Pensacola, Florida

https://i1.wp.com/whitesandswedding.com/locations/Pensacola_Beach/pensacola-beach-sign-for-we.jpgIf you’d like a taste of the deep South with the option of escaping to pristine white sand beaches, Pensacola is the place. With just a little scratching at the surface you can uncover more than the average tourist’s experience to catch a glimpse of Pensacola’s quirks and eccentricities. Known for it’s sparkling white sands and emerald ocean, Naval Air Station, historic downtown, and famous seven room club, Pensacola is the perfect spot for a three-day weekend in May (just before the heat settles in).

Population: Around 53k

Climate: Long summers with short springs, summers, and falls. The fall and winter tend to be wet and overcast with a temperature averaging in the 50s.  The spring is mostly dry with temperatures in the 70s, perfect but short lived. By June the sweltering summer inches in with highs in the upper 80’s–but don’t be fooled by the number. It’s the humidity that makes it overwhelming. July and August bring temperatures in the mid to upper 90s, with the same sticky air. Also, once summer has set in there tends to be a sudden but short lived shower in mid-afternoon, followed by a brief relief from the intense humidity.
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Shopping:
South of Garden St. on Palafox are dozens of galleries and boutiques with the city’s best restaurants sprinkled in. In summer, there is a farmer’s market with fresh produce and crafts on Saturday mornings. One boutique worth visiting but just outside the Palafox cluster is called Scout, which has been described as a “New York boutique” specializing in designer clothing and accessories otherwise not common in the city. It is situated across the street from the Historic Crowne Plaza Hotel on Wright St at Alcaniz.
 
Getting There:
Just one hour from Mobile, and three hours to both New Orleans and Tallahassee. Located on the I-10, it is easily accessed from the East and West. Coming from the Northeast or all points in Southern Florida I-75 connects with I-10 in Tallahassee, and I-95 in Jacksonville. Approaching from the North and slightly West, I-65 meets I-10 in Mobile.
 
Where to Stay:
Depending on the time of year and what your focus is, you can opt to stay downtown or on the beach. (All downtown hotels are about 10-15 minutes drive to the beach.
 
Beach Accomodations:
Portofino Island Resort & Spa – A luxurious indulgence located on a more serene and less populated area of Pensacola Beach. Starting at around $600/night for a 2 bedroom condo with private balcony, gulf views, and access to pools, tennis, fitness center and spa. (Rates become more affordable with longer stays.)
Hilton Inn – A large and attractive complex with a first rate restaurant and a glamorous pool with a large patio and bar on the beach. Rooms from about $180/night during peak season.
Days Inn Pensacola Beachfront – Located beside the Hilton with equal access to the beach, but slightly more bare bones. Rooms start at about $140/night.
 
Downtown Acommodations:
New World Inn – Close enough to the heartbeat of culture and nightlife but far enough to be serene and overlook the Palafox Pier Yacht Harbor. This boutique hotel’s rates start at $130/night.
Historic Crowne Plaza – Chic and stylish, located downtown next to Pensacola’s Civic Center. Also conveniently close and accessible to I-10. Rates begin at $140/night.
Solé Inn and Suites – This new hotel advertises hip and modern decor with affordable rates, starting as low as $89/night. It is located very just a block from the Saturday morning Farmer’s Market and a five minute walk to downtown’s galleries, restaurants, and bars.
 
What to Do:
Memorial Day Weekend – This mega beach party lasts five days and proves to be a major event in this otherwise conservative city.
Mardi Gras – In mid-February the Mardi Gras celebrations harolds the end of the winter and welcomes the party spirit of summer.  There are events catered to children during the day and little bit of the famous New Orleans’ Mardi Gras spirit at night (though far more tame). https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/24/Pensacola_Palafox02.jpg
Theater – There are two major theaters in Pensacola: The Saenger Theater and Pensacola Little Theater. Both bring in local talent and call in performers from all over the country to create brilliant productions all year long. A small, intimate, and very unique theater called the Loblolly offers plays written by local playwrites to an audience of 35-50 people. It is located in the East Hill neighborhood above Madison’s Restaurant on 12th Avenue.
Seville Quarter – Ranking in the top 100 nightclubs in the nation, Seville is a labyrinth of seven separate bars, each with separate live entertainment or DJ’s, both indoors and outside.
Blackwater River State Park – A bit of a hike outside of Pensacola, but entirely worth the trip. It is about a 40 minute drive into Florida’s State Forest, and while it may not have the breathtaking beauty of the beaches, the kayaking, canoeing, or inner tube ride down the river is a days worth of bliss.

