Fort Desoto Park – The Most Amazing Water-lovers Florida Campground!

On the road!

We just can’t say enough positive things about Fort Desoto County Park in Pinellas County, Florida. We’ve camped at a number of Florida Campgrounds, but at this point if we had to choose only one place to ever camp again, Fort Desoto would be that place.

I’ll start off by saying this was the longest camping trip we’ve attempted. We stayed a total of seven days in two different sites in our Coleman Newport pop-up and were surprised by the end to find seven days was not enough. Next year we’re aiming for ten days! We scrapped a planned trip to the keys and are planning a trip to Fort Desoto Park again instead. We think that may be as good of an indication of our feelings about Fort Desoto as anything else we can say, but I will of course go on writing anyway.

When we originally booked we could only find a four consecutive day stretch for any of the sites during our window of availability, so four days is what we were planning. After a few weeks of discussing the length of the drive, the effort required and everything we hoped to do while visiting Fort Desoto park we decided to see if we could secure another three days even if we had to book a different site and move part way through the trip. We were able to make those arrangements so we had the opportunity to check out two different sites during our trip.

Our first site was situated “on the water” on the eastern side of the southern end of the “no pet” section of the campground. “On the water” can mean a few things at Fort Desoto. You may find sites that have a beachy shoreline area, a shore lined with mangroves that have maintained access points every so often or sites that are on seawalls. The seawall sites come in a couple of versions. There are sea wall sites where the water remains deep enough to tie off larger boats, and sites like our second site where the water is as much as ten yards out from the wall at low tide. Our first site was of the variety with Mangroves and a strip of grassy median between the site and the water. The median is also a bike and walking trail.

Site #67. Our home for three days.

Out first campsite at Fort Desoto Park was level and well shaded for much of the day. There was a period during mid-day where the majority of the camper was in direct sun but that was only a few hours. Several campers cycled through our neighboring sites over the three days but everyone was either cordial or just stuck to themselves. Either is fine by us. Live and let live! The sites are populated by several varieties of palm trees and it is those palms that offer what feels like a significant amount of privacy. The nights were very quiet. The animals were very brave. This beauty strolled through daily.

Once we were all set up in our first location we got out on the kayaks for a couple of hours of fishing and sight seeing. The water around the campground is shallow in general other than in the channels and it was low tide at that time so most of the area we kayaked that night was less than a foot deep with grass filling most of the water column. It was quite windy so we didn’t venture very far. I don’t think we caught anything, but we saw our first beautiful sunset of the week.

As is usually the case we studied satellite imagery of the area before leaving for Fort Desoto Park. In the event we were unable to launch from our own site we wanted to have an idea of places we could visit with our kayaks. That planning paid off when we needed to decide where to go to deal with the strong winds. We located an area that offered a great wind shadow along the mangroves and after a five minute drive with our kayaks in the truck we spent our first half day casting artificial lures along calm mangrove shorelines. The first cast of the day paid off with a nice Red Drum, aka Redfish for me. The season was closed for Redfish while we were there so that beautiful 26 inch fish went back to be caught another day.

26 Inch Redfish going back.

The wind shadow gig was the name of our game for the week. One of the great things about Fort Desoto Park and the surrounding area is that kayak launch access is readily available. So even if the wind had been variable we could have always found somewhere with calm water to paddle.

Light wind and easy paddling close to the mangroves.

On our mid-week moving day we skipped our morning paddle in favor of packing up and getting moved as soon as possible so we could paddle out from our new site that afternoon. The campers who were in the second site #197 for the two days before us (yes we were stalking them hoping they might leave early) checked out a little early and the camp host welcomed us to go ahead and move in. The new site was wonderful and offered more privacy than some. We did see a handful of other sites that would meet our camping and activity needs even better than site #197 but not many. We hope to get one of those others the next time around but if we ended up in this one again we’d be fine with that too.

Fort Desoto site #197 site is on the northern tip of the “no pet” section of the campground. As mentioned above the seawall there near site #197 is not suitable to float a boat at low tide but did allow us to launch our kayaks no matter the water level. There is an oyster bar along the seawall bordering that site so tennis shoes of some kind are highly recommended. We left the kayaks tied up by the wall one night and they were sitting on the bottom the next morning. This wasn’t a problem for us but maybe a helpful nugget for you. We tried the local practice of dip netting shrimp at night as well but the wind was too strong and the shrimp seemed too few. We did see and catch a few though.

