Category Archives: Gulf Coast Lifestyle

Tampa Bay Escape Room

Escape Room Joins the Fun in Clearwater Florida

Tampa Bay Escape RoomAn escape room has arrived in downtown Clearwater. This latest international trend in entertainment is now a part of the scene in one of America’s favorite vacation destinations.


Beginnings of the Escape Room

Escape Room escape code padEscape rooms perhaps first appeared in their most basic forms in role playing games where players had to sort through only a handful of unseen and imaginary items described only in text. Nowadays, digital escape games are easy to find on the Internet. Tampa Bay Escape Room puzzleThey range from mundane settings like an office to more imaginative scenes where players escape monsters by escaping the room. The games involve logic and math puzzles that, when you solve them, offer a piece of the overall puzzle. Solve all the clues and you can escape. Sometimes the final riddle provides a key, other times it is simply a means to get away, such as an open window. An added feature to most of the digital games is a time limit. For the online game we “researched,” a hungry bear would enter a cabin in the woods if the player was unsuccessful at getting out in time.


Real Life Escape Rooms

Tampa Bay Escape Room participants

Florida Beach Rental’s winning team

Within the last decade, Escape Rooms have entered the realm of reality. Small groups can enter a real life room containing various clues and riddles. The door is locked and players are left to find their way out. The variety of puzzles is endless. Some are purely intellectual while others are hands on. Some escape rooms require players to dismantle furniture to find clues. In most cases, a combination of brain twisters and hands on manipulation will get players to the right answers. Played against a clock, the reward is the escape itself.


Tampa Bay Escape Room

Tampa Bay Escape Room Tampa Bay Escape Room is located in downtown Clearwater, Florida, on Cleveland Street, a popular boulevard known for holding outdoor markets and festivals. Tampa Bay Escape Room describes their experience in this way; “An Escape Game is a real-life escape game that consist of players, in groups of 2-8, that are locked in a room and have 60 minutes to find clues, solve puzzles and work together as a team to escape the room before time runs out.”  Inside the suite, players wait in a lobby for their game time to begin. Once instructed to enter the room, the Tampa Bay Escape Room host gives instructions on how the game is played. Music Producer Tampa Bay Escape RoomWe were assured that for our room the furniture did not come apart. A panic button to escape early was pointed out for any who might not enjoy the experience. The room was entitled “Music Producer,” appearing much like one would imagine such a person’s office would look. It had no lack of clues and puzzles. Our Florida Beach Rentals office entered the game in two teams, each vowing to escape in less time than the other. While describing the means of escape would make for an interesting article, the game is simply too enjoyable to destroy it for others by giving away clues. Music Producer Tampa Bay Escape RoomWhat I can say is that both teams thoroughly enjoyed the game, Team One escaping in 37 minutes and Team Two in 42 minutes. Our office often looks for venues to recommend for rainy days and this is now definitely on the list. The current price, which matches the national average for escape rooms, is $28 per person. Is it worth it? Yes, it is. This escape room adventure earned 5 stars from everyone on our crew.


Rooms are booked online:


Other posts you might enjoy:

Geocaching in Paradise

Pass A Grille Chowder Challenge

The Segway Adventure at Clearwater Beach



paddleboaring Clearwater harbor

Paddleboarding Clearwater Beach

Stand Up Paddleboarding

Clearwater Paddleboard CoPaddleboarding dates back over a thousand years, but modern paddleboarding, as a widely popular sport, seems to have its start somewhere around the year 2000, when boards designed for standing were brought to the US. The new style boards were easier to stand on than a surfboard, and far more buoyant. With the surge in popularity, the boards continued to evolve, the newest editions being wider and more stable than ever before. Stand Up Paddleboarding was born. Today when paddleboarding, falling into the water is far less likely. Some constants still remain, of course. Paddleboarding is still a workout, and first-timers will still discover new muscles –especially the next day.


