The most exciting way to continue our journey down to Miami was to drive southwards from St.
Petersburg and cross Tampa Bay across the famous Sunshine Skyway.
The very first time I was driving on this bridge it was in the 80s and In May 1980, the freighter the MV Summit Venture collided with a bridge support during a sudden squall, resulting in the structural collapse of the southbound span and the deaths of 35 people when vehicles plunged into Tampa Bay.
Within a few years, the damaged span was demolished, the surviving span was partially demolished and re-built and I remember nervously dropping my speed as we drove over the remaining span seeing a mangled structure of steel which was the northern road, but we were still staring down over 430 feet below into Tampa Bay.
Thankfully the bridge was rebuilt the mangled wreck we were looking at is now a fishing pier ! Its over 4 miles long and now there is a toll for the privilege of driving across this static impression of a rollercoaster, even I couldnt get away from one of them in Florida.
We stopped for lunch in Bradenton ,down by the marina for a bit of seafood and a local guy
recommended stopping at Manatee Village Historic Park just 10 minutes away so we called expecting to see Floridas gentle giants but no, it was a an area dedicated to how the locals lived and worked 100 years ago with a church,steam locomotive and houses all restored to how they once were, a historical treat.We stayed around an hour looking around at the exhibits then headed to our next stop of Sarasota.
We drove to the Lido beach area, minutes from downtown and stayed at the Lido Beach Resort for the night and had sundowners at the Poolside Tiki bar whilst people cheered at the spectacular sunset over the silver white powder sands.We wandered down to St.Armands Circle, around 10 minutes away and had a great meal at Speaks clam bar before strolling back via John Ringling boulevard.honouring the famous ringmaster Sarasota was the winter home of the famous Ringling Brothers circus We had a last drink at the bar in the hotel before retiring with our views of the Gulf.
Things to do and see include lots on the arts scene with the Ringling Museum, Ringling College, Asolo Theater, Selby Library, Van Wezel Performing Arts Center, Selby Gardens, Sarasota Opera House, Art Center Sarasota, and the Sarasota Symphony Orchestra.
In the morning we took a trolley bus city tour which was great and very informative about amongst others,the circus history of the area and Amish connections.It was around $25 each and well worth it.I would have liked to do the downtown food walking tour but at $200 each thought it was a tad pricey so we checked out of the hotel and drove down to Fort Myers.
Again,jaw dropping beaches and parks and great shopping, it feels very Olde World Florida and after a cold drink at a great little beach cafe we took a tour of 2 of Americas most famous business leaders winter estates, the Thomas Edison and Henry Ford estates situated right next to each other I highly recommend the audio tour which provides you with an audio player that you take with you and explore these fascinating museums for about $25.
There is lots more to do in this area not least the beautiful but expensive Sanibel island with one of the best beaches in the United States and its own airport ,Southwest Florida International Airport. 30 min from downtown Fort Myers.
Next stop is an hours drive away in Naples,a city of around 20000 but a dazzling choice of high end shops and a Fifth Avenue to rival New York.They nickname these beaches as the Paradise Coast and you would see why with sugar sands all the way from Naples,past Marco Island and down as far as the Everglades National Park .Naples definitely has an upmarket feel with ocean front homes selling for $10m minimum and yachts a plenty.There are fine art galleries,a great pier for dolphin watching , a Zoo and lots of parks and nature trails.Its certainly more new than Old Florida but a great city. We now head down towards Miami and after a stop at South Beach .off to the airport.
We had a memorable very relaxing trip in Southern Florida why not combine it with a cruise from Mami,Tampa or Fort Lauderdale, its an easy drive with lots to see, and you can easily do it in one day if you are really short of time.