I want to go where no one knows my name: Pittsburgh to Tampa edition
August 8, 2016 9:10 AM   Subscribe

By the time my birthday rolls around in early October, I am going to be well past burned out. I want to go sit alone on a beach and have no one speak to me for three days. I do not want to spend all day on a plane or in airports getting to said beach. For various logistical reasons, I think Tampa is the most practical airport to fly in to. But where to stay? Snowflakes within.

I live in Pittsburgh, whose airport is like an anti-hub. Not only are there barely any nonstop flights out of it to anywhere except, like, Jamestown NY, the nonstop flights that are available are at just godawful hours of the early morning or late night*. After exploring the available routes, the ones with the best times at the best prices are to Tampa on Southwest.

I've never really gone to Florida on purpose before and don't know anything about Tampa. I'm looking for a property where I can walk out of my room and onto the beach (being able to rent a cabana of some sort would be the ultimate), that is as clean, and as quiet and secluded as possible while still being accessible from the airport by cab or airport shuttle. I do not need bars, nightlife, a spa, or a gym. Bonuses would be a pool, and pretty gardens/grottos to walk through and get that ineffable "I am somewhere special" kind of vibe. I'm open to hotels, condos, or AirBnBs where the host isn't going to be around, like, at all.

Does such a property exist? For a reasonable-ish price?

*If any burgh locals want to chime in on some kind of daily nonstop or low-pain 1-stop route to somewhere beachy that I should consider, please chime in. I have a passport, I'm not opposed to going to another country, but I look at the 6+ hour flight times and just NO.
posted by soren_lorensen to Travel & Transportation around Tampa, FL (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
JetBlue has nonstop to Fort Lauderdale (but it leaves at 7 am....)

If you don't mind the hike to Youngstown, they have a direct flight on Allegient to Punta Gorda
If you don't mind the hike to Latrobe, they have a direct flight on Spirit to Ft. Lauderdale at a more reasonable time, Myrtle Beach too.
posted by splen at 9:24 AM on August 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've never really gone to Florida on purpose before and don't know anything about Tampa. I'm looking for a property where I can walk out of my room and onto the beach (being able to rent a cabana of some sort would be the ultimate), that is as clean, and as quiet and secluded as possible while still being accessible from the airport by cab or airport shuttle.

The Tampa area is very densely populated, urban, and the beaches (you'll want to go to Pinellas County, across the bay, for those) are pretty crowded. Pinellas, where the good beaches are (like Clearwater Beach), is more densely populated per square mile than most of Miami. I grew up there and can't think of any beach that meets your requirements for seclusion and quiet that isn't also a campsite and pretty far from the airport.

The quietest beach I can think of is probably Caladesi Island but you can't stay there and you'll have to take a ferry to get there (or walk about 4 miles across a transient sand bridge).

Bellaire Beach is pretty quiet. You might have some luck with an AirBnB out there. I think your best bet if you want a quiet, beachfront rental, would be to AirBnB a Bellaire Beach, FL or Indian Rocks, FL property with a private beach. I can only imagine how expensive that would be, however.
posted by dis_integration at 9:45 AM on August 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you can get to Punta Gorda, do it. You're more likely to find the quiet you're looking for there than in Tampa.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 9:55 AM on August 8, 2016

Heh, I'm living in Pittsburgh now and chuckled at your description of our airport as an anti-hub - that is way too true. I also happen to be from Tampa, and while it's been a while since I've lived there, everything that dis_integration says is pretty much exactly what I would have said. Tampa itself is more urban and built up than you seem to be wanting, and everything in the near...ish... vicinity that comes to mind would be either a very expensive cab ride away or require a rental car.

Which brings me to my question: could you consider renting a car? Because if so, my wife and I took a trip to Jeckyll Island a few years back that seems much more up your alley - we walked onto the beach, spent a day just riding around the island on bicycles, spent a different afternoon viewing sea turtles at a rehab site they have ... it was delightfully relaxing. Better yet, it's about a 30-40 minute drive to Cumberland Island, which you have to access by ferry and only allows so many people on it at a time - we were literally the ONLY people we could see at one stretch of beach we came across. To get there we flew into Jacksonville (we may have had a stopover in Atlanta, but it must not have been bad because I don't actually recall), and then had an easy drive, though it was maybe 70-ish minutes.