Where to Dine:
Jackson’s Steakhouse -In a revitalized 1860’s building is an award winning steakhouse serving the best quality ingredients artfully presented and paired with a selection of fine wines. The setting is refined and tranquil, perfect for a romantic evening or business lunch.

Global Grille -Known for it’s tapas menu, this restaurant and gallery offers a truly global menu with everything from sushi to Southern frogs legs, and somewhat shockingly, does all of it spectacularly.
 Ozones Pizza Pub Located in the basement of a huge stone building in the East Hill neighborhood, Ozone offers the best pizza in the city. Rumor has it that a hospital once stood on this property, and Ozones is actually what used to be the morgue! But don’t worry, these days there isn’t a trace of what it may have once been.
McGuire’s Irish Pub –This award winning steakhouse has an in-house brewery and a more relaxed atmosphere than Jackson’s. Beer and steak tends to be a successful combination for most trekkers, so give it a try.
The Fish House -Great Southern fare overlooking a marina, with an adjoining bar called The Deck attracting locals and tourists equally.

Pensacola presents a plethora of options for the adventurous trekker, and during your tour of Florida it’s a must-stop. Whether you’re a partier or a beach bum, adding Pensacola to your intenerary is a good move.

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Leesburg, Florida

-Contributed by Tflocker
If a mid-size city with a small town feel is what you’re looking for, Leesburg may be your spot. It’s Lake County’s oldest town and one of the hidden jewels of Florida. It’s where life slows down and people still walk down Main Street waving and saying hello.
Population:  Around 20k
Climate: Warmer climate yet still providing 4 seasons. Spring months the tempratures are generally in the upper 60’s to lower 70’s. Summer brings tempratures in the 80’s and 90’s with afternoon rain showers, Autum is much like Spring without the rains. Winters are mild with tempratures in the 50’s to 60’s and the occassional cold when we dip into the 30’s. Leesburg always seems to have a nice breeze due to its proximity to many lakes.
Shopping:  Main Street offers dozens of small mom and pop shops offering everything from antiques to a doggie bakery. Family owned resturants, the local gym and pool hall along with a brand new library offer plenty of entertainment. And the Saturday Morning Market is a must for fresh produce, breakfast, or just catching up with the locals. With so many options, there’s never a need to venture into a bigger city during your stop in Leesburg.
Getting There: Only an hour’s drive from Orlando, 2 hours from Tampa, 3 hours from Daytona, 4 hours from Tallahassee and 5 from Miami, Leesburg has access from all major points North South East or West via I95 (east coast) and I75 (west coast). Interstate I-4 links them together as does the Florida Turnpike. Leesburg is exit 285  heading southbound and exit 289 if northbound.
Where to Stay: Because Leesburg is small in area, there are multiple lodging options situated near each other. All have reasonable rates that range from $65 per night in the off-season to $120 per night during peak months.

What to Do:

  • Bikefest –  In mid April, the bikers roll into town for a 3-day stay during Bikefest. The crowd this year topped over 10,000 and offered something for everyone.  There are bandstands blaring music, delicious treats,souvenirs to buy, and bikes to drool over. It’s a must for anyone who rides.
  • Lake Griffin &  Lake Harris – From late April to September trekkers can take advantage of  good boating conditions on Lake Harris and Lake Griffin. Both have great fishing  and miles of open waters. Lake Harris has hosted the Bass National Fishing Championship several times, and Lake Griffin is a national park with full ammenities for campers.
  • Venetian Gardens – This beautiful park offers a great place to spend the day cooking out, enjoying the recreation areas,  and relaxing by Lake Harris. It offers several boat docks with launches, bathroom facilities and a pool.
  • Mote Morris House – The Mote Morris House and the Black History Museum and Library offer great indoor educational activities for the intellectual trekker.
  • Orlando – Although certainly not part of Leesburg, Orlando is worth mentioning. A short drive away, a variety of theme parks and family fun destinations are easily accessible for those needing a little excitement.

Where to Dine:

  • JJ Fin’s – Trekkers can enjoy great food, outdoor games, an old-fasioned steamboat, live music on the patio, or a game of pool with friends upstairs. The menu includes everything from burgers and steak to fresh lobster.
  • Ramshackles – Serving the best wings and beer in town, Ramshackles also has a full, reasonably priced menu and offer outdoor seating.
  • Osaka’s – Serving traditional Japanesse,Tempanaki style. Prices are midrange,  but for the amount of food you get, you can’t complain.
Although considered smaller city, Leesburg packs a surprisingly powerful punch.  Make your next trip to Florida one to remember and visit this hidden jewel. If the beauty of the lakes doesn’t lure you in, the friendliness of the people will…just watch out for those gators.
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Spartanburg, South Carolina

If Greenville isn’t enough for the wannabe Carolinian in you, Spartanburg offers a grittier addendum to your Palmetto State getaway. While not as refined or tourist-friendly as Greenville, Sparkle City offers some rewarding attractions…just don’t find yourself on the wrong side of town. The clock tower at Morgan Square is a good starting point for any trekker looking to explore Spartanburg from the inside out.

