a gorgeous view of the ocean and sunsets. We went for lunch, so we missed out on the music and sunsets, but the food was amazing! We tried alligator... it was surprisingly good! Weston's favorite part of this restaurant was that it was ON the beach, so after he was done eating, he could go play!

Old Salty Dog
We ate at the Old Salty Dog in Sarasota after going to Mote Aquarium (post on that is coming tomorrow!). It was a rainy day, but we were still able to enjoy the ocean in this open air restaurant. I loved the dog theme - all the sugars, salts/peppers and ketchups were in dog bowls! Weston's kids meal came in a frisbee he got to keep - so clever. The food was good and I could imagine spending a lot of time on that deck if the weather was right!

Oma's Pizza
On our last night in AMI, we decided to just order a pizza and stay at our beach house relaxing before our big travel day. I found Oma's Pizza on Urbanspoon and wish I had sooner! We picked up the pizza to go, but the yummy smells in that restaurant were amazing! The staff was so nice and friendly, I definitely would have liked to eat there!

SOOOO much food. Looking at all these pictures makes it easy to understand why I feel the need to workout now that we're back. :) It was well worth it though!


Thursday, January 22, 2015

anna maria island: hanging at our beach house.

With a family, renting a house is so much more relaxing than squeezing into a hotel room. And luckily, on Anna Maria Island, the beach houses are pretty affordable! Perfect! We had so much fun in our little home, and I was super sad to leave it!

As much as Weston loved the sandy beaches near the ocean, he also loved our private little pool. It was the perfect size for a toddler, complete with a shallow playing area. He loved sitting in the water, "jumping" into our arms in the deeper water, and sitting in the waterfall. I think he could have spent all day every day in that pool...

We were in Florida for 8 days, and it was so nice to able to just "hang out" as a family at the house, make some meals, and watch movies (we'd watch 2 movies every night after Weston went to bed! It was amazing!) Weston can only eat so much restaurant food before he's completely over it, so it was nice to have all of his favorite foods in the fridge at all times. Plus, it saves money! Bonus!!

We didn't stay at home the whole time though! We did some fun stuff... check it all out tomorrow!


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

anna maria island: the beach.

** get ready for a very picture heavy post filled with sun, sand and my happy little family! **

Anna Maria Island is a tiny little island off the coast of Florida in the Gulf of Mexico.
Both sides of the island are covered with gorgeous white sand beaches.

 The weather while we were there was around 65-70 degrees each day, which was perfect digging in the sand weather for Weston! Holmes Beach was just a block from our beach house, which made it the perfect beach to spend most of our time. We would go there in the morning to hunt for shells, play in the waves and chase birds. 

We watched the sunset on the beach most nights on Holmes Beach, and it was so peaceful. For some reason, this beach never seemed busy or hectic... it was almost like our own private beach!

One morning, we decided to venture up to the northern tip of the island, and check out Bean Point. Bean Point is the beach on the northern edge of the island, and all access points are in residential areas, making it harder to access. Because it's a smaller beach that isn't as easy to get to, it was so quiet! That was where we found our best seashells (and a couple sand dollars!).

We liked the solitude of Bean Point so much that we decided to check out a sunset there as well. Weston was a little crabby that evening, but it was a gorgeous sunset. 

These quiet moments on the beach were definitely my favorite part of the trip. Our lives are so chaotic, and to just take a moment and appreciate the amazing life we've been given was jut what I needed.

Writing this post, organizing the pictures and remembering every detail of our trip seriously made me tear up. I love our family so much, and these simple memories are so magical to me. It boggles my mind what a fun, smart and silly child Weston has turned into, and being his mommy is my proudest accomplishment. Time is going so quickly, and before I know it, Weston will be grown up and starting a family of his own, so I want to treasure every moment we have with him when he's little and his mommy and daddy are his whole world.
(sorry about the sappy mommy moment. apparently vacation recaps will do that to a mommy.)