Posts Tagged With: Sharky’s

To Panama City Beach … the Long Way!

The gulf at St. Andrews State Park

We were excited to be returning to St. Andrews State Park in Panama City Beach again this year, but it took something of a circuitous route this time.  You see our future daughter-in-law was having a wedding shower in Memphis just as our trip was to start, so we had to go west before going south. Turned out just fine, however.

We didn’t want to make the entire drive to Memphis all at once, so we made our way northwest through Huntsville, Alabama and stopped for the night at Joe Wheeler State Park along the Tennessee River.  We prefer state parks when we can, since it is reasonable and you discover some cool natural areas.

Not much of a campsite …

Jackie made the reservation for a pull-through site, since we didn’t want to disconnect the car and tow dolly, but we discovered this was more of a pull-aside site.  Maybe just a wide spot in the road, an extra bit of shoulder . . .  It was long enough, there was plenty of room between sites, we had full hookups and a nice view of the lake, but it had a few problems.  First off, we weren’t facing the campsite.

Sites are usually situated so your right side faces into the site, with utilities on the left.  In this case we faced the road, fairly tightly, too.  Putting the awning out was out of the question and we barely extended the bedroom slide – just enough to get around the bed and into drawers.  Stepping out the motorhome door meant looking both ways for sure. And if we had wanted to use the picnic table, well that was way off thataways.  But, it was only one night and easy to pull out the next morning.  Overall it was a very nice campground and Kodi enjoyed the evening walkabout to meet children and other dogs.

At least the site next to us was empty.

After driving across northern Alabama and into Tennessee, we pulled into our site at the Agricenter International RV Park, a multipurpose fairgrounds in Shelby Farms Park in Memphis, Tennessee.  While it was a basic gravel lot, it did have full hookups and an onsite Farmer’s Market that was fun to wander through.  We met up with Alex, Bethany and her parents and they took us to Central BBQ for some Memphis-style ribs and barbecue.  I had a plate of ribs, half dry half wet (rub and sauce) that was fall-off-the-bone good and Jackie tried the pulled pork nachos with some good hush puppies to share.

Farmer’s Market

Next day Jackie’s sister and niece arrived from Nashville and the ladies went off to the shower.  Alex, Jim and I took Kodi and their two terriers to another part of Shelby Farms Park for some exercise, with a stop at a dog-friendly outdoor gear shop.

All the dogs …

Once again, Kodi was a hit with the kids (he is such a friendly dog).  Jim and Dawn hosted us all back at their home for a delicious (and I mean delicious) cookout and then it was back to the camper with Judy and Rachel for the night.  However …

Wow did we get a thunderstorm that night!  Everything was buttoned down tight, but the wind was rocking the van pretty good and the rain was quite loud on the roof.  We had the paddleboards strapped to the roof of the car, but while we are parked I usually loosen the straps a bit to let the boards relax and flex.  The wind was so intense I found myself peeking out the bedroom window to check on them, only to see them bouncing around more than I liked.  I had visions of them slipping out from under the straps and snapping or just blowing away.  I certainly couldn’t sleep with the thought, so I ran out to tighten them down and got totally, totally drenched.  But the boards were safe.  Unfortunately, the outside radio compartment popped open and I wondered how the speakers and radio would hold up when dry …

Just a spot for the night

Heading south through Alabama, we stopped at Birmingham South Campground for the night, again with full hookups and a pull-thru site.  Easy access to the highway and a rather nice park.  It was entirely full, since this was now Memorial Day weekend, and we were glad we made an advance reservation.

Nice spot at St. Andrews

Finally hit the road on the last stretch through Alabama and into the Florida panhandle to arrive at St. Andrews State Park.  Got ourselves settled into the campsite and took Kodi on a walkabout to check out dogs, kids, deer and everything else around camp.  While inside the van I suddenly heard loud voices outside and was a bit confused.  Stepping out I realized that the radio had turned on, muffled as it was behind the hatch door.  Odd.  It mysteriously turned on and off a few more times during the trip, so I guess the rain must have short-circuited something.  Just another project for back home.