Fort Desoto Site #197 Seawall
Fort Desoto Site #197 Front View

Word to the wise, the raccoons here are well advertised and the legend is real. They operate day and night whether you are in the area or not. We had a whole family living in a palm tree right above our first site. Not only will they raid your camp right in front of your face, they know that bait buckets are tied up to the seawall at night. If the water gets low around your bucket they will open it and eat all of your live bait. Beware!

We again started out our stay at the new site with a paddle out to fish and sightsee. The tide was high that evening so the launch was as easy as can be. The tennis shoes made walking in the water near the seawall there much easier. You would not be wise to walk in that spot without shoes, as you would be seriously injured by the sharp edges of the oysters which can carry serious pathogens. The night was beautiful but the wind was still blowing hard so we again took advantage of the wind shadows along a couple of tree lines. We caught a few fish and I saw a large Snook in shallow water as I drifted quietly by. I would guess it was in the neighborhood of 30 inches. As another fun day ended we watched one of the most beautiful sunsets of the entire trip.

Since this site was open to the wind coming in from the northeast I had to get creative with a large tarp in order to create a protected area for our fire. This was necessary and non-negotiable if we were to meet the need for Smores. They’re a thing around here! We added a small TV and dorm fridge to our set-up this year and they both made this trip better than it might have been without the extra frills. The TV we purchased runs on 110 or 12 volt but Fort Desoto Park has electrical hookups so 110 did the trick this time around. Using the handy-dandy mounting system I created we can easily move the TV between both sides of the the inside of the camper or outdoors in the corner of our canopy where we can relax and enjoy the fire, the view and of course the company.

Sometimes Adventure is Easy to Find

The next couple of days remained windy both day and night so we visited a couple of the protected areas we had already located and enjoyed some easy fishing and paddling largely out of the wind, with one exception…

We were getting to the point where we were unconvinced the wind pattern would break and that we would get a chance to paddle the bay on a calm day. We had really been looking forward to paddling from our site over to Shell Key and so far the wind was not cooperating. After studying maps and satellite photos again we decided it would be relatively easy to paddle with the wind at our back most of the way across to Shell key if we launched from a spot outside of Fort Desoto Park. We decided that once we drifted across to the first of the small keys in the bay we would duck behind them to do a little lure casting while working our way the remainder of the way to Shell Key. We planned to island hop the wind shadows on our way back across the bay to avoid the bulk of the wind and waves on the return to our launch site later that day.

Parts of our plan actually worked out perfectly! So that was nice. Our float with the wind at our backs out to the first key was easy. Too fast, but easy. I saw another large Snook sitting calmly in the shallow water on the backside of that first key, but no strikes. We really didn’t get any bites to speak of that day. We were moving a little too fast on the way across and working too hard most of the way back. As we finished the trip across we worked our way slowly around the furthest keys to the southwest back toward the southern end of Shell Key, and it was at the southern point of that last key where we encountered the toughest part of that trip.

When we rounded that last point we were facing directly into the wind coming down the chute from the Skyway Bridge and beyond straight into that little hook that is the southern end of Shell Key. The wind was really intense and it took everything we had in us to make any progress forward. Foot by foot we struggled our way into the wind until we made our way to the beach along the inlet at Shell Key. That was an intense few minutes of paddling! The shallow water jacks the chop up easily. We took a brief stroll around the beach but at that point we were already dreading the paddle back a little too much to really enjoy the beach.

The first part of the return paddle was the most difficult because we had to start out back into that stiff easterly wind. Once we were behind the keys doing the island hopping thing the rest of the trip wasn’t all that bad. We weren’t the only fools to make the trip. We saw a few other people, so that was nice! We made our way to the eastern shoreline near the marine institute and paddled back south toward our parking area near the toll booths. This trip took a toll on our arms so we skipped the kayaking the next morning and enjoyed sleeping in and grabbing some hot breakfast.

On our second to last day of the trip the wind decided to let up and the conditions were ideal! With forecasts suggesting that we would have an easterly breeze at our backs paddling out to Shell Key and a healthy sea breeze at our backs for our return we were looking at a dream come true. The day did not disappoint. As we paddled over to Shell Key from our campsite we threw some artificial lures and prospected the waters on the way. We hooked a few fish here and there until we hit one area and things exploded! We were catching a fish or getting amazing strikes with almost every cast. Most were Spotted Sea Trout but Jacks and a few others were in the mix. The water was so clear that you could see individual and groups of fish chasing your lures! It was one of those days you can only hope to see every now and again.