Population: 40k in the city limits, 260k in the surround metropolitan area

Climate: Comfortable. Four seasons are distinct, but weather extremes are rare.

Business: Milliken, Denny’s, Advance America, and Extended Stay Hotels all have headquarters in Spartanburg. BMW and its suppliers also play a major role in the local economy. Colleges are major employers with the University of South Carolina-Upstate, Wofford College, and Converse College all having campuses in Spartanburg.

How to Get There: Only 30 minutes by car from Greenville, Spartanburg lies between Charlotte and Atlanta, with I-85 connecting. It is also accessible from I-26 from Columbia or Asheville. By plane, GSP International is the closest airport.

Where to Stay:

  • Marriott Spartanburg at Renaissance Park – Although not the flashiest, the Spartanburg Marriott on Church St. is in the heart of the blossoming downtown area and only a stones throw from Morgan Square and all its happenings.  Rates start at $115. Take a photo tour and check out the highlights.
  • Inn on Main of Spartanburg – A grand home built in 1904, the Inn on Main offers six unique rooms and a full, hot, Southern breakfast each morning. Right on Main, trekkers are only a short walk from bars, restaurants and shopping. Rates start at $95 per night.

Cheap accommodations are definitely available–they just might not have the character or location that the downtown Marriott or Inn on Main might have. Unless you’re planning to visit during a special event, however, you might want to just forgo an overnight stay and just make it a day trek.

What to Do:

  • Music on Main – Every Thursday from April to August, Main St. and Denny’s Plaza transform into an outdoor concert venue for a variety of genres. A great way to spend a pleasant summer evening with friends or new acquaintances.
  • Carolina Panthers Training Camp – Every August, the Panthers take up residence at Wofford College, and it’s open to the public. Whether you’re a fan of the team or not, sometimes a football fix is necessary.
  • Lake Bowen – On a warm day, Lake Bowen is a great oasis for fishing, swimming, boating and picnicking. Spartanburg Water sponsors classes, tours, and other organized activities to acquaint you with the lake.
  • Walnut Grove Plantation This 1700s-era plantation is a worthwhile historical excursion for you trek crew. Located in Roebuck (just a few miles away) and situated on 550 acres of land, touring Walnut Grove allows Trekkers to step back in time and get a glimpse of life in the Revolutionary South.
  • Westgate Mall If you need to stock up on supplies, Westgate Mall probably has what you need. As one of the largest shopping centers in South Carolina, the shopper in you will enjoy strolling among the 120+ stores. I personally avoid malls at all cost (but somehow I always end up at one on Christmas Eve…), but sometimes you just need stuff.
  • Hollywild Animal Park – Located in Wellford, Hollywild is a fun time for the whole family. Guided safari rides and feeding areas let visitors get up close and personal with the critters. In December, the Holiday Lights Safari combines millions of lights with a driving tour of the park. Santa has even been known to make an appearance from time to time.
  • Miscellaneous – There are various activities throughout the year at the different outdoor locations (Red White and Boom at Barnet Park, concerts and family fun  Cleveland Park, etc.) You just have to check around before you hit the road.

Where to Dine:

  • The Beacon Every visitor to Spartanburg must eat at the Beacon. Beware–this deep fried drive-in is not for the faint of heart. Study the menu before getting in line, be prepared for shouting, and dont skimp on the sweet tea..or the Tums. I recommend the Chili Cheese A-Plenty.
  • Lime Leaf – This very reasonably priced, stylish Thai restaurant might come as a surprise to people visiting Spartanburg for the first time. All of your favorites, including some with a spicy kick are available in a very comfortable, relaxed setting. Located right downtown and perfect before a night out on the town.
  • Wade’s – Open since 1947, Wade’s is a Spartanburg favorite specializing in “Southern cooked meats and vegetables.” Definitely a good value for the hungry trekker.
  • The Tap Room at RJ Rockers – OK, so this isn’t a restaurant, but RJ Rockers is worth mentioning. As Spartanburg’s only brewery of note, this quirky establishment offers a variety of craft brews that can’t get much fresher. If you’re staying downtown, drink up and stumble back to the hotel with no worries.

