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Fishing

Are You Ready for This Year’s Scalloping Season?

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Throughout most of the country, the weeks leading up to the Fourth of July are filled with fireworks and cookouts. But here along the Gulf Coast, we’re also focused on one of our favorite seafood items: SCALLOPS!

That’s right! Scalloping season is right around the corner. This year, the season kicks off on Sunday, July 1 and runs all the way through Monday, September 24. And whether you enjoy eating scallops or not, spending a day catching them is one of the most exciting things you can do in Citrus County.

Scalloping Rules & Regulations

If you are planning on heading out on your own scalloping adventure this year, you will want to be aware of the rules and regulations that you are going to be expected to follow. First and foremost, anyone out scalloping on their own must obtain a Florida Saltwater Fishing License.

In addition to having a license, there is a limit to how many scallops you are allowed to harvest on any given day. Just as it has been in previous years, the limit in 2018 is two gallons of whole scallops or one pint of scallop meat per person.

There is also a maximum of 10 gallons permitted for each vessel out in the water. On top of that, the vessel you are using to scallop must leave from and return to a dock that is located within an area where scalloping is permitted.

Scheduling a Scalloping Charter

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If all of those rules and regulations are making your head spin, you are not alone. Luckily, there is another option. By scheduling a private scalloping charter with one of the many tour companies throughout Citrus County, you can enjoy harvesting your scallops without having to worry about remembering the rules.

When you go scalloping with a reputable charter company, you will be provided with all the gear and licenses you need, plus a guide who knows all of the details about how much you can harvest.

There are dozens of local tour companies that would be happy to host your next scalloping adventure, but here are just a few:

      Fun2Dive - http://www.fun2dive.com/scallop-trips/

      River Ventures - https://riverventures.rezdy.com/catalog/61542/scalloping

      Red Ed’s Adventures - http://www.homosassaredfish.com/scalloping.php

 

Shucking & Cooking Your Scallops

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After spending a fun afternoon out in the water grabbing scallops and shoving them into your mesh bag, the next step is to get them ready for dinner. But don’t worry, that process isn’t nearly as difficult as you might think.

 

If you have the benefit of being on a scalloping charter, there is a good chance that shucking your scallops is included in the price. If not, get out your knife and dig in! Here is a great video that breaks down the process for you.

https://www.saveur.com/video-how-shuck-scallop

Once you get your scallops shucked and cleaned, it’s time to figure out how to cook them! The most common way to prepare scallops is to pan fry them on each side for about a minute. Keep in mind that you are more likely to overcook them than to undercook them. So don’t panic!

While most people prefer their scallops fried in butter with a bit of their favorite seasoning, this article from Coastal Living Magazine offers up 25 unique recipes for anyone who is looking for something a bit different. The Scallop-Spinach Spread and the Scallop and Avocado Tostadas sound delicious.

www.coastalliving.com/food/kitchen-assistant/scallops-recipes

No matter how you like your scallops prepared, there is no denying that spending a day out on the boat harvesting them is one of the biggest benefits to living along The Nature Coast.

 

Make sure that you don’t let this year’s scalloping season pass you by

 without filling a few mesh bags of your own!

Weekend Getaway: Port St. Lucie

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Residents here at the Villages of Citrus Hills often start out their wish list of weekend getaways with popular Florida tourist destinations like Orlando, Daytona Beach, Miami, and Key West. But after exploring many of the most popular destinations across the state, they often find that it is the little towns in between that are the real hidden gems.

Port St. Lucie is one of those places.

Located along what is known as "The Treasure Coast," Port St. Lucie sits on the Atlantic side of Florida just north of West Palm Beach and about three hours south of Daytona Beach. If you are looking for a weekend getaway filled with affordable hotels, stunning golf courses, and delicious dining, this is the hidden gem that you have been looking for.

Where to Stay in Port St. Lucie

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Whether you are planning on golfing or not, the best place to stay in Port St. Lucie is definitely the Sheraton PGA Vacation Resort Villas. This fabulous facility will have you feeling like you are staying at a tropical resort for a price that is comparable to (and often cheaper than) the nearby Holiday Inn Express.

All of the rooms at the Sheraton are either one-bedroom or two-bedroom villas that come complete with separate living areas, kitchenettes, and even dining tables, so you will feel right at home here. The resort also offers an elegant outdoor pool, access to fishing in the St. Lucie River, and a full staff of experts who will be available to help you book your tee times at local golf courses.

What to Do in Port St. Lucie

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With over 30 beautiful golf courses to choose from, there is no beating around the bush about the fact that you are going to be bringing your clubs to Port St. Lucie. And, the PGA Courses are at the top of just about every golfer's list for a weekend round. But in addition to those championship-level PGA courses, visitors will also find places like Legacy Golf & Tennis Club and Hammock Creek Golf Club to be up to their standards.

If you happen to find time outside of golfing, we also recommend hitting the local waterways in Port St. Lucie. Whether you prefer to rent a fishing boat out on the St. Lucie River or to relax in the sand during low tide at Walton Rocks Beach, there is something so soothing about the water on a weekend getaway that will make you feel like all is right with the world.

