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30A, et al.

30A is not just what a Canadian says when you turn 30

And not just Canadians, I guess. I mean, if I'm not thinking, I will sometimes throw in a rogue, "eh," at the end of a sentence/question. And sadly, 30 was a long time ago. Anyway...

I got back last night from a week in Florida. I was sad. I'm still a little sad. I was happy to see my menagerie of critters (husband included), but it was a really, really, really, really great week in Florida (I mean, holy nice weather, Batman!).

As with any trip I take, the food makes or breaks it for me, so I thought I'd mention a few winners and maybe highlight a couple places we visited that were memorable.

30A is the area between Destin and Panama City Beach on the panhandle:

Eric and I went down for a long weekend vacation and then I stayed on a few more days to meet my new teammates at 360 Blue... By the way, PSA: If you're ever looking for somewhere to stay from Destin to Panama City Beach, CHECK US OUT! You won't be disappointed, I promise.

Anyway, the first night we were there, we ate in Destin at The Crab Trap. It's very touristy, but it was right on the beach and the crab legs were good (yes, I know the crab legs weren't local to the area, but I love crab legs so I didn't care). We had an amazing tuna dip (all the restaurants had a version - as does The Indian Pass Raw Bar in Cape San Blas, which, while not near the area we were in, deserves its own shout out, because holy heck, it's amazing), king crab legs, and key lime pie. So pretty much my favorite meal. I would have gone back for the tuna dip alone, the crab legs weren't overcooked (hate that), and the key lime pie was legit. Definitely a tourist establishment, but for what we wanted, it was perfect.

The second day we were in town, we tried out ResortPass - which I highly recommend. It's a service that has partnered with resorts across the country to allow non-resort guests access to certain resort amenities. In our case, we used it for both the Holiday Inn Resort and the Hilton Garden Inn in Fort Walton Beach. Both hotels had great lazy river pools, a hot tub (if you like that kind of thing - I don't), a private beach w/ direct beach access, outdoor tiki bars, and music on the weekends. Both offer restaurant/grills. I particularly liked how we could rent beach chairs for a really reasonable price (not included in ResortPass b/c the beach chair company is separate from the resort). Our second day there we used it at the Holiday Inn and our fourth day we used it at the Hilton Garden... Great experiences both times... And I hate to admit this, but the Holiday Inn had some of the best ceviche I've ever had. I really don't know how to feel about this.

After we soaked up some sun at the Holiday Inn Resort, we met our friends, the Loneys, for a sunset dolphin cruise on the Sea Blaster! The Loneys brought their two girls (almost 4 and almost 2) who were troopers (no naps) on the 90 minute voyage. Both were dancing and clapping along to the music and the oldest even got to "drive" the boat along with a few other kids... I thought that was a cool little opportunity for the kiddos. I should say that there *is* unlimited beer and wine on this cruise, so if you're looking for a slow, quiet, peaceful ride, this isn't it. But if you're into a fun party boat type experience, this is definitely it. A+ on the music choice, too. All in all, we had a great time and saw a bunch of dolphins!

The next day was Sunday, so we decided to go to church... It just so happened that there was a church right next door to where we were staying, so we decided, "What the heck? Let's go there." It isn't really our style (think rock band, professional lighting, monitors, and screens), but Eric wasn't working and we didn't have to drive anywhere. Generations United - or GenU - Church was a good experience overall. Not really our thing w/ the music, but the message was good and the people were nice.

After church, we headed down 30A to Seaside. Seaside is a cute town with a "town square" of sorts made up of food trucks, shops, and restaurants. I found out that the Shrimp Shack had lobster rolls Connecticut Style (my favorite), so lunch was a done deal. It wasn't huge (two tails), it was kinda pricey (welcome to Seaside), but it was yummy. Plus, we had a pretty sweet view while we dined. Eric got a lump crab salad that was quite good (also from the Shrimp Shack) and we split a huge frozen custard from a food truck afterwards. We spent the afternoon on the beach... So pretty perfect, really.

