There are few places better to start a trip on Florida's St. Johns River than on the Ortega River located near Jacksonville. The choices for weekend jaunts abound. Start at either the Ortega Yacht Club Marina, (904-389-1199, oycm.com), known for its helpful and friendly atmosphere, or Lambs Yacht Center (904-384-5577, lambsyachtcenter.com), which has served the community for many years and where you can reprovision before heading out. Both marinas provide transient dockage and a number of other services. From here you are only a long walk or good bike ride from the riverside Avondale historic district (riversideavondale.org). Attend the saturday morning Farmers Market, shop in any number of interesting stores or dine at superb restaurants.
It will take less than an hour by boat to get to the downtown Jacksonville area. Begin your cruise of the St. Johns River at Jacksonville Landing, another Rouse Company creation, for those of you familiar with the Inner Harbor in Baltimore. The free, very long floating dock can accommodate any number of vessels; however, there is no power or water available, and it is first come, first served. As an alternative for shore power, tie up across the river at River City Marina (904-398-7918, rivercitybrew.com), which offers fuel and 32-ounce beer growlers. Eat at one the waterfront restaurants, which include Chicago Pizza, American Grill, Fionn McCool's and Benny's Steak and Seafood, to name a few.If you're lucky, there will be live music at the pavilion located in the midst of the restaurants. During our last visit, we enjoyed an acoustic guitar performance of some Jimmy Buffett favorites.If you need to go ashore to stretch your legs, visit the highly regarded Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens. Other options include the Jacksonville Maritime Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art, right near Jacksonville Landing, or the Museum of Science and History just across the river.
From the Landing, head an easy 30 miles upriver (south) to Sixmile Creek to the Outback Crab Shack (904-522-0500, outbackcrabshack.com). After passing under shands Bridge at Green Cove Springs, cruise to the eastern side of the river and into Palmo Cove, where the restaurant boasts a long floating dock. There is no power or water available, but dockage is free as long as you eat at the restaurant, and who doesn't mind eating out two nights in a row? The seafood boils are out of this world. Once you've feasted, enjoy a peaceful night's sleep in this beautiful, protected creek.
Make another 30-mile run the next day to the floating downtown dock in Palatka. This little town has a lot of potential, and hopefully someone will take the beautiful old buildings near the waterfront park and return them to their former splendor. You can visit the Bronson Mulholland House (bronsonmulhollandhouse.com), a lovely riverfront home built by abolitionist and former circuit judge Isaac Bronson in the mid-1800s. Palatka may be best known for 146-acre Ravine Gardens State Park. This wonderful retreat features a 1.8-mile driving loop, or hike the trails to spot any number of species of birds and butterflies. Ravine gardens is famous for its stunning azaleas. Pets are welcome in the park on a leash.
Once you've hiked to the gardens and back, try Angel's, the oldest diner in Florida, just a few blocks from the Palatka City Docks. You can also anchor out and dinghy ashore or tie up downriver at Boathouse Marina (386-328-2944, boathousemarina.com), which has 40 slips, restrooms and laundry facilities and WiFi. In operation since the 1930s, Angel's is renowned for its burgers, fries and onion rings and is open 24/7. Not in the mood for burgers? The floating dock at local hotspot Corky Bell's Seafood is just a short run upriver in east Palatka. Dockage is complimentary with your meal. And don't miss the Magnolia Cafe before departing Palatka. The menu showcases locally sourced foods and wonderful organic, fair-trade sweetwater coffee. Delicious. It serves breakfast and lunch seven days a week and dinner Thursday through saturday. Daily specials are announced on its Facebook page.It doesn't get better than this cruising in protected waters, visiting quaint, small towns and eating in great restaurants. The only thing better might be the beautiful lower St. Johns River. But we'll save that for another trip.
GENTLE GULF BREEZES carry the echoes of long-ago battles won and lost, the soulful tunes of travelers on Mississippi Blues Trail, and the enticing aromas from the multicultural flavors of coastal cuisine. The rich history of the Mississippi Coast is best experienced by spending time in the small communities dotting the 62 miles of shoreline.
