This holiday season my boyfriend, Mike, and I decided to celebrate with a twelve day Gulf Coast – epic couples road trip. We traveled the gulf coast from College Station, Texas to New Orleans, and into Florida – where we made stops in Pensacola, Tampa and finally ring in the new year in the Florida Keys!
This trip was so memorable on many different levels – from everyone we met along the way to experiencing the local cuisine. The most important part for me was the time spent with Mike, building our relationship while traveling together. Simply put – it was a trip of a life time that I will remember forever.
I’m excited to recap every stop along the way, to share our experiences with you and to hopefully inspire you to hit the road on your next vacation! First stop New Orleans Plantation Country…
Ok our bags are packed…we are ready to go on our great – big – road trip adventure. Mike and I decided to get an early start on the road trip and we jumped in the car at 4 AM to make our way to our first stop to visit the New Orleans Plantation Country, in Louisiana where we were guests at the famous Oak Alley Plantation.
When we arrived at Oak Alley Plantation, I told Mike that it would be difficult for me to describe to my readers (you) simply because it was just so breathtaking. The trees were like arms that wrapped around the entire property, almost shading it from the outside world.
Our stay at Oak Alley was peaceful, cozy and more than we could have asked for throughout our entire trip in the Plantation Country. Did you know you could stay on the property? We actually spent Christmas in our beautiful cabin, woke up to southern biscuits in the morning and spent every evening strolling through the oak trees.
Our trip to the NOLA Plantation Country can be summed up in four words – Family, Tradition, Pride, and Community. Driving through Louisiana we shared the roads with sugar cane trucks and as I looked out of the car window, I watched as we passed small homes, large homes, and ones that you thought maybe no one should inhabit, but they all shared the land – there was no division. From the homes people lived in, to the churches they attend, the overwhelming sense of community and oneness was the impression I took home from this trip.
During our trip to the Plantation Country, Mike and I learned about a Christmas Eve time-honored tradition of the Bonfires on the Levee from our new friend Stephan Keller, owner of the Creole Sugarland Bonfire Tours in Vacherie, LA. On Christmas Eve we experienced this tradition and witnessed the burning of the bonfires celebration – where bonfires lined the Mississippi and fireworks filled the sky. It was like nothing else I have ever experienced or could have imagined, it was simply amazing to watch a community come together and celebrate as one.
Blood, Sweat and Tears in Garyville
Christmas Day we decided to venture out and take a short drive to New Orleans, where we strolled the streets of the French Quarter. We enjoyed the sounds of street performers, the french architecture and our view from the balcony of the Royal House Oyster Bar, where we people watched for hours. Many of the shops were unfortunately closed, but we enjoyed the city for the day and quickly made our way back to our peaceful oasis at Oak Alley Plantation.
Our final day in the Plantation Country was spent touring The Houmas House Plantation , dining at the Houmas House Restaurant for a delicious lunch and then topped off with a private whiskey tasting at The Turtle Bar.
The Crown Jewel of Louisiana’s River Road
In addition to the beautiful plantation tour, The Houmas House has so much to offer in the entertainment and venue arena. The Houmas House makes an excellent location for your next special event, wedding or even a fun date night. In addition to hosting events, the private cottages tucked away at the edge of the property allow guests to also enjoy southern tranquility surrounded by beautiful oak trees and tropical gardens.
Everywhere we went the locals were friendly, they would stop us and genuinely want to know about us. There was no gain for them, other than to make a new friend. Louisiana locals welcomed us as if we were part of their family and as we drove away from Oak Alley I now know in my heart that I have a second home in Louisiana.
Driving away from Oak Alley Plantation felt like we were leaving home, but we were excited to see where the road would take us as we drove onto our next destination and second leg of the trip, Pensacola, Florida. We arrived in the evening to the Hilton Pensacola Beach Gulf Front hotel and we were pleasantly surprised by our three bedroom, full kitchen and two balconies, facing the ocean, hotel room. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner that night at Casino Beach Bar & Grille.