Where to Eat in Port St. Lucie

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The culinary scene in Port St. Lucie offers selections from around the world. If you are looking for a unique dining experience, you might want to try making a reservation at Fernando's Dockside Grille for Portuguese and Mediterranean cuisine or Machu Picchu Restaurant for a Peruvian meal.

But if that international flair isn't quite your style, there are also plenty of classic American options like Buffalo Chophouse, where you will find a full range of traditional steak and seafood dishes.

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For a casual meal in a fun environment, it's hard to beat a good Irish pub, and that is precisely what you will find at Shindig Irish Restaurant & Pub. Their menu features all of the classic Irish dishes like Fish & Chips, Bangers & Mash, and Shepherd's Pie, but they also have plenty of Florida seafood options, as well as a selection of American pub food.

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And for a quick meal on the go, it doesn't get any better than Taco Dive. This self-described "hole in the wall" uses nothing but fresh ingredients to create some of the most interesting tacos you will find anywhere. The classics like steak, pork, chicken, and beef are all good here, but don't sleep on the BLT Dive Style taco that features Applewood bacon, fried egg, pimento cheese, arugula, and tomato!

We certainly don't blame you if you prefer to start your weekend getaway wish list by checking out some of Florida's best tourist hotspots. But make sure that you keep the golfers' paradise of Port St. Lucie on your list as well because this is one of the best-kept secrets in all of Florida!

 

Weekend Trip to America's Best Beach

Everyone knows that Florida's Gulf Coast has some of the most spectacular beaches in the world, but Dr. Stephen Leatherman aka “Dr. Beach” drove that point home last month when he named Siesta Beach on Siesta Key just south of Sarasota as the top beach in America this year.

Residents of the Villages of Citrus Hills will be pleased to know that the best beach in the country is located just 2.5 hours south of their community, which makes for a perfect day trip or weekend getaway. If you are looking to check out the pristine white sand and clear blue water of Siesta Beach, we have all the information you need to plan an enjoyable trip.

Where to Stay Near Siesta Beach 

 The Capri at Siesta

The Capri at Siesta

According to TripAdvisor, the number one hotel on Siesta Key is The Capri at Siesta, located right on the most beautiful beach in the country. This charming boutique hotel offers everything from simple studio rooms to suites and villas, and all of the prices are surprisingly reasonable considering the popularity of their location.  Staying at The Capri will get you right into the heart of the action without breaking the bank.

 

Another popular option located right on the beach is Tropical Beach Resorts, where you can park your car right in front of your room and then never bother to use it for the entire length of your stay. Much like The Capri, Tropical Beach Resorts gets high marks for service, friendliness, and cleanliness. It also won't cost you an arm and a leg to stay here for the weekend.

If you are thinking about spending more than a weekend in Siesta Key, you might also want to consider one of the many vacation rentals available all over the island. These often end up being a better deal if you are planning to stay for a week or more, and there are plenty of options to choose from.

 

What to Do Near Siesta Beach

As you might expect, just about everything revolves around the beautiful beaches in Siesta Key. In addition to the stunning Siesta Beach, you can also explore Crescent Beach and Turtle Beach, which are equally beautiful but often get less tourist traffic.

No matter which beach you prefer, you are never far from a parasailing adventure on Siesta Key, which is an excellent way to get a great view of the island.  Snorkeling, windsurfing, stand-up paddleboarding, jet skis, boat tours, and deep-sea fishing are also popular in the area.

There are dozens of local tour companies that offer all kinds of water activities, so just ask your hotel concierge to recommend one, and you can get right down to business.

 

If you are looking for great shopping on Siesta Key, you are definitely going to want to stop at The Gallery. Here you will find all kinds of unique gifts, clothing, and hand-made jewelry.

 

Where to Eat Near Siesta Beach

When you are spending your time relaxing on Siesta Beach, you might be tempted to grab a bite from the Siesta Sun Deck right on the beach, but there are many more options located on the northern end of the island if you are willing to stroll up the beach to Ocean Boulevard.

3.14 Pi is a local favorite for anyone looking to grab some gourmet pizza, delicious wings, and a cold craft beer. All of their pizzas are fantastic, but you can never go wrong with the 3.14 Siesta Pi or the Beach Bum Pi.

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Another casual option is the Siesta Key Oyster Bar, where you will find all of the shellfish and frozen cocktails you could ever desire. They have a great happy hour special from 3-6 pm every single day with half off oysters and crawfish boils.

One of our favorite spots for dinner on Siesta Key is The Cottage, where you will find a fantastic tapas menu featuring          excellent seafood items like Wonton Tuna Tacos, Black Mussels, and Peruvian Ceviche.

 

Not only is Siesta Beach the best beach in the country, but it is also located on a beautiful island, filled with great places to stay, and surrounded by excellent local restaurants. If you are looking for a reason to start planning your next getaway, this is it! See you at the beach!

