Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Just Shellin' in Sanibel

There are certain things that come to mind when you think of the perfect beach experience. Sun, sand, surf and water are a given. But for me I also want the ambiance. Swaying palms, the pastel colored hues of the beach and sky, a light breeze and, like a cherry on top of a sundae, pretty sea shells.

A few years ago I took my first trip to Florida, to South Beach in Miami.  There on the beaches, interspersed between the crystal blue waters, white powder sand and gorgeous South Beach models I thought I'd also find my pretty seashells. It just seemed like that's how it would be. Pretty things beget other pretty things right?

I scoured the beaches for shells and ended up finding just one tiny, lonely shell. I was thrilled to death when I found it so much so that we each (jokingly) took a picture with it! I had a great time in Miami. I partied, danced and slumbered on the beach, it was everything I thought it would be.....other than the missing shells that is.

Me and my one tiny shell in South Beach.

Last spring I saw a travel show highlighting Sanibel Island, FL on their "best beaches" list and I knew that I had found my bliss. White sand? Check. Crystal blue green water? Check. And most importantly...... seashells? Check!

Sanibel Island is known as one of the best shelling beaches in the world because of it's geographic placement. Unlike most islands that run north to south, Sanibel is situated east to west making the entire island act like a net, catching the shells along its beaches as the tides bring them inland.
Sanibel is also famous for it's signature "Sanibel Stoop" The "stoop" is the position that one takes when sifting through the masses of shells on the beach. Stooped over at the waist  or crouched down peering into the sand and surf is how most people spend there time on its beaches.

There are very strict laws when it comes to shelling on the island. The State of Florida prohibits the taking of live shells. A live shell is considered one that is still inhabited by a mollusk, whether or not the mollusk is alive or dead. Sand dollars, starfish and sea urchins are also covered under this law. The most commonly found seashells on Sanibel beaches are: conch, junonia, lightning whelk, cockle, tulip and sand dollars shells.

With just one tiny sea shell in my fledgling collection, my hopes were to just to come home with a handful of random shells. After seeing the abundance of shells along the beaches I surprisingly became very picky. I started hunting for the biggest and most intact sea shells I could find and ended up walking away with several small conch shells! A newbie sheller, I wasn't able to find the elusive and prized sand dollar and junonia shells. That would have required wading out into the surf to the sand bar at the crack of dawn with a long handled net.....something I figured I'd leave to the pros. Nevertheless I was extremely happy to come away with what I did. Now that I know where to go for my prized sea shells I look forward to slowly adding to my collection over the years.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Santa Barbara

Hi everyone! Here's a post from a trip to Santa Barbara last year......I'm slowly working posts over from my other blogs, blending all of them into just one blog.... so much easier to maintain! ;)

Santa Barbara

Just got back from our long weekend in Santa Barbara! We had a great time and got a lot of planning done for the wedding. Rain was predicted for the entire weekend but we didn't mind..... winter in Santa Barbara is still far fairer than in Ohio!


We left Cleveland at 8:30 am., had a layover at LAX before we got on the plane to SB and arrived at around 4 p.m. The weather was better than I expected. Clear, blue sky with a cool, brisk wind. After weeks of below zero temps in Ohio it felt down right balmy to us! After checking into the Hotel Santa Barbara located right in the middle of popular State Street (lined with shops, bars, restaurants, art galleries), we had dinner right across the street at Joe's Cafe. I've only previously been to Joe's Cafe for drinks and each time it was always extremely packed. Since it was Thursday night and early it was still mellow and we were able to enjoy a good meal there.  We were still on east coast time so we decided to call it a night since the next day was a full, jam packed day of wedding planning. Fun, fun, fun....

Spanish tile stairways. I just thought they were so pretty!

We woke up Friday morning to an overcast sky and a little drizzle. After a caffeine fix we headed to the Fess Parker Double Tree Resort to meet up with the event/catering manager to plan the Welcome Reception and confirm the details of our hotel room block. By noon it was raining really, really heavily even flooding parts of the streets in some places. We hit the road to Firestone Winery disappointed by the gloomy weather and hoping that it might clear up.

