Isolated from the amusement parks and recreational activities of the beach, the Shell Island offers you the solemnity and quietness that you could not find at the Panama City Beach. The island has one of the most beautiful beaches in the world where the pristine wilderness is its primary key. If you’re looking for a peaceful day filled with interaction with Mother Nature, the gorgeous and serene island is the perfect vacation stop you must visit during your Panama City Beach adventure!
Where is Shell Island?
Located off the coast of Panama City Beach, FL, the undeveloped barrier island is around seven miles or eleven kilometers long from the east to the west side between the St. Andrew Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. The name came from the abundance of shells located in and around the island so you might find yourself immersed with beautiful and alluring prized shell.
What does Shell Island Offer?
The island is a home for clean forests, sand dunes, and a variety of species of wildlife animals where they meet and coexist in the beautiful island. It is a nature-oriented island where you can’t find any trace of civilization such as restaurants or even a restroom. You have to bring your own food and refreshments when visiting Shell Island. The absence of facilities complements well with the pristine and pure nature of the island where you could enjoy the majestic sceneries, bountiful wildlife, privacy, and have peace of mind. There are also bottle-nose dolphins you could find along the way and have a chance of meeting the intelligent creatures of the sea! There’s plenty of room for you to have a relaxing afternoon where no one could disturb you. To have complete privacy is a luxury nowadays.
As a protected natural reserve, you have to play an essential role in helping the preservation of the island’s unspoiled condition. Whatever you bring in there, always be sure to take it with you and never leave any trash. After all, that’s the least we could do for Mother Nature.
How to get to Shell Island
There’s no need for you to secure a park pass to enter the island, but you need a way to get there. There are many tour boats, pontoon boats, and wave runners that allows you to safely travel to the island while enjoying the stunning view and interact with the friendly dolphins! Tour boats such as Shell Island Shuttle carries passengers that runs for seven days a week during peak summer season. You could find the shuttle port at the St. Andrews State Park and be sure to call in and check on the availability of the tour boat so that there won’t be complications when you get there. There’s also the PCB Shell Island Express Ferry in which you could find it at Capt. Anderson’s Marina.
Words could not express the beauty of the island. Despite being an island isolated from recreational facilities and activities, you could do numerous things at this island. On the way, you could enjoy the company of friendly dolphins. Upon arrival, you could relax on Panama City Beach’s white sugar sand beach, go snorkeling with your family, collecting beautiful shells, and walk around the forests of the island where you could find many deer, many types of birds like the shorebirds, and numerous endangered species such as loggerhead and green turtles.
Going to Shell Island is a must if you want to maximize and complete the entire Panama City Beach experience.
There’s a hidden gem tucked inside Laketown Wharf. Juan Taco is located on the ground floor within the retail spaces of Laketown Wharf on the Thomas Drive side of the building, conveniently across the street from Pineapple Willy’s and the beautiful beaches of Panama City Beach.
This week I had the pleasure to have lunch with friends and family at Juan Taco, and they did not disappoint. We arrived shortly after they opened in hopes of beating the crowd. Inside we were greeted by the owner, Juan Martinez, whose friendly and inviting personality gives you a sense of comfort as soon as you walk through the door. The ambiance is very relaxed and laid back. Not only is their hospitality authentic, but even their menu also has a personalized touch as it is written by hand to give you up to date specials and menu items. Every morning the chefs come in and prepare their tortillas from scratch and the food is cooked fresh. The barbacoa, carnitas, and pork belly are slow cooked daily to give you that amazing flavor that you’ll want to keep coming back for.
When it came time to order I chose to let Juan decide and surprise us with his specialties.
The restaurant is furnished with tables, benches, and countertops all built by hand by Juan and his partner chef, Jose Duarte. Juan delivered with a large variety of delicious food that seemed endless. The table-spread consisted of chips with salsa, guac, and queso, a chicken quesadilla loaded with mozzarella and pico de gallo, Notorious P.I.G. tacos which consisted of pork belly, roasted red peppers, pickled onions, and cilantro, El Chapo tacos that had Mexican pork, mozzarella, jalapenos, and cilantro, and the Red Rooster tacos of chicken, pico de gallo, mozzarella, and jalapenos, plus a bonus side of rice and beans. Each meal was served with mild salsa rojo, salsa verde, and a very spicy salsa habanero. Juan also brought us some of his signature taco sauce to try, which was out of this world.