Tips and Tricks for a Successful Scallop Season in 2017

Another Crystal River summer is upon us, and that means that we are right around the corner from another scallop season. Chasing down bay scallops is one of the most popular summer pastimes here in Citrus County, and we have covered the topic multiple times before with details on the rules of scalloping

 https://www.citrushills.com/blog/florida-scalloping-season-is-here

and some of the popular local scallop charter companies.

https://www.citrushills.com/blog/e58ymh4fit01rhy53qk5vonaoc40q9

This year, scallop season kicks off on July 1 and runs through September 24. If you are an experienced scallop hunter, that is pretty much all you need to know. But if you are new to this kind of adventure, or would like to improve your game, we have put together a few tips and tricks that will help you impress your fellow scallopers over the course of the summer.

Understand the Rules

The first trick to being a great scallop hunter is knowing exactly what the rules and regulations are when you are out collecting these delicious shellfish. First and foremost, you must obtain a Florida Saltwater Fishing License prior to collecting any scallops, unless you go scalloping with one of our local fishing charter companies.

You also need to be aware that there is a daily limit on how many scallops you can collect. This year's scallopers are restricted to only two gallons of scallops in their shells, or one pint of actual scallop meat. There is no restriction on the size of the scallops, but the limits on volume are very precise.

Bring the Right Equipment

Most commercial tools are not permitted for recreational scalloping. The preferred container for most scallop hunters is a simple mesh bag, which you can find at a number of different retailers throughout Citrus County. You will also want to have diving equipment that you are comfortable working with in shallow waters.

If you don't have your own equipment, you might consider signing up for a scallop excursion with one of the local charter companies that provide all of the equipment you will need.

Know Where to Look

 

If you have the benefit of heading out with a local charter company, you will likely be working with an experienced guide who will take you right to the best scallop locations.

However, if you are working on your own, you should know that scallops prefer to make their homes in grassy areas that range from four to eight feet of water.

 

 

Practice Your Diving

Whether you are navigating a boat or diving yourself, you should always be alert to diving flags. These are your best clue to avoid running into other divers in more ways than one. In addition to dive flags, you should also make every effort to practice diving prior to heading out looking for scallops.

Diving gear can take some time to get used to, and you don't want to waste any time on your scalloping adventure figuring out how to best fit your new mask.

Study Scallop Shucking

If you are going scalloping on your own, you are going to have to shuck them yourself. This is not difficult once you learn how, but learning can be a difficult task if you don't have the right teacher.

Spend a few minutes before your trip refreshing yourself on the basics so that you don't end up with a big bag of scallops and no clue how to shuck them.

Once again, if you are heading out with a charter tour, your guide will likely take care of the shucking for you. But it never hurts to have a little background information before you hit the water!

No matter how much scalloping you plan to do this summer, having a solid base of knowledge before you start will make the entire experience more enjoyable.

Once you have the basics down, the only thing left is to learn how to make a good seasoning and locating a great cast iron skillet to cook the day’s haul!

Weekend Trip: Fort Lauderdale

Known for both its beaches and its shopping, Fort Lauderdale is a popular vacation destination for people from all over the country. With inexpensive flights from almost everywhere in the country, the area has built itself into a magnet for tourists, which also makes it a very appealing weekend getaway destination for residents of the Villages of Citrus Hills.

Residents can get to Fort Lauderdale by traveling through Orlando, and then heading further east as they move south, eventually passing through Port St. Lucie, West Palm Beach, and Boca Raton. The total trip from the Villages of Citrus Hills to Fort Lauderdale is just a little over four hours, which is a perfect distance for a weekend getaway that is just far enough away to get you out of your day-to-day routine.

Where to Stay in Fort Lauderdale

One of the things that makes Fort Lauderdale such a great weekend getaway destination is that there is no shortage of fantastic hotels to choose from. If elegant East Coast luxury is what you are looking for, The Pillars Hotel is the perfect choice for your trip. Here you will find all of the attention to detail that you expect from one of the major hotel chains in the package of a small boutique operation.

 The Pillars Hotel

The Pillars Hotel

Another excellent beachfront getaway is Sonesta Fort Lauderdale Beach, which is located right at the center of just about everything you might want to do in Fort Lauderdale. Not only are there plenty of eating and drinking options right on the hotel property, but it is also completely surrounded by popular local hotspots.

The most popular hotel for value shoppers is almost always The Premiere Hotel. Just about everything here is recently updated…except for the prices. So, if you are looking to visit Fort Lauderdale on a budget, this is the way to do it.

Things to do in Fort Lauderdale

Everything in Fort Lauderdale is focused on the water, and the activities you will stumble onto here are no different. The most popular activity in town is simply kicking back on the beach, but you will also find plenty of other interesting water-based ideas like hopping on local cruises, boat tours, and water taxis.

When you are ready for a break from the beach, Las Olas Boulevard offers world-class shopping that ranges from high-end fashion to hand-made crafts. And you can find a lot more than just shopping along Las Olas. This area is also home to a number of fabulous art galleries, as well as plenty of spectacular bars and restaurants.

Still looking for more to do in Fort Lauderdale? You might want to check out some of the local museums like the Bonnet House Museum, the Stranahan House, the Fort Lauderdale Antique Car Museum, or the Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale Museum.

