Florida Illustrated’s 2016 Year in Review

If I see one more post about how 2016 sucked, I just might die of boredom. Yes, a lot of shit went down in 2016, especially in this country. We had an ugly election and a lot of people died (I’m not implying that the two are linked). We lost way too many police officers, celebrities, and unarmed black men. There were so many incidents of race-related bullying in schools following the 2016 election, that an education website started collecting and documenting them all (The 74). And while the hashtag #NotMyPresident was not the most popular of 2016, it logged a mile-long record of political dissent that would have made George Washington blush. In addition to this, we had to watch the world suffer multiple terrorist attacks in multiple countries. These are all important topics worthy of discussion and action, but that’s not what this blog is about.

Florida Illustrated is about looking at the sunny side of life. This is supposed to be a place to escape your problems and find something fun to do. So dig your toes into my virtual Florida sand and enjoy a recap of 2016’s fun side.

Festivals & Events

Regardless of what happens in this country or the world beyond, Florida will have outdoor festivals. Florida Illustrated covered over a dozen festivals and events in Central Florida this year, including food festivals, music festivals, art festivals, and even a reading  festival.

The Fred Johnson Quartet performing at Clearwater Jazz Holiday

Just in the city of Clearwater alone, we had the Clearwater Sea-Blues Festival, the Sugar Sand Festival & Sunsets at Pier 60, Clearwater Beach Taste Fest, Frenchy’s Stone Crab Weekend, the SuperBoat races (forthcoming), the Outback Bowl Beach Day & New Year’s Eve Parade, and Clearwater Jazz Holiday. My coverage of Clearwater Jazz Holiday, my perennial favorite, was the most extensive, including two blog posts devoted to the music (The Music of Clearwater Jazz Parts 1 & 2), another post about the festival food, and a brief appearance on the Taste of Tampa Bay radio show.

Clearwater Sea Blues Festival

Clearwater Beach sand Sculpture

Sand sculpture at the 2016 Sugar Sand festival

Hooters Clearwater

Hooters at Clearwater Taste Fest

Clearwater Super Boat races

I tried two Florida seafood festivals for the first time this year, one at Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards in Clermont, and the other in New Port Richey’s Sims Park. Both were fun, but the Stone Crab festivals are still my favorite.

Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards

cotee river seafest

Cotee River Seafest

stone crab claws

Celebrating Frenchy’s Stone Crab Weekend at Frenchy’s Saltwater cafe

In Dunedin, another prime festival location, I attended A Taste of Dunedin, the House of Beer Craft Beer Festival, and 2nd Friday Night on the Town. Between the three of these, I sampled the best of Dunedin’s restaurant, craft beer, and arts scenes.

Taste of Dunedin

Taste of Dunedin

The House of Beer Craft Beer Festival in Edgewater Park

Jan Kadushin showing her work at Stirling Studios on 2nd Friday

I attended three different German festivals in the Tampa bay area for the first time this year: Frühlingsfest at Lagerhaus in Palm Harbor, Oktoberfest Tampa, and the Pinellas County German American Society’s Oktoberfest in Pinellas Park. I enjoyed all three of these, but the German American Society’s Oktoberfest was my favorite.

a toast

Fruhlingsfest at Lagerhaus

Oktoberfest Tampa

Pinellas German American Society Oktoberfest

I always look forward to the Florida State Fair and the Florida Strawberry Festival each year, and this year I attended both.

The Midway at The Florida State Fair

Strawberry Shortcake buffet at the Florida Strawberry Festival

I went to two of the biggest art festivals in the Tampa Bay area: SPF in St. Petersburg and the Tarpon Springs Fine Arts Festival in North Pinellas. I even went to my first reading festival: The Times Festival of Reading at USF St. Petersburg.

Dasic Fernandez SHINE 2016 mural on Central Avenue, seen during SPF

Art on the Bayou, Tarpon Springs Fine Arts Festival

Robert Olen Butler reading to a large crowd in the Barnes Pavilion at the Times Festival of Reading

It’s mandatory to attend at least one pirate-themed festival a year in order to remain a Florida Resident (just kidding), so I attended the inaugural Tarpon Turtlerilla in Tarpon Springs, and it was a blast.

The inaugural Tarpon Turtlerilla


I explored Florida’s coastline on a grand scale this year, traveling north up the west coast of Florida and then north up the east coast of Florida. This resulted in several Florida road trip and weekend trip posts.

The A1A trip up Florida’s east coast has thus far resulted in 7 posts:

  1. Planning a Great A1Adventure
  2. Experience Flagler Beach
  3. A Pub Crawl with History – Fernandina Beach
  4. Everything’s Beachy Keen on Amelia Island
  5. Amelia Island Historic District Q&A
  6. Cruising the Amelia River
  7. Doubly Sweet in St. Augustine: Claude’s Chocolate and Hot Shot Bakery

This section of Florida is often referred to as Florida’s First Coast or Historic Coast, because this was the first coast in Florida to be settled by the Spanish in the late 1500’s. While in this part of the state, I also went on a walking ghost tour, visited Odd Birds Bar, and stayed at the Casa Monica Hotel in St. Augustine; and I ate a lot of shrimp in Fernandina Beach. These things, however, haven’t yet made their way onto Florida Illustrated.

Flagler Beach

Historic District in Fernandina Beach

the palace saloon

The Palace Saloon in Fernandina Beach

Fort Clinch State Park Beach on Amelia Island

Paper plant and shrimp boats on the Amelia River

I took three different trips up Florida’s west coast with my family this year. On our first trip, we traveled up US-19 to see the manatees in Homosassa and Crystal River on a stretch of Florida’s coastline called the Nature Coast. This resulted in the posts: “Citrus County Manatee Weekend” and “Florida’s Nature Coast.” On a second trip up the Nature Coast, we ate clams in Cedar Key and saw nesting birds on the surrounding islands.