Checking out Shell Key after catching a bunch of fish!

It is hard to leave when the fishing is like that but we did want to move on to check out Shell Key. We weren’t taking anything home to eat so all of our fish swam another day. We hung out on the beach at Shell Key, threw some lines out to soak and watched the people. It looked as if everyone in Tampa/St. Pete was out that day. I suppose people were stir crazy after such a windy week kept many off of the water.

There is also at least one mangrove tunnel to check out in the bay area and we gave it a look. We’ve never been in one of the tunnels before and it was really cool. It is so quiet inside.

The tunnels are awesome!

North Beach

We didn’t spend much time at North Beach at Fort Desoto but when we return we plan to spend at least one of our days there. We’ve heard that there are sand dollars galore but can’t confirm that yet. What we do know is that it is absolutely beautiful. White sand beaches, blue sky, and blue-green waters. We’ve seen some beautiful sights but not many any better than North Beach at Fort Desoto.

The Campground

We loved it. Can we live there? Somebody know somebody? Seven days in our pop-up was not enough. If that is torture, thank you sir, may I have another. Have I said enough? No wait, it’s horrible and you should never go there. It’s hard enough to get in now!

Okay, seriously though. We love that campground. Pinellas County Government, bravo, kudos, job well done! It would be a crime if the residents of Pinellas County ever let that park get bought out by developers. You know they want it!

The campground has a section that allows pets, a smaller camper area and a side that can handle small or larger campers. If you have one of the larger toys you may want one of the pull through sites. Our camper is small so I can’t help a whole lot there, but it does seem there are sites that can take the bigger toys. Both of our sites were in the same section and both were within easy walking distance of a restroom.

On the subject of restrooms, all are not created equal at Fort Desoto. We found the restroom at the north end of the campground to be the best of those we visited. It was in better shape, had better pressure, etc. That being said the others weren’t bad, that one was just better!

The Camp Store

The camp store has a quite a few handy items considering how small it is. You’ll find ice, fire wood, frozen bait, some snack foods, morning bagels, and hand dipped ice cream if you go that way… and we do! The store also offers bike and kayak rentals and the park itself offers great biking trails.

The Food

Oh yes the food. We love to check out some local food when we get the opportunity and with Fort Desoto Park being so close to town there is plenty of opportunity! We frequented Billy’s Stone Crab. The food we ordered was good, the drinks were cheap, and the view was fantastic. If you choose the rooftop bar you’ll get a panoramic view of the gulf and if you look closely you might notice some large Snook under the docks.

The Saddest Thing is Saying Goodbye

Yes, the saddest thing is saying goodbye and we were most certainly sad to be leaving Fort Desoto County Park. This was by far our best camping vacation yet and we can’t wait to return. Fort Desoto in Pinellas County has so much to offer it was impossible to see it all while we were there. Looks like we’ll have to do it again!

Camping Near Lake George in Astor, Florida


It has taken a little longer to get around to writing this than we would have liked, but we enjoyed the Lake George, Florida area enough that we wanted to share what we found.
We searched for a campsite by checking out the 39,000 acre Lake George Wildlife Management Area (WMA) campgrounds on the Florida Wildlife Commission website, but unfortunately the WMA provides only primitive tent camping, with no pop-ups or campers of any kind allowed. Finding this to be the case, we searched for campgrounds near or along the eastern side of Lake George. There were several to choose from of various price ranges. I believe two to three of them are owned by the same family. Ultimately, we chose to stay at the St. John’s River Campground, in Astor, Florida.


The campgrounds were nearly full in the area at the time of our search in the fall of 2019. The St. John’s River Campground only had two open spots available: both very close to the State Road the campground sits beside. The owners live on the property, and they are amazingly hospitable and kind. There were quite a few long-term campers residing in the campground. There is plenty of shade to be found under mature oaks and the campers themselves were quiet.

I drove down on a Thursday night and Michelle joined me midday Friday. I had a difficult time sleeping that first night because of the frequent traffic traveling State Road 44. The vehicles coming toward the east over the Astor, Florida Intracoastal Waterway bridge throw their sound directly into the front of the campground as they round a curve. Our pop-up was the first camper in the front, and with so little material to block the sound I slept very little that night. The next night I placed my truck between the road and our camper. This and just becoming a little less sensitive to the sound allowed us to sleep fine for the rest of our stay. Those of you with larger campers may not find this to be an issue at all.