Places to Eat in Fort Lauderdale

If you are serious about sticking to a reasonable budget over the course of your weekend getaway, you won't have much trouble doing that with all of the extremely affordable dining throughout Fort Lauderdale.

Crepe lovers will definitely want to spend a morning at Voo La Voo Cafe, and anyone who likes sushi or Thai food will surely want to stop by Sushi One Take Out and Thai on the Beach. Another discount option for a great dinner that will surely fill you up is Dolce Salato Pizza & Gelato.

If the budget does permit you to splurge on a special dinner, restaurants like Cafe Seville and Canyon provide the perfect setting for the type of meal that will help you remember your weekend in Fort Lauderdale for years to come.

 Cafe Seville

Cafe Seville

Since Fort Lauderdale is such a popular vacation destination, there is plenty to see and do to keep you busy for multiple weekend getaways. And with the great prices on hotels and restaurants that you will find here, you can make it a point to spend a weekend in Fort Lauderdale on a regular basis!

Weekend Getaway: Port Charlotte

Located about halfway between Sarasota and Fort Myers, Port Charlotte is the perfect Gulf Coast destination for residents of the Villages of Citrus Hills who are looking to venture a little further south than Tampa for their next getaway.

Traveling by car takes about three hours, which makes it just far enough away to feel like a vacation, but still close enough that you don't spend your whole weekend traveling.

Let's check out some of the best places to stay, things to do, and places to eat that you will find in Port Charlotte!

Places to Stay in Port Charlotte

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One of the biggest appeals about a weekend in Port Charlotte is that visitors have some amazing bed and breakfast accommodations to choose from. The Banana Bay Waterfront Motel is a local favorite that offers an Old Florida feel situated right on the bay. If renting kayaks and strolling along the docks is your idea of a relaxing weekend, this is a great location.

Another popular B&B is the Tropical Paradise Bed & Breakfast, where hosts Cliff and Joanne go out of their way to make sure that every detail is taken care of. Their home is located on a beautiful lot that features a covered pool and access to the canal.

If your preference is to stay at one of the chain hotels, there are also quite a few of those to pick from in Port Charlotte. One of the highest rated hotels in town is the Sleep Inn & Suites Port Charlotte, where you will find a gorgeous outdoor pool and all of the other amenities you would expect from a big brand hotel.

Things to Do in Port Charlotte

Once you iron out the details of where you are going to stay in Port Charlotte, the next step is to figure out exactly what you are going to be doing during your weekend getaway. For many people, that choice is as simple as enjoying the water…and there are a few different ways to do that in Port Charlotte. Depending on where you stay, you will likely have access to a number of water sports, fishing piers, and even some boating experiences.

Another relaxing way to enjoy the water in Port Charlotte is to spend a day at Port Charlotte Beach Park. Here you can stroll on the boardwalk, collect a wide range of shells, or jump right into the water! The park is also a perfect place to have an evening picnic while watching the sunset.

Since Port Charlotte is the spring training home of the Tampa Bay Rays, many residents of the Villages of Citrus Hills plan their visits during the early spring months. However, Port Charlotte is also home to the Port Charlotte Stone Crabs, which is a minor-league affiliate of the Rays. That means that you can catch a game here throughout the summer, and minor league baseball games are always fun to see in person!

Places to Eat in Port Charlotte

Assuming that you are going to be staying at one of the local bed and breakfasts, you probably won't have to worry about finding a good spot for coffee and breakfast in the morning. But when the time for lunch rolls around, The Philadelphian should be the first local restaurant on your list. Here you will find authentic Philadelphia-style cheesesteaks that will absolutely blow your mind.

If you are thinking about heading over to Port Charlotte Beach Park for a sunset picnic but don't feel like packing dinner, grabbing a delicious pie from Pioneers Pizza is always a solid option. We recommend going with either the Formaggio or the Meat Lovers specials!

Every weekend getaway needs at least one fancy dinner, and the place for that in Port Charlotte is JD's Jazz Club & Fine Dining. Here you will find a first-class fine dining menu that is accompanied perfectly by live music and delicious cocktails. The only question here is whether you will get more enjoyment from the food or the music!

If you are looking for a great place to spend a relaxing weekend, Port Charlotte along the bay, is filled with waterfront activities and delicious dining.

 

Weekend Getaway: The Upper and Middle Keys

There’s no place like home here at the Villages of Citrus Hills, but it’s nice to get away every now and then, and when the time comes there is nothing quite like a getaway to the Florida Keys.

While we have already covered all kinds of great places to stay, things to do, and outstanding restaurants in Key Largo and Key West, there are also dozens of spots in between those destinations that also make for a great weekend getaway.

So, let's explore the Upper and Middle Keys.

Where to Stay

Islamorada is one of the most popular places to stop for many tourists making the journey from the mainland all the way down to Key West, but it is also a destination in and of itself. Here you will find the Postcard Inn Beach Resort & Marina, which offers every bit of the paradise you would imagine exists in the Keys. With all of the resort amenities offered at the Postcard, this is a one-stop shop for a weekend getaway.

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If you are looking for a more secluded getaway, Duck Key could be the perfect destination for you. The place to stay here is the Hawks Cay Resort, which offers standard hotel-style rooms, as well as more private villas.