Morning Paddle at Clearwater Beach

Stand Up PaddleboardClearwater Paddleboard Company extended an invitation to go paddleboarding a while back, which was easy to say yes to. The big decision was not so much when to go but rather whether we should paddle the shores of Clearwater Beach or the waters of Clearwater Harbor. While that decision might be a hard one for visitors, it was a little easier for us locals. For visitors, the sandy shores of the beach are a big draw. You can wave to your friends on the shore or enjoy the lively beach activities while you paddle by. For two employees who work on the beach, our bets were on the guaranteed-to-be-calmer waters of the harbor. With our plans set, we met in the morning, before most beach businesses opened. Clearwater Paddleboard Company has a large van which is capable of carrying a lot of paddleboards. We unloaded the boards at the library. Yes, the Clearwater Beach library has a boat ramp and a dock. After a short paddleboarding lesson, we pushed off the dock and into Clearwater Harbor.


Paddleboarding Clearwater Harbor

Paddleboard Clearwater Harbor The harbor in the morning is remarkably calm. On the morning of our paddle it was like glass. The calm waters made up for the lack of sunshine, with seasonal clouds gathered overhead. We started with a tour of some favorite waterfront homes, something only some might appreciate, us among them. We then turned around and headed toward Clearwater Marina. The paddle took us past anchored sailboats, boats docked at the marina, and under the causeway bridge. We did not get to see dolphins but we did get to see some stingrays swimming by. The paddle was relaxing but also a little bit of work. It made for a perfect morning outing before heading off to work. We arrived back at the docks after an easy trip back, where we loaded the boards back onto the van. The owner of Clearwater Paddleboard Company was very accommodating, but who wouldn’t be in a good mood when their job is to help people go paddleboarding?


Paddleboard Season

Cleawater Paddleboard CoThe great news about paddleboarding at Clearwater Beach is that you can do it all year round. Cleawater Paddleboard CoThe waters of the Gulf of Mexico are almost always calm and the waters of the harbor are even calmer. A lot of fun sites are reachable with this simple watercraft, and it makes for a very relaxing sightseeing tour. Your chances of seeing dolphins swim by are actually quite high anywhere around Clearwater Beach, with lots of exotic birds thrown into the mix. If you are visiting the area, and you want to try paddleboarding, Clearwater Beach is a great location to get your feet wet, literally.


 Paddleboarding video


Clearwater Paddleboard Co. 727-744-9008


Other posts you might enjoy:

Explore the Gulf Coast Dolphin Trail

Pinellas Trail Bicycle and Walking Path

5 Most Exciting Beach Activity Rentals at Clearwater Beach


John Levique Pirate Days

Pirate Day Fun and Warfare

John Levique Pirate Days at John’s Pass

Happy Return of Piracy

Maidens au portPirate days returned to John’s Pass in Madeira Beach, Florida May 8th through the 10th. The pirate festival has become a well-known excuse to visit the already popular tourist destination of John’s Pass Village and Boardwalk. The site is a well-known favorite for locals and visitors alike, due to its fun shops and great restaurants. The tourist-style shops sell nautical knickknacks, T-shirts, mugs, and lots of other touristy items. The restaurants are fantastic, some of them having dining docks on the waterfront. The ice cream and taffy shops add the finishing touch. The boardwalk and village are the perfect size for strolling, big enough to keep visitors looking but small enough so that you can see it all.


Pirates Everywhere

PiratesJohn Levique Pirate Days added a special buzz to the shopping and dining village at John’s Pass. Merchant tents lined the streets while the main parking lot had been converted into a tent with a stage for bands. A second performers’ tent stood at the other end of the street, with a fighting ring for pirate disputes and tents for visiting pirates. The streets were filled with visitors shopping, eating or just sightseeing. At every turn more pirates showed up, walking the streets in every directions, grizzly pirates, lady pirates, lone pirates, or packs of pirates. A lot of pirate paraphernalia was for sale in the merchant tents, for anyone wanting to join the fray.