The restroom facilities were great. One set of showers is dated but functional and wheelchair accessible. There are also a set newly built showers with hand-sinks and toilets that are hard to beat for a small campground.

The facilities.


I’m 6’4″ so this was a tight fit, but I was still really happy to have it!


Lake George, Florida WMA

We enjoyed exploring the dirt roads in our Tacoma and got off the beaten path on foot as well. Much of the area is comprised of mixed hardwood swamp and pine flat-woods. The borders between the two types of habitat were nice.


A couple of the fire breaks that we walked snake past beautiful open grassy areas that border mature pine flats. Some of the lanes between the mature pines are open, with only a little undergrowth and loads of deer sign. We found one lane that had a deer rub or scrape about every 10 yards, and we saw deer on multiple occasions while in the area. Although I’ve never known any hunters who seemed overly excited about the Lake George WMA hunting opportunities, it has something to offer.

Lake George

We didn’t spend any time on the lake, which is world famous for the fishing opportunities it offers, and is also somewhat famous for a picture that has been widely shared on-line of a large alligator swimming across the lake with a deer in its mouth. Avoiding that fate is always on my top ten list of things to do in Southern waters. We considered taking the kayak down with us, but Michelle is a small person, and I think it is just too easy for her to imagine herself taking that deer’s place on a lake that size.

Oh well, we found plenty to do anyway and if you really want to fish you could wet a line at the local marina docks, as one of our camping neighbors did every day. He did well if his fishing stories are a reliable measure. He’s one of the seasonal regulars, so who knows, you may meet him and hear a story too.

Local Food

As usual we scored in the food arena. There are at least three places within a mile of the campground. Two serve lunch and dinner: the Blackwater Inn Restaurant and Lounge and William’s Landing are both in the same building on the western bank of the Intracoastal Waterway just south of Lake George. We tried William’s Landing but not the Blackwater. The Rose Garden Family Restaurant is just east of the St. John’s River Campground on State Road 44 and looks to be the place to be for breakfast, but we found that they also serve a great lunch.


The Rose Garden is only open from 7 am to 3 pm so plan wisely if you want to give them a try. I certainly recommend that you do. During our stay we ate at the Rose Garden for breakfast and lunch twice, and all were good. I’d say the gyro was my favorite lunch item.


Michelle tried a fried chicken sandwich and said it was good but she could have gone another direction and maybe been more satisfied. On a positive note, everything comes with a little soup.

Williams Landing served an older crowd that evening: most of whom I thought were locals.


The food at William’s Landing was good in general but the fried mushrooms were some of the best I have ever been served. Even Michelle liked them and they are generally not her thing. The seasoning was great. I also had a freshly Panko breaded fish sandwich and fries. Both came out perfectly cooked.


We saw one thing at Williams Landing that I didn’t know was still in use: a cigarette machine. I saw these everywhere growing up, and prior to this trip I can’t tell you the last time I had seen one. It had been a many years. Also pretty sure they didn’t sell for $8.00 per pack then either. Really glad I don’t smoke!


Mushroom Hunting

There were mushrooms everywhere! Unfortunately, this was a state forest so we couldn’t take any of the perfectly edible mushrooms we saw. Suillus Dicipiens were everywhere in the pine woods and most were in pristine condition.

Suillus dicipiens

Had this been a place that allowed it, one could have engaged in an epic foraging session. We captured some fantastic pictures of mushrooms in their prime as others simply withered away. We also saw an amazing flush of Russula hixonii, described by Arlene Bessette as a “rare and beautiful” mushroom.

The oak leaves are a couple of inches long to give you an idea how large the caps can be.

Notice the “Pepto” pink in the front, the white flesh and the browning gills in that middle mushroom? That’s a tell. Looks like something has been eating them.