If being as close to the beach as possible is important to you, then the Rainbow Bend Fishing Resort in Marathon should be on your short list. This is also the place to stay if you are looking to spend the weekend fishing, which is one of the many ways to enjoy yourself in the Keys.

Things to Do

Craft beer lovers will be thrilled to know that there are two different breweries located right in Islamorada. Both the Florida Keys Brewery and the Islamorada Beer Company Brewery and Tasting Room offer up a fantastic selection of local beer in a traditional Florida Keys atmosphere.

Another fun way to spend a weekend in the Keys is to get right into the water. In Duck Key, you will find swimming with dolphins, scuba diving, and chartering your own fishing expedition. No matter what you are looking to do on the water, there are plenty of choices in the Keys.

One of the most popular tourist attractions in Marathon for animal lovers is The Turtle Hospital.  They have been rehabbing injured sea turtles and educating the public about them since 1986, and it is consistently recommended among the top places for animal enthusiasts to visit in all of the Keys.

Places to Eat

When you are heading out to eat in the Keys, the atmosphere is almost as important as the food. One of the best places to find that environment in Islamorada is the Islamorada Fish Company, where you will find a massive outdoor restaurant with a menu full of great seafood. We recommend trying the Grouper Reuben!

Whether you are staying there or not, the place to eat in Duck Key is Alma, which is located on the property at Hawks Cay Resort. This high-end restaurant divides its menu evenly between local seafood dishes and excellent cuts of meat, and everything is delicious.

In addition to all of the excellent seafood, you will also find plenty of Cuban restaurants throughout the Keys. One of our favorite spots is La Nina Restaurant in Marathon. It might not look like much from the outside, but this little restaurant will blow you away with their Cuban pork and beef dishes.

You can find ways to spend an entire weekend exploring any single town in the Upper and Middle Keys. You can also have a blast cruising from key to key in search of specific destinations. Whatever your idea of a great weekend might be, you can make it a reality in the Florida Keys.

Weekend Getaway - Marco Island

Located approximately four hours south of the Villages of Citrus Hills, Marco Island is one of the most peaceful and romantic destinations in Florida.

This little island offers fabulous resorts as well as quiet little hideaways, beautiful beaches and exciting Gulf Coast fishing, and some of the most delicious restaurants you will find anywhere. It’s the perfect getaway location for anyone looking to spend a romantic weekend at the beach!

Places to Stay on Marco Island

When you are talking about places to stay on Marco Island, the conversation almost always has to start with the JW Marriot Marco Island Beach Resort. This vacation paradise offers the complete first class experience of Marco Island. They have their own private white sand beach, two private 18-hole golf courses, a fabulous spa, three swimming pools, 10 restaurants, and beautiful state-of-the-art guest rooms. Everything you need for a relaxing weekend getaway will be right at your fingertips here.

Another first-class choice is the Marco Beach Ocean Resort, which is a Mediterranean-themed resort that boasts a wide range of unique amenities like smoothies on the beach and the ringing of “the captain’s bell” at sunset. The hotel also offers an excellent concierge staff that will be happy to arrange dinner reservations at local restaurants or tee times at some of the best golf courses in all of Florida.

If something a little bit simpler is what you are looking for, the friendly people at The Boat House Motel are consistently ranked as one of the very best places to stay on Marco Island according to TripAdvisor. Staying at The Boat House Motel feels more like staying with old friends.

Things to do on Marco Island

Whether you plan to stay at one of the larger resorts or rent a quiet cottage, getting as close to the beach as possible is the name of the game at Marco Island, so spending time kicking back on those beautiful white sand beaches is definitely the most popular thing to do on the island. One of the best beaches around is South Marco Beach, which is a favorite for shelling and strolling along the waterfront.

Another popular way to spend your time in Marco Island is to head out on the open sea for some big- time fishing! There are dozens of local fishing charters that operate just about every day of the week, so ask your hotel staff to recommend their favorite, and you’ll be reeling in a monster in no time at all.

If you are more of a landlubber, the Marco Island Historical Museum is a great way to spend some time away from the water. This cool little museum is free to the public and offers all kinds of interesting insight into the history of the island.

Places to Eat on Marco Island

For a fairly small island, Marco Island is absolutely packed with amazing places to eat! Your first stop on at least one of the mornings you spend there should be Doreen’s Cup of Joe. This is one of the most unique and interesting coffee shops you will ever find. The breakfast menu is delicious, and the coffee is the best you will find north of Cuba.

You are also going to want to stop at The Italian Market and Deli for an afternoon treat. Both the pizza and the subs here are out of this world, and the personality is pretty outstanding too. Owners Jimmy and Susan Barney bring all of the Italian flair of a Brooklyn deli to the island, and they really don’t miss a beat!

 

 

Hidden in a little strip mall is where you will find one of the classiest restaurants on the island. Finn Bistro specializes in fresh fish that is cooked to perfection and plated in a way that makes you love the dish before you taste it. No matter what happens to be on the menu during your visit, you can be sure that it will taste terrific.

