Archive for the ‘Florida’ Category

Florida stilt houses are a special site

March 28, 2016
Stilt house in Pasco County

Stilt house in Pasco County

I’ve known about the stilt houses in Pasco County, Fla., for years, but didn’t write about them because they were hidden in plain sight — no one but locals knew. Sometimes it’s nice to keep special spots on the down-low. But once I started seeing a few mentions here and there, it was time to spread the good word on these lovely vestiges of old Florida.

Stilt house at sunset

Stilt house at sunset

So I wrote about them for The article also contains information on how to access them via boat. Alas, you cannot enter or stay on one unless you’re invited by an owner, but just seeing them dotting the Gulf of Mexico is something special indeed. Don’t you think?



Carlton Ward frames Florida’s wild side

March 22, 2014
An Ogeechee tupelo tree on an island in the Suwannee River (photo Cartlon Ward)

An Ogeechee tupelo tree on an island in the Suwannee River (photo Cartlon Ward)

One of my favorite nature photographers, eighth-generation Floridian Carlton Ward Jr., recently opened his first public gallery. Hooray!

The Carlton Ward Gallery in Tampa, where Carlton is based, displays about 30 of his award-winning fine-art prints from assignments and adventures around the state. Carlton is known for his striking environmental photographs, which have been seen in Smithsonian, National Geographic, and other publications. Now you can see them up close and personal, in frames!

When I visited the gallery, photo locations included the Everglades, Gulf Coast, Tampa Bay, Florida cowboys, and his most recent project, the Florida Wildlife Corridor. Carlton brings out the best of Florida, and is quite the intrepid adventurer. You’d have to be to get the shots he does.

For the Wildlife Corridor project, in 2012, Ward and two scientists trekked 1,000 miles from the Everglades to Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia to document the state of wildlife habitats, watersheds, and ranches. “The Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition” book and DVD also are available at the gallery.

Here are the basics: Carlton Ward Gallery, 1525 West Swann Ave. (in Hyde Park), Tampa. 813-251-0257,

Paradise found at Florida park

February 2, 2014

I wrote this article, which ran on Feb. 2 in the Boston Globe, after a summer visit to St. Joseph Peninsula State Park in Florida’s Panhandle. It’s a super-special place and while it’s not really a secret, it kind of still is because it’s out-of-the-way location keeps the number of visitors down. Read on…

By Diane Daniel

The State Park includes 10 miles of untamed coast and 35-foot-high sand dunes

The state park includes 10 miles of untamed coast and 35-foot-high sand dunes

CAPE SAN BLAS, Fla. — Initially, Youngra Hardwick appeared eager to share her wisdom. She had succeeded where I’d failed by snagging a waterfront cabin at T. H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, and I wanted in on the secret.

“There are some tricks to it. Every day different spots come open. So you have to get up really early in the morning.” Just as she was advising me about opening several internet browsers, she stopped.

“Wait! I don’t even want to talk to you about it,” she said. She was laughing, but she meant it.

View of St. Joseph Bay from the Maritime Hammock Trail

View of St. Joseph Bay from the Maritime Hammock Trail

Hardwick, who traveled here from Columbus, Ohio, with her husband and two daughters, first stumbled upon the park, in Florida’s Panhandle and about 105 miles southwest of Tallahassee, while searching online for budget-friendly coastal stays.

“I look for places that are remote and isolated, and this sounded like paradise,” she said. “I was right.”

Many visitors, it seems, treat their time at St. Joseph as if it involved password-protected admission. During my three-day stay, several people asked how I had discovered the park. Check online travel forums and you can find users jokingly trying to dissuade others from visiting.

The real treats are the eight furnished cabins with a view of St. Joseph Bay

The real treats are the eight furnished cabins with a view of St. Joseph Bay

It’s not surprising that folks want to keep this spot along Florida’s “Forgotten Coast” to themselves. St. Joseph’s natural amenities include an unheard of (at least in Florida) 10 miles of untamed coast and 35-foot-high sand dunes, along with maritime forests and wildlife. The park’s 119 tent and RV camping sites are fairly standard, but the beach is just a short walk away over the dunes. The real treats are the eight furnished “cabins,” which look more like resort condominiums minus the television. And who needs TV when your back yard looks out onto the wide expanse of St. Joseph Bay?

