Meet Me on Main Street
Those who enjoy soaking in the vibe of their vacation town of choice will certainly want to explore its Main Street - after all, that’s where the local gather and the action heats up! Main Street is where you find art galleries, boutiques full of one-of-a-kind outfits and gifts, museums, theaters, events, and so much more. When you want to see the heart of Florida, meet me on Main Street!
This quaint and unforgettable little island at the northeastern edge of Florida offers quiet respite, and is a charming blend of island culture, beautiful nature, and history. Its Main Street is found in Historic Downtown Fernandina Beach. A visit here is like taking a step back in time, with beautiful brick buildings, pedestrian-friendly boulevards, and stunning Victorian homes. The village has been the stomping ground for pirates, bootleggers, Gilded Age millionaires, and shrimpers - just to name a few characters - throughout its history, creating a very unique atmosphere.
Your first stop could be to the Amelia Island Museum of History, where you can familiarize yourself with the island when you you explore hands-on exhibits that can be enjoyed by all ages. You could also visit one of the Museum of History’s other locations: The Maritime Museum of Amelia Island, with displays of sailing and pirate history that includes special artifacts and treasures found at local shipwreck sites! The third museum available in this small town is the Welcome Center and Shrimp Museum - which may be one of the few shrimp museums you’ll ever get to visit. Shrimping is so popular in Fernandina Beach that not only is an important part of the town’s history, but it is also going on today and celebrated through their annual Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival (held every May).
Get a taste of these famous shrimp, as well as other local flavors and seafood dishes, in downtown restaurants and bistros. The Salty Pelican Bar & Grill is a favorite spot for seafood not only because of its tasty menu, but also because of its comfortable open-air environment and views of the Amelia River. You can discover a whole new set of flavors at the Marlin & Barrel Distillery, which offers tours and tastings of their fine spirits.
As you stroll through the downtown, you may notice public art in all kinds of places as well as charming galleries. Take the Artrageous Artwalk, available the second Saturday of every month, to walk the galleries, chat with artists, and enjoy wine and hors d’oeuvres. Check out the many beautiful art galleries, most of which host local artists and their one-of-a-kind pieces. 2nd Story Gallery & Studios is a new gallery that also hosts local artists, including painters and a photographer. Imagine bringing home such a unique and special piece of the island in their art! You can also enjoy shopping for other kinds of treasures like jewelry, fashion, and gifts at local boutiques and shops.
One of the most desirable things about staying in downtown Fernandina Beach is its unique hotels and accommodations. Just a four-minute walk from the History Museum is the gorgeous Florida House Inn, located in a Victorian mansion built in the 1800s. Each of its 17 guest rooms is uniquely decorated with luxurious pieces like sleigh and four-poster bedframes, plush chairs, fireplaces for romantic evenings, and more. Each morning you will awaken to a homemade breakfast overlooking the inn’s courtyard. The inn is also a sought-after wedding venue that can accommodate up to 250 guests!
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As the oldest European-founded, continually-occupied city in the continental United States, St. Augustine’s rich history and antiquated architecture are a pleasant surprise to anyone who thinks Florida’s only offerings are your typical beach town. It’s a reminder that Florida is ancient, and its history colorful. As you walk its Main Street, which is actually St. George, you will notice that it is quite busy with shoppers, cyclists, business people, and visitors like yourself.
Pedestrian-friendly St. George Street and its many connecting streets offer boundless opportunities for shoppers. Visit the Arcade of Professional Artisans and Craftsmen, an open-air galleria where you can find handmade treasures. Artsy Abode Boutique on King Street contains amazing gifts, apparel, and jewelry that let you take home a little piece of Florida - in fact they’ve even been featured on First Coast Living. A few doors down on St. George is So MerMazing Boutique, which has pretty much everything that a modern-day mermaid could need: tumblers, tshirts, throw pillows, artwork, home decor, and whatever else you may mer-need.
Any history buffs out there? St. Augustine is pretty much your dream come true; a delight to adults as well as children, with costumed interpreters walking the streets as they lead historic tours of the city or hurry to their work at nearby historic sites. St. Augustine Walking Tours has the tour experience you desire, whether it’s a tame yet fascinating tour exploring the sites and sights, or a fun-filled pub crawl. Their tours have won multiple awards, and they also offer scavenger hunts that take you all around town! Is walking not your thing? Not to worry - one of the most popular ways to tour the city, or even get from one historic site to another, is Old Town Trolley Tours. Open-air trolleys will shuttle you about town, while guides relay interesting tips and facts. Different ticket packages let you plan your trip easily.
Downtown St. Augustine is thriving with small businesses as well as unique hotels and inns. For a unique stay, consider the St. George Inn: a collection of three historic buildings, it offers 25 guest rooms and suites, many with balconies from which to people-watch, and while the decor may be reminiscent of times past, the amenities are modern and include WiFi, private baths, in-room refrigerators, and more. They consistently offer deals and packages, and are also pet-friendly!
Most people who hear of Cocoa Beach picture its beachfronts that have made it a top destination in Florida; but there’s more to Cocoa Beach, and you can find it in their Main Street area. Sure, this is a surfer’s paradise and there are surf shops everywhere, but you’d be surprised at the amount of art galleries, boutiques, and small-town style cafes, all amidst local artists’ colorful and creative murals.