No matter what type of lodging, activities, or dining you are looking for, there really is something for everyone here on Marco Island. That’s why this is one of our top weekend getaways for anyone here at the Villages of Citrus Hills.

5 Weekend Getaways in Greater Florida

One of the best things about living here at the Villages of Citrus Hills is that all of the amazing tourist destinations throughout the state of Florida are just a stone’s throw away. That means that our residents have the luxury of being able to head out on a weekend getaway to all of those famous Florida destinations pretty much any time they like.  

Of course, there are so many fantastic destinations across the state that it can actually be hard to choose which one to visit first. For that reason, we put together this list of five weekend getaways that should definitely be on your list!

Key West 

If you chose the Gulf Coast because you prefer the calmer pace of life compared to the Atlantic Coast, then you will like the laid-back feel of beautiful Key West. This amazing little town is one of the fun spots in Florida, and you can get there by flying into their airport, taking a jet boat from the mainland, or driving down US Highway 1.  

Once you’re in Key West, everything revolves around Duval Street. This is where you will find plenty of shopping, dining, and more bars than you could possibly visit. There are also some really great local tours like the Hemingway Estate, as well as the beautiful Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park and the ultimate photo op spot at the Southernmost Point!

 For more information on this location please click on the link below.

http://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/cities/key-west.html

Miami - South Beach 

If exciting nightlife is your cup of tea, then a weekend in South Beach is just what the doctor ordered! Pick any of the fabulous hotels along the famous A1A and you will be set to enjoy all that this vibrant town has to offer. 

While you are in Miami, make sure to visit the iconic Joe’s Stone Crab for some of the best stone crab claws you’ll find anywhere. You can dress up and eat in their restaurant, or go super casual and enjoy the same food over on their take-out side.

For more information on this location please click on the link below.

http://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/cities/miami-beach.html

Naples 

Keeping our focus in the southern part of the state, if relaxing on the water is more your speed, then Naples will appeal to you. This is the ultimate destination for visitors who enjoy a calm and upscale atmosphere that is also accompanied by some spectacular high-end shopping.

 For more information on this location please click on the link below.

http://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/cities/naples.html

Panama City Beach 

Moving up north into the panhandle area, Panama City Beach has a reputation as a spring break destination, but it is also a fabulous spot for residents of the Villages of Citrus Hills who are looking to get away for a weekend.  

This little gem features 27 miles of gorgeous white sand beaches, along with world-class golf facilities, two excellent state parks, and enough delicious restaurants to ensure that you never run out of options.

 For more information on this location please click on the link below.

http://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/cities/panama-city-beach.html

Daytona Beach 

Another popular destination that certainly ranks at the top of the list of any NASCAR fan is the home of the Daytona 500 in Daytona Beach. Here you will find the amazing Daytona International Motor Speedway and the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America. There are also many other great attractions that make a weekend in Daytona Beach fun for everyone even when it isn’t race week.

For more information on this location please click on the link below.

http://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/cities/daytona-beach.html

 

Whether you are looking for exciting nightlife or beachfront relaxation, there is something for everyone to be found on a weekend getaway somewhere in the state of Florida. So, next time you start feeling the urge to get away, take out your Florida map and book the next trip!

Withlacoochee State Forest Just Minutes From the Villages of Citrus Hills

Located just a short drive from the Villages of Citrus Hills is Withlacoochee State Forest, the third largest forest in Florida. The Citrus Tract is 41,222 acres and provides a tremendous number of opportunities for Citrus Hills residents to get out and enjoy their wonderful natural environment.

Like most state parks and forests, Withlacoochee State Forest has all the amenities that you would expect to find; camping, fishing, boating, and hiking. But in addition to those activities, there are also areas devoted to off-road motorcycle and ATV riding and horseback riding.

Here are just a few of the highlights of Withlacoochee State Forest and Citrus County that make living here a great outdoor adventure!

Camping & Boating 

There are many camping locations throughout Withlacoochee State Forest. Some of the most popular areas are Holder Mine Recreation Area, Mutual Mine Recreation Area, and Tillis Hill Recreation Area.

There are also many locations throughout the forest that are devoted to canoeing. The Withlacoochee South River, which flows directly through the forest, contains many points for canoes to enter or exit. Depending on the start and stop points, canoe enthusiasts can plan trips ranging from 3 miles all the way up to 14.4 miles.

Croom Motorcycle Area

The Croom Motorcycle Area at Withlacoochee State Forest is a haven for dirt bike and ATV riders. This 2600-acre facility offers courses and trails for riders of all skill levels. There is also a training area for riders who are just getting their feet wet. More experienced riders will enjoy the rougher trails that have been left as natural as possible.

The motorcycle park is open every day from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. Riders who are looking to stay near the park for an extended period of time will be delighted to find that there is a campground here as well. 

Withlacoochee State Trail

The Withlacoochee State Trail is currently the longest rail-trail in the state of Florida. The trail was originally part of Henry Plant’s railroad that ran from Croom to Inverness. Over the years, the rail line was part of the Atlantic Coast Line, the Seaboard Coast Line, and CSX Transportation. In 1989, CSX Transportation sold the line to the state of Florida so that it could be paved as part of their Rails to Trails program.

