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Jennifer Bradley Franklin

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Star Tracks: Favorite celebrity travel spots in the Gulf

Judge-JudyWhen “Judge Judy” Sheindlin isn’t scolding plaintiffs and defendants on air, she likes to retire to the palatial Naples, Florida, penthouse she shares with her husband, Jerry. Your best chances of rubbing elbows with the diminutive powerhouse may be at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts, Amore Ristorante, or The Ritz-Carlton Spa, Naples.

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Sheryl-Crow

Guests to The Red Bar (deceptively named, as the food is a major draw) in Grayton Beach, Florida, may spot rocker Sheryl Crow among the dinner crowd. The ultra-private songstress is rumored to have a beachside home in Seaside and has also been known to nosh on the crave-worthy grilled cheese sandwiches at The Meltdown on 30A.

 

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In 2009, former MLB Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter commissioned a 30,000-square-foot waterfront mansion, nicknamed “St. Jetersburg,” in Tampa’s swanky Davis Islands neighborhood. Since returning to the city where he started his career (and spent many a spring in training), he’s been spotted at hopping restaurant 717 South and upscale outdoor shopping mall International Plaza.

Get Hooked: Find the Best Fishing Spots in the Gulf

fishermanboatThe Gulf is something of a mecca for anglers, who reel in a bounty of grouper, trout, and tuna, to name a few. There’s pier fishing, inshore charters, and deep-sea expeditions from which to choose, and plenty of pros ready to share a story or tip.

On Sunshine Skyway Fishing Pier , the world’s longest, dangle a hook (or a trap for blue crabs) into the waters of Tampa Bay. Chances are, if it swims in the Gulf, it will eventually pass by. Continue south to Matlacha, a tiny Old Florida island just off the coast of Fort Myers. Join locals at all hours, day and night, on Matlacha Bridge, dubbed “the fishingest bridge in the world,” to try your luck landing snook and tarpon, which swim in the dynamic north- and south-flowing currents of Matlacha Pass.

For sport fishing with a side of luxury, head over to Grosse Savanne Waterfowl and Wildlife Lodge in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Calcasieu Lake, a saltwater estuary, is just right for snagging trophy speckled trout and giant flounder; nearby, two freshwater lakes are stocked with largemouth bass. The ultimate reward: feasting on your expertly prepared catch served in the dining room of the resort’s plantation-style lodge.fish

If you’d rather cast a line in the deep blue beyond the shoreline, there are charters available in almost every town. One standout is Capt. Mike’s Deep Sea Fishing (captainmikeonline.com), based in Dauphin Island, Alabama. Captain Mike Thierry’s decades of experience and conservation work repairing offshore artificial reefs afford him an insider’s advantage when it comes to locating fish. Hook a range of species, from mackerel to marlin, on trips ranging from five hours to several days. And if you find yourself in Thierry’s hometown in July, stick around and rub elbows with more than 3,000 competitors and 75,000 spectators at the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo (adsfr.com), the world’s largest fishing tournament.

 

 

 

Hot Rental Properties in the Gulf

1

Palazzo-del-Mar   Ultra-Luxe | Destin, Florida

Eleven-bedroom, fourteen-bath Palazzo del Mar features 16,000 square feet of living space, a chef’s kitchen, a covered pool and hot tub, and a guest cottage. Don’t want to hike up four stories of spiral staircases? Your chariot (an elevator) awaits, because when you’re paying as much as $36,000 a week, you shouldn’t have to break a sweat.

 

 

2

bayfrontAngler’s Paradise | Grand Isle, Louisiana

Built in 2012, Bayfront Camp overlooks Caminada Bay and is designed with serious fishermen in mind. The three-bedroom home, which rents for $1,350 a week, comes complete with a barbecue pit, fish-cleaning station, picnic tables, and covered boat parking. Best part: You can catch speckled trout and crab from your own 400-foot lighted pier.