Bessette also mentions in a paper she co-authored that the mushrooms were or are being considered as a possible “Red-line” species because of the fact that their distribution is thought to be quite limited. With the rise in the numbers of people joining mushroom groups and sharing pictures of these russula on social media, I personally have begun to question how rare they really are, but I am primarily exposed to mushroom hunters in the state of Florida. I have seen Russula hixonii posted and identified by experts numerous times in those groups. I have personally found them in northeast, central east, and central Florida in a few locations. They are large and beautiful. Their “Pepto” pink is distinctive and their browning gills can be another sure sign when you think you see the right color on the cap. They dry to be much smaller than their original size when fresh. Mrs. Bessette mentions that they may smell like cake when drying, but I can’t say that I have found this to be the case in the couple of samples I have dried over the years.

There were some great looking Pulcroboletus floridanus around too. These are another edible mushroom if you happen to find yourself in a place where you are allowed to harvest them and know how to identify them. All that heavy reticulation on the top of the stem is something to look for on these mushrooms. The caps have a bit of a tart taste. Not my favorite, but when I am allowed to take them I will certainly grab a few.

Pulcroboletus floridanus. I love that beautiful reticulation.

We looked around in the St. John’s River Campground and found a couple of boletes, and bunches of Armillaria tabascens, aka Ringless Honey Mushrooms. The Honeys were well past prime and too far gone to eat. Armillaria tabascens are also an aggressive tree pathogen, so you don’t want to take them home to your own yard, as there is a reasonable chance they will kill a number of your trees over time and they don’t seem to be all that picky about the types they infect.

All in all, this was another successful trip that we greatly enjoyed. We are not sure whether or not our paths will take us back to Lake George, Florida area again, but if it does we’ll be happy about it!

Pine Island Florida

IMG_20180518_113443346Great news! We made it to our first wedding anniversary! I know, that shouldn’t be such a big deal, but these days it seems like maybe it is. I tend to agree with a former co-worker that the first year of any long-term endeavor is a bit special, and marriage is certainly no exception. Having loved the solitude we found on the water in the Keys, Michelle and I decided that we wanted to go somewhere a bit off the beaten path and a bit less expensive to celebrate our first anniversary in hopes of finding a similar yet unique experience.

While we considered several locations, including going back to the same home where we were married in Tavernier, Florida in the Florida Keys, we eventually settled on St. James City on Pine Island in southwest Florida. We enjoy getting in the boat and finding places where it is just us and Mother Nature. Pine Island appeared to offer just that kind of experience. It is of course tough to completely escape the sights and sounds of our city lives, but we sure like to try!

Pine Island is just north of Sanibel Island on Florida’s southwest coast, with access to the same fishing and boating areas but fewer people to compete with in town. If seeing Sanibel itself is your goal, then Pine Island may not be the ideal place for you. You can get to Sanibel by boat if you like, but the trip by road would be pretty long. We took my 16 ft. bass boat across the bay to the where the Sanibel Bridge meets the island one day just to do it, and the trip only took a few minutes. Unfortunately, it was getting too windy that day to make a run around the island to see the famous Sanibel beaches, so we went back to the mangroves near the house and spent the rest of our day there. With less wind it would have been easy to make the run.Pine Island

The length of Pine Island can be driven in about a half hour or so. There are a few boat ramps on the island that are available for public use. Each has its own hours of operation so be sure to check those out in advance if you visit the island. We stayed in St. James City at the southern end of the island. The one public boat ramp in St. James offers 24 hour a day launching and loading. There is a fee for use of the boat ramp that can be paid at a fee box. The boat ramp is monitored by camera to help encourage those who don’t do well with the honor system, so be warned if that is you!

We rented a recently upgraded double-wide mobile home on a canal which also had a new boat lift. Many of the neighborhoods are composed mostly of mobile homes, so unless you are willing to spend top dollar, be prepared for that. Ours was very comfortable, and for $99 per night I have zero complaints!IMG_20180518_072118606_HDRIMG_20180518_165506771_HDR

The scenery on the water around Pine Island was amazing. We were able to motor out about 100 yards or so from our dock before turning north into the preserve and trolling the beautiful mangroves. We did take some longer trips, but it was windy for much of our week there so most of the time we kept close to home base in the calm water of the mangroves. One of the great things about the island is that you can pretty much always find a spot on the downwind side of some cover to fish. Just getting inside the mangroves helps immensely.IMG_20180518_201602476

Pelicans looking for a handout.