We unfortunately experienced some of the off season dreary weather while visiting Pensacola, so we made the best of it and spent the rest of our time visiting Downtown Pensacola, which turned out to be one of our favorite spots on the trip. The Old Hickory Whiskey Bar had been transformed into the “Miracle on Palafox: A Christmas Cocktail PopUp Bar.” And if you don’t feel the Christmas spirit running through you after you leave – then you didn’t do it right. Their holiday cocktails were just what we needed to warm us up before our steak dinner at Jackson’s Steakhouse.
After dinner we stopped by Bubba’s Sweet Spot and stocked up on taffy, fudge and sour treats. Across the street we explored The Bodacious Family of Shops featuring a coffee house, kitchen supply store and flavored and fused extra virgin olive oils and balsamic vinegars.
Although our time in Pensacola was short, we enjoyed all that the city had to offer and we hope to come back in sunnier and warmer weather!
Our next stop took us to Tampa, Florida where we started the visit with the perfect date night at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino,dining at The Rez Grill and enjoying a night cap at the new L-Bar: L-evating the Classics.
We kicked off our first full day in Tampa by driving in to Hyde Park Village, where we enjoyed a amazing breakfast at Goody Goody Bugers, a retro diner that served fried chicken and biscuits that were out of this world. They wouldn’t let us leave until we had a slice of their famous butterscotch pie… oh my heavens.
After breakfast we took a short drive over to Davis Island, and looked at the beautiful Mediterranean style homes from the 1920s. One of our favorite things to do when we visit new towns is to drive through neighborhoods and look at the houses and their architecture. We point out which homes we like and then of course day dream about one day owning a little house with a beach side view. Davis Island was perfect for day dreaming.
In the afternoon, Mike and I then ventured out to the Canoe Escape where we watched fishermen and canoes paddle across the ancient black waters of the Hillsborough river through the cypress swamps. We may have seen a gator or two along the way, yikes!
To take the edge off of our close encounters with the aligators, Mike and I decided stopped by a local brewery, the Coppertail Brewing Co. We soaked up the sun on their porch and enjoyed a flight of our choosing and relaxed the rest of the afternoon.
And the grand finale of our stay in Tampa Bay was rounded out by attending the NHL Tampa Bay Lightning final game of the season. Mike played hockey when he was younger and this was such a great experience to have together, especially since I couldn’t tell you how to play a hockey game beyond the hockey puck.
From NOLA to Pensacola to Tampa… it was time to take the final leg of our trip and end our trip in the Florida Keys on New Year’s Eve in Key West. The drive through the Florida Keys was enough to make you pack your bags and never look back. We opened the sun roof on the Acura and I played classic tunes by the Beach Boys (which Mike enthusiastically enjoyed) as we drove to Key West. The water was like nothing I’ve ever seen, a beautiful aqua blue. We enjoyed lunch at a Herbie’s Bar and Chowder House in Marathon and then making a stop at Kermit’s Key (West) Lime Pie Shoppe after exploring the streets of Key West. We walked to the Southern most point of the Continental U.S. and soaked up our last bit of sunshine before hitting the road back to Texas.
Our drive home was long, but we had had so many different experiences over the twelve day Gulf Coast Road trip it was hard to pick just one thing that we enjoyed the most. We couldn’t even compare each city, they all stood alone in their uniqueness. But what they shared in common was true Southern hospitality, community and friendship. Mike and I will be forever grateful to the people we met on our road trip and a memory that he and I will cherish.
Want to get a guys point of view on our trip? Read Mike’s take on our trip by visiting TheGentlemanRacer.com for his full recap of our epic couples Gulf Coast road trip.
And saving the best for last…I want to thank everyone of my readers for following along during our trip across the Gulf Coast, everyone who asked “how was your trip”, to our friends and of course our family for your support. We love you all! xx- Jennifer
A very special thanks to our friends at Acura, NOLA Plantation Country, Oak Alley Plantation: Restaurant and Inn, The Houmas House, Visit Pensacola, Visit Tampa Bay, and the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel for your hospitality and making our trip so memorable. Thank you Jackie and Jenny at Coterie Boutique for keeping me styled on my trip across the coast!