 

 

3

BeachfrontFrontMade for Lovers | Seaside, Florida

There’s something inherently romantic about a space built just for two, so couples are sure to fall for Beach Front #1. Our favorite of a dozen standalone Honeymoon Cottages designed by Southern architect Scott Merrill, the charming whitewashed beach house features an outdoor Jacuzzi tub, wood-burning stove, and second-story porch. It rents for $2,289 a week. homeownerscollection.com

 

 

 

4

Cresent-IslandSweet Seclusion | Sanibel, Florida

It’s hard to get more remote than a private island, and for $4,500 four-acre Crescent Island can be yours, if only for a week. Accessible only by boat, the island features a three-bedroom Old Florida–style home (the only structure on the island) with a fourth-floor observation deck perfect for spotting your closest neighbors: a pod of dolphins.

 

 

 

5

ReelaxationQuirky Comfort | Apalachicola, Florida

For a completely novel place to lay your head, tuck into the Reelaxation Houseboat, a vessel permanently docked on the town’s eponymous river. It features one rustically decorated bedroom, a fully outfitted kitchen, and deck chairs that serve as front-row seats for spying manatees, dolphins, and native birds. Nightly rates start at $200.

 

Prices reflect starting rates for weekly rentals, unless otherwise noted.

Awesome Resorts in the Gulf of Mexico

DonCeSarHotel

 

Beau Rivage Resort & Casino in Biloxi is the largest resort on Mississippi’s Gulf coast. A whopping 1,740 rooms welcome guests who come to try their luck on the 85,000-square-foot casino floor. The property also boasts one of the best golf courses in the state: the Tom Fazio–designed Fallen Oak, which is open exclusively to resort guests.

The Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa in Point Clear, Alabama, has been called the Queen of Southern Resorts for more than 160 years. The historic 550-acre property overlooking Mobile Bay has welcomed an array of notable guests, from Margaret Thatcher and Barbara Bush to Dolly Parton and Fannie Flagg. Highlights include a European spa, two golf courses, a thirty-seven-slip marina, and a mammoth 500,000-gallon pool.

The Gasparilla Inn & Club
The Gasparilla Inn & Club

The Gasparilla Inn & Club

In Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, Watercolor Inn & Resort offers picture-perfect, casual luxury at its best. Whether guests stay in the full-service inn or rent a townhouse or beach cottage, they enjoy access to the property’s 499 acres of beaches, parks, and protected dunes, and cool perks like outdoor movies on a big screen and beach bonfires.

The St. Petersburg, Florida, area is home to a pair of Gatsby-era pink stucco palaces. The Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club features striking 1920s Mediterranean Revival architecture, a private marina, golf course, and tennis complex. Just a few miles west, in St. Pete Beach, the equally impressive Loews Don CeSar Hotel offers easy access to miles of beaches and a pair of deluxe heated pools overlooking the waves.

The Gasparilla Inn & Club is nestled on 180 acres on Boca Grande, Florida’s Gasparilla Island. Built in 1913, its rooms and villas have played host to noteworthy guests such as Thomas Edison, Katharine Hepburn, and George H.W. Bush, who no doubt relished the championship English-rule croquet court and seven tennis courts. Today’s guests may also play an 18-hole, Pete Dye–designed golf course.

Find Your Gulf Town

Sunsets at Pier 60

visitstpeteclearwater.com

Apalachicola, Florida

fishingboatsVibe  |  With a population of less than 2,500, this historic fishing village promises a slow pace, miles of unspoiled beaches, and enormous oysters.

Breakfast Joint  |  Locals start the day at the Apalachicola Riverwalk Cafe, where crab quiche is a favorite. (Editor’s note: This location has closed since the article was printed in 2015.)

Favorite Pastime  |  Spy native manatees, alligators, and turtles on an Apalachicola Airboat Adventures tour of the Apalachicola National Estuarine Reserve.