These were hands down the best tacos that I have ever tasted, you could taste the authenticity through the mixture of flavors and it was obvious that Juan and Jose put a lot of thought and creativity into what they’re serving. The Notorious P.I.G. was by far the biggest hit at our table, the roasted pork belly was perfectly tender and packed with flavor, the pickled red onions offered a splash of color and a fiery piquant flavor. The El Chapo had just the right amount of kick from the jalapenos that were evened out with the mozzarella and fresh cilantro. The Red Rooster was fantastic and the chicken was so tender and cooked to perfection, just as it was in the chicken quesadilla. You could taste the freshness in each of the sauces, the taco sauce was my favorite and had just the right amount of zing to it.
After finishing our meal I was able to sit down with Juan for a few minutes and ask him a couple questions. First, I wanted to know how Juan Taco got started, how did all of this come to fruition. “I started selling tacos on Facebook,” Juan started, “Well, I got in an accident, I almost cut my thumb off with a table saw. So I kind of stopped a lot of things that I was doing at the time, and I started like selling tacos on Facebook just as boredom really. And it finally just caught on, people were like, ‘Open a restaurant, open a restaurant.’ – so, we finally opened a restaurant.”
So, what makes Juan Taco unique? “I think our approach, the way we cook things is very simple,” Juan says. “I don’t like to use anything packaged or pre-bought, just keep everything very simple, and try to show the meats off.”
As far as what the taqueria’s fans can expect in the future for Juan Taco, “Oh man, well I’m waiting for my modeling career to kick off again,” Juan Jokes. “No, um, we want to just keep growing. We’re hoping to open up a bigger spot next year. Keep the core idea the same but just keep growing in size. Just to be able to accommodate more people, to share the food with more people.”
For me, Juan Taco was one of the best restaurant experiences that I’ve had in Panama City Beach in the 11 years that I’ve lived here. From the hospitality to the atmosphere, the food, and every small detail in between, they truly are cut from a different cloth.
As I walk through a plush botanical garden I catch myself at an abrupt halt only to merely run my fingers through the emerald vines that are intertwined above my head. Strings of lights illuminated the overflowing garden with a path made of stones leading to the entrance of The Lotus Café. I look to my right and am astonished to see a hair studio that solely uses organics instead of chemicals to dye hair. A soft splashing sound from a rocky waterfall composes a harmonic melody as I walk the trail of stones to what appears to be the front door to the restaurant. Walking in I am greeted by a woman who has dreadlocks that touch her lower back and a smile that is beaming from ear-to-ear. “Hello sweetie. You may have a seat wherever you like,” says the cute hippy-like soul as she hands me a menu.
The Lotus Café at the Zen Garden serves much more than just a fresh and organic menu. Amongst the beautiful scenery there is a chic Shoppe that sells air plants, crystals, homemade spices, healing salves, wind chimes, driftwood pieces and traditional earth-bound trinkets. To home-made soaps, to Buddhist wall hangings my attention was set on knowing more. What is this place and why had I never been before? The owner of the shop enlightened me that the shop was created by her and her husband, natives of Panama City. They decided to name it Wild Root, which was an electrifying brand name based on the products sold and the atmosphere present. Fifty dollars lighter I was hypnotized by a lingering smell of freshly ground coffee beans. I trusted my gut instinct and followed the scent that enticed my taste buds.
I find myself standing in front of a very hip and trendy juice/coffee bar. This is no regular juice bar and it is made crystal clear by the state-of-the-art coffee and expresso machines that serve the locally admired Amivida coffee. Not to mention, it is guaranteed that all juices are made fresh and with raw and unfiltered ingredients that taste as if you stepped into a magical garden of juiced fruits. I was simply amazed by the different vibes settling over me. From walking in the garden that I was wrapped around by, to the organic hair studio, to the cute quaint restaurant, to the chic Shoppe and now to a modern juice bar I was undeniably content.