Lagoon paddleboarding and watching for dolphin.

Let’s see, what did we do for the next few days?  Well, we paddleboarded in the Grand Lagoon out to the inlet, where there is a gorgeous spit of sandy beach and clear water for swimming.  We always manage to spot fish below us and a few dolphin around us.

Lagoon side beach and children’s “pool”

Gulf side beach (awesome)

At the St. Andrews Beach you have a choice of the Gulf side beach or the lagoon side, which has a great spot of water perfect for kids and jetty snorkeling.  Depending on the water conditions, you can snorkel the Gulf side jetty, too.  So we alternated between both, since the water was a refreshing 81 degrees, clear and clean.  Amazing.

Patches Pub Patio

One of the first nights in town we wanted to try a local spot that was always crowded and seemed like fun: Patches Pub.  The patio had live music (not as good as Blind Fate, mind you) and there was a nice selection of craft beer, but no open table.  We were asked to join a couple and promptly learned that they were regulars and were also staying in a motorhome nearby.  They headed out and we ordered a second round and some food, only to look up and see a few ladies who had come out on the patio and were without a table, too.  “Why don’t you join us” we asked, and we were soon sharing stories about the local scene and what was going on.

Peeps at Patches

One of the gals was from Kennesaw, — about 3 miles from our house!  Turns out, two were sisters in town to visit their mother Henrietta, who declared that at 92 she was ready to party.  Her condo sits next to the party spot LaVela, which bills itself as the largest nightclub in the US. Apparently she can catch the action from her balcony, some of which she described in pretty wild detail.  As we were chatting, she swapped her plastic glass of wine for one of her daughter’s glass stems (adding her red to the remaining white for a nice blush wine…) declaring “it’s just classier” and we all laughed and enjoyed our newfound peeps.

How was Kodi in camp?  He was great, and he certainly had his fan club.  Every walk around camp involved meet and greets with kids and dogs – he even got the hang of being walked/run on the leash while Doug was riding his bike (a disaster-in-the-making, according to my brother).  Later in the week we had folks saying “Oh there’s Kodi, Hi Kodi” around camp. Crazy that he became so popular.

Beach Buds

My brother Jeff and sister-in-law Vickie (you will recall them from our cruise posts) joined us for a few days and we had a total blast.  Our mission was a search for the best oysters around, plus some good snorkeling.  But first we had to hit our favorite beach bar Sharky’s for grouper sandwiches and drinks.  It was as good as ever, with a table at the rail along the beach.  So of course there is a bit of a story, too.  Jeff ordered a frozen margarita and was asked “large or small?”  Large of course, and it arrived in a big plastic beer stein with a lid.  Okay then.  I ordered a ‘Shark Attack’ for Jackie and I to split, large of course, and got the same plastic mug.  Cool.  Well, during dinner we learned that refills were cheaper if you had the mug, so heck, why not?  Even better, the mugs were good at two other spots that had the Fat Tuesdays bar setup.  So keep that tidbit in mind for later.

Beachside at Sharky’s

Jeff rented a pontoon boat from the park for a day and off to Shell Island we went.  Shell Island is just on the other side of the inlet and the lagoon side was waist-deep clear water along the jetty.  Amazing to see so many bait fish – clouds of them in the water, plus mullet, pinfish, tang, and others that we really couldn’t identify.  “I can’t believe we have this place to ourselves” was the refrain that morning, since it was indeed a quiet spot.

Thumbs Up for sure!

Oysters discovered!

Mmm, fish tacos

Lunch was the main event, however, and our quest for the best oysters took us to Old St. Andrews Marina and we tied up at the dock.  Within sight was our destination: Hunts Oyster Bar.  This local spot was busy, but we got a table pretty quick and put in an order for a pitcher of beer and two dozen oysters on the half-shell.  Bam! We had our oysters before we had the beer.  Cold, sweet and awesome beauties from the Apalachicola Bay.  Jeff and I worked through them pretty fast and ordered up another tray, while we also asked for their fish tacos.  I have to say that the tacos were really, really good.  Jeff and I marveled at the speed of oyster shucking and he determined he was going to get some for later.  Since we had the rest of the day on the boat, we decided to wait on the oysters to go.