Must-See Attraction  |  Perched on the banks of the Apalachicola River, the Orman House was built in 1838 by one of the town’s leading cotton merchants and showcases a variety of period furniture.

Must-Stop Shop  |  Stock up on supplies—from outdoor apparel and backpacks to fishing rods and paddle boards—to explore Florida’s Forgotten Coast at Apalach Outfitters.

Captain Gil Autrey
Captain Gil Autrey

Lane Autrey

Grub  |  A fishermen’s hangout, Papa Joe’s Oyster Bar & Grill specializes in oysters on the half shell, freshly plucked from Apalachicola Bay. (Editor’s note: This location has closed since the article was printed in 2015.)

Watering Hole  |  Drink a Dirty Blonde brew from locally owned Oyster City Brewing Company, shell some gratis peanuts, and jam to live music at Bowery Station.

Unofficial Mayor  |  Captain Gil Autrey of Captain Gil’s River Cruises is known for his witty commentary and his knack for finding the area’s elusive gators.

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Biloxi, Mississippi

Vibe  |  Though it’s best known for its resort casinos and attending nightlife, this former French settlement is also prized for its arts community and its shrimping industry, the biggest on the Gulf.

Breakfast Joint  |  You can’t go wrong with the shrimp and grits in a Cajun cream sauce at Fisherman’s Wharf–style McElroy’s HarborHouse.

roulettewheelFavorite Pastime  |  Admire architect Frank Gehry’s jaw-dropping campus and view the works of master potter George Ohr at the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art.

Must-See Attraction  |  The tip of the Lighthouse Pier is the perfect spot to see both spectacular sunrises (after a long night at the tables) and glowing sunsets.

Must-Stop Shop  |  Stand in the thirty-two-foot-tall jaws framing the entrance of Sharkheads before shopping for souvenirs and house-made saltwater taffy.

Ohr-OKeefe Museum of Art
Ohr-OKeefe Museum of Art

Billy Dugger

Grub  |  The oldest family-run seafood market on the Gulf, Desporte & Sons Seafood Market & Deli offers a popular daily fish special, which includes gumbo, fries, and a drink for $6.95.

Watering Hole  |  Pull in at Ole Biloxi Fillin’ Station for a cold beer or auto-themed cocktail (Pink Cadillac, Mustang Sally). Top off your tank with a plate of crawfish nachos.

Unofficial Mayor  |  Owner of iconic Mary Mahoney’s Old French House, Bobby Mahoney is known locally as a bit of a comedian. See his “show” tableside as a patron of the restaurant.

BlueTexture3

Clearwater, Florida

 

Sunsets at Pier 60
Sunsets at Pier 60

visitstpeteclearwater.com

Vibe  |  Averaging 361 days of sunshine a year, this barrier-island city draws families with its easy accessibility and wide variety of accommodations and attractions.

Breakfast  |  Joint Kids nosh on chocolate-chip pancakes and Froot Loops while parents sip well-made Bloody Marys at Clear Sky Beachside Cafe.

Favorite Pastime  |  Comb thirty-five miles of beaches in search of prickly cockles, Florida horse conchs, and Sunray Venus shells.

Must-See Attraction  |  Spotting a dolphin is guaranteed on the Little Toot Dolphin Cruise. The shimmering sea mammals love to play in the wide wake created by the tug.

dolphinMust-Stop Shop  |  Every night is a cause for celebration at Sunsets at Pier 60, where local artists and jewelers sell their wares along the 1,080-foot pier.

Grub  |  For a waterside meal that doesn’t break the bank, Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill’s grouper sandwich ($10.95) hits the spot, not the wallet.

Watering Hole  |  Do as locals have since 1926, and sidle up to the bar at Palm Pavilion for rum runners and pina coladas. Watch out for kiddos playing in the sand.

Unofficial Mayor  |  Winter the Dolphin’s injury, recovery, and prosthetic tail inspired The Dolphin Tale movies. See her in person at Clearwater Marina Aquarium.

