One of the things I love about Naples is that it’s only a short drive away from so many great vacation spots, making it fairly easy and inexpensive to plan little getaways, whether with my husband or for a girls’ weekend. All the relaxation of a vacation, none of the fuss. Perfect.
Every year, my lovely friend Cori Sue, one of the co-founders behind the über-popular DC lifestyle blog Bitches Who Brunch, escapes the snow and heads south to spend Christmas in the St. Petersburg, Florida, area, which gives me the perfect excuse to head north for a few days of sun, shopping and good ol’ gossip.
It’s only about two-and-a-half hours from Naples to Indian Rocks Beach, which was our home base for the weekend. Cori Sue spent most of her childhood there, where her family still owns an adorable beach cottage, so we headed straight there to catch some sun by the pool and take a walk on the beach, which is wide and beautiful and not uncomfortably crowded—surprising during such a busy time of the year.
As you’d expect from a beach town, Indian Rocks Beach is home to several casual, dive bar-type restaurants, all along Gulf Boulevard and within walking distance from the beach. We went to PJ’s Oyster Bar for lunch and a Corona or two and Crabby Bill’s for a light dinner (and another Corona or two), and both were just as you’d expect: laid-back, chill and definitely not for the diet-minded (read: it’s all fried seafood, though we did somewhat redeem ourselves with an order of ahi tuna at PJ’s). Whatever. We were on vacation.
Of course, when it’s your job to brunch, plans for Sunday are kind of a given. Cori Sue made a reservation at Piquant, a French café and bakery in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Tampa, where we met up with her DC friend Brittney Ann of the blog Hosting & Toasting and Brittney’s sister, Megan, a Tampa native. We ordered mimosas all around, followed by a shared plate of macarons (amazing) and cronuts (a croissant-donut hybrid that Cori Sue and Megan couldn’t stop gushing about). For brunch, I decided on the roasted vegetable flatbread, which was light, flavorful and—bonus!—looked really pretty, too. (For a more detailed recap of Piquant, check out Cori Sue’s review on Bitches Who Brunch.)
After brunch, we wandered around Hyde Park Village, where I promptly fell in love with its quaint but still up-to-date feel. It maintains a good mix of independent boutiques and home décor shops, as well as a well-selected collection of chain retailers, such as lululemon, Anthropologie and Restoration Hardware.
From there, Cori Sue and I headed to Oxford Exchange, a bookstore-restaurant-coffee shop which she insisted was worth the trip—and it was. Oxford Exchange (designated on the outside of the all-white building by a small, nondescript “OE”) is the closest thing to a real-life Hogwarts I’ve ever seen, from the apothecary-style displays to the portrait-lined staircase (I was almost waiting for them to start moving.) We didn’t try the restaurant (which was absolutely packed and offered seating indoors as well as in a two-story, glass-roofed conservatory), but it’s definitely a must for my next visit.
Indian Rocks Beach/St. Petersburg: a laid-back weekend getaway with a small beach-town feel
Hyde Park/Tampa: a dash of not-typically-Floridian culture, character and charm