Schools and schools of baitfish

Back onboard we returned to snorkel at Shell Island and then across the inlet to the sandy spit for a quick swim and then back to the marina.  A great day – and I recommend the boat rentals from the park.

Next morning Jeff was pondering the whole question of a box of oysters to take home.  “Dad’s gonna love them, but I don’t know if I want to drive around to Hunt’s to get them.”  Those oysters were calling our name, so we decided to try the closer Treasure Island Seafood Market and bought 100 fresh oysters (hey, they were a good deal), piled in a box and filled with ice.  Hmm, don’t have a clam knife in the van – guess we need to hit Winn Dixie.  Oh, and what about that bloody Mary mix over there?  Perfect!  Back in camp it was time to shuck oysters (Jeff’s job) and serve up bloodys (Doug’s job).  Ouch, that knife was sharp and the oyster was tight … well, 12 oysters and a bloody thumb later we had to rethink.  88 to go and “how exactly did they shuck those guys so quick?”  Ah well, time to snorkel instead.

Grilled oysters

Before he left for home, Jeff left me with about a dozen to fight with.  Grilling seemed to be the answer and that worked out for the next two nights – they were much easier to open when they had been steamed on the grill for a bit.  Jeff later texted from home that he also steamed them and Dad polished off most of them himself (maybe his secret for reaching 90 years old?).  Well done.

Oysters and Dad

I should mention that there was much boating activity that weekend, mostly due to the 3 day season for red snapper in Federal waters.  Best place to see them was at the fish cleaning station, where Jackie pretended that she caught a big one.  I recall those fish-cleaning days on the Jersey shore when we came back in with barrels of bluefish and I didn’t envy the guys who were filleting them at the dock.  But snapper is good eats!  Made me also think of the lionfish cleaning in the Keys from last fall (see the post: Island Hopping).

Did you REALLY catch that?

Fish cleaning

So what is left to say about the remaining week at the beach?  Let’s see, we changed campsites after a week and a visit to the dump station.  New site was closer to the water for a great view.

Dinner for two at the next campsite

Two days of rain – but that was really an excuse to have lunch beachside at Pineapple Willy’s for some amazing grouper po’boys (oh, and a refill rum drink using our special mugs).

Gotta get that refill on a rainy day

Pineapple Willy’s and po’boys

More snorkeling (and my GoPro, since I finally got the batteries charged) and great swimming, since the water was amazingly clear and the bait fish were all over the place.  A last refill rum drink in our special mugs (I mean, we just HAD to check out all the options) and grouper sandwich at Hammerhead Fred’s.  Good times.

Hammerhead Fred’s and the refills

So, despite the 8 hour trip home – never fun at the end of a vacation – we are all set to plan it again for next year.  Remember, those 8 hours include the time it takes to hook up and then unhitch the car and tow dolly and some traffic snarls in Dothan, Eufaula and Atlanta.

I have to start editing the pictures and video from my GoPro, which may take me a few days, so I’ll make them a separate post.  There are some teaser shots in the gallery below.  You can check back later for more of the snorkeling shots and videos.  I updated Happenings with news of our deer and Merlin says he made some comments on Mews, so be sure to give them a look.

And thanks again for following our adventures – we have fun with it and I enjoy writing the stories.

UPDATE:  I have now posted some snorkeling and paddleboarding videos on the “Places” page, so go check them out.