Bay St. Louis to Pass Christian — 5 NM
This quaint seaside city overlooking its namesake bay has blossomed into an eclectic artist community whose residents might include descendants of Native Americans, rapacious pirates or Confederate generals.
Old Town is perfect for strolling. Start at the Mockingbird Café housed in an 1868 building boasting a rare three-sided gallery. They serve breakfast, brunch and lunch daily. The Belfast Breakfast drink—a cold brew blended with Jameson and Irish cream topped with whipped cream and cinnamon—may be a jump start or a sudden end to the day!
Blues Hall, built in 1894, is one of the stops on the acclaimed Mississippi Blues Trail. Lucky visitors might catch an open mic evening held on a stage that hosted noted gospel, jazz and R&B artists such as Etta James, Irma Thomas and Professor Longhair.
A stop at the Daiquiri Shak for one (or two) frozen drinks with names like 190 Octane might provide the courage to join other brave souls in the marsh mist for a Ghost Boat Tour by TheMysticGhostRide Company. Both the boat tour and the Ghost Cemetery Walking Pub Crawl are filled with eerie legends of the Bay told like never before.
Where to Dock: Bay St. Louis Municipal Harbor
On the eastern side of Bay St. Louis lies the sleepy summer town of Pass Christian. Spend a few hours sunbathing on the softest, cleanest beach sand along the shoreline or biking the Pass Christian Scenic Drive Historic District. Majestic live oaks and historic dwellings, charming cottages and elegant mansions line the two-mile drive. Beach cottage eatery Sea Level serves burgers, dogs, seafood tacos and 45 snowball flavors at umbrella shaded picnic tables.
Where to Dock: Pass Christian Harbor (slips on east and west side of the harbor)
Pass Christian to Gulfport — 9 NM
Just a mild wind eastward is the tiny community of Long Beach whose colorful past includes pirate Captain Cleytus Pitcher who supposedly buried treasure near the border of Pass Christian in the early 1800s. According to local legend, his alcohol-fueled crew burned down his tree house with Pitcher still in it. Besides still-unearthed pirate riches, culinary treasures are discovered at Parrish’s Restaurant & Lounge. Menu choices from bouillabaisse to Wagyu tomahawk steaks and house made dessert creations are served against a spectacular sunset background.
Gulfport, the state’s second largest city and a working seaport since 1902, is now a world-class maritime terminal. A lively downtown amid ancient live oak trees and dignified old homes with sagging porch swings offers plenty of snacking, sipping and shopping options.
Irresistible aromas lure you into Coast Roast Coffee & Tea for a rich brew from beans perfected in their 100-year-old roasters. For steaks, short ribs and seafood, head over to Rack House Steaks & Spirits. Bar-side are 30 wines by the glass and more than 100 bourbons, ryes, whiskeys and scotches. Many restaurants serve the state’s signature dessert: Mississippi Mud Pie, a gooey chocolate glaze over melted marshmallows on a crusty brownie base.
Fishbone Alley, a funky little side lane, backs up to a cluster of pubs. Local artists adorn the alley walls with colorful murals celebrating Gulfport’s thriving arts scene. To work off some of those earlier treats, wrestle with a one-arm bandit on Casino Row and stay for one of the many shows.
Where to Dock: Gulfport Municipal Marina/Bert Jones Yacht Harbor
Gulfport to Biloxi — 11 NM
Much of the city’s return to its pre- hurricane(s) glitz and glamour is due to the gaming houses that range from backwater barges to deluxe resort- entertainment complexes. The Casino Hopper Trolley stops at blackjack tables, city attractions, restaurants and beaches.
Kick off your morning with Crawfish Étouffée-N-Grits with a biscuit and homemade strawberry jam at Fill-Up with Billups before heading out to the many museums.
The ceramics of George E. Ohr, self-proclaimed “mad potter of Biloxi,” and other innovative ceramic artists are displayed at the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art. The small but colorfully engaging Mardi Gras Museum is housed in an historic antebellum building. The Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum’s extraordinary photographs chronicle the first Native American settlements through generations of immigrants, all part of the region’s melting pot culture.