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Gulf Shores & Orange Beach, Alabama

wharfwheelVibe |  These twin cities form a quintessential beach community that’s home to acclaimed seafood shacks, a world-famous cocktail lounge, and the biggest Ferris wheel on the Gulf.

Breakfast Joint  |  Koastal Toast (French toast made with thick slabs of Texas toast) and golden hash browns are served all day at popular Kitty’s Kafe.

Favorite Pastime  |  Fish from the second-longest pier on the Gulf, walk eighteen miles of trails, or attempt the seven-tower zipline course at Gulf State Park.

Must-See Attraction  |  Climb to the top of historic Fort Morgan to see where Union Admiral David Farragut gave the command, “Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead!” during the 1864 Battle of Mobile Bay.

Must-Stop Shop  |  Score a one-of-a-kind souvenir at the Coastal Arts Center of Orange Beach, where glass blowers, potters, and painters create and sell their work.

Grub |  Flip-flops are as fancy as anyone gets at Doc’s Seafood Shack & Oyster Bar, a popular dive where the fried shrimp come straight from the waters outside the door.

Watering Hole  |  Ride the line at the legendary Flora-Bama, known for its musical chops (Jimmy Buffett plays impromptu jam sessions) and its version of the iconic Bushwacker frozen cocktail.

Unofficial Mayor  |  Lucy Buffett, sister of “Margaritaville” singer Jimmy, is a local celebrity in her own right, serving as proprietress of popular Lulu’s restaurant at Homeport Marina.

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Houma, Louisiana

airboatVibe  |  A gateway to Louisiana’s Gulf coast, this bayou town is renowned for its outdoor recreation and convivial brand of zydeco-fueled Southern hospitality.

Breakfast Joint  |  Rub elbows with locals at Demitasse Cafe, where you can fuel up on a shrimp omelette and chicory coffee.

Favorite Pastime  |  Year-round open seasons, liberal limits, and more than fifty charters make the city a mecca for bow, deep-sea, swamp, and fly-fishing.

Must-See Attraction  |  For a close encounter with the unofficial mascot of bayou country, visit Greenwood Gator Farm, where you’ll find reptiles ranging from hatchlings to twelve-footers.

Must-Stop Shop  |  Get your fishing essentials (tackle, bait, ice, beer) and check out the antiques at Cecil Lapeyrouse Grocery, a century-old, family-run general store.

The Jolly Inn Cajun Dancehall
The Jolly Inn Cajun Dancehall

Matthew Noel, Houma Area CVB

Grub  |  Tuck into slow-cooked etouffee, gumbo, and fresh Cajun Gulf seafood at A-Bear’s Cafe. Save room for the legendary peanut butter pie.

Watering Hole  |  Laissez les bons temps roulez at The Jolly Inn Cajun Dancehall, where owner Werlien Prosperie serves up drinks and classic Cajun music.

Unofficial Mayor  |  Captain Wendy Billiot (aka “Bayou Woman”), operator of eco-tour company Wetland Tours and Guide Services, is known for her near-encyclopedic knowledge of the area.

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 Naples, Florida

The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Naples
The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Naples

Vibe  |  With its world-class spas, shopping, and golf, this southwest Florida city offers the ultimate in luxe living.

Breakfast Joint |  Blueberry’s comes by its “Pancake Factory” nickname honestly, as it cranks out a dozen varieties—from blueberry (of course) to bacon—every morning.

Favorite Pastime  |  Play the spectacular 36-hole, Greg Norman–designed Tiburon course at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Naples.

Must-See Attraction  |  Calling all bird watchers! Spot bald eagles, ospreys, migratory shore birds, and owls at Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park.

Must-Stop Shop  |  Shopping in Naples can almost be considered a sport, and Waterside Shops is a favorite venue, with more than sixty retailers including Hermès, Louis Vuitton, and Gucci.