Manatees in Three Sisters Springs

The Seafood Trio Pasta special at the Island Hotel’s seafood restaurant in Cedar Key, with clams, shrimp, scallops, kale, sundried tomatoes, artichokes, and angel hair pasta.

roseate spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbills and Cormorants on Snake Key.

On a third trip up Florida’s west coast, we traveled west on US98 along Florida’s panhandle, seeing both the Forgotten Coast and the Emerald Coast. I wrote about this trip in “From the Forgotten Coast to the Emerald Coast: A Florida Road Trip,” and again, briefly, in “Dining Double: Best Beach Burgers.”

The Forgotten Coast

Henderson Beach on the Emerald Coast

The Beach House Burger

I also spent a weekend in Orlando exploring the newly expanded Disney Springs (post forthcoming).

In the month of October, I did some travelling outside of the state of Florida, visiting friends in Buffalo, NY and family in Allen Park, MI. I blogged my day trip to Frankenmuth, MI as a guest on Life in Michigan last month. Click HERE to read that one.

Restaurant & Bar Reviews

I was pleased to dine at four new restaurants in North Pinellas County this year. Oldsmar’s burgeoning restaurant scene grew further this year with the addition of the polished casual Craft Street Kitchen and Café Mezze. From all the fanfare surrounding the opening of a Craft Street Kitchen in Oldsmar, it was apparent that the people of Oldsmar really needed a good cocktail, creative comfort food, and a fun place to hang out late at night. My initial review of Craft Street Kitchen was this year’s 2nd most popular post. It was also the beginning of a beautiful collaboration. It was through this review that I met fellow writer, Laura Gilstrap, who went on to write 3 great posts for Florida Illustrated this year – two on the subject of Craft Street Kitchen’s desserts and a third on Palm Harbor’s Stilt House Brewery.

Filthy Buffalo at Craft Street Kitchen Oldsmar

Short Rib Sweet Potato tots from Craft Street Kitchen Oldsmar

Stilt House beer flight

Flight of beers from Stilt House Brewery in Palm Harbor, FL. From left to right: Red Solo Cup Irish Red Ale, Soul Candy Milk Stout, Orange Belt Citrus Pale Ale, Yellow Bluff Peach Berliner, Hell Yeah! Honey Jalapeno Cornbread Lager, and Stilt Street Jasmine Saison.

The Mixed Grill Kebab from Café Mezze

Café Mezze brought fabulous kabobs to Oldsmar, Le Gumbo brought Cajun food to Palm Harbor, Extreme Pizza brought California-style pizza to Palm Harbor and Clearwater, and Cody’s Roadhouse celebrated their 22nd anniversary.


Le Gumbo

Extreme Pizza

In addition to reviewing these new restaurants (and restaurant anniversary), I also started a series called “Winner Winner Seafood Dinner” that would allow me to feature great Florida seafood dinners from more established restaurants.

Galleries & Studios

Florida has been an artists’ haven for as long as I can remember. I visited some galleries & studios for the first time this year, and I revisited some of my old favorites. I toured both Santaella Studios in West Tampa and Stirling Art Studios in downtown Dunedin during their open houses, where I met many talented artists and saw some of their work.

Santaella Studios

Cathleen Martinetto

Cathleen Martinetto working on a miniature at Stirling Studios

At Dunedin Night on the Town, I toured the Painted Fish and Clay & Paper galleries, both featuring work from local Dunedin artists. I visited the Franklin Anderson Gallery in downtown Crystal River for the first time – it was an excellent introduction to the work of local artists living in the Crystal River area.

Franklin Anderson Gallery

Wine and art at The Painted Fish

Clay and Paper

There were so many themed art shows in the Tampa Bay area this year, as always, I found it hard to pick and choose. I ended up seeing the Disney and Dali exhibit in St. Pete, the AQUIFERious exhibit at HCC Ybor, and Facing Deconstruction at Wine & Brew, all of which featured work from some great local artists.


Facing Deconstruction at Wine & Brew


Usually when I find myself craving nature, I leave behind the sprawling metropolis that is the Tampa Bay area and travel to more rural areas of Florida, like Crystal River, Homosassa, and Cedar Key. I did, however, hit up a couple of urban oases in the Tampa Bay area in 2016. Brooker Creek Preserve in Tarpon Springs and Lettuce Lake Park in Tampa both provided me with ample nature photography opportunities in the Tampa Bay area in 2016. In 2017 I hope to explore the area’s state parks some more, especially Honeymoon Island, Hillsborough River State Park, and Egmont Key.

Nature Coast

Brooker Creek Preserve

Lettuce Lake

Best of 2016

In conclusion, my 2016 didn’t exactly suck. It’s easy to focus on all the bad things that happened in the world this year, but in my world, a lot of good, fun things happened too. I went to a lot of festivals, savored many good eats, traveled copiously, sat in the sand, and walked in the woods. Scrolling through a year’s worth of good times, I revisited some of my favorite moments of 2016 via computer as I wrote this post.

My favorites: the historical pub crawl in Fernandina Beach, cruising down the Amelia River, seeing Flagler Beach for the first time, celebrating Oktoberfest, listening to four days of jazz in Coachman Park, spending time on Clearwater Beach, seeing the manatees in Crystal River and the nesting birds around Cedar Key, and traveling to Buffalo, NY and Frankenmuth, MI.

But my favorites are not your favorites. A cursory glance at my 2016 statistics showed that my readers prefer my restaurant reviews and lists of things to do on holidays. I look forward to writing more of these types of posts in 2017. To see Florida Illustrated’s best posts of 2016, based on popularity, click HERE.

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