For a genuine waterman experience and a real shrimping expedition, The Biloxi Shrimping Trip highlights the fascinating world of sea creatures including catching, cooking and eating local shrimp.
Atlantic bottlenose dolphins like to race boats 12 miles south to the six barrier islands notoriously used by pirates, privateers and smugglers throughout most of their history. Hidden booty has been unearthed as recently as the 1980s. Cat, Horn, Petit Bois and Ship Islands are included in the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Cat Island contains bayous and marshes, home to several species of birds and alligators. USA Today named Ship Island "the hidden gem of Mississippi” for its spectacular beaches. All facilities, including the storied Civil War era Fort Massachusetts, are open to boaters.
The largest, Horn Island, was a creative source and favorite subject of famed Gulf artist Walter Anderson. It’s worth an overnight on the hook to listen to the song of the cicadas and reflect on the enduring mystique of the Mississippi Coast.
Where to Dock: Biloxi Small Craft Harbor or Point Cadet Marina
AS YOU AMBLE THE WHITE BEACHES of the Alabama Coast, you leave footprints on sands that once were the tops of the Appalachian Mountains. Transported south at the end of the last Ice Age, the sand is composed of pure white quartz crystals that create the legendary white sugar grains of Alabama beaches. A casual seaside village, an unspoiled natural island and a genteel cosmopolitan city thrive along the history-rich coastline.
A dynamic beach town surrounded by water in all directions, Orange Beach is a fishing wonderland nicknamed the “Red Snapper Capital of the World.” From the bayous to the reefs, and all the way out to the oil rigs, catches include several delicacies beside snapper. The abundance of fresh seafood dishes is found everywhere from shore shack to posh resort.
Unable to drag those toes away from the sand? Make tracks for The Gulf, a casual chic seaside hideaway with a unique shipping container design. Hang out at the bar or a communal table sipping and nibbling in the fragrant salty air.
For eclectic Southern and French-inspired dishes, head off the beaten path to Cosmo’s on Canal Road. Live music on the wooden deck makes Cosmo’s a happy hour favorite. Their Banana Leaf Wrapped Fish is on Alabama tourism’s list of “100 Dishes to Eat Before You Die.” Leave room for Soul Lovin’ Puddin’ or Peanut Butter Pie to finish.
Work off some of those Puddin’ calories on one of the 15 trails at Hugh S. Branyon Back Country Trail Complex. The hiking path winds among six distinct ecosystems within its 6,180 acres. For a more leisurely day, soak up the sunshine on one of the many public beaches.
Orange Beach Marina offers two retail stores and two award-winning restaurants. In a fully protected harbor off Terry Cove just minutes from the Gulf at Perdido Pass and the ICW, it accommodates yachts to 130 feet. Nearby Saunders Yachtworks is family-owned and offers a full-service boatyard.
Where to Dock: Orange Beach Marina
As a barrier island, Dauphin is part of a complex estuarine environment that includes sandy beaches, tidal marshes and shallow lagoons rich in sea life. Attractions on the east end of the island include historic Fort Gaines, the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Indian Shell Mound Park and Audubon Bird Sanctuary. On the west end are beautiful shimmering beaches, public golf courses and parks shaded by ancient oaks.
Dauphin Island is among the top four spots in North America for viewing spring bird migrations. A wide variety of species rest and recuperate on the 137 acres of the Audubon sanctuary whose unique geographic features include forests, marshes and dunes.
For thousands of years, the abundance of food, fresh water and other essential resources made this area a popular seasonal settlement for indigenous people. Indian Shell Mound Park is one of the best-preserved archaeological sites in the south. The mounds are believed to be the remnants of seafood meals consumed by Native Americans between 1100 and 1550. Today, Southeastern tribes maintain an ancestral connection to the ancient mounds’ original occupants.
A few blocks from the park is Light- house Bakery. Housed in an historic home, the front porch is a perfect setting for breakfast or one of their infamous cinnamon rolls with pecans. From there, it’s a short walk to The Hippie Fish boutique for not-too-touristy shirts and jewelry.
