Small Town Series: Tarpon Springs, FL

Welcome to Florida’s beautiful Gulf Coast! Just under an hour North from the famous St. Pete Beach, and a quick 30 minutes away from the super popular Clearwater lies a Pinellas county beach side town that holds a name all of it’s own. Named after the abundant amounts of fish filled waters, Tarpon Springs is stated to be the sea sponge capitol of the world along with becoming a booming tourism spot for all to adore. Dating back to the early 1900’s, the town was settled in by Greek sponge divers, which has now resulted in the town being the highest populated area of Greek Americans within the entire US. These Gulf of Mexico waterways are now lined with tremendous amounts of beautiful Greek inspired shops, eateries and historic sponge docks.

Where To Stay

When visiting any new place, I always find it fun to try and stay somewhere that’s original to the area and not as “commercialized”. This being said, staying with family, airbnb’s, or quaint little bed and breakfasts can really make your stay something unique and special. In Tarpon Springs, that original gem remains in the hands of The 1910 Inn. This place just hollers “southern charm” and is described as the place where “time stood still”. With this former residential home being nestled directly across from the Spring Bayou and just down the street from the downtown shops, the location truly cannot be beat when staying in Tarpon Springs. Not only is this the best place to settle in for the night, but because of it’s historic beauty, it also is host to some of the most popular events for the local residents of the area throughout the entire year.

What To Do

One of the things that Tarpon Springs is most known for is their supply of natural sea sponges that they still dive for in the area to this day. The Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks are a must see when visiting this town. Here you can see first hand the techniques that are used to harvest these sea sponges while being engulfed in the magnificent heritage of the Grecian culture. While visiting the famous sponge docks, you can also check out the varieties of boat tours they offer that can take you through the bayous of Tarpon Springs, the Anclote River and The Gulf of Mexico. This could give you the chance to see Florida’s most famous sea critter, the manatee, or even dolphins! Ones to check out while in town are St Nicholas Boat Line and Odyssey Cruises.

When visiting Tarpon Springs, you also will want to check out all the adorable shops that are just a quick 3 minute drive down the road from the sponge docks. Here you can have plenty of yummy options for lunch and visit all the different storefronts. Since I love finding old and unique treasures, I recommend visiting Court of Two Sisters. This is home to the fabulous antique shop right in the center of town. They have a wonderful variety of art, collectibles, and home furnishings. Just down the street is One Amazing Find which is fantastic for your home decor finds and Ella’s Boutique which offers cute clothes for young women. While you’re downtown, you also can have a peaceful stroll around Craig Park. If you head just 8 minutes down the road, you can also check out Fred Howard Park and rent some kayaks or waterboards. You can do this through Wheel Fun Rentals or Tarpon Tom’s Outdoor Adventure Gear. Make sure you’re able to stay for the most beautiful sunset you’ll ever see!

If you’re interested in more activity while experiencing the great outdoors, then I would recommend exploring The Pinellas Trail. This 45 mile long pathway starts in Tarpon Springs and can take you all the way into St. Petersburg. This incredible use of preserved outdoor recreational space is perfect for those who want to bike, skate or walk while getting in that fresh air and Florida water views.

Where To Eat

What better place to try some authentic seafood cuisine than the beautiful shores of The Gulf of Mexico! Tarpon Springs is no stranger to supplying some of the greatest seafood around the area. My personal favorite for anything fish related is definitely Rusty Bellies! When my family is in town this is the one place that is always requested, and for good reason. The hot peel and eat shrimp is simply amazing and if your into cocktails, the Key Lime Pie martini is an absolute MUST! When you visit, try and get a table on the outside deck or bar area. They play great music and there you can watch all the boats go by with the fresh catch of the day! If you want to experience the authentic Greek culture within Tarpon Springs, then check out Costas, Andros Greek Grill or Hella’s restaurant & Bakery. If your downtown and your sweet tooth is settling in, then definitely pop into Orange Cycle Creamery for some super yummy ice cream. They have 24 flavors made from scratch including dairy free options that are natural and incredibly tasty for those even with allergies.

For the traveler that wants it all, Florida is definitely the place to visit. Tarpon Springs is one of the most unique towns that the sunshine state has to offer and is beloved by all the locals and visitors alike. Next time you plan on spending time near the Gulf Coast, make this town one of your spots on the agenda. You can make your stay here as adventurous or as relaxing as you want while sprinkling in the unique cultural influences of the Greek culture.