Sparkle city doesn’t always sparkle, but if you time it right, a little expedition off the beaten trail can be rewarding. Go with a good attitude and relaxed expectations, and you might just be pleasantly surprised.

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Greenville, South Carolina

A once overlooked corner of the deep South, Greenville has evolved into a place to see and be seen while holding onto its small town vibe.

The city’s picturesque setting at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, between Atlanta and Charlotte, is a convenient jumping off point for other excursions (many worthy destinations are only a short drive).  The beautiful pedestrian friendly downtown area is the focal point for any traveler.

Population: 56k in the city limits, 600k in the surrounding metropolitan area

Climate: Comfortable. Four seasons are distinct, but weather extremes are rare.

Business: Michelin, Lockheed Martin, General Electric and Fluor are major economic players in the area. BMW’s North American manufacturing facility, located just miles away, has fostered sustained growth in the automotive industry.

How to Get there: Major interstates make accessing Greenville quite simple. I-85 runs directly through the city, connecting Charlotte and Atlanta. By air, Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport is convenient, but flying into a larger airport is usually cheaper.

Where to Stay:

  • Westin Poinsett – In the heart of downtown, this is the city’s flagship hotel. A regular spot for weddings and other events,you can’t beat the amenities or location. Rooms start at around $130 per night. Check out the pictures, or book a room here.
  • Hyatt Regency – Also in downtown, starting at around $160 per night. Read about the amenities. Take a virtual tour, or book a room here.
  • Pettigru Place – Voted Greenville’s best bed and breakfast. This cozy old inn in the heart of the Pettigru historic district provides unique accommodations and delicious breakfast each morning. There are only six rooms, so book in advance–around $150 per night. Book here.
  • Crowne Plaza – A little farther from the downtown area, the Crowne Plaza offers nice, clean accomodations at a reasonable rate, starting at $140 per night. Read about the amenities or book a room.
  • Greenville Hilton – Also a little outside of the downtown area, the Hilton is close to shopping in dining in the Haywood Road area. Right off of the interstate, it’s a good stop if you want to do a little further exploration. Rooms start at $130 per night. Take a virtual tour or book a room.

What to Do:

  • Artisphere Voted in the top 20 events in the Southeast, this outdoor art exhibition festival is like no other. Occurs one weekend in early May, so plan accordingly. Tickets are reasonably priced, and unique artwork  is available for purchase at any of the booths throughout downtown.
  • Bi-Lo Center Events – At Greenville’s major event venue, concerts, sporting events, and family shows are usually a safe bet for a fun time. Check out what’s coming to town.
  • Downtown Alive – During weekends from March through August, downtown Greenville transforms into an outdoor showcase for local musical artists. Read about the scheduled artists.
  • Greenville Drive – Are you a Red Sox fan? How about a pure baseball fan? If so, spring evenings at Fluor Field in the West End is your ticket. The Drive is Boston’s single A team, and they play at a miniature Fenway! Take the downtown trolley to the field for the full experience.
  • BMW Zentrum/Factory Tour – With BMW’s only North American manufacturing facility only miles away in Greer, a factory tour is definitely worth the trip. Tours run regularly during weekdays and cost only $7 ($3.50 for students).
  • Falls Park – On a nice day, a stroll in Falls Park across the Liberty Bridge can give you the full Greenville perspective. Magnificent gardens and views of the Reedy River provide the perfect setting for relaxation.

Where to Dine:

  • Wild Wing Cafe – Nights at the Wing are good for travelers looking for tasty food and good times. After trying out the Bravehearts (or maybe something a little tamer) head upstairs for the real party–drinks, live music and a fun crowd.
  • Barley’s Taproom & Pizzeria – Downtown’s premiere pool/pizza/beer joint. Quality, cheap menu and the chance to try more beers than you can count.
  • The Lazy Goat – Upscale Mediterranean fare in the middle of downtown Greenville. Centered around community dining and a relaxed, “time well wasted” atmosphere, this is the perfect chance broaden your culinary horizons.
  • Stax’s Original – Stax’s is a Greenville institution. Owned by the Stathakis family, this is a great down-home grub spot. Although it’s not downtown, take the short drive one morning for a real local experience.
  • High Cotton – For some true Southern cuisine, High Cotton looks past the deep-fried stereotype. Lowcountry favorites are prepared with an elegant flair. Reservations are needed, but it’s always a hit with out of towners and locals alike.

These are my high points, but I’m interested to here what others have to say. Comments and suggestions for other Greenville offerings are definitely encouraged!

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