Grub  |  Indulge in a two-, three-, or four-course dinner (your choice) waterside at Mereday’s Fine Dining; the tasting menu changes daily. (Editor’s note: This location has closed since the article was printed in 2015.)

Watering Hole  |  Sidle up to the bar at The Continental for a sophisticated cocktail (try the Hemingway Once Said) and an equally highbrow snack of caviar parfait with egg salad and brioche.

Unofficial Mayor  |  Bob Smith is often spotted driving his white 1962 MGA convertible roadster with an unconventional passenger: “Camille,” a costume camel head bedecked in sunglasses and a mink stole.

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Rosemary Beach, Florida

rosemarybeachbikerVibe  |  Perfectly quaint, this planned beachside town off Scenic Highway 30A is the ideal spot for a getaway a deux.

Breakfast Joint  |  The line trailing out the door of Summer Kitchen Cafe is a testament to the delicious sausage frittata made with—you guessed it—rosemary.

Favorite Pastime  |  Explore the charming town on a bicycle built for two from Bamboo Bicycle Company.

Must-See Attraction  |  The lovely little Town Hall hosts live music performances, as well as the ultimate romantic expression: weddings.

Town Hall, Rosemary Beach
Town Hall, Rosemary Beach

VIsit South Walton

Must-Stop Shop  |  Count on plenty of personal service at CK Feed & Supply Provisions & Gifts, whether you’re shopping for snacks or picking up prepared dishes for a romantic dinner at your pied-a-terre.

Grub  |  Reserve a table on the wrap-around porch at stylish Havana Beach Bar & Grill. Cuban-inspired tuna escabeche and lobster risotto are sourced right from the Gulf.

Watering Hole  |  Have a seat in the candle-lit lounge at Restaurant Paradis, and turn up the heat with a round of signature Sriracha margaritas.

Unofficial Mayor  |  Friendly artist, photographer, and unofficial town style director Tommy Crow is a familiar fixture on Main Street, where he has a studio.

 

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in our Spring/Summer 2015 issue. Since being published, several establishments mentioned in the story have closed. 

Weekend Getaway: Augusta, Georgia

You may think you know Augusta. The men in green jackets milling about Augusta National, legendary home of the Masters, each April. The blossoming azaleas cradling Amen Corner. The hushed gasps of spectators watching big names like Tiger and Bubba compete in the world’s most prestigious golf tournament.

But if that’s all you know of Augusta, you’re missing a lot. Venture beyond the fairways, and you’ll discover a lively riverwalk, terrific dining, and a charming Broad Street that lives up to its name (it’s the second-widest such street in America). And since Augusta was one of the only major Confederate cities to survive the Civil War intact, you’ll also find some of the oldest architecture in the region.

Founded in 1736 by General James Oglethorpe, Augusta is Georgia’s second-oldest city, bested only by Savannah. Drawn to the gently sloping land on the western banks of the Savannah River, Oglethorpe established the city on the site and named it in honor of a sitting British princess, Augusta of Saxe-Gotha. Forty years later, a twenty-six-year-old Augusta resident named George Walton demonstrated the prominence of his hometown when he became the youngest signer of the Declaration of Independence. Visit Meadow Garden to tour his pre-1791 farmhouse, decorated with period paintings and furniture.

Walton wasn’t the only Georgian to sign the Declaration of Independence, as you’ll see at the nearby Signer’s Monument. Button Gwinnett and Lyman Hall also penned their names on the historic document, and the fifty-foot granite obelisk erected in 1848 honors the trio of statesmen.

Augusta also played a pivotal role in the Civil War. A cosmopolitan city with a strong manufacturing infrastructure, it was ground zero for gunpowder production, responsible for more than three million pounds of the stuff over the course of the war. Today, you can visit the Confederate Powder Works  and see the original 150-foot brick chimney.