Luckily for the non cabin-dwellers, water views are everywhere in this 2,716-acre playground. It sits at the tip of narrow Cape San Blas and is flanked by the Gulf of Mexico and the bay, giving visitors the opportunity to see sunrises and sunsets — only a few yards apart in some spots. Although the park has been anointed a “best of” by “Dr. Beach” and is frequently mentioned in national publications, its out-of-the-way location keeps traffic relatively low.


Manatees in Florida: a magical day

July 21, 2013

Until this month, I’d seen manatees at state parks, in research facilities, and in the wild at places they’re known to congregate. My favorite time with Florida’s “sea cows” was a few years ago, when Lina and I went kayaking in Crystal River, where manatees like to spend their winter near always-warm springs. We were on a tour with Save the Manatee Club, a fantastic nonprofit organization. It opposes “swim-with” manatee programs (as do I in general) and discourages humans from touching manatees unless the manatee initiates it. Manatees came near our kayaks, but we kept our hands inside.

My paddling pal and manatee whisperer

My paddling pal and manatee whisperer

I finally had my first fully wild and random manatee encounter recently, and it was a memorable one! And I have to admit that I chose to compromise the “no touch” philosophy. Here’s how it unfolded.

My pal Kelly (left), who rents one of our condo units at Indian Rocks Beach, offered to join me on a little kayak outing on the Intracoastal Waterway. I was glad she did, because later she told me she’s a manatee magnet. Wow, was she ever right!

We were paddling around enjoying the Sunday afternoon when I saw a gray blob. At first I thought it was a dolphin, but it just floated there and Kelly suggested it was a manatee. I’m used to seeing them later in the year, but I’ve since discovered they’re definitely around the Intracoastal in the summer.

Manatees got close to Lina and me in Crystal River in 2008

Manatees got close to Lina and me in Crystal River in 2008

We paddled in the direction of the blob, and sure enough, it was a manatee, plus two more. We heard them before we saw them, as they surfaced for air and exhaled above the water’s surface. They continued to come near us, or we’d follow them, and finally one came close enough that I touched its snout with my finger. I screamed with joy! And then it came back, swimming right alongside my kayak. I stroked its entire back, all slimy and rough, and then I screamed some more. I yelled out a few too many times “I pet a manatee!!!!!!!” Kelly of course wanted to do the same, so we kept looking for them, but after 10 minutes of not coming close to another one we finally gave up and headed to a nearby bird sanctuary island.

A minute later I heard Kelly scream with excitement. “Oh my God, oh my God!” A manatee was headed her way, and then it SURFACED under her kayak and she was AIRBORNE. Sorry for all the CAPS but I’m getting excited again thinking about it. I was about 25 feet away and it was like watching a movie. No way could this be happening! Her kayak wobbled as it rolled over the manatee’s back, then the friendly beast took off with a huge splash in Kelly’s direction. We were screaming and laughing with joy! “Dude, you rode a manatee!” I yelled. “Dude, I rode a manatee!” she replied. “Legally!” I added, in case anyone was listening. How big was it? I have no idea, but I do know that the average Florida manatee is about 10 feet long and weighs close to 1,200 pounds. Whoa!

Manatee swims near kayaker holding a camera underwater (photo Steve Sapienza)

Manatee swims near kayaker holding a camera underwater (photo Steve Sapienza)

A just-released report by the Mote Marine Laboratory (visit its aquarium in Sarasota) says manatees can feel water movements thousands of times smaller than the width of a human hair — an ability that makes them one of the most touch-sensitive mammals on earth. So clearly that little escapade was no accident. That manatee knew what it was doing — playing around with one of its fans. While I can’t say I want to be airborne atop a manatee, and Kelly agreed that once is enough, it was a magical manatee moment we will never forget. Here’s hoping you get yours!

Bicycle rides around the country, and the world

June 18, 2013

Here in North Carolina, our summer days are often too dang hot for bike riding, unless you get up at the crack o’ dawn (which we occasionally do). But in many parts of the country and certainly in northern Europe, where one of us hails from, this is the ultimate cycling season. To that end, some trips to inspire you.

