down to Ft. Myers, Fla., to watch the Minnesota
Twins at spring training? The area has plenty more
MYERS, Fla. — In Hammond Stadium’s sleepy center-field
seating section, I leaned back, pulled down my cap and
sun beat the perfect amount of heat onto my shoulders
during one of the Minnesota Twins’ last spring training
games in Fort Myers. The Key lime cider in my hand dripped
with perspiration. And the crack of the bat — and the
ensuing ruffle of cheers — were the only sounds
interrupting the quiet of a late March afternoon.
this was the life that so many Minnesotans truck down to
Florida each February and March to live. And it’s no
wonder. The hometown team plays nearly every day. Balmy
80-degree days. And the ocean? It’s just a short drive
from the park.
else could there be?
a lot actually.
baseball is your thing, why not consider a coastal crawl?
Wander north along the state’s Gulf Coast shoreline, and
you’ll find nine — seriously, nine — Major League
Baseball teams making their spring homes between Fort
Myers and Tampa.
those sun-splashed diamonds, plenty of other entertaining
options exist, from fishing for dinner off a pier in Anna
Maria, to attending the opera in Sarasota, to strolling
down St. Petersburg’s super-trendy Central Avenue. And
if you want to stay in Fort Myers? We’ve got plenty of
ideas there, too, whether you’re in the mood for sipping
craft cocktails or stalking crocodiles.
guide will give you all the fodder you need to take this
year’s spring training trip to the next level.
a moment, it seemed like everyone on the wooden overhang
was holding their breath.
through the murky water a few dozen yards away was a
slate-hued alligator with jaws big enough to swallow a
watermelon. The birds in the trees perched, silent. Only
mosquitoes hummed. Even a young girl on the dock was awed
into a whisper.
then, suddenly — whoosh — the scale-covered reptile
exploded out of the water, teeth bared, at a low-flying
bird that had gotten too curious and almost paid the
was a stunning moment of nature at a preserve less than
three miles from the Twins’ spring stadium but feels a
to Fort Myers, an unexpected treasure trove of wildlife
and the outdoors. From bird-watching near beaches to
paddling with manatees, the area is packed full of options
to exercise your camera, get some exercise or simply
marvel at Earth’s bounty.
The chef’s table at Bruno’s of Brooklyn (brunosofbrooklyn.com),
a relocated family operation, is the place to be for fresh
pastas and meatballs; grab a drink afterward a few blocks
away at the 86 Room (facebook.com/the86room), a tiny space
serenaded most nights by live jazz or a blues guitarist.
Nab the freshest stone crab at Skip One (skipone41.com), a
small and easily ignored roadside restaurant and seafood
a coffee: Linger over organic coffee at Green Cup Cafe (facebook.com/organicgreencupcafe),
perhaps with one of their salads, wraps or delectable
vegan and gluten-free deserts.
the beach: Sanibel Island, 19 miles from the center of
town, is known for its abundant seashells because of an
underwater shelf that protects the incoming currents.
highlights: Walk the elevated, mile-plus boardwalk through
the woods and around a handful of ponds at Six Mile
Cypress Slough (sloughpreserve.org) and chance spotting
alligators and feral pigs, among other wildlife. Plan
ahead (rentals require 72-hour notice) to kayak alongside
curious manatees at Manatee Park. It’s best to arrive
before April because the rising water temperatures that
come in summer shrink the chances of seeing the playful
mammals. At Sanibel Island’s J.N. Ding Darling refuge,
cotton-candy pink flamingoes wade through the water —
just one of a host of bird varieties and other animals
often witnessed on the grounds.
driven to the area in search of a hopping taqueria a
friend had recommended — but I spotted a cute, blue-doored
salon-boutique mashup nearby, so had wandered in to peruse
the handbags and table full of jewelry first.
the store clerk rang up the turquoise choker I found, she
asked if I’d been to St. Petersburg before. Five years
ago, I told her. She grinned.
changed a lot," she said. "It’s not really the
learned that for myself almost as soon as I walked out of
Salty Roots (saltyrootsboutique.com), wolfed down a couple
of tacos at Casita Taqueria (casitatacos.com) and
continued down the street. Central Avenue was once a
quaint and lonely strip just north of Tropicana Field,
where the Tampa Bay Rays play during the season. Now, it
constitutes the booming heart of the city — 20-plus
blocks of boutiques, restaurants, cafes and bars that
extend from the historic Kenwood neighborhood all the way
to downtown. The rest of town is growing rapidly, too.