Real Life Pirate Battle – Almost

Pirate shipThe pirate invasion of John’s Pass happened at noon. The battle, as it turned out, was between the pirate tour boat that docks at John’s Pass and the Hubbard’s Dolphin Tour boat. The two large vessels spun around the waters of the pass at surprising speed, shooting water cannons at one another. Added to the mix were cannon blasts that echoed off the shops of the boardwalk. SmPirate cannonsaller boats weaved into the battle, armed with their own water cannons, taking any opportunity to strike at the “invading” pirate ship. On the shore, more pirates fired cannons, ones much larger than those on the ships. The pass reverberated, literally, with the booming of cannon fire.


 Join the Pirates

John Levique Pirate DaysAfter the pirate show, it was time to return to the shops, the vendor tents, the shows, and a chance to dine on the waterfront. Despite the all the activity, the parking was reasonably priced and easy to find. Thanks to the small size of John’s Pass Village and Boardwalk, it was not difficult to find the car again. The event was a lot of fun, which it always is. Visitors to this yearly festival are advised to check the online schedule. It will help guide you toward the times when bands are playing, when the pirate invasions and battles occur, and promotional specials offered by bars of John’s Pass. If you are living in the area, or you plan to visit in May, be sure to check this event out in the coming years. John Levique Pirate Days really is one of the best events of the year.

Pirate Battle Video


Other posts you might enjoy:

Treasure Island Kite Festival and Sport Kite Competition

Pass A Grille Chowder Challenge

Salvador Dali Museum


Geocaching in Paradise

Geocaching in Paradise

What is Geocaching?

Geocaching Clearwater BeachThe word geocache comes from two words, geo and cache. The word geo refers to the Earth, and cache refers to a secret storage location. In the case of geocaching the item can be anything! The game is to find the stashed object, usually hidden in plain sight in a public place. Players find the locations using their phones’ GPS.

Geocache Clearwater BeachThe beauty of geocaching is that anyone can play. All you need is a phone that will accept the app (application) for playing the game presented on the web site, According to the web site, there are 2,579,133 active geocaches hidden across the globe, and over 6 million geocachers worldwide.

Geocache at beachThe caches are created by ordinary people who are also playing the game. Hidden objects can be as simple as a log book which you sign when you find the cache. Others can be as large as a pirate’s chest, and have items of interest stored inside. One of the mottoes of the game is if you take something away, you should leave something else behind.


How to Find a Geocache

Clearwater Beach sand duneOnce you have loaded the geocache app, your screen will display the geocaches near you –or across the globe, if you want. Your job is to go out and find them. They can be in the city or the countryside. Hiking trails are favorite places, as are public landmarks. Your GPS will get you close. Once you are there, it is your job to figure out how and where the geocache is hidden. Favorite tricks are to put the items under something, or to hide them inside of common objects. Here at Clearwater Beach, one of them is hung on fishing string inside a sign post. Another is attached to a bolt set inside a piece wood, both attached to a fence at the end of a beach road. Use your wits and imagination to discover your first geocaches. After a few finds, you will get better at discovering caches.


Florida Gulf Coast is Geocache Paradise

Gulf Coast IslandThe Florida Gulf Coast is a paradise. Our beaches are covered in soft white sand, often with mangrove forests nearby. The boating opportunities are endless. The combination of the two make this a fantastic place to geocache. Discovering a hidden cache in the city might be fun, but have you ever found one on an uninhabited island? Some of the caches here in our area are hidden underwater, some are near ruins of wartime bunkers, and others are stashed in a wooded area on islands accessible only by boat. The terrain of our area ups the game a notch, adding water and difficulty of access.

Snorkel for geocacheWhile we don’t believe you need an additional excuse to head out to an island, geocaching on the Florida Gulf Coast makes it all the more exciting. On Anclote Key you will find miles of beach that rarely see visitors. You will also have the opportunity to find the three geocaches hidden there. Honeymoon Island State Park is a beach island paradise. It is home to at least twelve hidden items. Caladesi Island, accessible by ferry or a very long walk, hides five of the caches to date. Nine of the stashed goodies wait for you on famous Clearwater Beach.beach nature trail The long chain of barrier islands of the coastline hide many more. From Sand Key to John’s Pass, a popular tourist destination, our count is thirty five. Famous St Pete Beach has its own collection, some eleven by our tally. Fort Desoto park, which is one of the best beach destinations in our area, has enough geocaches to keep you busy for long while. A quick glance at the map told us that a geocacher can find over eighty hidden stashes without ever leaving our beaches.