201306_01_placestobikeFirst, check out the book “Fifty Places to Bike Before You Die,” by Chris Santella (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $24.95). Santella is more editor than author — he enlists advice from a hosts of cyclists, from advocates to tour guides to writers. It’s a great read, and for cyclists like us, it’s like reading a dessert menu that spans the globe.

For those of us sticking closer to home, I wrote a list of cross-state bike rides for the Boston Globe that I’m reprinting here. As avid cyclists know, nearly every state these days offers some kind of multiple-day ride. Many are staged by volunteers or advocacy groups and are quite affordable, though, yeah, you’re not staying at the Four Seasons. For you luxury-minded riders, I suggest a trip with a commercial tour company, of which there are zillions. For the rest of us, check these out or Google your way to rides in your favorite states.

Participants of the Ride the Rockies

Participants of the Ride the Rockies


One of the most rugged cross-state tours, this year’s sold-out Colorado version (right), from Telluride to Colorado Springs, features three scenic mountain passes and 20,400 feet of climbing over 513 miles. June 8-15, (Some friends are about to embark on an awesome Colorado tour. I had to pass because of my work schedule. So sad.)


Inaugural weeklong event kicks off Sept. 7 with a challenging 400-mile loop starting in Orono and including stops in Belfast, Castine, Bar Harbor, and Bangor, with a cumulative elevation gain of 24,000 feet. Routes will change yearly.



The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, an annual seven-day, 470-mile ride in July, is the oldest (since 1972), largest, and longest bicycle touring event in the world. Day passes available. July 21-27, (I did this in 2005.  What a blast!!!!!!!! Make sure you train for it!)


This year’s tour, themed “Pines to Vines,” takes 250 riders from near the Canadian border north of Spokane south to the Hood River with about 21,000 feet of climbing and spectacular scenery. Aug. 3-10,

Logo of the 2013 Bike Florida tour

Logo of the 2013 Bike Florida tour


The 20th anniversary ride, in early spring 2014, will showcase northeast Florida’s back roads, trails, and beaches. Dates and stops to be determined.

Christmas lights brighten the holiday

December 10, 2012

Having just put up my trademark Charlie-Brown Christmas lights on two azalea bushes and a camellia tree in the front yard, I’m in the mood to share this list I wrote for the Boston Globe travel section last Sunday. Here are five places that will make your holidays bright(er)!

The The 2008 National Christmas Tree lights up the Ellipse in front of the White House [foto Wikipedia]

The 2008 National Christmas Tree lights up the Ellipse in front of the White House


One unifying presence in Washington remains our nation’s holiday evergreen, a tradition since 1923. The 28-foot-tall Colorado blue spruce, standing in the northeast quadrant of the Ellipse in President’s Park South, is festooned with thousands of lights. Free. Through Jan. 1. (1100 Ohio Drive SW, 202-208-1631,

Hyatt Extreme Christmas in 2009

Hyatt Extreme Christmas in 2009


Just west of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is “Hyatt Extreme Christmas.” The Hyatt family treats visitors to almost 200,000 bulbs, ice-skating penguins, a miniature Ferris wheel and, debuting this year, the “Hyatt Extreme Ski Lift.” Free. Through Dec. 28. (11201 NW Fourth St., Plantation, Fla.,

The Holiday Cactus Garden at the Ethel M Botanical Cactus Garden

The Holiday Cactus Garden at the Ethel M Botanical Cactus Garden


The factory store at Ethel M Chocolates, southeast of Las Vegas, lights its 600,000 bulbs amid three acres of the state’s largest collection of living cacti. A rainbow of colors blaze from cholla, golden bears, and other spiny species as mesquite trees twinkle in the background. Free. Through Dec. 31. (2 Cactus Garden Drive, Henderson, Nev., 702- 435-2608,

Magical Nights of Lights at Lake Lanier Islands Resort

Magical Nights of Lights at Lake Lanier Islands Resort


About a quarter million visitors a year marvel at this brilliant display an hour northeast of Atlanta. For its 20th edition, the holiday-themed driving tour has added an ice-skating rink, live nativity show, and night-light canopy tours. $60 a car. Through Dec. 31. (7000 Lanier Islands Parkway, Buford, Ga., 770-945-8787,

The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree

The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree


New York deserves its spot as keeper of the most classic holiday emblem. The 80th Rockefeller Center tree radiates in the glow of 30,000 multicolored LED lights strung over five miles of cord and topped with a star made of 25,000 Swarovski crystals. After the tree comes down, its wood is donated to Habitat for Humanity. Free. Through Jan. 7. (30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, 212-588-8601,

My iPhone took a trip without me

September 8, 2012

UPDATE: Never got news of phone, so replaced it with another 4s, though so tempted to get a 5! Every bit of my data was saved! Woo-hoo!