The surf shops of Cocoa Beach are tucked between completely unique shops like Another Planet Glass Custom Jewelry and Art, located right on Brevard Avenue (a main thoroughfare on this coast) which is a women’s boutique with specialty items; or Studios of Cocoa Beach, an art gallery filled with local artists’ work that rotates every couple of weeks, and also offers classes and events.
Start every day the right way with Juice’N Java Cafe on Orlando Avenue, which offers coffee, baked goods, sandwiches, juice of course, and more along with local art to purchase and live music. End your day at the Cocoa Beach Brewing Company, a microbrewery (or nano-brewery, as they call it) and pub who serves both their own award-winning beers with traditional choices and food items all within a renovated 1930s Navy house.
Most of Cocoa Beach’s accommodations are found by the water, ranging from high-end hotels to family-owned resorts. International Palms Resort & Conference Center Cocoa Beach is a resort with a long name that’s just a short drive from the downtown area. Set on 13 oceanfront acres, the resort offers a complete getaway from the cares of life. Relax in your retro-chic guest room or villa. Lounge by the pool in a cool cabana. Watch the kids splash through the pirate-themed pool area (or splash along with them).
On Florida’s Gulf Coast you’ll find one of the artsiest downtowns around: St. Petersburg, known for its creative vibe and brilliant murals that cover the city’s buildings. While some metro areas are quite spread out, most of St. Pete’s main attractions can be found all in one area (albeit a rather large area). Apart from its main artery, Central Avenue, the city’s downtown streets are all numbered - visitors may seem confused at first, but just remember that all of the “Streets” run north-south and all of the “Avenues” run west-east! Not only does this area have what you’d typically desire in a downtown - shops, boutiques, antiques, art galleries, bakeries, cafes, restaurants, and theaters - it is also adjacent to the waterfront.
Bayshore Drive offers you a stroll between the water and local attractions, with giant oaks here and there providing refreshing shade. If you’re inspired by St. Pete’s artsy vibe, pop into the Museum of Fine Arts, which is ready to inspire you with a collection covering 5,000 years! From abstracts to seascapes and African works to European pieces, they have a little something of everything from everywhere. The museum all hosts traveling exhibits and fun events. Hop in the car and drive a few miles south along the bay to see the largest collection of Salvador Dalí works outside of Europe at the Salvador Dalí Museum (referred to by locals as just “The Dalí”). The museum building itself is a work of art, and the interior takes you on a whimsical visual journey through Dalí’s works as well as exhibiting new artists. The Dalí consistently hosts workshops and classes that encourage young artists and their parents to create together. And don’t miss a St. Pete Mural Tour, which takes you on a walking tour of 30 murals. Be sure to bring your camera! One of the best parts of the tour is that all of the proceeds go to keeping the local art community thriving.
A nightlife is not hard to have in downtown St. Pete. Firstly, you should make sure your visit falls on the first Friday of the month so that you can experience First Friday, which effectively turns downtown St. Pete into a huge block party. People pour in from all over to see live bands play, drink local brews, and eat some tasty food. The party begins at 5:30 p.m., and general admission is free - although we recommend you bring some cash for the entrance fees to several exclusive clubs that are only open this First Friday! Even if you aren’t here during this event, never fear! There are numerous concert venues and theaters here to fill your evening with entertainment, from the indie-band-indulging State Theatre on 1st Street to the opulent Duke Energy Center for the Arts - Mahaffey Theater on the waterfront.
The accommodations of downtown St. Pete offer a wide range of styles, but it is the boutique hotels that offer a different level of rest and relaxation. Both an amazing hotel and a glimmering cultural jewel, The Birchwood was originally constructed as apartments in 1924. The property underwent a historically-accurate renovations to modernize it and turn it into the three-floor, 18-room boutique Inn that is presented today. It provides a quaint history-touched stay while still maintaining a fresh feel with modern amenities, holding you in the heart of the downtown nightlife. It even offers world-class dining from its very own lunch-and-dinner restaurant, the Birch & Vine, which boasts a diverse menu filled with delicious creativity.
Much like St. Petersburg, Sarasota owes much of its popularity to the arts via circus magnate John Ringling who patronized the local arts community and helped to make it an amazing cultural destination. In fact, his own estate has been transformed into a cultural attraction and includes his and his wife’s own collection at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, part of The Ringling. While not downtown, it is on your way there from the airport, so you should stop in!
Downtown Sarasota is concentrated in an area known as Five Points; it is the meeting of Main Street, Pineapple Avenue, and Central Avenue. This area is quite pedestrian and bicycle friendly, as well as friendly to pets! You’ll see mall businesses, cafes, restaurants, and boutiques. Palm Avenue, which connects to Main Street, is known for its high-end fashion shops and gift boutiques. Unique book stores like Bookstore 1 and even art galleries will draw the interest of anyone looking to take home collectables. The Golden Image offers beautiful handmade jewelry with custom designs available so you treat your special someone. If you continue walking south down Main Street, you will come to the fabulous upscale seafood restaurant Marina Jack, which features sunset dinner cruises for special occasions, as well as the city’s beautiful Bayfront Park (also ideal for watching sunsets!).
Hotels are in abundance, and Hotel Indigo Sarasota is a favorite for those who love a balance between luxury and comfort. Located in the heart of Sarasota’s Downtown Arts District and filled with pieces from local artists, you will feel right in tune with the local culture. Rooms are airy and refreshing, and amenities include hot and cold spa wading pools, shuttle service to the beach, and bicycle rentals to help you explore the neighborhood and downtown area.
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