Age Limits for Geocaching

geocaching in a kayakWhile you are hunting for the hidden items on our barrier islands, you will also be enjoying sunshine and beautiful shorelines. Shelling, sunbathing, beach walks, boating, and other pleasures await visitors to the remarkable shores of the Central Gulf Coast of Florida. Clearwater Beach, St Pete Beach, and the fun beach towns in between are some of the most cherished beaches in the U.S. Add geocaching to the mix, and you might experience an adventure you did not anticipate. After all, who hasn’t dreamed of finding a treasure on an island? barrier island geocachingYou might imagine that geocaching is the domain of the young, but, so long as you have a phone that loads apps, no age barrier exists. Anyone who possesses a sense of play can join the hunt. So on you next trip to the white sand shores of our coast, give at least one of the caches a try. You might take away a fun vacation memory you did not expect.




Tampa Bay Activities

Wild Winter Wonders on the Florida Gulf Coast

Upcoming Events on the Florida Gulf Coast

Florida Gulf CoastIf you are looking for an exciting getaway from the chilly winter duldrums, the Florida Gulf Coast might have the answer. Aside from warmer weather than nearly anywhere else in the United States, the Gulf Coast is also known for its endless line up of festivals and events. The winter of 2015 will be no exception to that rule. Here, below, you will find a list of events coming soon to the Florida Gulf Coast. The list includes some of the top events. It does not include them all. The Florida Gulf Coast has more events in 2015 than you might imagine!


Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso Under One Roof

Salvador Dali museumThe famous Salvador Dali Museum in St Petersburg, Florida is a fantastic museum for art enthusiasts. It is also a remarkable start for those new to the world of art. The Dali exhibits, open year round, are fascinating. With the inclusion of works from Pablo Picasso, the museum becomes a must-visit location. The additional exhibits of Picasso’s works began in November 2014 and will run until February 16th, 2015. Be sure not to miss this intriguing combination of two of the world’s most famous artists.


Treasure Island Kite Festival and Sport Kite Competition

kite festivalThis gigantic kite event is set on the expansive swath of sand in Treasure Island, Florida. Unlike any other kite event you will find, the Treasure Island Kite Festival and Sport Kite Competition is a joy to attend. The 2015 event will be held January 16th through the 18th. See the biggest kites in the sky hovering over the beautiful sands of the Florida Gulf Coast. Watch stunt kite competitions, and stroll the sands to stand beneath your favorite monster kites. If you like the beach, oversized displays, and loads of bright colors, this is the event for you.


Running and More Running on the Florida Gulf Coast

If you enjoy participating in or spectating marathons or running events, then be sure to hit the Florida Gulf Coast this winter. Three great events will be held on our shores, each one unique in its own right.

triathlonThe Clearwater Distance Classic

The Clearwater Distance Classic event will include a true marathon distance (26.2 miles), plus other, shorter events, down to a 5 mile course. The staging grounds for this event is popular Coachman Park, an open air park on the waterfront of Clearwater Harbor. The event will be held January 18th. An expo for the event will be held at the park on the 17th.


Discover Caladesi Island 5K and 10 Miler

Caladesi Island beachThis Caladesi Island running event is truly unique. Caladesi is a natural island with no roads. This race will take place on the beach itself on Saturday, January 24, 2015. Runners will enjoy one of the most beautiful natural beaches on Earth as the setting for these 10 mile and 5K events. This will be one to remember for both participants and spectators.