We managed to catch a variety of nice fish, and even cooked a few up at the house. Some of the best fishing we found was within eyesight of our own dock! Save yourself some searching and pick up a nautical map that shows depths and local fishing spots. The maps aren’t exactly cheap but can be helpful when visiting new water. We had dolphins and manatees swim directly under our boat while cruising in and out of the canal. The water was so clear in the canal that we saw one of the dolphins rolling over under the boat and looking up at us as it passed below. It was a new experience for me, and I see dolphins all the time at home. The sunsets were second to none! One of the few things we took pictures of that week.


Pine Island Sound

Sunset over Pine Island Sound


Mangrove sunset

Colorful sunset in the mangroves

Purple mangrove sunset

Storms brewing

Golden sunset over Pine Island Sound


Restaurant Reviews

Low Key Tiki
3135 Stringfellow Rd, Saint James City, FL 33956


We really enjoyed our time at Low Key Tiki (LKT). The atmosphere was laid back as one might expect given its name. The food was fresh and tasty, and the service was friendly. Michelle and I tried the Po-boy and fries. They came with a sauce on them which was ok, but both of us ordered with sauce on the side when we went back. The sauce was good, but we wanted to maintain some of the shrimp’s crispiness. Obviously, they were good enough that we had them twice!

Woody’s Waterside Island Rum & Grille • 3051 Stringfellow Road • St. James City, FL 33956 • 239-283-5555


A.K.A. The Drunkenmost Point – Being at the southern end of Pine Island, this is one of their claims to fame. Bouy

Our Selections:

Here we tried the most amazing Blue Crab balls we’ve ever tasted. Don’t blame me for the name of the dish and get those dirty jokes out of your mind! Think of crab cakes about the size of a healthy hush puppy. They were exactly as we fans of crab cakes like them to be… more crab than bread crumbs! We also had the Coconut Fried Shrimp and they were crisp and delicious. The Mandarin Orange Sauce was a great accompaniment. The second time around we ordered the appetizers once more, but I also ordered the pulled pork sandwich, which was fantastic. Woody’s was the closest place to our home away from home, at only about 3 blocks. We loved the place! We recommend you stop by and say hi to the staff at Woody’s when you visit Pine Island. We think you’ll be glad you did!

Saltwater Smokehouse


This place will offer you much more than the appearance would suggest. The building is a small blue building with a dusty parking lot on the side of the main road running North/South across the island. You might not stop if somebody didn’t give you the heads-up. Heads-up!

Our Selections:

Surprise, we ordered Coconut Shrimp again as we so often do, and they did not disappoint. The BBQ was good, as were the sides of slaw and fries. I ordered a brisket sandwich plate and we really don’t remember what Michelle had there because the real star of the meal turned out to be the dessert! Although there are no desserts printed on the menu, they were offering a special of Apple Pie topped with vanilla ice cream, which was topped with candied bacon. Sound crazy to you? It was amazing!!!! We regretted only getting one to split between us. Do over?

Pine Island Getaway Cafe
5281 Doug Taylor Circle, St James City, FL 33956
(239) 283-3602


If you are looking for a great breakfast stop, this is your place! It is off the beaten path and it is small, but the line that forms soon after opening tells you that it is known and loved by the locals. We stopped by twice.

Our Selections:
Michelle is a pastry lover, so she was on cloud nine! She tried the chocolate croissants one day, and we both had a breakfast sandwich on a fresh roll on our second trip. The bread was so fresh and crusty I just wanted more! Most of the items are limited availability, so get there early for the best selection. Once they are gone for the day, that’s that!

No doubt there are quite a few other great places to try on Pine island, and if we get to go back to stay in Matlacha on the north end of the island, we’ll try to let you know!

