MADEIRA BEACH –– If you have friends visiting from the north and you’ve taken them all around Highlands County, consider a trip to John’s Pass Village and Boardwalk, located along the beaches near St. Petersburg. You’ll treat them to shop after shop and a lunch stop at seafood lovers’ restaurants overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.
Your friends will be awed with a ride over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, and a view of the “Pink Palace, “ the Don CeSar hotel on Gulf Boulevard, built at the height of the Gatsby Era in 1928.
John’s Pass is at Madeira Beach, created during an 1848 hurricane that tore through the land and broke it in two. The pass was discovered by a turtle farmer and every year the founding is celebrated with pirate- and fisherman-themed fanfare.
Fresh fish is all the rage. More grouper is brought into John’s Pass than anywhere else in Florida.
There are 30-plus shops with whimsical names such as “Attitude Island,” “Windworks,” and “Things Etc.” Stop at the Candy Kitchen for candies that will take you back to your childhood. The ice cream cones are to die for, but if you are over 60 don’t plan on paying 5 cents a scoop like you did in the 1950s.
Another lip smacking place is Kohr Family Frozen Custard. The family has served their rich treat custard scooped into their secret recipe waffle cones for over 20 years. Richardo Salazar will greet you in front, offering a waffle sample. If you’ve never had a frozen custard, order a few scoops best licked out of a waffle cone.
The Boardwalk offers more shops and restaurants. Zeno’s encompass two adjoining shops. Tom Ladue will pour you a sample of wine, olive oils and balsamic vinegars -- each infused with different mixtures such as lime, cilantro, garlic, berry and even caramel. They will ship bottles if you want a surprise gift for your friends.
Next door you’ll be greeted by manager Lori Gordon at Zeno’s Boardwalk Sweet Shop where you can view the taffy twisting machine do its work. The Zeno family has been making saltwater taffy for three generations and 101 taffy flavors fill the store’s baskets that you can sample. Try some exotic flavors like baked Alaska, bananas Foster, buttered popcorn, maple bacon or margarita.
John’s Pass has plenty of pay-for-parking spots. Plan your time and plug in the hours you plan to spend and head to fun shopping and eating -- parking ticket worry free.
Katie Maxwell was vacationing from Janesville, Wisc. and finding treasures to take home. She even thought about a tattoo and a visit to a psychic to see if her 2017 dreams would come true. She settled for a hat and a fragrant soap to take to her mom.
After a visit to John’s Pass, drive north visiting the plethora of Gulf Beaches. Head to Clearwater Beach and make a circle trip coming back via U.S. 19. You’ll see white-bodied northerners walking the street shirtless, working on quick tans to show off to their snowbound neighbors.
Clearwater Beach is home to and a must stop at either Frenchy’s Cafe, Frenchy’s Salt Water Cafe or Frenchy 39’s Rockaway Grill. The fantastic grouper sandwich is worth the long lines waiting to get a seat at any one of the three restaurants.
Plan an overnight stay at one of the small quaint 1950s type motels or larger luxury hotels and you can visit the Florida Aquarium or the world famous Dali Museum before you head home.
You’ll be surprised how much fun you can pack into a day or two in the St. Petersburg area.