I first really heard of Jimmy Buffett when I was living in Fairhope, Alabama because although he is originally from Mississippi, he grew up in the Mobile area. His sister owns a restaurant Lulu’s in Gulf Shores near the Flora-Bama. You might read Buffett’s biography A Pirate Looks At 50 for a journey through the islands and Southeast Florida and the South. I went to Key West recently and loved it and lived in St. Augustine, Florida in 2005. There’s a bunch of Buffett b-sides which no one really knows about that work the best for me. It’s songs like Anytime, Anywhere and Back to the Island and Creola that work better than Grapefruit Juicy Fruit or Margarittaville, but anyway, I am not the most loyal Buffett fan, but I like his works and he has traveled the world widely and is clearly one of the best sources for where to fish and visit in the Caribbean and Florida. He lives in Palm Beach, Montauk and St. Barts. Three places I really like. Although my book is primarily set in a make believe modern day St. Augustine, California and Palm Beach, St. Barts is in my book towards the end. You’ll enjoy it, check it out!
I used to go up to San Francisco about once a week for awhile from the Monterey Pennisula and I always found going north of the bridge to Marin County to be absolutely amazing. Not to mention the drive in. There are alot of things to do in Marin County. My first stop was usually at Guaymas in Tiburon. Sitting right on the water, Guaymas has some of the best authentic Mexican fair you can ask for. I ordered the ceviche every time I went. They serve it in an ice cream sundae glass that’s literally overflowing with fish. Next, I would go to a quaint cool bookstore in Sausalito. This little water village has the coolest houseboats imaginable. San Francisco native Jerry Garcia even lived there. Next I would cruise over to downtown Mill Valley. It’s like a mountain retreat nestled in a thick forest of beautiful trees. Stop there at Mill Valley coffee for a double espresso. Hey, pick up some groceries at Whole Foods. Think about Sweetwater Music Hall at night to jam out with the latest bands also. San Anselmo is another place I would go and it’s a great place to just cruise around with your jeep top down or your convertible in full swing. After that, go to Muir Woods, and see these just stunning Redwood trees that you can’t even come close to wrapping your arms around. It’s absolutely amazing.
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I have been going to 30A since I was a kid, so if you want to know the best way to spend a day on 30A, take it from me.
So I went to the 30-A area in Florida to hang out, and had an awesome time! Beach shells, swimming in the ocean, grubbing at Modica Market, walking through the lovely Seaside sand swept streets at night, cozying through the small little nook walks here and there—the green spaces, the food, the white sand beach, the people, nothing beats Seaside, except Watercolor right next door! I really like all these communities along the Gulf Coast down the highway 30-A from Grayton Beach to Alys Beach to Rosemary! They all have their unique appeal, cool shops, and great food! Just south of Destin, Florida, Seaside was born in 1980 and features a sprawling array of cottages built close together in a new urbanist community based on small towns of the South.
Sitting out on the beach in my blue chair with my umbrella, watching the waves roll in while reading a nice book was how I spent my late mornings and early afternoons. I also spent a lot of time in Seaside’s swimming pool, which came equipped with its on towels and lounge chairs to lay out on. Another thing I did was cruised on foot everywhere. Be sure to stop at Sun Dog Books and Record store. It’s like awesome reading for me there, plus off the wall LPs upstairs. Get a coffee across the way at Amavida and browse the grove marketplace (an open-air market!). That’s right, I said it, an open-air market! There’s a pizza joint there also that hit home runs on my appetite, but nothing really appealed to me more than sitting in an Adirondack chair right next to the beach, listening to singer songwriters being pumped through the stereo system, and drinking a cold beverage. It was like that for me right out in front of the Shrimp Shack (that’s where my beer came from). Up and down 30-A, the Shrimp Shack is my pick for the freshest, quickest seafood to eat. Nothing beats their marinated crab claws I tell you. They also serve Dreaming Tree wine and have a whole cooler full of beers and beverages alike—anything to cool you down when you’ve been in the hot Florida sun. The atmosphere is unbeatable with screen doors and sand coming up to the back door entrance. You feel like you’re in paradise—some kind of Jimmy Buffett song I guess. A cool breezeway for eating at picnic style two-seaters is a great place to take it away on the food or out back at the big gazebo overlooking the Gulf. Just take it away there and trust me, it’s the place to be. Another place to check out is Bud N’ Alley’s in the grove. More of a sit down place, they offer anything you could want seafood-wise, plus they have a killer bar upstairs that overlooks the Gulf. It’s a great place to catch a game—we saw the World Cup there! For fancy dining, don’t forget Thirty A up the road. Named after the legendary drive and area, it has simply the best high dining fare you could ask for. I had the scallops and loved it.