Any time of day is perfect for a smoothie, a fresh fruit bowl, an amazing waffle or ice cream at Foxy’s Waffle Bar and Sugar Den. Their motto: ALL CHILL! NO FRILL!
The sunsets on Dauphin Island are totally spectacular. View them from one of the local eateries or pick up the highly rated steamer pot from Skinner’s Seafood on Bienville Boulevard and dine on board as the sun sets.
The 235-slip Dauphin Island Marina sits at the base of Dauphin Island Bridge between the ICW and Mobile Bay. The full-service marina amenities include fuel, maintenance and a restaurant.
Where to Dock: Dauphin Island Marina
Mobile is one of America’s oldest cities, well known for its miles of streets canopied by majestic oaks. The city’s oldest living resident, the massive 300-year-old Duffee Oak, is just one of the city’s many centenarian live oaks. Beneath the hanging branches, large homes with sweeping front porches are adorned with hanging plants, swings and rockers with colorful pillows, and often a huge cat curled around itself.
Mobile celebrated the first Mardi Gras in the New World in 1703, long before the party began in New Orleans. Here it’s a family-oriented festival where Moon Pies are thrown along the parade route. Whether or not you’re in town for Mardi Gras, the Mobile Carnival Museum provides not only an excellent look into the history of one of the country’s oldest festivals, but also the design of the colorful costumes and the elaborate floats.
Beyond the usual must-see tourist stops—the blooms at Bellingrath Gardens, the retired battleship USS Alabama or the comprehensive GulfQuest National Maritime Museum— Mobile offers several unique adventures.
Treasure hunters and bargain chasers flock to the 800 booths spread over 30 acres at the daily Mobile Flea Market. For genuine treasures, the Mobile Museum of Art houses more than 6,400 pieces of American, European and Asian decorative items ranging from contemporary artwork to classical antiquity.
Three centuries of ghosts, hauntings and dark secrets are woven into Mobile’s history. Hear tales of darkness, death and dismemberment on a Dark Secrets Tour of antebellum mansions, overgrown gardens and a church with a mysterious past. The historic Church Street Graveyard is considered one of Alabama’s most haunted cemeteries.
With so much cultural and ethnic diversity in its past and present, Mobile is an excellent place to gain an under- standing of life in the South during the Civil War era. Begin with a narrated tour of the Bragg-Mitchell Mansion, built in 1855. Then take the time to explore more than 40 stops along the Dora Franklin Finley African American Heritage Trail. The historical stories highlighted include early Creoles of color and survivors from the Clotilda, the last African slave ship to enter America in 1860.
Need a break from all the shopping, history and culture? Braided River Brewing Company offers a range of seasonal brews and limited releases. Or, spend the day along the miles of shimmering sand on Mobile Bay accompanied by a colorful beach umbrella and the latest mystery penned by a local author.
The downtown district’s historic buildings, fronted with lacy cast-iron balconies, surround shaded city squares. Art galleries, boutiques and eateries serving traditional Southern cuisine with a sophisticated twist are concentrated along Dauphin Street.
Tuck into A Spot of Tea for daily breakfast, lunch and brunch. While known for its Bananas Foster French toast, (another on one of the state tourism’s “Top 100” lists), the chicken salad is equally notable.
Just down the street is The Noble South, an airy eatery with whitewash walls and orange metal chairs. The brunch menu has irrestibles like Fig Crepes with maple syrup, lemon anglaise and honey roasted pecans.
NoJa, an inviting Mediterranian restaurant housed in an 1840s townhouse, offers seasonal dishes and scrumptious desserts including a Ginger Donut crowned with popcorn ice cream and caramel sauce.
For classic seafood such as shrimp etouffee and gumbo, try Wintzell’s Oyster House which began as a six-stool oyster bar in 1938 and is now a Gulf Coast tradition. Get in the spirit with their signature Dragon Drink, inspired by Vernadean, a beloved fire-breathing Mardi Gras float.
Where to Dock: Dog River Marina
They come in all shapes and sizes, lengths and locations, ages and angles. For boaters, America’s coastal bridges are a fairly common sight, one that often goes unappreciated and undervalued, especially when most of us only get to see them up close from underneath — a unique perspective not often enjoyed by the general public.