Until next time!

Small Town Series: Maryville, TN

Downtown Maryville

Far off to the Eastern side of Tennessee lies a close suburb of Knoxville that’s ready to make a name all of it’s own. Sometimes overshadowed by the nearby bustling city and it’s mountain neighbor of Gatlinburg, the town of Maryville is here to be seen as a captivating college town, a Smoky Mountain getaway, and the embodiment of southern charm.

Established in 1795, this town has been a part of some the most significant moments in US history and has been growing into what it is now, being a quaint and historic town within the foothills of the Smoky Mountains.

During our time here I experienced an ideal blend of tranquility and downtown adventures with some mouthwatering bites to eat, relaxing strolls around the boutiques, and blissful mornings, only to be greeted with the neighboring roosters just a gravel road away.

Where We Stayed

During our visit, we decided to stay just a short drive out of the downtown area at an incredibly quaint and charming Airbnb hosted by Andrew and Margaret. The Cabin at the Willows gave us all a sense of mountain living without all the twisting and turning drives. The handcrafted, 3 bedroom 2 bath cabin was the perfect spot to lay our heads as it was only a scenic 30 minute drive from The Great Smoky Mountains and the famous Cades Cove along with being just a few minutes from the charming downtown . Since we brought our pup Nash along on our trip, this place was great for being dog friendly as well!

Not only was this the ideal home location wise, but it was fully equipped with a full size kitchen, living room and not to far from a beautiful walkway that leads to a serene open field directly settled next to a farm. I LOVED being greeted every morning out on the porch by the roosters, letting me know a brand new and beautiful day is about to start!

What We Did

If you’re like me and love to stroll around and browse through a bunch of different shops, then make sure you stop by The Boutique on Broadway. It has great priced women’s clothes and such a cute spot to explore. Right next door to this shop is The Village Tinker Gallery and Gifts which is a great spot to buy goods for yourself or anyone else in your life.

If you’re a guy who’s ready for a slight wardrobe upgrade, I highly recommend checking out Boyd Thomas Clothing located right on Broadway in the downtown area. While I stopped in here, I had such a great conversation with the owner who puts in so much pride into his store. He helped me find clothes for my husband and showed me around some of the women’s sections that they had as well.

If home decor is more your speed (which it certainly is for me) then you MUST check out Roost in the downtown area right on Broadway. It’s in the center of it all and gives so much home decor inspiration and provides a great homey atmosphere for all the people who walk in.

If you desire to go a little off the beaten path when it comes to your shopping, then get ready for an antique store shopping extravaganza. Maryville and it’s surrounding towns offers SO MANY unique and treasure filled antique stores that are filled with unusual finds and knick-knacks. You could spend hours digging through these incredible stores that all are filled with such fascinating history.

While exploring the downtown of Maryville, you also are gifted with the beautiful art that is scattered about this adorable town. My favorite mural in the entire area is by the work of Heath Claiborne Hang which features the beautiful mountainside and music history of the Smoky Mountains.

Smoky Mountain Music History: Heath Claiborne Hang

When you’re in the middle of town, it’ll be impossible to miss the historic Capitol Theatre that is nestled in the center of this great town. Built in 1922, this venue has seen some of the greatest movements in US history from the famous 1920’s art deco movie house era, to the vintage inspired private event venue that it’s popular for today. You can book tours here or host your next event in the charming and historic treasure.

Since one of the greatest US National Parks is only a short drive away, the next day while staying in Maryville we decided to do a quick trek out to the Great Smoky Mountains. The drive from where we stayed was absolutely breathtaking and surreal. The feel of the mountains just engulfs you and created so much joy within myself. We decided to drive through Cades Cove and the views we saw were sights that I’ll never forget. We did the one lane loop that takes you through the whole area while staying in your car. Keep your eyes open for some of the animals that could be watching you within the woods! If you come across one of the Smoky Mountains most famous residents the Black Bear, be prepared for some long waits. Everyone wants to get a pic!