Back at Seaside, check out the Airstream trailer line-up anytime you’re hungry or parched. Go to Raw n’ Juicy for a fresh green juice after body surfing in the Gulf or to Frost Bites for ice cream! At night, the green space offers outdoor movies sometimes, and there is also an awesome theater. Also, nothing beats just walking around gazing up at the stars. While we were there, two rainbows lit up the sun baked sky! It’s that kind of place. Magical things happen there all around you. Check Seaside out, it’s worth the trip. Rent a house or a condo or stay at Watercolor Inn! Thank me later.
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If you’re starting out your day in the ole fisherman’s wharf town, be sure to begin by seeing the otters playing on the beach. Nothing beats touching down in Monterey’s swift cool oceanic air full of life from the sea. The beach where the otters play is also very close to Pacific Grove, America’s Last Hometown, and the ocean drive from Monterey to Pacific Grove on into Pebble Beach is just outstanding. If you’re a biker, check out the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail. This is biker’s heaven! Take a drive afterwards and be sure to stop at Lover’s Point Park and Beach in Pacific Grove on your way. Although, it’s probably discouraged, there you can feed these little squirrels that are so brave they will climb up your leg. Imagine that! Afterwards, do the Pacific Coast drive all the way along 17 Mile Drive through Pebble Beach. See the Ghost Tree on your way, and make another stop to view the sea lions and more otters at a lookout. Stop at the The Pebble Beach Lodge in Pebble Beach and see the greens, then swing by their market to pick up some awesome cheese, olives and maybe some wine for later. Get something for the road and pull off into one of the many inlets and have a small picnic. Pretend you’re in Europe. By the time you get to Carmel-by-the-Sea, it is time to shop. Go for it on this awesome coastal resort town. Home to celebrities and international tycoons alike, they have every shop you could want. Buy some old photographs at an art walk place, get a coffee and maybe eat lunch there, or you could drive inland to Carmel Valley to eat lunch at Earthbound Farms—a truly phenomenal sun splashed place to get a soup and a salad and pick up some fresh produce. After eating, head back to Carmel Beach for a little while. More craggly rocks and cool winds sweeping off the brisk ocean meet you there. You’ll see the surfers and young people hanging out and people throwing Frisbee for their dog on this dog-friendly beach. Hopefully, you’ll have a sunny day, but if not, pretend you’re in England, it feels like that sometimes.
After you’re finished, be sure to do the Carmel drive along the ocean and view the dramatic little seven dwarf homes there, one after the other, built very close to each other. Once you’ve driven past the ocean and start heading inland, stop and tour the Carmel Mission. You’ll also pass by Clint Eastwood’s Mission where his restaurant and hotel lie (a great place to eat if you’re sticking it out in Carmel for dinner or staying there). You could return to Moneterey by way of Route 1. Back in old town, spend the afternoon at the Aquarium, it’s legendary. Maybe check out The Fisherman’s Wharf area—plus, Monterey’s Cannery Row is famous. Around the old area, there is a stellar video tour of Monterey’s History in a building that I really liked. For dinner, I personally like the Monterey Fish House, which is a little drive North, but hey, you get to see more of the town that way—the Chart House sits right on the water in the Fisherman’s Wharf area if you decide to stay downtown, I’ve eaten there to and liked it. Later on, spend the evening around a fire pit at your hotel because it gets cold at night or go to see your favorite act at the Monterey Theater downtown. Schedule accordingly—I saw Brian Regan there and loved it! You could also go back to the Carmel Highlands Hyatt Hotel (by the way, an unbelievable place to stay if you can afford it), and take in the dramatic views out the huge windows, while having a glass of wine and listening to the house musician. Note: Keep an eye out for the Concurs d’ Elegance, the antique classic car show at the Pebble Beach lodge. Jay Leno is always there with some of his cars, I think. Have fun and good luck on one of the most beautiful stretches of coast on earth in my opinion. Don’t forget, you’re right next to Big Sur and you’ve just got to see that also. See my article U.S. Coastal Drives.