Here are the stories of nine of our country’s famous bridges that span America’s frequently traveled waterways, along with fascinating facts that you can share as you sail under or drive over them.
Perhaps the world’s most recognized span, this 139-year-old granddaddy of bridges took about 13 years to construct, linking Manhattan to Brooklyn and comprising the East River’s first fixed crossing. As the longest suspension bridge in the world when it opened in 1883, its main span measures 1,595 feet and deck rises 127 feet above the river’s surface.
Its building was a true family affair, designed by John Roebling who died unexpectedly after an injury he sustained in the early stages of the bridge’s construction. He was succeeded by his son, Washington who suffered a paralyzing caseof caisson disease. Unable to supervise construction in person, he directed the work from his nearby apartment using a telescope overlooking the site, while his wife Emily delivered handwritten instruction notes to the engineers.
Located between Piers 4 & 5 in Brooklyn Bridge Park on the East River is the new ONE°15 Brooklyn Marina with 100 slips for vessels up to 300+ feet. Estuary, the marina’s flagship restaurant, features new American cuisine, and the park is home to numerous restaurants, shops and cafes.
Soaring above Chesapeake Bay, this dual-span bridge connects Maryland’s densely populated Western Shore with the more rural Eastern Shore, running between Annapolis and Stevensville. The original two-way span opened in 1952; a parallel span was added in 1973 to alleviate congestion. It was only marginally successful.
Especially in summer, the bridge is often referred to as “the world’s tallest traffic jam,” packed bumper-to-bumper nearly 200 feet above the Bay. Because of its height, narrow spans, low guardrails and frequent high winds, the Bay Bridge is cited by some as one of the scariest crossings in America. But to west-bound travels, the sun setting over its tall towers and curved steel girders is a spectacular sight.
Located at the eastern base of the bridge on Kent Island is Bay Bridge Marina, which accommodates boats up to 70 feet. Sandy Point State Park Marina awaits on the westside for day use and fueling. Several other marinas are nearby.
Hailed as one of the great engineering marvels in the world when it opened in 1964, the original CBBT required the construction of four artificial islands, two miles of causeway, nearly six miles of approach roads, two-mile-long tunnels, four high-level bridges and 12 miles of trestle. It crosses the Chesapeake Bay between Cape Charles on the Delmarva Peninsula and Virginia Beach on the mainland.
The CBBT crosses two key East Coast shipping lanes. High-level bridges were initially proposed to span these channels, but the U.S. Navy objected to a bridge over one of the channels, because a collapse could cut off the Norfolk Naval Station from the Atlantic.
Cape Charles Yacht Center and Cape Charles Harbor Marina on the west side of the Delmarva Peninsula put you in the middle of the quaint shoreside town of Cape Charles and its charming shops, restaurants and accommodations.
Among the world’s longest bridges when it was built, Seven Mile Bridge connects Knight’s Key in the Middle Keys to Little Duck Key in the Lower Keys. Actually two bridges, the newer span is open to vehicular traffic; the older is only for pedestrians and cyclists.
The older bridge was constructed in the early 1900s as part of the Key West Extension of Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway. After the Keys section of the railroad was damaged by the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, Flagler sold it to the U.S. government, which convert edit to automobile use. Unsupported sections were added in 1935 to widen it for vehicular traffic, and the railroad tracks were recycled, painted white and used as guardrails.
Near the center, the bridge rises, providing a 65-foot clearance for boat passage in Moser Channel on the ICW. The remainder of the bridge is considerably closer to the water’s surface. Several marinas are on the Marathon end of the bridge.
Named one of the Wonders of the Modern World by American Society of Civil Engineers, the 1.7-mile bridge was the world’s longest and tallest suspension bridge when it opened in 1937. Originally designed by engineer Joseph Strauss in 1917, the final design was conceived by Leon Moisseiff, engineer of New York City’s Manhattan Bridge.
The relatively unknown residential architect Irving Morrow designed many of the bridge’s Art Deco features, but his most famous contribution was its unique color, international orange. Others preferred that it was painted aluminum, dull gray, and the U.S. Navy suggested black and yellow stripes to ensure visibility by passing ships.