The current trail runs from Citrus Springs down to within six miles of Dade City, for a total of 46 miles. The trail takes its visitors through everything from suburbs, to small towns, to historic landmarks. The trail is popular for walking, biking, and skating. It also has areas where horseback riding is available. There are many locations along the trail that feature a wide variety of dining and hotel accommodations.

The Florida Trailtrotter Program

Withlacoochee State Forest contains two different horse trails that are featured in The Florida Trailtrotter Program. The Bear Head Hammock Horse Trail is 8.4 miles long, and the Little River Ranch Trail is 8 miles long.

According to the Trailtrotter Program, one of the best ways to experience the natural beauty of the state parks and forests in Florida is on horseback.

The Florida State Forest Trailwalker Program

The Florida State Forest Trailwalker Program encourages Florida residents and visitors to experience the natural beauty of the state by exploring a number of different trails throughout each of the state forests.

There are a total of nine different trails in Withlacoochee State Forest that are part of the Trailwalker Program. There are a number of shorter trails like Mud Spring, McKethan Lake, Hog Island, Johnson Pond, and Oxbow that are all less than 2 miles long. There are also some longer trails like Richloam South, which is 12.3 miles long!

Whether you are looking for fast-paced dirt bike action, slow-paced canoe trails, or the experience of horseback riding through a natural environment, there are plenty of options available in Withlacoochee State Forest and along the Withlacoochee State Trail.

Considering its close proximity to Citrus Hills, it’s easy to see why this is a very popular outdoor destination for our residents.

 

 

Great Day Trip: Caladesi Island

While its exact ranking will vary slightly from year-to-year, no one will deny that Caladesi Island is one of the absolute best beaches in America.

This practically untouched state park is located just west of Clearwater, but the only way to get there is to take the 15-20 minute ferry from Honeymoon Island.  Including the ferry ride, Caladesi Island State Park is just under 2 hours away from the Villages of Citrus Hills. 

America’s Best Beach

Once you arrive at Caladesi Island, it is easy to see why it was rated the top beach in America in 2008 and continues to be featured on similar lists year after year. This beautiful white sand beach with crystal clear water remains undeveloped. There are no highways, no traffic, no homes, and no commercial buildings. 

While the island is completely undeveloped, there are still plenty of amenities like a snack stand, umbrellas for rent, and lifeguards on duty when in season. In addition to having great sand, and warm water, the beach is also a great place for shelling because it is not overpopulated with tourists. 

For the Active Beachgoers

The idea of relaxing on an untouched beach sums up a perfect day for many of us, but those who need a little more activity will not be disappointed either. Caladesi Island State Park has three miles of nature trails that weave their way through the island’s interior. 

There is also a three-mile kayak trail through the bay. As you hike or paddle around the island, you are likely to spot some of the local gopher tortoises burrowing in the sand dunes. 

Because of the lack of tourist traffic, local anglers will find great salt-water fishing both from the island’s beaches and the surrounding waters. There are also plenty of picnic areas, and if you have your own boat, you can make a reservation to dock it at the Caladesi Island Marina for an overnight trip. 

Stopping for Dinner

There is a small cafe located right on Caladesi Island, but if you are going to be passing through Clearwater on your way back home, you will definitely want to consider stopping at Cristino’s Coal Oven Pizza. This family-owned pizzeria makes some of the best pizza you will ever try. In addition to their fantastic pizza, Cristino’s also specializes in chicken wings that are smothered in garlic and caramelized onions, homemade lentil soup, and their famous panzerotti!

Another great local restaurant that you might want to try is Eatin’ Fresh, but they are only open for lunch, so you will want to make sure to plan your day accordingly and either get back from the island in time to eat or eat before you head out to the beach. Eatin’ Fresh has a great selection of fresh seafood including some outstanding fish tacos and the original Stone Claw Taco. 

The ideal trip to Caladesi Island probably starts with a light lunch of Stone Claw Tacos at Eatin’ Fresh around 11:00 am. From there, you can head out to Honeymoon Island to catch the ferry to Caladesi Island and spend the afternoon relaxing on the beach or exploring the nature trails. Follow your beach adventure with a coal oven pizza from Cristino’s and you will be both relaxed and well-fed for your trip back home to the Villages of Citrus Hills.

A Day at the Beach: Pine Island Park Beach

One of the best things about living along Florida’s nature coast is that there are so many quiet little beachfront parks located up and down the coast along the Gulf of Mexico. Here at the Villages of Citrus Hills, we are within driving distance of quite a few excellent beaches, and Alfred A. McKethan Pine Island Park Beach is one of our favorites.  

Getting Out to Pine Island 

Pine Island is located about an hour away from the Villages of Citrus Hills in the southern half of the Chassahowizka Wildlife Management Area. Getting there is a breeze if you take US-19 south from Homossassa and then a right in Weeki Wachee.

 

Once you get close to the coast, you’ll make another right onto Pine Island Drive. From there, you will have the pleasure of cruising through a stunning natural habitat that feels like you’re driving across a Caribbean island or one of the Florida Keys.  