If you’re going to Northeast Florida, one place to not miss is the oldest city in North America, St. Augustine. There are a lot of things to do in St Augustine, FL that you won’t want to miss. Founded in 1565 and discovered by Ponce de Leon, this wonderfully preserved ancient city sits almost right on the water and boasts some of the most beautiful stretches of isolated beach in Vilano Beach just north of St. Augustine that you will find in modern day Florida. One cool thing is that there are building codes in place, unlike other parts of Florida, that discourage taller ocean front buildings. I think there’s like a three-story minimum or something, maybe less! You might start out your day in the old city by doing a walking tour up and down this historic slice of old Florida. Go for it on a cup of coffee somewhere there and get the European feeling the city has to offer as you sit outside with gentle ocean breezes blowing. While there, go see some history like The Castillo de San Marcos and the Ximinez-Fatio House—it goes back to 1573—wow! Also, be sure to stroll down St. George Street in the old area. Two very old churches in town really capture the essence of this place and are worth visiting also. Next, think about the Fountain of Youth. You will learn all about the city’s history and how Ponce de Leon thought he had discovered the spring of eternal life there. Next, you might pack a beach bag for the day and go to St. Augustine Beach by the pier. You’ll cross the incredible Bridge of Lions on your way over. Feel the wonderful energy of the natives who lived in this place that you’ve learned about and the Spanish conquistadors like Leon in the vibe of this place. Hey, go surfing for the day! After a day at the beach relaxing, you could be like me and drive south to Crescent Beach just to check it out. Hit a shell shop on the way—there’s an awesome one. There are some beautiful vistas of the ocean on Crescent you won’t see in many places in Florida. On the way back, maybe check out the Alligator Farm. I know there is also an awesome dolphin/marine park, but I’ve never been to it. After running through all the above things to do in St Augustine, you might check out Vilano Beach as the sun sets. It’s beach stretches on for miles, so it’s a great place to catch the sunset. Hey, try out Cap’s On The Water up the way there for fresh seafood and a steller vibe. Next, for night, take it to one of the many bars in the old city. Walk around and immerse yourself in this place I once almost called home. It’s that cool.
So, I grew up coming to Miami for vacations and always loved this wonderful city. Although, I never lived there, I have a list of my favorite top ten things to do in Miami. Here it goes:
1. Lay out on the beach!
2. Go for a sailboat cruise of the area (you may have to go to Key Biscayne to find one, but it works there also—they even have snorkeling!).
3. Go shopping in South Beach and see the Art Deco houses and hotels there.
4. Have a cup of cuban coffee at a cafe.
5. Tour the historic Italian Meditarrenean Vizcaya with it’s sweeping views of the ocean.
6. Go to Garcia’s Seafood Grille and Fish Market. Unlike Joe’s in South Beach which I wrote about, Garcia’s feels more like a local crab shack on the Gulf Coast or Maine and sits right on the Miami river. Boasting a fresh seafood market, it really takes you there on the quality of their fish. Everything is fresh. It may not always be the best extras or the best sauces, but the quality of seafood is outstanding.
7. Cruise over to Coconut Grove for cool bistros, a little more shopping and coffeehouses, plus a park on the water and great classical architecture to drive by. Getting some ice cream there to cool down is good idea for me.
8. Sitting right next to Coconut Grove, the wealthier enclave of Coral Gables boasts more big old sprawling Spanish style homes to wander by. Similar to Beverly Hills, it has tons of wonderfully designed historic houses for a driving tour. The houses literally hide behind swooping banana palms and tropical vegetation. You might check out the Venetian Pool while you’re there.
9. Go see the Miami Heat cook it up.
10. Have a drink at the hip Fontainebleau hotel.
*Don’t forget to explore cultural neighborhoods like Little Havana and take advantage of Miami’s awesome downtown museums and opera if you like that sort of thing. Look at Trip Advisor.
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If you’re a sea buff, it’s important to know about oysters and pearls. Along time ago, pearls came from wild shelled mollusks. Pearl divers swam for them, and hundreds of pearl oysters or shelled mussels had to be opened just to obtain one pearl. This made the price of pearls extraordinary in Queen Elizabeth’s days. Pearls were the likes of kings and queens and never a common place thing. Although, pearl divers still dive for wild pearls in certain parts of the world to add to the luxury of the pearl market, most pearls are now grown in a laboratory much like a harvest. A tiny irritant is injected into the shelled mollusk along with an implanted bead usually, and the creature creates a pearl as a protection against the irritant. The timeframe is a whopping one year for an Akoya oyster to be harvested and much longer for other species. Many people think a grain of sand is often the irritant that causes a pearl to form, but in the wild it is usually a parasite inside the shell or an exterior shell attack. A pearl can also come from clams such as the most famous and largest natural pearl ever The Pearl of Lao Tzu. Weighing a staggering 14 pounds, the pearl was valued at around 40 million dollars by The Guiness Books of World Records. The internal make-up of a wild pearl like those from clams and a cultivated one are different, and X-ray detection can discern the two. In The Opaque Stones, I have many pearls and oysters, and before writing the book, like a fool, I always just thought oysters were wild pearl producers, harvested that way, and a particular species excelled at it. After reading about the process, I learned some fascinating things for writing the book. You won’t get much more about it from reading my book than I have here, but it’s worth a look for fun. If you liked oysters and pearls, you might like the art of treasure hunting.