The water under the bridge is often turbulent, given the clash of the silt-heavy Bay waters and the cold Pacific Ocean currents. Consequently, recreational and commercial traffic are carefully monitored and regulated. Looking to dock and dine nearby? Try the north end of the bridge. Le Garage at Schoonmaker Point Marina in Sausalito serves innovative French cuisine, and at the casual eatery, Fish, place an order at the counter and sit at one of the picnic tables overlooking Clipper Yacht Harbor.
The engineering marvel often called “Mighty Mac” is the longest suspension bridge with two towers between anchorages in the Western Hemisphere, with a shoreline-to-shoreline length of five miles. Opened in 1957, it took three and a half years to build, because Michigan’s harsh winters limited construction to the summer months. Engineers faced daunting challenges. The Great Lakes freeze during the winter, causing large icebergs to place enormous stress on the bridge’s base.
The total length of wire in the main cables is an amazing 42,000 miles, enough to wrap around the Earth nearly twice. Painting the bridge takes seven years; when workers finish, they immediately start again. Locals note that the current in the Straits of Mackinac frequently changes direction, and when combined with wind-blown waves, churn from passing freighters and rebound off the bridge pilings, boating under and near the bridge can be challenging.
St. Ignace on the Upper Peninsula has a full-service public marina with 136 slips and is close to shops, cafes and restaurants, like the Mackinac Grille & Patio Bar.
One of Florida’s most iconic sights, the current Sunshine Skyway Bridge opened in 1987 and is the second bridge of that name on this site. The striking cable-stayed span connects the St. Petersburg peninsula to Terra Ceia, just north of Bradenton. The original bridge opened in 1954. A similar structure was built parallel and to the west of it in 1969 to make it a four-lane bridge.
In 1980, the freighter MV Summit Venture collided with one of the bridge’s supports during a storm, causing the
southbound span to collapse and sending vehicles into Tampa Bay. After the disaster, the northbound span was converted to carry one lane in either direction until the current bridge opened.
If you’re headed into Tampa Bay, Terra Ceia Preserve State Park is on your starboard side, a 2,000-acre mangrove forest and wetlands offering kayaking, fishing and nine miles of hiking trails. At the St. Pete end of the bridge, check out O’Neill’s Marina near Maximo Park.
The name Tacoma Narrows Bridge has been given to three different incarnations of this span connecting the city of Tacoma with the Kitsap Peninsula to the west. The original bridge opened in 1940 and spectacularly collapsed just four months later due to design flaws that resulted in what was termed “aeroelastic flutter.” It was replaced by the second Tacoma Narrows Bridge in 1950, which is still used for westbound traffic. A third parallel span opened in 2007 to carry eastbound traffic.
The collapse of the original bridge — nicknamed Galloping Gertie — had a major impact on the field of bridge aerodynamics, which influenced the design of all the world’s long-span bridges built since 1940. The newsreel footage of the collapse can still be viewed on
Just south of the bridge you find Narrows Marina with transient docks that offer 375 linear feet of three-hour complimentary
guest side ties and 13 overnight moorage slips. The Narrows Brewing Company and Boathouse 19 restaurant are steps away.
This massive suspension bridge connecting Brooklyn and Staten Island opened in 1964 after decades of on-again off-again planning and five years of construction.
Each tower is made up of more than a million tons of metal, one million bolts and three million rivets. The four main suspension cables are 36 inches in diameter, and each is composed of 26,108 wires totaling 142,520 miles in length. Due to thermal expansion of the steel cables, the upper roadway’s height is 12 feet lower in summer than in winter.
The double-decker bridge carries 13 lanes of traffic, seven on the upper level and six on the lower level. Both the upper and lower roadways are supported by trusses that stiffen the bridge against vertical, torsional and lateral pressure — thanks to lessons learned from the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse in 1940.
Fort Wadsworth, at the Staten Island end of the bridge, is one of the oldest military installations in America, built in the early 1800s to protect the Narrows. In 1994, the U.S. Navy turned Fort Wadsworth over to the National Park Service.
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