Starting off 2023 along the Gulf Coast and touring through Florida

After having a great family Christmas holiday in Marietta, GA, the beginning of 2023 brought us time with family, friends, colleagues, and clients, along with more traveling. Shortly after the new year, we headed south to the Gulf Coast. After one night in Montgomery, we arrived at our destination of, Gulf State Park in Alabama (AL). This waterfront park offers a nice campground and a beach with soft white sand. There are 28+ miles of paved trails providing access to 6000+ acres of parkland, including boardwalk access to the beach. 

After Alabama, we continued east along the coastline to Topsail Hill State Park in FL. This waterfront park provided Jason his first outdoor swim of the year. The layout was like the previous park, only this one had 15 miles of trails to access the parkland and beachfront. 

Both parks offered picturesque sunsets, sunrises, alligators, piers, and some nearby disc golf courses. The weather was warmer than up north but also a little finicky.

After those parks, we continued farther east and drove through the Forgotten Coast of Florida. You can see how it got its name because it was quite undeveloped compared to most of the state. There were some military bases but not too much development along the coastline. You could see the comeback of hurricane-damaged areas like Mexico Beach, which was hit by Hurricane Michael in 2018. We would like to go back to this area because we went through it too fast and didn’t stay overnight. Even though we were just driving through, we had a delicious seafood lunch in the cute town of Apalachicola, FL, AKA “Oyster Town,” at a Hole in the Wall oyster bar where the oysters are salty, and the staff are saltier. It felt like we were in an episode of Mel’s Diner. The sarcasm made us laugh a lot during our lunch, but we felt welcome. 

After the Gulf Coast tour, we headed inland to Disney in Orlando. We stayed in our RV at their Fort Wilderness campground, which allowed us to bike each morning from our campsite to the bus stop to catch transportation to the parks. This was convenient and helped us avoid parking fees. As it happened, they were having their Food and Art Festival. This made for some scrumptious meals and fun picture-taking. They had frames of famous paintings set up so you could join in the picture. We have many fond memories at Disney, including our engagement many years ago. However, we both decided this was our farewell tour. It’s gotten too commercial, expensive, and pressured for us. 

In February, we returned to our all-time favorite campground at Ft. DeSoto Park near St. Petersburg, FL. This place is amazing, with waterfront campsites and views of dolphins and manatees swimming nearby. We were lucky enough to have three different visitors to our campsite, including local friends and longtime friends who were in town from Baltimore. I have to admit, it is a funny feeling to quickly revert to the thought that “I must clean up the house” when you live in an RV. Besides biking, hiking, kayaking, and seeing friends and clients, we watched some amazing kitesurfing on windy days. Also, we went to a fun nearby disc golf course called Showmans. Each basket is decorated with parts of carnival rides and other goofy designs.

After Ft. Desoto on the west coast of Florida, we crossed to the east side. We started near the tip of Florida and had fun times with friends in Ft. Lauderdale. These friends have a boat (the best kind of boat is a friend’s boat), and they took us out for rides along the Intercoastal Waterway with a brief detour out to the Atlantic Ocean. One day we visited Eula Johnson State Park by boat. It was a beautiful spot, and fun to be able to pull the boat up to the shoreline. History was made there during segregation. The park’s namesake led wade-ins that resulted in a beach for African Americans in Broward County.

We didn’t do much exploring as we headed up the A1A along the east coast, but we had lunches in the towns of Delray Beach and Melbourne. In a funny coincidence, we were driving next to the Daytona Racetrack just as the Daytona 500 was beginning. We couldn’t hear the cars, but I saw the jet fighter formation fly right over my vehicle. As we found out after the fact, the Race was the reason we had so much trouble finding a place to stay that weekend. 

As we headed up the east coast of Florida, we discovered a new place to us that we really liked, Ft. Pierce, FL. This town is within an area nicknamed the Treasure Coast. Most of it is along the waterfront, and it had significance for being strategic during wars. In fact, we stayed at the former Officers Cottages built in the 1940s for WWII. In the 1950’s, they had been moved from Hutchinson Island to the area where we stayed, which had been a fort in the 1800’s during the Seminole Indian Wars. It was a brief stay, but at every point, we thought, “I like it here.” There were many public waterfront areas, people were friendly, and it wasn’t too crowded. The downtown area was dotted with cheerfully painted benches, and we had amazing shrimp sandwiches at Little Jim Bait & Tackle. And Jason even found a nearby disc golf course at Indian Hills Recreation Area.

Jacksonville was our last stop in Florida. We stayed at a city park called Huguenot Memorial Park. It was the most interesting campground I’ve ever stayed in. Geographically it was on a peninsula, surrounded by two inlets and the Atlantic Ocean. One inlet is the St. Johns River, a passageway for large ships. So, you could look right from the campground and see a cargo ship going by. Also, a series of large ships were docked across the water. It was noisy but not because of loud campers. The sounds were boat horns, military helicopters, and planes doing touchdowns. There was an extremely long beachfront that you could drive on with drastic tidal changes that moved the waterline hundreds of feet every few hours. The main activities were fishing, boating, biking, hiking, and birding. Some areas were closed off for migrating birds, and there were thousands of them. Most mornings, we walked along the beach to the sounds of birds. When the tides were low, we biked along the beach.

Our final stop before returning to Marietta for a short travel break was Appling, GA. Last year, we enjoyed staying at Wildwood Park in this town, but their grounds were under construction, so we had to find a new place. One thing we loved about this area was the abundance of parks, so it wasn’t hard to find another campground. We stayed at Mistletoe State Park and thoroughly enjoyed it. This campground also has waterfront sites, but we were extra lucky to get a site on a peninsula. We kayaked, hiked, and biked around. Here, we started to see our first signs of spring, and the weather was ever-changing. One day we got stuck in a rainstorm on our bikes. After the ride back, we looked like drowned rats (sorry, no pic). One morning we woke up to a beautiful sunrise behind our motorhome.

When we returned to Marietta, we spent time with family, regrouped, and set back out to the southeast coast for Wilmington, NC. That’s where I’ll pick up the next travel blog. 

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