2015 Gasparilla Distance Classic

The Gasparilla Distance Classic is a great way to get a taste of famous Tampa Bay. Well-known for its scenic water views, Bayshore Blvd runs a surprisingly long distance of the waterfront. The scenic drive is the setting for the race named after the famous pirate, Gasparailla. Enjoy beautiful homes, sparkling bay waters, and the Tampa skyline on this multi-tiered race. The 2015 Gasparilla Distance Classic takes place February 21st and 22nd.


Pinellas Folk Festival

Heritage VillageLocated at the fascinating Heritage Village in Largo, Florida, the Pinellas Polk Festival uses the historic theme of the park to its advantage. Heritage Village is home to an intriguing display of old Florida homes and other buildings, with walkways leading through the park. Tours are available, on a schedule, to guide you through the historic buildings. The event is scheduled for January 31st, 2015, 10am to 4pm. The Pinellas Folk Festival adds music, food, live demonstrations, and speakers to a location that is already bursting with interesting artifacts.


Gasparilla Pirate Fest

GasparillaAlso known as the Gasparilla Pirate Invasion, this event is one of the  highlights of the year for Tampa Bay. The pirate invasion is a must-see event, with pirate ships and a massive flotilla of private boats entering the Port of Tampa. Following the boats, a Mardi Gras style parade cruises the waterfront, complete with plenty of pirates and loads of bead necklaces for the kids. This noisy, lively parade will lift your spirits and leave your kids with big smiles. The street festival, with a vibrant street scene that is the peak of the year in the Tampa Bay area, is fun for everyone, the nighttime activities more attuned to adults. The invasion runs from 11:30am to 1pm January 31st, followed by the parade at 2pm to 5:30pm. The street festival runs two days, January 30 and 31st, from 10am to 10pm. Be sure to visit the Gasparilla Pirate Fest if you are in the Tampa Bay area at the end of January.


Clearwater Beach Uncorked

Champagne_corkClearwater Beach Uncorked is a wine tasting and food event held on Clearwater Beach. It is an upscale event aimed at those who love to sample wine and food. Taste creations from some of Clearwater Beach’s best. The 2015 event will be held February 7th and 8th.


For the Love of Baseball

Typical_baseball_gameSpring training is a happy time in Tampa Bay. The Philadelphia Phillies and the Toronto Blue Jays arrive in town to give Clearwater and Dunedin a perfect opportunity to enjoy the sport. Regardless of what team you root for in the regular season, take advantage of this extra helping of baseball served up locally. Phillies train from March 1st to April 2nd. Blue Jays train from March 3rd to the 31st. Spring training on the Florida Gulf Coast is the perfect excuse to come out to the ball park!


Fun on the Florida Gulf Coast

If you are looking for a fun spot to spend your winter, take another look at the Florida Gulf Coast. Aside from our mild winters and remarkable beaches, we also are host to a steady stream of great activities. Come visit us!

Clearwater Color Run

Clearwater Color Run Strikes Again

Clearwater Color Run

Clearwater Color RunThe Color Run arrived in Clearwater, Florida again this December, turning the runners and the pavement a variety of bright shades. The 5k race, touted as the Happiest 5k on the Planet is a variation of the standard foot race in that the course has color stations. Each station holds a different vibrant hue of chalky dust, thrown at the racers when they pass. Set up like a gauntlet, race volunteers hurl or squirt day-glow powders onto the happy racers. This December’s race had four checkpoints, making the runners a living pallet of shades.


Color Run Racers

Clearwater Color RunThe Color Run painted the streets of Clearwater last year in January, making the gap eleven months rather than twelve. The turnout was just as good as last year, if not better. The streets were filled to the horizon on several Clearwater streets. Police helped with traffic at the corners, some, apparently, winding up with colors on their uniforms before the race was over. The Color Run was as good a time as always, with the racers smiling and waving as they went by. The volunteers also appeared to have fun pitching the powder onto to the runners.