 

 

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Beach Tales

St Andrews 2016 (100)b

A month in Florida is hard to beat: a perfect mix of sunny weather, sparkling clear water, a white sandy beach and plenty of little fish to chase around the water.  That’s been our June so far, with a few stories to share.  We don’t have wifi here in St. Andrews State Park so it has been a convenient excuse to postpone updating the blog and just enjoy the sand and surf.  But a trip to Starbucks will give me time to share what’s been happening:

St Andrews 2016 (65)b

St Andrews 2016 (111)b

St Andrews 2016 (132)b

We love Panama City Beach and St. Andrews State Park.  For us it is a very casual, friendly and laid-back vacation spot.  Can’t beat the campsite, with a view of the Lower Lagoon, a nice breeze and lots of kids on bikes and golf carts zipping around.  We arrived just as the rain stopped from tropical storm Colin and many of the sites were underwater.  A high tide surge added a little more waterfront to many sites, too.

Nice (?) waterfront site

Nice (?) waterfront site

St Andrews 2016 (6)b

High and dry at St. Andrews

The storm cut into the dunes along the Gulf beach, creating a cliff of sand.  You know how kids always want to get buried in the sand at the beach?  It usually means someone gets totally covered in sand and has to rinse off.  Well, sadly, a teenager who had been digging tunnels and caves in this particular sand wall was trapped when the sand collapsed on him.  We were watching the boys dig the tunnels, but minutes after we left the beach emergency crews arrived to dig him out and administer CPR.  Unfortunately he died the next day.  Kind of a rough start to the week.

Ready for the beach

Ready for the beach

Jackie’s sister Judy and family came down to PC Beach mid-week and we spent time at the beach together, snorkeling along the rock jetty and splashing around in the surf.  Just had to snap a shot of us all getting slathered with sunscreen!  We joked about the long trek to the water with all the gear and laughed about the big deck umbrella they brought along.  One afternoon a dark line of thunderstorms moved along the coast as we watched and debated when to pack up.  That decision was made quickly when the wind rack kicked up and umbrellas started to go inside-out.  Jackie grabbed and shut ours down just as we watched Judy’s umbrella go airborne in a slow-motion tumble that pierced itself on a pole, then lifted and tumbled further over the dune.  Ok, time to go.

Tut, tut looks like rain!

Tut, tut looks like rain!

Back at camp we got a phone call that our niece lost her glasses in the scramble.  Could we come help look for them?  Tracing our steps back from the parking lot, down the long boardwalk, up and over the sand dunes and down the beach to the scene of the crime, we looked earnestly for the purple frames.  Not much luck, but I brought a small fan rake and began to skim the area where we were sitting.  Probably useless, but just maybe … wait, what’s that?  Something popped up out of the sand as I scraped along and Presto! there were the glasses.  Great save.

20160608_214449  20160608_214522

Another vacation goal was to seek out local craft breweries and compare the samplings.  We found Nivol Brewery in a strip shopping center and were pleasantly surprised by their operation.  Had some samples of wheat, porter and red ales – they have only been open a month, but have a good selection of local beers on tap.  With their full license pending, we had to buy a souvenir pint glass but could then have a fill of our choice of beer.  We chatted up the brewmaster, who already knew about and carried Burnt Hickory brand and had been visited by Dry County (they have the same tank system), but of course we talked up Southern Sky Brewing, too.

Maybe the strangest craft beer sampling came the next day.  An internet search listed “Screw and Brew” locally, so I just HAD to see what that was all about.  A definite pint glass purchase, I figured.  Jackie helped navigate the location, “wait, you just passed it” … well, according to the online maps, but we didn’t see anything.  U-turn and try again.  “Turn here,” as we drove past a small hardware store and through their side parking lot into a pretty gnarly back lot.  Hmm, that wasn’t right.  Back out front we noticed a small sign in the window “home brewing supplies” and thought what-the-heck.  I left Jackie in the car (this was doubtful) and I ventured in.

Hmm, inside it was pretty much a hardware store, with a wall of home-brew supplies.  “Can I help you?”  Uhh, well, I guess I got the wrong spot.  We are on a hunt for local craft breweries.  A smiling clerk said he could recommend several spots (Fishale, Nivol) and I said those were already on our list.  “Ok, well thanks, I guess I got the information wrong.”