Trivia: Why won’t you get a pearl in an oyster by accident while eating out? Answer: Because pearls generally come from a different species called a pearl oyster.
If you need some exciting things to do in LA on the weekend just follow me and you’ll be well on your way to big laughs and fun times. Whether you’re just visiting the wonderful City of Angles or if you are lucky enough to call this city home, try starting out in Santa Monica on the 3rd Street Promenade. While you’re there, walk up and down the promenade and watch the local street performers—some truly talented singers perform there. Shop at J Crew or Banana Republic, get some custom One Star kicks made at the Converse star or even eat at Sonoma Wine Garden’s rooftop at the Santa Monica Place mall—there, look out over the breathtaking ocean and take in the sun. After you’ve finished with the 3rd Street Promenade, go to the 4rth Street area and get a cup of coffee at Urth maybe and shop some more. The Patagonia Store, my favorite, is there. Hey, walk to the beach afterwards—you’re there! This area is a great landing spot for the Santa Monica beach. If traffic is light, hop in your cruiser, hopefully, a convertible, and head down Wilshire until you get to Beverly Hills and do a driving tour of the streets for architectural gems in Beverly Hills and even Bel Air back towards the West a bit. Miles of historic residences dot these streets on and off of Sunset Avenue in all styles of architecture. Next, go visit the Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills for more houses! Afterwards, either head to L.A. for the museum or go back to Santa Monica to Palisades Park and watch the sunset. From there, head over to Montana Avenue for dinner and an old movie at the Aero. There is nothing like watching Indiana Jones or Casablanca on the big screen in the town that made it all take place. Maybe drinks there or in WeHo after supper and back to your hotel or home.
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Palm Beach’s architectural history is rich. You might not know this, but a lot of the Mediterranean Spanish Style houses in South Florida, particularly Palm Beach, were designed primarily by two men, Addison Mizner, a widely traveled American and a Swede named Maurice Fatio. Their styles, especially Addison Mizner’s one room deep approach to design gives Palm Beach its unique distinctive feeling. You could be in some Spanish castle from another country, while sitting in one of these estate’s living rooms. Mizner, who moved to Palm Beach for his health around 1918 believed in South Florida’s future—he even helped eventually found Boca Raton. He was also friends with Paris Singer, famous sewing machine heir and Palm Beach resident who encouraged him to primarily work in the area. Some notable Fatios and Mizners don their Spanish root names and have been lived in by the likes of rockstars, tycoons and even politicians. I have driven by all these wonderful estates with their sprawling tropical lawns and in many cases, well-manicured hedges, although, the occasional jungle house lawn appears hiding away as if a tiger might lurk there in the bushes. So, if you’re ever in South Florida, tour the homes there like me. Or pick up a book like Palm Beach Houses and take a journey through many of the famous architecturally inspired houses—some of them like The Everglades Club are visible right off Worth Avenue in Palm Beach and others are businesses like The Brazilian Court Hotel and The First National Bank of Palm Beach that you can actually walk up to, others are homes with romantic names such as Villa Flora, La Guerida, La Bellucia, El Solano, The Warden House, Buenos Recuerdos, Il Palmetto and Casa Eleda.
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One thing I have done is traveled all over America’s coasts. I have been from Maine all the way to Key West, exploring the Eastern seaboard’s scenic drives, and all the way from Seattle to Laguna Beach, looking for that picturesque moment along the sea. My favorite drive ever in America is Highway 1’s scenic drive from Carmel, California to Big Sur going South. It is literally awe-inspiring and breath–taking. No wonder writers like Henry Miller and Jack Keruoac chose to live there. Reminiscent of the Amalfi Coast, the California coast there boasts dramatic jaw–dropping cliffs with whirling sea blue ocean below with the fog nearly touching your nose. Hawks circle around you sometimes as you drive through the dry sunny Califonria climate with the smell of Eucalyptus in the air. Stop at Nepenthe for lunch in Big Sur, it’s name literally means an elixir referenced by writers that is capable of causing forgetfulness of sorrow. Or take the route on down south going towards Los Angeles for even more crooks and turns on the hilltop drive. Going all the way across the coast, another drive I love is U.S. 1 in Maine, which passes through little picturesque towns like Camden that sit right on the ocean. Stop at a dinner for some Maine clam chowder and lobster, and then walk to the harbor or go see on an old movie in one of the charming towns. Equally impressive is the Southernmost leg of U.S. 1 going south through the Florida Keys. The overseas highway literally floats along Caribbeanisque American waters for miles and miles. Stop and eat at your favorite crab shack or go fishing for the day in one of the inlets. End up in Key West where you can visit Papa Hemingway’s house and favorite bar and eatery Sloppy Joes, or take a boat out in Jimmy Buffett style to the Caribbean, your drive ends here.