Coachman Park Party

Clearwater Color RunThe race started and ended in Coachman Park, at the foot of the bridge to famous Clearwater Beach. The park is below the Clearwater Public Library, and next door to one of the trolley stop that takes tourist to see Winter the dolphin from the Dolphin Tale movies.  The park is on the waterfront, with a dock and marina, making Coachman Park a great place for any event. An after-party happens each year on the park grounds, where anyone missing some colors on their clothing or hair is finished off. Plenty of race day souvenirs are available on-site. The park provides a perfect party-like atmosphere to end off the lively Color Run race.


Clearwater Florida

Coachman ParkClearwater is a great destination for a Florida vacation, with some of the most famous beaches in the USA on its doorstep. Nearby, visitors can find Fort De Soto Park, St Pete Beach, Clearwater Beach, Honeymoon Island State Park, and Caladesi Island State Park. The City of Clearwater is one of the big three of Tampa Bay, the other two being Tampa and St Petersburg. It is a lively metropolitan area that has great fishing opportunities, nearby wilderness, and fantastic resort beaches. It is easy for visitors to find the attractions that make them happy in Clearwater.

 Clearwater Color Run video

Other posts you might enjoy:

Clearwater Marine Aquarium

9 Need to Know Differences between Hotels and Vacation Rentals

5 Most Exciting Beach Activity Rentals at Clearwater Beach



lighted boat parade

Tarpon Springs Holiday Lighted Boat Parade

Holiday Season in Florida

lighted boat parade in Tarpon SpringsThe holiday season in Florida might not have snow, but it does have plenty of holiday cheer. What we don’t experience with snow, we make up for with miles of seasonal lights and endless festivals. On the Florida Gulf Coast, the water plays a large part in our lifestyles, adding a dimension to events that is easy to appreciate. Holiday boat parades are popular, drawing lots of boaters and loads of spectators.


Snow Place like Tarpon

Snow Place Like Tarpon eventThe tourist town of Tarpon Springs, Florida, added an in-town festival to its yearly holiday boat parade. Snow Place Like Tarpon is a street festival held on the main street through Tarpon Springs. Tarpon Avenue is an interesting place on any given day, with old style buildings, multiple antique shops, a museum, and some great restaurants. For the Snow Place Like Tarpon event, Snow Place Like Tarpon holiday festivalmanufactured snow was blown from marquees, to fall on the people below. Vendors lined the curbs, with dancing girls in holiday outfits dancing in the streets. A snow slide occupied an empty lot filled with spectators. The vendors sold holiday crafts and lots of food, including great deserts. A holiday wagon ride was also running for the kids, as well as an outdoor movie screen showing Disney’s Frozen. Most importantly, Santa took Christmas wishes on the dock at the bayou. According to residents of Tarpon Springs, the crowds roving Tarpon Avenue were the largest ever to attend the event. Snow Place Like Tarpon ran from the antique district all the way down to Spring Bayou, where the holiday boat parade was scheduled to run at the end of the evening.


Holiday Boat Parade

holiday lights on boatThe holiday lighted boat parade entered Spring Bayou at the end of the evening events. The parade, illuminated the waterways of Tarpon Springs, thrilling happy spectators who had moved from the street festival down to the bayou. Onlookers lined the waterfront with beach chairs and cameras, cheering to the boats as they passed. The boats entered Spring Bayou with holiday music at high volume and their boat horns blasting. The reflection on the water added to the dazzle of the lights. The boat owners enjoyed the event too, turning back for a second spin around the shoreline. boat parade capture The lighted boat parade started and ended on the Anclote River, home of the famous Sponge Docks, the host marina being the docks at Captain Jack’s restaurant and bar. The boats returned by the same route, docking at the marina to enjoy nightcaps and banter about the parade. Snow Place Like Tarpon and the Tarpon Springs Holiday Lighted Boat parade made for a fantastic holiday themed night out in the famous tourist town.