Buya (buyaramen.com) offers ramen galore along with other
izakaya staples — shishito peppers, gyoza or pork belly
buns, for example — and a handful of Japanese whiskeys;
at Brick & Mortar (facebook.com/brickandmortarkitchen.com),
a New England-esque interior spills onto the brick
sidewalk patio where veal meatballs, braised octopus and
cold glasses of rosé are savored.
a coffee: Grab a pour-over, cold brew or kombucha at
Bandit Coffee (banditcoffee.co). Intermezzo Coffee &
Cocktails (intermezzocoffeeco.com) serves up cappuccinos
during the day, but turns into a cocktail emporium —
sometimes with a pop-up oyster bar — at night.
the beach: St. Pete Beach, 111/2 miles from St. Petersburg’s
downtown, stretches the entire length of Long Key. Three
bridges connect it to the city.
highlights: Order tacos and chips with queso blanco at the
counter of Casita Taqueria (casitatacos.com) and sit
outside at the picnic tables; downtown’s Saturday
morning market (101 1st St. SE.) offers local shopping and
plenty of eats along the marina; Wooden Roaster (thewoodenrooster.com)
buzzes with patrons scarfing down their signature crêpes
in the mornings; brunch at Proper Kitchen & Cocktails
(properdtsp.com) is a stellar Southern-inspired affair.
crowd packing the Sarasota Opera House sprang to its feet,
season’s final show had come to its own dramatic climax,
with the quintet of crooners singing of love and betrayal
and revenge finally falling quiet on stage. The hundreds
of viewers in the art deco auditorium could hardly contain
opera house — complete with three-story atrium and a
courtyard where patrons sip sparkling wine at intermission
— is a stunning slice of culture in the town of 50,000.
But it’s hardly the only option. The otherwise sleepy
Florida getaway is also home to the Sarasota Orchestra,
the Ringling Museum of Art (ringling.org), ballet and
contemporary dance troupes and various theaters featuring
cabaret, comedy and American theater — all tucked into a
cozy downtown footprint rife with restaurants and shops.
Lounge in the shaded backyard near the tire swing or on
the wooden front porch overlooking a banyan tree at Owen’s
Fish Camp (owensfishcamp.com), which serves up casual
baskets of seafood and occasional live music. Scoot up to
the bar or one of the community tables at the light-filled
Boca (bocasarasota.com) for a juicy burger and some
a coffee: Perq Coffee Bar (perqcoffeebar.us) might be
hidden away from the main strip, but it boasts the biggest
range of coffee in town, from nitro and Japanese iced
coffees to pour-over variations from Ethiopia and Peru. If
you buy a pastry, your barista just might suggest a
specific coffee pairing for it.
the beach: Siesta Key Beach, with its extremely fine white
sand, is consistently cited as one of the best in the
nation; parking may reflect that sentiment.
highlights: The Sarasota Orchestra (sarasotaorchestra.org)
hosts more than 100 events annually; a former London’s
Royal Ballet dancer and choreographer now directs the
Sarasota Ballet (sarasotaballet.org), which has since
received national acclaim; the Sarasota Film Society (filmsociety.org)
shows foreign, independent and art films; watch Broadway
shows and a wide range of other events at the
state-of-the-art Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall (vanwezel.org);
take a day trip over to St. Armand’s Circle to shop and
eat spectacular Greek fare at Blu Kouzina (blukouzina.com/us)
(Lido Beach looms just beyond).
an hour’s drive from Sarasota, Anna Maria is a tiny town
strewn with beaches, wildlife and restaurant-laden piers.
Have the camera at the ready for manatee and dolphin
sightings as well as views of a cascade of birds — the
entire city is a sanctuary. Fish for your dinner off the
pier at Rod & Reel (rodreelpier.com) or just cozy up
inside the two-story house or on the dock for an
ultra-fresh grouper sandwich. After a day on the beaches,
take in the sunset from the patio at Sandbar Waterfront
Restaurant (sandbar.groupersandwich.com) that spills onto