The Best Food Stops

One of the things that I get most excited about when visiting the beautiful state of Tennessee is the amazing food I get to munch on! Tennessee being known for it’s home made style southern cooking, Maryville is no stranger to that. The first night being in town, we stopped at Calhoun’s. Being one of East Tennessee’s most desired southern food restaurants, we took advantage of their carry out menu and had an entire barbecue feast back at the cabin. If you’re looking for a nicer restaurant with a great atmosphere and even greater food, I highly recommend heading out to The Walnut Kitchen. Just a 3 minute drive from the town center, this place is sure to hit all those fancy cravings.

If you’re looking to do a quick bite to eat and a FANTASTIC cup of coffee for the morning, I recommend venturing over to Vienna Coffee Company. This place is known around town for being one of the greatest suppliers of coffee around the southeastern part of Tennessee. It offers an idyllic atmosphere for laid back hangouts and exceptionally great cups of coffee.

My favorite meal of the day is lunch and Maryville has some fantastic options to try for your mid day meal! The first place we tried was Bluetick Tavern which is a great option for a casual sit down restaurant that’s right in the center of town. The menu has a wide range of everything but I had to try their pizza. Let me tell you, it did NOT disappoint. Finally, one of the spots that I was most excited to try was none other then Full Service BBQ. What used to be an abandoned gas station and now drive-in BBQ joint, this place is everything you would ever want for your southern cooked meal. It’s quick, authentic, and the best tasting barbecue you’ll ever have. I got the three meat plate because I just had to try it all! This was my favorite place we tried and would most definitely recommend it to anyone in the area.

Despite our stay in Maryville being only a short weekend, I can honestly say that this town is truly something special. The pride and passion that you find in it’s residents proves just how much love there is for this town and it really does become contagious while visiting. While you’re visiting the fantastic state of Tennessee, you will have to stop by this gem of a town and explore all of the marvelous activities you can do here.

Until next time!

Tips On How To Have The Best Road Trip This Summer

It’s road tripping season! With so many people often taking flights to their destinations, sometimes it’s so refreshing to take that old fashioned road trip and really spend that quality time together. If we don’t take the time to travel on the road, their could be so many beautiful things we would be missing if traveling any other way. There are so many wonderful things to be seen and learned from when hitting the road, especially in our very own southern backyard! In fact some of my greatest memories all started with packing everything into the car, leaving when the sun is still sleeping and taking in the views from the car window.

These memories with the family are so important, especially to the kids which means it’s best to have as little worries and stress as possible. To make the most of your time on the road, I have put together some of my best tips for making this the easiest and most enjoyable adventure.

1. Check your vehicle

I cannot stress how so incredibly important this is. Before you do anything, you must bring your car in and have everything checked to ensure your car is ready and safely prepared for a long journey ahead. Usually the most important things to double check on are your breaks, tires, having enough wiper fluid and if an oil change is needed. Make sure that spare tire is fully filled and you have all the other necessary emergency equipment on hand like jumper cables. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have everything get a quick run through!

2. Start packing a week before

I know, I know. I get strange looks when this is said to be on my list, but let me tell you, it seriously helps me SO much to stay organized. Right now I only have a dog and husband to worry about. But when kids get into the picture, this step will only become that much more important! I’m not talking about cramming everyone’s suitcase, but starting little baggies for the dog, or preparing some snack bags for the road can really help to not only stay organized but also (most importantly) making sure you don’t forget anything. If you start the dogs bag now or making sure there are enough blankets, etc., then you have all week to double check and make sure you have all the little things you need leaving only the big suitcase packing for later on.

3. Have the car be sparkling clean

It’s a known fact that cleanliness actually does create happiness. When spending long amounts of time in a confined space, having done a quick cleaning job really can make all the difference. Go ahead and clear out those scraps of paper or trash that you said you’d grab later. Well now it’s later and it’s time to make this car a happy space. Making sure the dash is dust free and the floors are nice and vacuumed are some of the lessons I learned from my dad right before taking a long road trip and it’s one I’ll definitely be continuing. It’s inevitable that over time the car will start to accumulate trash during your trip, which is fine! That’s part of a road trip. But have a spare bag available to put everything in.

4. Load up and get a full tank of gas the night before

There’s that old joke that goes “if we want to leave at 6:00 then let’s plan on leaving at 5:30”. It’s almost always a guarantee that we will be running late the morning we want to leave. No one likes to be rushing around last minute, especially if it’s super early in the morning! Pack everything into the car the night before, leaving out those little necessities like a tooth brush and PJ’s. Why leave it all for the last minute? (This would exclude an ice cooler for obvious reasons) Same thing goes for getting gas.I always want to hit the road quick without stopping immediately. So turn that half a tank to a full tank the night before and enjoy your open road.