Fess Parker Double Tree Resorts Bar Patio

FP Corridor and Courtyard

The pool!

From downtown SB to the winery it was a 45 minute drive. As we drove further north and inland the heavy rain became lighter and lighter. At the winery we met with the event manager and finalized set ups for the ceremony, dinner and dancing. The weather completely cleared while we were in the winery. Yay! After the meeting we decided to do a tasting at Firestone. The fee for a tasting is $10 for 7 tastes of their wines plus you get to keep the signature wine glass. I'm not the biggest fan of wine but I do love to do wine tastings. It's the perfect amount of wine for me! We capped the entire day off with a late lunch at the Los Olivos cafe. It is a beautiful restaurant that offers hundreds of wine as well as delicious food! It was also featured (along with Firestone Winery) in the movie Sideways.

Beautiful Firestone vineyards!

Wine tasting


We had set this day aside to explore the city and hoped as we went to bed on Friday night that the weather would permit us to do so. As luck would have it we awoke to a beautiful, sunny day! After exploring all of State St. we had lunch and then took the SB Waterfront Electric Trolley down to Stearn's Wharf.
State Street:

State Street is the main street in downtown SB that runs north and south for about a mile and a half and is lined with shops, bars, restaurants and antique and art galleries. Toward the north end of the street there is also the SB Museum of Art. Displays include American, Asian, 19th Century European, contemporary, Greek & Roman antiquities, and photography.

I was obsessed with these trees...I just thought they were both funny looking and architectural looking at the same time.
Many of the buildings along State St. have beautiful fronts such as this.
There are several clusters of stores set back from the main streets so make sure to wander into these enclaves as you come upon them. We wandered into one called La Arcada lined with sculptures, benches and a fountain filled with live turtles, a very European feel.

Ben and me putting the finishing touches on the Constitution.

All done! Let's celebrate!

Stearn's Wharf:
The SB Waterfront Electric Trolley runs up and down State Street as well as along the Waterfront (Cabrillo St.). The trolleys pass by each stop every fifteen minutes and cost 25 cents per ride. It's a very convenient and quick way to get around the downtown area.

We took the trolley to Stearn's Wharf. You can walk and even drive and park on the Wharf. The Wharf has restaurants, shops and of course gorgeous views of the harbor, ocean, beach and the SB hills.

You can take a tour by boat of the SB waterfront and harbor. There are several different companies you can use, this one is a pirate boat tour!

These pics are for Julie & Joe! :) There is a penny press machine located on the Wharf at the Old Wharf Trading Company!

Downtown Wine Tasting:
There are eight winery tasting rooms located in the downtown area, four of which are located within walking distance and are on the Trolley route. The other four are off the main street and would require driving there.

On our way back to the hotel we stopped at the Kalyra tasting room to try their wines. Very good wines, out of the seven we tried there was only one that we did not like. Right next door to Kalyra is another winery called Giessinger. 
Santa Barbara Airport:

For all of you who have never flown into the SB airport I just feel that I must offer full disclosure: It is a small airport serviced mostly by twin prop planes. The planes are small and hold 20 people. I was never a nervous flyer until just the last few years...not sure why...I'm sure the death plunge into Boise on the way back from Brian and Reba's Washington D.C. wedding didn't help much. I went to Oregon once and ended up flying on a tiny plane with just 10 seats. The pilot actually got on, took his jacket off and hung it on the seat in front of me. Yikes! Anyway, the planes that fly into SB from LAX are not that small but I just wanted to prepare everyone for the ride.

The upside is that the flight from LAX to SB is about 40 minutes and in all actuality it seems much shorter than that. Basically, you go up and are there for 20 minutes and then you land. Another positive is that on the way up to SB you fly right up the coast and it is BEAUTIFUL! From LAX you fly over the beaches Redondo, Hermosa and Manhattan and then over Marina Del Rey and Malibu. As you make your way into SB County you fly right over Montecito, where all the 10 - 30 million dollar homes are (Oprah has a home there!).  It is very pretty!