There was a wedding setting up on the beach, so after watching someone argue with a police officer about the ticket they got for the glass jugs they brought as decorations, we decided to pack it up. On our way back to our hotel, we saw a sign for Grayton Beach State Park and decided to check it out to catch the sunset. It was $5 to enter, so we paid and made our way to the parking lot. As we were walking toward the beach a bunch of people were leaving... This is where I heard part of a horrible conversation between a few ladies who were walking past me. There was a lot of signage around about sea turtles - nesting, habitats, etc. And as these ladies approached, one of them was saying to the others, “...No, he was just a stinky little pond turtle.” I was really horrified. For Ernest's sake. And I didn't say anything. GAHHHHHHHHHH! I felt (feel) like such a terrible human being for not defending my sweet, little pond turtle.

Even feeling as horrible as I did for not sticking up for my favorite herp friend, I have to say that this beach was my favorite of all the beaches this trip. It was expansive, quiet (though a lot of people had left by the time we were rolling in), and because it was a state park, there were no homes behind us... Just dunes. It was lovely. We were only there for about an hour as it closed after sunset, but it was still a heckuva deal for $5. And the sunset didn't disappoint! I was so thrilled, I made Eric snap a photo of me upside down (he loves that).

Monday was Eric's last day in Florida. I was super stoked to go to the Air Force Armament Museum that I had seen (and nearly caused an accident when I started yelling about it) a couple days earlier. There's an SR-71 Blackbird in front (which caused the ruckus) and it is my all-time favorite aircraft (yes, I have one). When I was a kid, I used to have posters/pictures of this airplane all over my walls and I had little models of it on my shelves. I was obsessed with it (ok, maybe I still am?) and I was absolutely giddy seeing it up close as a 45-year old adult. I've seen them in person before, but I could actually TOUCH this one (even though I found out later that I don't think you were *supposed* to touch it). It was a really nostalgic and beautiful activity for me and I'm so thankful I got to see and touch this aircraft.

After the museum, we headed to the Hilton Garden Inn Resort to lounge at the pool and hang on their beach. Eric was done with heavy food (he isn't as gluttonous as I am when it comes to food), so we split some pork tacos (they were good, but nothing amazing)... I was kinda bummed, but I told him we were going to do a decent dinner since it was his last night in town.

After significant lazing, we packed up and headed to Gilligan's to go parasailing! The Loneys took care of us and set us up with this amazing activity (their company, Xplorie, partners with all sorts of amazing activities for people while they're on vacation). I can definitely see why this activity is so popular.

It was so peaceful up there! The line was 500 feet and it was amazing how quiet everything was when you were that far up. There was a recent hurricane, but apparently you can usually see dolphins and whatnot when you're up there, but the water was still a bit churned up. We didn't care, though... It was super great. On the way back down, they ask if you want to be "dipped" in the water - Of course we did!! It was so fun... Highly recommend! Gilligan's also rents boats and jet skis, too; if we'd had more time, I would have loved to do that.

Our last dinner together before Eric had to leave was at The Back Porch - another recommendation from the Loneys. I had the Angry Amberjack and Eric (still not wanting heavy food) opted for the Blackjack Tuna and Shrimp Salad. Both were quite good, but given all of my culinary experiences in the area, it probably wasn't my favorite. That said, there are two resident cat "taste testers" who live under the steps of the restaurant, so it's hard to beat that.

I took a very sad husband to the airport the next day and I drove to the 360 Blue office in Santa Rosa Beach.

The first person I met was Chelsea, my counterpart at 360. We'd met "online" before, but in person is just so much better. She gave me a quick tour of the office and then took me back to the revenue office. I have to say, 360 can do an office! It's beautiful and so well done. The photo of us here is in a common space adjacent to their kitchen... Super cool vibe.