Tavernier, Florida, and the Upper Keys


When my wife and I met, neither of us was in a position that provided us a great deal of disposable income. When we became engaged, we knew that coming up with the money to get married would be challenging. As I’m sure many of you may know, there is really no such thing as getting married inexpensively once you decide to hold the ceremony somewhere other than a courthouse lobby.
My opinion from day one was that we should go to the Keys to get married, as we really didn’t have the money to get married at home and still afford to have a honeymoon. In my opinion combining the two in some fashion was the way to go and I felt I could afford to make it happen. Initially Michelle felt differently and wanted to marry close to home where she believed as many people could make it as possible, so we agreed that we could take a serious look at having the wedding near home. We looked at many venues, and all were well outside what we had available to spend if we also wanted to have a honeymoon trip. Decisions, decisions…
We decided to explore having our ceremony at Michelle’s grandparents’ home that had the space and a nice view, as well as the emotional bonus for the simple fact that it was her grandparents’ home. Over the first few weeks of planning my wife cried nearly every day (I have come to understand since then that this is common) as she tried to satisfy the opinions and suggestions of her fellow wedding planners. I became frustrated at seeing my wife crying so frequently and again pressed for a destination wedding. My thought was that this would reduce the size of the wedding somewhat, lower the overall expense, and still allow us to have a great wedding and amazing honeymoon. There will always be some people who can’t attend a wedding no matter where it is, and if you are unsure how many times you will be able to take such a trip I say that as a couple you do what is best for you during this special time in your life, and hope that everyone understands. After a few difficult discussions about what we could and could not afford and discussing whether the people who absolutely had to be there could be there we agreed to change direction and start looking more seriously at getting married in the Florida Keys.
To prevent a blog from becoming a novel, we settled on renting an amazing home in Tavernier, Florida on the bay side that was able to house us, our parents and the wedding party. The home was on a canal with access to the bay, had the space we needed for the wedding ceremony and had a great feel to it. We managed to have an amazing wedding thanks to help from Michelle’s parents and a couple of their best friends, along with an amazing vacation for about the same amount of money that the wedding alone would have cost us at home. Those memories will live on with us for the rest of our lives. Winner, winner chicken dinner!
Now with the back story complete, on to the reason we are writing this blog entry. We want to kick off our vacation destination and restaurant reviews now as we await our next camping trip in December. I hope you’ll find some reviews of the amazing restaurants we visited in Tavernier and the Keys useful, or maybe they will just remind you of the amazing times you spent there yourselves. If so, please feel free to comment! You may notice that we tend to be appetizer people. Both of us really like to have a variety of flavors available, and this allows us to satisfy our tastes. Coconut shrimp was a thing for us in the Keys, so if you like those, we may have a few places for you!

Anglers Cafe & Live Bait Islamorada – 90515 Old Hwy, Islamorada, FL 33070

Anglers Cafe Storefront

First, let’s talk about a little place called Anglers Café & Live Bait. Islamorada. Unless you fish, you would probably never see it despite driving right past it on your way through Tavernier. It’s a small place with a limited menu. The building is divided in half between the bait and tackle shop and diner. Customers can pass freely between the two when inside, and don’t let the idea of it being a bait shop throw you off. There are no foul odors or anything gross. All the bait is handled outside. There are just a few small tables to sit at on the diner side of the building. Since we were visiting early in the day we had the BLT’s. If you like mimosa’s, rumor has it that those are pretty good as well! The bread was fresh and crusty, and the lettuce and tomatoes were cool and crisp. We went back a few times for breakfast throughout that week before taking our boat out on the bay. The owners/operators were friendly and provided great service and a little free local fishing advice. We’ll certainly stop again if we go back to Tavernier.

Our Food Selection:

BLT – $6.99

MEAT Eatery & Tap Room – 88005 Overseas Hwy, Islamorada, FL 33036

MEAT storefront


MEAT, what can we say about this place? Want to know what they’re known for? MEAT! Yes, if you are a fan of some delicious, juicy, meaty goodness, this is the place for you! What’s that you say? You also enjoy fried food? Then oh my gosh, a day that involved a meal at MEAT would be a lucky day for you! Now to be honest I have never been a big fan of pimento cheese and burgers are not a food I crave very often, but this Inside-Out Juicy Lucy burger was A-Mazing! The cheese is stuffed inside the burger and the burger was cooked perfectly to order. The cheese mixing with the juicy burger was delicious! Being a fan of onion rings and bacon, they were in my opinion the perfect topper for this burger. You could add more, but why? Some things are great just the way they are, and outside of a dip in some ketchup I didn’t add anything else to mine. But you do you! The fries were crisp and tasty. I hate a soggy fry, and these were not at all soggy. We both enjoyed the flavor that little sprinkle of parmesan cheese provided.
The establishment has a selection of adult beverages, and of course sodas and tea. If you spend any time in Tavernier, this is a great choice for the meat loving crew! This is another one that we visited more than once. We ate in and picked up carry-out for the house on one occasion.