White Sand Beaches & Crystal Clear Water

As in most of the beaches along the nature coast, you are going to find yourself surrounded by beautiful white sand once you arrive at Pine Island Park Beach. Enjoying a few hours lounging in the sand is a great way to start your visit, but if you are feeling adventurous, head on out into the water where there are plenty of great swimming areas.

Because of its location, this isn’t the type of beach where you are going to be bothered by speedboats or jet skis flying past while you are trying to relax. Everything is calm out here, and that’s the way the people who visit like it.

Willy’s Tropical Breeze Cafe 

When you get hungry, there is a small cafe located right at the park that serves everything from burgers to seafood. They also have excellent coffee for their early morning guests.

Because Willy’s offers open air seating that is pretty much right on the beach, this is a very popular option for patrons looking for a sunset view during dinner. If you have the opportunity to stay for dinner, we highly recommend it.  

Picnicking at the Park 

In addition to Willy’s Cafe, there are also many picnic areas located throughout the park. So if you are looking to create your own amazing sunset dinner, you might want to think about picking up a few steaks and some charcoal on the way down. There are multiple charcoal grills available at each of the picnic areas.  

The Playground Area 

One other aspect that attracts visitors to the park is the large playground area for the kids. While the older visitors are definitely more impressed by the white sand beaches and gorgeous sunsets, the kids are all about diving headfirst down the slide.  

So when your grandkids are in to visit along with their parents, a day at the park out on Pine Island really does have something for everyone.  

With so many beachfront parks to choose from, it can take a resident here at the Villages of Citrus Hills years to explore them all. We encourage everyone to take their time and do exactly that, but after spending a day at Pine Island Beach Park, you might not want to go anywhere else next time.

Day Trip To Tarpon Springs

The historic town of Tarpon Springs is located about an hour south of the Villages of Citrus Hills right on the Gulf Coast, just north of Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater.  

The town represents an interesting combination of rich history and modern culture with a dash of Greek heritage. If you are passionate about history, shopping for antiques, or excellent Greek food, Tarpon Springs will make an excellent day trip for you and your family. 

History of Tarpon Springs 

Tarpon Springs received its name when some of the first visitors to the town observed a number of Tarpon jumping out of the water out in the Gulf of Mexico.

As you can probably guess, the Tarpon Fishing here is excellent. But that wasn’t originally the most popular sea item in Tarpon Springs. 

Tarpon Springs is also known as “The Sponge Capital of the World” because its 51-mile coast was once filled with sponges. In the early 1900s, many Greek sponge divers made their way to Tarpon Springs to harvest these sponges, which led to Tarpon Springs having the largest Greek population in all of Florida. 

In 1947, just about all of the sponge fields around Tarpon Springs were destroyed, so most of the sponge industry was then converted to fishing and shrimping. However, “The Sponge Capital of the World” lives on in spirit with attractions like the Sponge Docks and Spongeorama.  

The first stop for any history buffs visiting Tarpon Springs should be the Tarpon Springs Area Historical Society’s Welcome Center and Museum. Other great historic sites include the Tarpon Springs Historic District, the Safford House, Old Tarpon Springs City Hall, and the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral.  

Tarpon Springs Attractions 

One of the most popular attractions in Tarpon Springs is known as The Sponge Docks. This wharf area is filled with boats, but has also become populated with great shopping and restaurants.  

You can stroll the docks, tour sponge boats, visit dozens of small shops, and find great authentic Greek cuisine, all in one central location. The Tarpon Springs Aquarium is also located right next to The Sponge Docks. 

Another popular attraction in Tarpon Springs is the Tarpon Springs Cultural Center. This former high school turned theater plays host to a wide variety of community theater and music events throughout the year. There is a lot of information about upcoming shows on their website, where you can find the perfect event to schedule your trip around. 

Wine drinkers will absolutely want to plan on stopping at the Tarpon Springs Castle Winery. This beautiful facility offers daily tours, information on how their handcrafted wines are produced, and plenty of tasting opportunities.

Dining in Tarpon Springs  

With its rich Greek heritage, Tarpon Springs is known for having some of the best Greek restaurants in Florida. If you are a fan of Greek cuisine, you will have more than your fair share of options in Tarpon Springs.

The most popular Greek restaurant is probably Hellas Restaurant and Bakery, but you will also find outstanding Greek food at Mykonos, Mr. Souvlaki, and The Original Mama Maria’s Greek Cuisine.  

While Greek food is obviously a staple in Tarpon Springs, there are plenty of other options as well. Rusty Bellies at the end of The Sponge Docks is known for serving great seafood, and the Tarpon Tavern has some outstanding pub-style cuisine. You might also want to try the Caribbean food at the Jerk Center and the pizza at Plum Tomato. 

The ideal day trip to Tarpon Springs would contain a little bit of history in the morning, followed by pizza or pub food for lunch. After that, you could plan an afternoon of shopping at The Sponge Docks, followed by a Greek dinner and a show at the Tarpon Spring Cultural Center.  

Even if you can’t find a show that sparks your interest, there is still plenty to do here, which is what makes Tarpon Springs a great place to spend the day!