It was really great to get to spend multiple hours together (not just rando online calls that are kind of lame) to understand their operations, methodologies, and nuances of what they do and why they do them. I can honestly say I don't think I would have gotten nearly the same understanding if I'd been sitting in Charlottesville trying to have the conversations via a computer setup.

But here's the really great thing - the Revenue Team is all about food. I found my people. So yes, we worked and talked shop, but we also ATE. Woot.

On Wednesday they took me to an amazing Italian place, Pazzo Italiano. And let me tell you, it was legit. Like everyone was Italian. The waiter, the pizza maker, the bartender. They had soccer on the TV at the bar and the couple customers sitting there watching were Italian. I had the Eggplant Parmagiana and immediately texted a photo to my #workwife Carmen (it's her favorite). And for dessert - get this - we had a NUTELLA CALZONE. And yes, it was that good. I was so excited to find food friends, we decided to do lunch again the next day... YESSSS!

Wednesday DINNER was also a winner. I met up with my friend, Susie (also works for Xplorie with the Loneys) and she took me to Stinky's Fish Camp. And well, we pretty much ate like queens.

So these oysters were probably the best I've ever had. They're from Appalachicola, which is not too far from our vacation homes in Cape San Blas. And I'm telling you, these were amazing. I could have done a dozen more. I will definitely go back to Stinky's just for the oysters.

But wait, THERE'S MORE!!

We didn't just tear into some oysters, but we got more crab legs!! Woohoo!! And we also got an order of shrimp and grits... While good, they didn't really compare to the oysters or crab legs (though I have to give the Crab Trap the upper hand in terms of crab legs). We would have gotten dessert, but there wasn't anyone left to roll us out the door. So we stopped while we were ahead. Not bad for a place called "Stinky's." Which makes me think of that lady who called pond turtles stinky. So maybe that was a term of endearment. I'm going to go with that... Such a fun, memorable night with my gal, Susie!

So the NEXT day for my last lunch with them, my new teammates took me to a place called The Chanticleer Eatery in Grayton Beach (near my favorite state park beach from a few nights back). Now it was every bit of 80 degrees outside, but listen to me - they had a grilled cheese on ROSEMARY SAGE bread. I couldn't say no. That bread with the oozy cheddar and provolone and BACON was perfect. And because it was a grilled cheese, I had to get the tomato bisque. Chelsea said it was really good and she was right. The two together were dynamo.

So here's the part where I just knew this whole business/teammate thing was going to work... Yes, they're all about food, but they're also all about COOKIES. Seems that The Chanticleer is also pretty famous for their cookies. They make two kinds - Double chocolate chip and white chocolate coconut. And they're so good. We got some to take back to the office with us; we said we needed a little time for the lunch to settle, but I'm not going to lie, we got to the office and ate them as soon as we got to our desks. Now, I like chocolate chip cookies, but these *were* really good. And definitely extra (double) chocolatey. And I'm not sure what else is in the white chocolate coconut cookie besides white chocolate, coconut, and butter, but it might not be anything else. It was hard to pick a favorite, but I think I have to go with the coconut. Mmmmm.

Saying goodbye to my new teammates was bittersweet because I know that we'll be relying on computer communication until we can be in person again, but I was so thankful to have the time with them. Everyone (not just #teamrevenue) was stellar. They all welcomed me with open arms, were hospitable beyond my expectations, and just showed me how really awesome they are. I'll always be so thankful for the time I had with them and wish it had been longer. Next time, I'd like to bring them to Charlottesville (there's amazing food here to get into).

After I said my goodbyes to my new friends at the office, I headed back to my super cute carriage house in the Inlet Beach/Rosemary Beach area. I grabbed my towel and headed for the beach for my last sunset of the trip.

I feel pretty fortunate to have spent an amazing week with the hubster, dear friends, and new teammates who will certainly become dear friends. The activities were amazing, the food was pretty damn stellar, the ocean was beautiful, but the people made all the difference. But I guess... Don't they always?

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