I look to my right and see a younger female with her hair in a high pony tail dressed in a striped sports bra, see through shirt, pair of yoga pants and a yoga mat. I guess from the look on my face she knew I was not a local. She smiled at me and asked me if I had ever tried her all-time favorite: The Peanut Butter Buddha Smoothie with raw Cacoa. Without hesitation, I ordered the smoothie. My taste buds jumped for joy and a surge of stimulation shook through my body. I profusely thanked her and she smiled and invited me to Free Yoga Sundays. I totally should have guessed from the vibes there would be a Zen Garden Yoga Studio.
Located in the heart of Panama City Beach on the grounds of the Zen Garden, The Lotus Garden Café is one of the best kept secrets in the area. If you want to step away from the bustle of your busy life and immerse yourself in a low-key local getaway the Zen Garden is the perfect spot to be. As Zen Garden promotes a simple yet brilliant quote, “Let thy food be thy medicine.”
Author credit: Sarah Barwick
Image credit: LotusCafeZen.com
How You Can Visit the Beach on a Budget
As the cooler months roll in, many people start daydreaming about a vacation at the beach. There’s just something about the sun, sand, and water that makes you smile. You’d love to take a beach vacation, but you’re worried about how to pay for it.
Thankfully, there are ways to travel to the beach on a budget. Read on to discover how you can travel to and stay at the beach more cheaply.
Image Source: Pixabay
Traveling on a Budget
One of the most expensive parts of any beach vacation is the actual traveling, especially if you have to fly. However, there are ways to find cheaper tickets. RealSimple.com explains that airfares change regularly. What’s expensive now can get cheaper later. Sign up for email alerts when prices change. And if your beach is outside the country, look for non-U.S. airlines for cheaper prices.
Of course, driving to the beach will be cheaper. Search your area for lakes with beaches, as these can have the same feel and amenities as a coastal beach.
Nomadic Matt lists a few other ways to travel more cheaply:
– Sign up for an airline credit card. Many airlines offer free flights just for signing up, and you can earn points for cheaper flights later.
– Watch for deals giving you frequent flyer miles. Earning enough points by shopping at the right stores can help you get closer to free tickets.
– Put as much of your bills as possible on the airline credit card. As long as you can pay your balance off each month, you’ll be earning miles for costs you normally have anyway.
Saving on Hotels
Once you have your travel figured out, your beach vacation is coming closer to reality. The next step is to find a budget-friendly place to stay. NerdWallet has a list of ways to find cheaper hotel rooms, including:
– Once you’ve found a good price on a hotel room from a site like KAYAK or Expedia, look for promotions on the hotel’s website. Sometimes, those prices are lower.
– Call the hotel and negotiate. Explain the low price you found online and ask if they can beat it.
– Check any organizations you belong to for any discounts. AAA and AARP members, students, and members of the military can usually get lower room rates.
– You don’t have to get a beachfront hotel. Hotels a little way from the beach are often cheaper, even after factoring costs for an Uber.
But hotels aren’t your only option. Airbnb and HomeAway let you rent a room or apartment directly from owners, which often saves money. And if you have any family or friends near the beach, you should ask if you can stay with them. Sleeping on the couch can make a huge difference in your budget.
Two Great Destinations
As you explore reasonable hotel and travel options, you may be looking at many different destinations for that beach vacation. There are lots of options available, but two that stand out for budget travelers are Panama City, Florida and Gulf Shores, Alabama.
Panama City on the Florida Panhandle is one of those “hidden gems” for most people. Their local airport (Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport) has recently added many direct flights into and out of the city. Panama City has fantastic beaches, plenty of reasonably priced hotels, and easy travel routes. If you’re looking for the perfect place to stay, there are many affordable and comfortable rentals available.
Gulf Shores, AL is another great place for a beach vacation. There are many activities to do here, or you can just sit on the Gulf Coast beach and relax.
And don’t forget to make arrangements for your home and pet before you leave. Knowing that things at home are taken care of will allow to relax and get the most out of your vacation.
Make Your Beach Trip Affordable
Heading to the beach doesn’t have to break the bank. There are ways to find cheaper flights and hotels, and two great but affordable destinations include Panama City and Gulf Shores. It’s indeed possible for you to take that much-needed beach vacation and feel good about how much you spent for it.
Author credit: Catherine Workman
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