Tarpon Springs

Tarpon Springs FloridaTarpon Springs is a small tourist town on the northern end of the Central Gulf Coast of Florida. It lies along the Anclote River, home of the famous Sponge Docks, the leading producer of natural sponges in the world. It is known for its Greek community, pioneers of the area’s sponge diving industry. Greek food is a must when visiting this city. Tourist souvenirs are of nautical theme, with sponges sold in every shop. Handmade soaps and kitchen seasonings are also a hit in Tarpon Springs. Boat rides cruise the river, with some taking tourists to the coastal barrier islands at the mouth of the river. Tarpon Avenue is known for its many eclectic antique shops. The city is also a favorite stopover for those on bike rides along the 38 mile Pinellas Trail. Tarpon Springs is forty minutes or less to the north of other famous Florida Gulf Coast destinations such as Honeymoon Island State Park, Caladesi Island State Park, and Clearwater Beach. If you plan to visit the Central Gulf Coast, put Tarpon Springs on your list of places to see.


Tarpon Springs Lighted Boat Parade video:

Tarpon Springs Lighted Boat Parade video (short version):

Other posts you might enjoy:

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

Wildest Islands on the Central Gulf Coast of Florida

Pinellas Trail Bicycle and Walking Path


Chowder Challenge 2014

Pass A Grille Chowder Challenge

Discovering the Pass A Grille Chowder Challenge 2014

Pass a Grille Chowder ChallengeThe Pass A Grille Chowder Challenge happened last weekend, November 8th and 9th, bringing a lively event to a beach community that is a bit different from the rest of its neighbors on the coast. Pass A Grille is a laid back Florida beach community, sitting on a relatively small section of island. It is the southernmost inhabited section of the barrier islands along Florida Gulf Coast of Pinellas County. It is located just south of St Pete Beach and just north of the uninhabited Shell Key. Pass A Grille might not be the kind of place where you wind up often, it being the end of the road, with no way out other than the way you came in. The fantastic white sands of the Florida Gulf Coast line its shores, with beautiful views to the south of the barrier islands there. In the heart of Pass A Grille you will find Hurley Park, with a picnic pavilion, a basketball court, and a baseball field. On November 8th and 9th this year, Hurley Park became the staging ground for the annual Chowder Challenge, a chowder cook-off that set area restaurants against each other in a very friendly competition.


Entering the Pass A Grille Chowder Challenge

Chowder Challenge desertsWe arrived at the Pass A Grille Chowder Challenge as inexperienced novices, new to the ways of the competition. Hurley Park was filled to the brim with chowder lovers who had arrived before us. Vender tents lined the perimeter, with the rest of the grass area occupied by dining tables, every one filled with chatting chowder challengers. Souvenirs were available along with an inviting table of deserts just outside the gates of the baseball field. Entering the main event area cost $20, an entrance fee that purchased a wristband pass into the chowder sampling area. We paid while still in mystery as to what we would get. To put it simply, the Pass A Grille Chowder Challenge wound up being more than worth it.


Serving up the Pass A Grille Chowder Challenge

Chowder Challenge chowdersEntering the baseball diamond we saw the participating restaurants for the Pass A Grille Chowder Challenge lining the outer edge. Plenty of room was left over for milling in the center of the field, a space used by many to aim for the next bowl of chowder. We were handed rectangular trays with papers set on them that showed the names of the competing Tampa Bay area restaurants. The labeled tray was accompanied by a score card. It took only a moment to understand the game. Under pop up canopies the restaurant representatives waited with vats of chowder ready to serve the hungry crowds. When we visited the first table, we were served a tiny cup of chowder, placed carefully over the restaurant name. We went from table to table, collecting more of the small cups, placed over the corresponding names of the restaurants. Then it was off to taste the chowder at the dining tables spread across the lawn. It was time to decide who was king of the Chowder Challenge.


Chowder Challengers at Pass A Grille

The Chowder Challenge had some great competitors, including some of the best restaurants in the Tampa Bay region. One of the remarkable characters of the event is that every single booth had smiling participants, happy to talk to event attendees or pose for photos.