“Hang on, I do have some wheat beer if you’d like a sample” he said, and I cautiously nodded okay. “Just follow me out back.”  Ok, this was speakeasy creepy and I was wondering if I would have to know a secret password or handshake.  Out through the stockroom to that gnarly section of the back room and garage … a rusty fridge had a tap installed and an off-kilter kegerator was nearby.  “Don’t have any fancy glassware, (oh darn, the whole point of the visit), but if you are ok with Styrofoam…”  Next thing I know I have a cup of foamy beer in my hand.  “What do you think?  It’s better this week.”  Well, here goes nothing – lot of head but it’s actually not bad.  We walk back into the store and he says he just can’t keep the beer cold enough in the kegerator, it keeps tripping the circuit breaker…

I thank him for the beer, wish him well, take the rest of the cup back out to the car for Jackie to finish (I mean, seriously, am I supposed to just drive off with this beer?  No DUI for me, thank you).  So chalk that one up to the weirdest sampling ever.

2016-06-16 15.16.47

Local samplings at Fishale

Just down the road we stopped in at Fishale, which was a real pub that featured a lot of real craft brews on tap.  Spent time sampling all sorts of Florida brews and decided to visit Grayton Beer on our way west later in the month, since we liked their 30A Beach Blonde.

Best Grouper Sandwich!

Best Grouper Sandwich!

Caught up with one of our fellow teachers from school when we learned she was staying in PC Beach with a friend, too.  Our suggestion was to meet up for the best grouper sandwich in town at Sharky’s on the beach – which lived up to expectations.  Still the best sandwich in town!  We shared stories and encouraged her to join the ranks of the retired (just maybe one more year of teaching she thinks!).  Good fun all around.

Good Friends

Good Friends

So as I wrap up this posting, I should probably share one last story that just goes to prove that you really do need to check and double check your vacation plans no matter how careful a person you are.  We came back from the beach on our last day in camp and sat out to enjoy an adult beverage and the nice breeze.  We had been talking about what we needed to pack up so we could roll out easily the next day, Monday.  Our plans from 11 months ago were to stay Monday to Monday (2 weeks) and then move to Topsail Hill State Park for 10 days.

A golf cart with two park rangers pulls up … “You know that checkout is 1:00 pm.”  Yes we do, we plan to be out tomorrow by noon for sure.  “You were supposed to be out TODAY by 1:00 (it was now about 6:00).  Yikes, no way, we had a Monday check out.  We scrambled to pull up the reservation info on our phone as he explained that they found another site for the folks who DID have the next reservation and we didn’t have to leave until the morning.  But would we please settle up with the Camp Office in the morning?

So what was the story?  Turns out we had a Sunday to Sunday reservation but put it into our Google calendar as Monday to Monday. The reservation at Topsail Hill was fine, but we got the one at St. Andrews goofed up by one day.  Kept wanting to say, “that’s not us, we aren’t those kind of people… we are rule followers and are well-planned… we are retired teachers (and are always right) …we went out West for 6 weeks… “

Ah well, (sigh), honest mistake.

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Happy Birthday drink for Jackie!

 

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Jackie’s birthday celebration at Dewey Destin’s Harborfront restaurant.

Next stop is Topsail Hill Preserve State Park.  Probably won’t get to post until we are back home.

Check out lots of great photos of the parks here.

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Last Night at St. Andrews

St Andrews 6-12 (12b)

Great day at the beach after morning paddleboarding to sandy point to see dolphin. Even though we have seen plenty at Hilton Head, it is always a thrill when they fluke and pop up near you. Water in the gulf was pretty stirred up with big swells crashing in, so the snorkeling was a bit murkier. Dinner on the beach at Sharky’s (grouper sandwich and grilled tuna steak on salad) capped off a great week, even with morning thunderstorms. Packing up in the morning to move to St. George Island State Park and headed for more adventures.

St Andrews 6-113 (6a)St Andrews 6-113 (7a)

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