5. Don’t always go with the flow of traffic

Unless your my father-in-law who always drives 10 mph under the speed limit, usually everyone tends to go a little over what the sign says when driving. No one EVER wants to get pulled over, but sometimes it just happens. During my most recent road trip I was unarguably going with the flow of traffic, when BAM! those blue and red lights start flashing behind me. My stomach sank onto the floor as I had to wake up my husband from his nap in the passengers seat to tell him I’m getting pulled over by the cop. Luckily I had all the documentation needed for me to just get the ticket and go. Even though I was super bitter about it because I literally was going the speed limit that everyone else was, it was still my fault for not just using the cruise control on our car. If your car has it, definitely use it. You won’t have to worry about inching faster and faster and you can drive worry free about speeding.

6. Get those music jams set and loaded

Next to getting the mechanics of your car all squared away, this is definitely the next most important thing for a great road trip!! It’s pretty much a rule of thumb that the one riding shot gun is usually the DJ, so get those playlists all ready to go so you can enjoy your time on the open road. I’ve been a CD kind of girl since, forever, and always had a great mix tape at the ready. Although that method of jamming out is great, the Bluetooth setting on my phone has also become one of my best friends… Spotify is SO great for choosing the music you love and you can easily hook it up to your Bluetooth setting in the car! They even have pre-made road trip playlists if you so choose. If your car doesn’t have Bluetooth then stick to those mix tapes!

7. Know when to stop

Sometimes we can feel super ambitious and want to do the entire trip in one go. But one of the beautiful things about a road trip are the stops! You can hit up big cities or discover charming small towns and get to know more areas than just the destination that you’re trying to get to. See a billboard for Mammoth Cave in Kentucky? Ruby Falls in Tennessee? Stop and check it out! Not only discovering the unknown beauties of the area you’re in, but also it can be a really big safety check. Driving from 3AM to 11PM sounds daunting. So cut it in half. No sense in getting into an accident from tiredness when we’re all trying to have a fun vacation.

8. Have a plan but have it loosely

It can be a good idea to have goals, but a lot of times those goals can be changed due to delays, which is inevitable. Road construction is a constant when cruising down those big highways which usually consists of lots of merging, inching forward and taking detours. Plan for it! It’s okay if you didn’t make it to the halfway point because things change and we are ready to roll with it. Thanks to GPS systems, we are able to find quick routes that can help avoid the traffic and take lesser traveled roads to our destination. If you don’t have a GPS system and can read a paper map then put your skills to the test and find that unknown detour. (Also that is super impressive nowadays and you would deserve a major reward for that)

9. Take TONS of pictures

I don’t know where I would be without my camera. With smartphones at the ready, it is easier now more than ever to capture those precious memories. I’m talking more than just Instagram pics. I recently invested in a Polaroid camera and have never looked back. (Click here for the one I have). Getting that instant gratification along with some awesome vintage nostalgia is something that I cherish and will keep using forever. When heading on a long road trip, take the time to capture those giggles, smiles and unusual stops along the way. Looking back on these times of adventure will be so worth it.

10. Keep yourselves entertained!

People often find that road trips can have a certain lull at times, but let’s keep that from happening! Some of my favorite road trip games are Mad Libs. They are so much fun and keep us laughing for hours. You can also try to figure out some games that can correlate to your surroundings. Like how many times you can find a billboard that says Ruby Falls. (We did that and there were a LOT) Get creative with it.

11. Have a spare key

Could you imagine losing your only key to the car during your road trip? This would seriously put a damper on things. Better safe than sorry and grab that spare key!! No one wants to be stranded.

12. Leave some space for goodies

One of the best reasons for taking a road trip instead of flying is the chance to take some awesome treasures home! Who knows, you could come across something that you just cannot live without and luckily you’ll have plenty of room for it in the car. If I’m heading down to Savannah, GA then you best believe I’ll be browsing around some antiques that could NEVER make it on a plane.

Soon I’ll be constructing the perfect road trip around the South that will hopefully inspire you to get out and adventure around our great nation. So many great things to see, so little time!

Safe travels and happy open road!!