Well, my iPhone 4s went on a little adventure without me. I’d love to know the places it went and the people it saw. Siri, fill me in!

Frank and Sabrina, in a rare moment of calm here, agreed to accept partial blame in exchange for a treat

I traveled from Tampa, FL, to my home in Durham, NC, in a day, which is about 11 hours of driving, including the slowdowns during the notorious speed-trap zone along US 301 in Florida. I was operating on three hours sleep because my dang dogs were restless all night. In fact, I’m blaming the entire fiasco on them, because they distracted and exhausted me all day and because they’re dogs, so they can’t read this and disagree.

I stopped for gas near Florence, SC, and did the usual routine. Gas for the Honda, bathroom for me, bathroom and a walk for Frank and Sabrina, another bathroom stop for me, and then I decided to crack open a Dr Pepper to perk me up. Somewhere along the line I’d put my phone on the hood of the car. Uh-huh, you know where this is going.

Diane shows off her durable but not at all snazzy waterproof iPhone case

Accelerating back onto I-95, I heard a crack on my back windshield and saw an oddly shaped thing bouncing on the pavement. “Weird, I thought. That came out of nowhere.” A few miles later, I glanced to where I keep my phone. Empty. Not good. I fished around, realized I needed to go back, then remembered that unidentified flying object: my phone, of course. The good things were: I knew roughly where it fell and my phone is protected by a heavy-duty waterproof and shock-resistant case.

I had to go 12 miles back to the exit. Just as I was exiting off the highway I saw that a man had pulled over right where I think my phone bounced. It appeared he had just picked something up in the street and was getting back into his pickup truck. I pulled over. I honked. I screamed. But there was no chance he could hear me over six lanes of rushing traffic and a highway median. Do I know he got my phone? Nope. Coulda been a coincidence. I went to the scene of the crime and saw nothing. Maybe it bounced into tall grass? Maybe the guy had it? I have my contact info on the back of my phone, but no one has called. I took another exit and a nice hotel clerk let me use the phone. I called my lovely Lina, who went through the iCloud system and blocked data access. Later I called AT&T and deactivated my number. I did try the phone location service, but it said the phone was “off line” even though it rang.

Things I did right: Block access as soon as possible. Subscribed to iCloud from the beginning. My contacts are all updated online and I can load them onto a new phone. Most of my photos had been downloaded by Lina. Still I lost some. Put ID on my phone, not that it helped this time.

Things I did wrong: That’s easy — leaving my phone on the car roof! And maybe that I didn’t get insurance, but iPhone prices are falling very soon with a new model coming out, so that’s a silver lining!

Mid-century modern in Sarasota, Fla.

February 12, 2012

Umbrella House (1953)

Modern-day Sarasota is known for its thriving arts scene and contemporary homes and offices, but what many people don’t know is that sprinkled among the new buildings are world famous examples of another modern movement, which I wrote about last month for a Florida website after Lina and I visited there in December. The Sarasota School of Architecture came of age in the early 1940s and continued through the mid 1960s, and many examples remain.

“Unlike many historical buildings, their beauty isn’t encompassed in rich ornamental details, but in integrating post-war design with how to live in the tropics,” said Lorrie Muldowney, Sarasota County’s historic preservation specialist.

Making these older homes even more relevant today are the properties they share with current “green” or sustainable design — natural air flow, passive design, connecting the inside to the outside, and native-plant landscaping.

Joe Barth Insurance Office (1957)

Leading the Sarasota School were architects and designers Philip Hiss, Paul Rudolph and his one-time partner Ralph Twitchell, Victor Lundy, and Jack West. Hiss first developed the neighborhood of Lido Shores (just off busy St. Armands Circle), which still contains the highest concentration of Sarasota School homes.