  • Chowder Challenge LoewsShells Chowder ChallengeBilly’s Stone Crab
  • Brass Monkey
  • Crabby Bills
  • Gennaro’s
  • Jackie’s on Corey
  • Leverocks Seafood House
  • Loews Don CeSar Resort & Spa
  • Middle Grounds Grill
  • PJs Oyster BarFriendly Fisherman at Chowder ChallengeNori Thai
  • PJ’s Oyster Bar
  • Rick’s Reef
  • Ricky T’s
  • RumFish Grill at Guy Harvey Outpost
  • Salty Rim
  • Shark Tales of St Pete Beach
  • Shell’s Seafood
  • Salty Rim at Chowder ChallengeLeverocks at Chowder ChallengeSt Pete Produce & Deli


We did our best to catch every name, and to taste every chowder! If we missed your restaurant at the Chowder Challenge or somehow left off your name, please let us know and we will add you to our list!


Choosing the Chowder Challenge Champion

Chowder Challenge votingOur attempt at picking a winner at the Pass A Grille Chowder Challenge went well – at first. With the first eight chowders to choose from, we picked our winners. When we went back to sample eight more, the trouble began. There really weren’t any bad chowders. On the higher end of the tasting scale were some of the best chowders we’d ever tried. Some topped out the list on traditional style chowders while others served up recipes we hadn’t heard of before, such as the Rumfish version of Caribbean Lion Fish Chowder or the Nori Thai chowder which included coconut. By the time we were done with our second tray of samples, we had to go get more score cards because our first ones were destroyed with too many conflicting marks – and yes, they had chowder on them. The final scoring was tallied via plastic gold coins, handed to us when we purchased our entry. Attendees received only three of the golden coins with which to vote. Each restaurant table had business cards or menus to remind us who they were, but they also had plastic beach buckets. The buckets were for the gold coins. Attendees were to choose their top chowders and drop the coins off at their three favorite restaurant booths. Chowder Challenge Chowder choiceWe grudgingly eliminated the runners up and dropped off our coins. Because we also made a mess of the second score cards, we can no longer tell you where those coins went. Our personal favorites were Ricky T’s, Salty Rim, Shells Seafood, Brass Monkey, Leverocks, and Loews Don CeSar, with our unique-recipe favorite going to Rumfish Restauant’s Lionfish Chowder. We hope the others will understand. We left the Chowder Challenge with full bellies and smiles on our faces, thanks to all the great chowders.


​Official Winners of the Pass A Grille Chowder Challenge 2014

The official winners according the official Chowder Challenge Website were:

Golden Ladle:  RumFish Grill at Guy Harvey Outpost for its Caribbean Lionfish Chowder
Peoples Choice 1st Place:  Shells for its New England Clam Chowder
People’s Choice 2nd Place:  Gennaro’s for its Gennaro’s Clam Chowder
People’s Choice 3rd Place:  Friendly Fisherman for its Clam Chowder
Celebrity Chef’s Choice:  Shark Tales for its Fresh Seafood Clam Chowder
Celebrity Chef’s Honorable Mention:  Lowes – Don CeSar for its Conch Chowder
Celebrity Chef’s Honorable Mention:  Shells on St Pete Beach for its New England Clam Chowder


Looking forward to the Next Pass A Grille Chowder Challenge

Billys at Chowder ChallengeWe will return next year to the Pass A Grille Chowder Challenge and here is why. The food was remarkable, giving us a wide variety of the best chowders our region had to offer. Despite the miniature size of the bowls, we were eventually unable to get to the bottom of the final samples, so it was satisfying for the big eaters too. The restaurant participants were all smiles, happy to be there and very personable when approached. Further, and possibly best, were the fellow attendees. The tables were large, fitting more than one group at a sitting. When we sat down, the conversations were easy to start because each person attending was also sampling the chowders. Don Cesar at Chowder ChallengeThe exchange of ideas began immediately, concerning which chowders were best, and which restaurants had cooked them. Because of the constant flow of attendees moving from the chowder serving area to the seats outside the baseball field, we wound up sitting in two different locations, each time striking up conversation with other happy chowder tasters.

For all of those reasons, we are looking forward to the Pass A Grille Chowder Challenge next year and we hope to see you there too.


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