Our Food Selections:

Inside-Out Juicy Lucy Burger with fries on the side  – pimento cheese and bacon stuffed Angus burger topped with American cheese, lettuce and tomato served with house fries – $12.00
Truffled Bistro Fries with parmesan and rosemary a la carte – $7.50
Fried Onion Strings with beer cheese dipping sauce $4.50

Marker 88 – 88000 Overseas Hwy, Islamorada, FL 33070Marker 88 Bouy



Marker 88 was a beautiful place to have a meal. The bayfront tables were fantastic, and we loved the food. As with several of the other places we visited, we earned at least a couple of frequent flier miles with this place. The coconut shrimp was amazing. If you’re a fan of Bloodline on Netflix, you’ll recognize the scenery and tables at Marker 88. Michelle and I saw the exact table we sat at in one episode. We stopped here on the way back from Key West and picked up a carry out order to take out on the boat to eat as we watched the sunset carry us into one of our last nights in the keys. That night we were also treated to an amazing lightening show from a thunderstorm that was out over the Gulf Stream. It was such a great way to close out our week.

Our Food Selections:

Crab Cakes – $17.00
Hot Blue Crab dip – $16.00
Coconut Shrimp – $16.00

Hogfish Grill – 6810 Front St, Stock Island, FL 33040Cool Hogfish signsHogfish front

You’ll wonder where you’re going as you’re following your GPS to this hidden treasure. Luckily, they have signage to help you out! This isn’t in the upper keys, but we took a day trip to Key West and I imagine most people do the same so I’m sharing a place or two from the day trip that we really enjoyed. Hogfish is well off the beaten path in what I would describe as a keys fishing village. You’ll see lots of work trucks and some residential areas with flavor, but when you get to Hogfish, you’ll know it. The building is eclectic and seems perfectly suited to its location. Parking is slim, but we lucked out and found a spot right in front of the building as soon as we pulled up. Upon entry, it seemed as if there were more locals than we tourists, which is a good thing. We just had one appetizer at Hogfish. The fried Dragon Shrimp with special Dragon sauce and pineapple salsa. The shrimp was crispy, and the sauce was sweet and spicy. The food was great, and it was worth the trip off the main drag to get there.
On our way out, we stopped at their t-shirt stand and bought a few things, including a t-shirt for each of us. Michelle absolutely loved her Hogfish t-shirt, but unfortunately soon after returning home she accidentally splashed a small spot with bleach, and of course it was in the front where it was highly visible. I hated seeing her upset over her shirt so I checked the Hogfish website in hopes they would have an on-line store, and unfortunately, they did not. Unwilling to give up I called Hogfish a couple of times over the next few days until I was able to catch a manager there and asked if I could purchase a new shirt over the phone and have it mailed to our home. He agreed to help me out, sent me pictures of the shirts they had available (not the same ones they had when we were there previously), and accepted my payment over the phone. He even went out on his own time to mail the package to me. I am so appreciative of these guys. If you find yourself in the middle or lower Florida Keys, go check them out.

Our Food selection:

Fried Dragon Shrimp with special Dragon sauce and pineapple salsa – $13.95

What’s the Fish? Rolls and More – 90775 Old Hwy Unit 6, Tavernier

What's the Fish logo

This was a small location that was easy to miss if you weren’t looking. Don’t let the small size fool you. The flavor is anything but small. We split a blackened fish sandwich. While it was not blackened New Orleans style in a white-hot cast iron skillet, the blackening seasoning was flavorful, and the fish was cooked perfectly. We enjoyed a cold soda and our sandwich outside in the tiki area. It was a nice light lunch and the service was great which is as much the reason for our positive review as the tasty fresh food. Give them a shot if you are in town, and tell them we sent you. They won’t know us, but I’m sure they’ll appreciate it anyway!

Our Food Selection:

Fresh Catch Sandwich with coleslaw and fries – $17.00

Islamorada Fish Company – 81532 Overseas Hwy, Islamorada, FL 33036


Nurse Sharks and tarpon

It was cool to watch the tarpon and Nurse sharks being fed right off the deck where the tables are located! The little spit of land that sticks out and is lit up at night is beautiful, and offers up some great photo opportunities.

Our Selections:

Neither of us really remembers what we had there. The fish tacos and crab cakes look familiar, but that’s about all we can say about the menu, except that we know we didn’t have a bad food experience and the view alone is a good reason to stop so we don’t mind sharing.

We could offer a few other suggestions of cool things to see, but exploring is half the fun so maybe it’s best we don’t. Food isn’t cheap down there, so at least we can point you in the direction of a few places that it just may be worth it. Enjoy!