To start your study in Sarasota School architecture, here are some of the most interesting and accessible stops from the guidebook “Tour Sarasota Architecture,” available free of charge at the Sarasota Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Umbrella House (1953), 1300 Westway Drive

This Lido Shores home designed by Paul Rudolph is arguably Sarasota’s most notable. In 2005, it was purchased and restored by museum exhibit designers Vincent and Julie Ciulla. The simple, stately cube home is shaded with a trellis-like “umbrella” installed by the couple after the original one was destroyed in a storm. “It gets all of its fame from the outside, but the inside is really the beauty of it,” said Vincent Ciulla, who offers tours for a fee. “It’s a bunch of planes and surfaces and lots of movement in the space. Rudolph played with the space in a very beautiful, balanced way.”

Hiss Studio (1953), 1310 Westway Drive

Next door to the Umbrella House is Hiss’s original studio, a glass rectangle raised on steel columns that was one of the first air-conditioned spaces in Sarasota. While you’re in Lido Shores, use the “Tour Sarasota Architecture” guide to walk or drive by more than a dozen other Sarasota School homes.

Sarasota City Hall (1966), 1565 1st St.

Situated downtown on a lush lawn, the white, low building is filled with angles and planes. Architect Jack West allowed for natural light, but added overhangs to keep out the direct sun.

Joe Barth Insurance Office (1957), 25 S. Osprey Ave.

Many businesses have come and gone in this angular structure featuring floor-to-ceiling windows and steel columns, designed by Victor Lundy. Its current occupant, Genevieve Tomlinson, owner of Zen Body-Zen Health and Asian Tea Bar, says customers appreciate the integration of exterior and interior. “It’s like being outside when you’re inside.”

St. Paul Lutheran Church Fellowship Hall (1959) and Sanctuary (1968), 2256 Bahia Vista St.

St. Paul Lutheran Church Sanctuary (1968)

Parish administrator Arleen Austin is accustomed to receiving visitors. “We get tourists from all over the world familiar with Victory Lundy and wanting to see his architecture.” Admirers are drawn to the simple, soaring lines of both buildings and to the altar wall, dramatically lit by window slits along the tall sloping roof.

Sarasota High School Addition (1960), 1000 School Ave.

Sarasota High School Addition (1960)

Architect Paul Rudolph designed many public buildings. Sarasota and the former Riverview high schools were among the best known. After much outcry, Riverview, beset with maintenance issues, was demolished in 2009. Meanwhile, the addition Rudolph designed here is not only intact but getting a needed renovation in 2012, said administrative assistant Lyn Campbell. The minimalist all-white structure includes large openings for ventilation, raised floor levels, and shaded areas on the stairs.

South Gate Community Center (1956), 3145 Southgate Circle

Walk to the back to this serenely sited neighborhood center to see Victor Lundy’s large, sleek glass room with newly restored terrazzo floors, used as a social hall. “This is a well loved building,” said manager Dan Beswick. Next on his wish list is to remove the acoustical tile ceiling and restore the original pine. The center, set on five acres along Phillippi Creek, is also a perfect picnic spot.

With your tour complete, you may be in the mood for some mid-century modern merchandise. If so, Jack Vinales Antiques, 500 S. Pineapple Ave., is the place to shop. Vinales, in business since 1992, stocks furniture, dinnerware, jewelry, and art from the 1930s through the 1960s, with a specialty in mid-century furnishings and lighting.

If your interests extend to bigger-ticket items, such as a mid-century home, Sarasota realtor Martie Lieberman of  Modern Sarasota specializes in them and lives in one herself. Lieberman is a founder of the Sarasota Architecture Foundation, which occasionally hosts Sarasota School lectures and building tours.

Salvaging a cruise ship? We can only imagine

February 2, 2012

I’m not surprised it will take months to salvage the Costa Concordia, the cruise ship that sunk off the coast of Giglio, Italy. Even moving small boats is a major ordeal.

Stranded sailboat Aurora on Shell Key

Lina and I saw this firsthand in late December when we happened upon a sailboat that had washed ashore on Shell Key in St. Petersburg, Fla. We’d kayaked from Fort De Soto State Park over to the island, and for the longest time we’d seen in the distance what looked like a large pavilion, which made no sense. Then Lina realized it was a boat that had washed ashore.