Considering the town’s rich backstory, the Augusta Museum of History is a can’t-miss. Check out arrowheads and pottery from east Georgia’s early Native American cultures, furniture crafted by early European settlers, the flag that once flew over the Confederate Powder Works, and even a fully restored 1914 steam locomotive that once traveled between Augusta and Atlanta. There’s also an interactive exhibit dedicated to “Godfather of Soul” James Brown, who spent much of his childhood living in his aunt’s local brothel. Of course, you’ll find plenty of golf history here too, including the only tournament green jacket on display outside Augusta National. Whose jacket is it? That’s a closely guarded secret. 

As you explore Augusta, it’s impossible to miss the network of canals and waterways snaking through downtown. Visionary native son Henry H. Cumming spearheaded the creation of the Augusta Canal in 1845. Today, it’s the oldest continuously operating hydropower canal in the United States, still delivering electricity to nearby buildings and the Augusta Canal Discovery Center. The center features several fascinating interactive exhibits about the canal—once a major center of commerce—and offers Petersburg Boat Tours and Moonlight Music Cruises along its waters.

7th Heaven layer cake at the Boll Weevil
7th Heaven layer cake at the Boll Weevil

Augusta CVB

Back on dry land, meander over to the Cotton Patch, a Southern-style eatery housed in the historic warehouse where Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin. Order an eight-ounce strip from Augusta-based Red Maple Farms with a side of Miss D’s mac and cheese, arguably the most popular item on the menu. Around the corner on Broad Street, you’ll find Frog Hollow Tavern, a standout local restaurant showcasing regionally sourced ingredients. Try the Anson Mills cornbread salad with tomatoes, snap peas, and green onions, and don’t miss the honey-lacquered pork belly. Wash it all down with a strawberry mojito made with locally grown pickled strawberries. After dinner, loosen your belt and try the sky-high 7th Heaven layer cake at the Boll Weevil, an Augusta Riverwalk favorite for nearly a quarter century.

Whether you’re visiting during the Masters or eyeing Augusta for a getaway after the excitement has settled down, you’ll discover a city with a wealth of history, a labyrinth of waterways, and a trove of great restaurants and attractions. Again, if you think you know Augusta but have never shot beyond its most famous golf course, it’s time to adjust your aim.

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•{  More on the Masters  }•
Want to experience Augusta’s most famous tournament firsthand? Here’s what you need to know.

Start early.
If you don’t already have tickets, it’s too late. The only way to nab them is through a lottery held each summer. Be warned: Buying badges from a third party can result in a permanent spot on the tournament’s dreaded blacklist.

Practice, please.
While the process for getting your hands on practice-round tickets is the same, you have a greater chance of scoring them. Plus, the notoriously strict rules are relaxed just a smidge, so bring your camera—but still leave your cell phone at home.

 

No tickets? No problem.
Here are some authentic Augusta ways to experience the Masters.

Partridge Inn
Partridge Inn

Partridge Inn

Play. At the history-rich Forest Hills Golf Club, the public can play eighteen holes on the forerunner of Augusta National. Built in 1926, it’s where Bobby Jones teed off during his (still-unmatched) 1930 Grand Slam year.

View. Sidle up to the bar at Somewhere in Augusta and watch the action on dozens of big screens, or tune in to your personal in-booth TV set. 

Eat. Wrapped in green paper, the pimento cheese sandwich on white bread is the quintessential snack of the tournament. For a comparable version, swing by Walton Way Deli for one made with medium-sharp cheddar, pimentos, salt, mayo, and garlic.

Stay. The historic, 144-room Partridge Inn is ready for the 2015 tournament following a six-million-dollar renovation. Or stay the way most golfers do: in a private home; many Augustans leave town during the tournament and rent their homes to attendees.

 

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in our spring/summer 2015 issue. Since being published, two establishments mentioned in the story have closed. Please note that the Cotton Patch and Somewhere in Augusta are no longer in operation.

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