Is Fort De Soto park the best beach in the country?

Fort De Soto Park is a county-owned park in Pinellas County, and as county-owned parks go, it’s one of the most spectacular.

With a beach that regularly ranks in Dr. Beach’s completely arbitrary top 10 beaches in the country, a historic fort, kayak trails, fishing piers, an amazing campground and miles of hiking and biking trails, there is no shortage of things to do at the park.

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Fort De Soto has a sentimental place in my heart – it’s where I had some of my earliest and most memorable tent camping experiences.  It was also one of the closest wilderness areas to my childhood home, presenting a drastically different beach landscape than the nearby tourist-filled, condominium-lined beaches of St. Pete and Clearwater.

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Photo Friday – Madeira Beach

A calm, quiet day on Madeira Beach in Pinellas County.  Madeira is less popular than many of the beaches that surround it, but it’s not because it’s an ugly beach.  Madeira has a subdued hotel and restaurant scene, and because of that, it tends to be frequented more by locals and less by tourists.  It also has a McDonald’s with a dock, so you can arrive by boat (or kayak).

OK, a bonus photo, to make a point:

If that’s not a uniquely Florida idea, I don’t know what is.

Photo Friday – Camping in Long Key State Park

Long Key campground

One of the greatest tent camping destinations in Florida, Long Key (about halfway to Key West) offers campers beach-front camp sites with water and electric for less than $20 a night.  The park is quiet, small and rarely full.  Direct kayak access to the water and fishing piers, boat launches, Key West and Islamorada are all within minutes of the state park.

Photo Friday – Anna Maria Island, Fla.

The sun dips below the horizon behind an empty stretch of beautiful Anna Maria Island beach. Unlike many coastal towns on the Gulf Coast, Anna Maria Island still feels like a small beach town.

SUPs gaining popularity in Tampa Bay

If you’ve been anywhere near the water in the last few months, you’ve probably seen one.

They look like long surfboards, and the rider relies on a paddle, not a wave, to get around. They’re called stand up paddleboards, and they are coming to a bayou, lake, river or bay near you.

Local retailers can’t keep stand up paddleboards, or SUPs, on the racks. In some places, they are even outselling kayaks.

Their success stems, perhaps, from their appeal to both adventure seekers and the fitness buffs. In the last year alone, paddleboard sales have doubled nationally, according to a recent Transworld Business report. In the Tampa Bay area, specialty retailers are reporting sales far exceeding the national average.

Brody Welte, who owned Stand Up Fitness in St. Petersburg before relocating his company to California, said his business has tripled each of the past three years.

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