A four-man crew was doing the salvage work

We pulled up onto the island for a picnic and a stroll, and passed by the work area. The head of the four-man crew doing the salvage work told us the owner hadn’t had the money to rescue the boat right away, so it sank deeper and deeper in the sand. The men had been there all day digging and pulling and using all sorts of winch contraptions to get it out. Then they were going to take a chain saw and cut it up and haul it away. Of course they’d had to bring over all their equipment in their boats, which were anchored nearby. I don’t know if they finished the job that day, but it was quite the project.

After we got home, Lina did a little digging of her own and discovered others had photographed and written about the boat, named The Aurora, and that it had been there maybe six months. No wonder it was so buried! (It was registered in Laurel, Fla., just north of Venice.) Some other photos had been posted online here and here in August, and then a photographer, Ron Masters, wrote about it and posted many more photos. As you can see between earlier photos and our recent ones, the boat had been stripped of all its equipment, accessories, and more. It was nothing but a shell when we encountered it.  Avoiding such scenarios is one of the many reasons that Lina and I are happy to stick with kayaks!

Get the most out of Disney by planning ahead

March 27, 2011
This was first published May 9, 2010, in my Boston Globe column “Where they Went.” Years ago, when I lived in Cocoa, Fla., my friend had a press pass to Disney. We would “drop in” for an hour, parking in VIP spaces up close. Fun!

Amy and Douglas Yatsuhashi, and their children (left to right), Laura, Andrew, Kevin, Lindsay, at Disney World.

WHO: Amy, 38, and Douglas Yatsuhashi, 45, and their children, Andrew, 9, Lindsay, 8, Kevin, 6, and Laura, 4, of Reading, Mass.

WHERE: Disney World, Orlando, Fla.

WHEN: One week in August.

WHY: “My husband and I went as children and for our honeymoon. His family is a real Disney family,’’ Amy Yatsuhashi said. “We waited until the kids were old enough to enjoy the magic, but under 10, because Disney charges adult rates at age 10.’’

KEEPING A SECRET: “We usually go to the Cape every summer. We didn’t tell them until the end of June so they’d get through school without being too distracted. It was their first airplane ride, too. They were so excited.’’

Kevin, Lindsay, Andrew, and Laura hang out with Goofy

PLAN OF ATTACK: Yatsuhashi read up on Disney and especially relied on Fodor’s “Walt Disney World With Kids 2009.’’ She booked a family suite with a dining plan at Disney’s All-Star Music Resort, one of its budget-minded “value resorts,’’ and even made restaurant reservations 90 days in advance for “character meals,’’ where the kids could see and photograph themed characters during lunch and dinner.

GETTING AROUND: “Where we stayed was perfect. Even though it was budget for Disney, it was first class. Buses went from our place to everywhere. We had a Park Hopper pass so we could go to all the different places like Blizzard Beach [Water Park] or Epcot or Animal Kingdom. We got a double stroller for the younger two, and the other two would hang on to the stroller. We pinned our cellphone numbers into their shirts in case we got lost.’’

Andrew, Laura, Lindsay, and Kevin at the Barrel o` Monkeys.

VOICE OF EXPERIENCE: “The best advice I could give anyone is to go early. We were at the doors when they opened at 9. We didn’t have to wait that long for rides. They have a neat thing called Fast Pass where you make ride reservations. The kids’ favorite was Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. They must have gone on it 10 times.’’

A PENNY SAVED: For souvenir buying, the children had “earned money from chores, and their grandparents gave them Disney dollars . . . like dollar bills but with Mickey Mouse on them.’’

Andrew, Kevin, Laura, Lindsay, with their grandparents Tony and Pam Carrara

ADULTS ONLY: Yatsuhashi’s parents joined the party for a few days, thrilling the children and giving the parents a little alone time. “One night they had the kids overnight and my husband and I went to Pleasure Island and then had dinner in The Land at Epcot.’’

SIGN ‘EM UP: “The kids were great and were happy almost all the time. You get to say yes a lot in Disney World. Even before we got home they said, ‘Mom, we decided we’re going to put together our allowance to make a reservation for next year.’ ’’