At any rate, if you can get there, Jeckyll Island sounds much more like what you're looking for.
posted by DingoMutt at 10:41 AM on August 8, 2016

Oh man I have to say don't use Spirit out of Latrobe. They're very inexpensive (but you pay extra for assigned seat, carry-on, checked bags, boarding pass printing, drinks, modifications), but require you to be REALLY flexible with your dates/times, because they can be pretty spotty about delayed/cancelled flights. They also overbook flights, which isn't a huge problem for someone like Delta or Southwest, but Spirit only flies one flight per destination per day from Latrobe, so if you get kicked, you'll have to try your luck with the next day's (potentially overbooked) flight.
posted by specialagentwebb at 10:45 AM on August 8, 2016

(as a data point, I kind of love Spirit out of Latrobe. I've never had an issue with late or cancelled flights on them (though I know it happens), plus the airport is minuscule and easy to get through (plus free parking!), and contains a wonderful Italian restaurant. I know lots of people who feel the way specialagentwebb does, though, so clearly your mileage may vary).
posted by DingoMutt at 10:53 AM on August 8, 2016

I live in St Petersburg and dis_integration is correct, Tampa proper isn't where you'll find the "walk out of my room and onto the beach" kinds of places. St Pete Beach definitely has hotels like that, as does Treasure Island. Since this whole area is a tourist destination, there aren't as many private and secluded spots as Punta Gorda (great suggestion!) but places like Tradewinds and Don Cesar have cabana rentals right on the property.

Siesta Key has some vacation rentals with secluded beaches but it doesn't look there are any direct flights from Pittsburgh to Sarasota so you'll probably be stuck with the long flights you're trying to avoid.

Feel free to MeMail me, I'd be happy to help you sort out your options.
posted by _Mona_ at 10:53 AM on August 8, 2016

Response by poster: Thank you so much everyone! To quickly clarify, I wasn't necessarily thinking "deserted island" levels of secluded, though you're right that being in a big city like Tampa is probably not going to be ideal for me. But all these suggestions are really good and I'm not averse to renting a car to get somewhere better.

Driving to another airport is out because my family only has one car that my husband will need in order to continue to live life with a 4-year-old while I'm gone. So I can't just disappear with the car for a long weekend. Which is also why the super early and super late flights out of Pittsburgh are bumming me out because getting to/from the airport is enough of a pain in the ass without a car, having to do it at like midnight or 4 AM is out of the question.
posted by soren_lorensen at 11:38 AM on August 8, 2016

At the southern tip of Pinellas County, about a 45-minute drive from Tampa airport, there is a stunning county park with miles of beach, as well as ferry access to nearby secluded keys, called Ft. DeSoto. There is camping available at the park but most of it is reserved months in advance. You can AirBnB a place in nearby Tierra Verde and drive to the park entrance in about 5 minutes. The park has both secluded beaches (there will be beach crowds near the main parking lots on the weekends but if you're willing to keep walking down the beach away from them for about a mile, you can have long stretches of natural beach to yourself) as well as trails through its preserved strands of Florida hammock habitat (it's jungle-like with filtered light). There's kayak rentals as well--exploring the mangroves is its own treat.

Also, if you want to do the more conventional beach thing, stay in Passe-A-Grille. It's at the southernmost tip of Pinellas' barrier island beaches. Has a much more quiet, small-town vibe (there are no high-rise condos, chain hotels or giant tourist towel beach stores here) with a few small funky places to get a bite to eat as well as a quaint fishing pier beloved by locals. It's only a few miles from Ft. DeSoto by the way.
posted by caveatz at 6:38 AM on August 9, 2016

There are flights to Charleston, 1 stop thru Atlanta in the $250-$300 range. Check out the Tides Hotel at Folly Beach. (Beach Cam)

Full disclosure: I live on this island and love it - things get pretty quiet in October. And while it's not Florida hot, October temps still hover around 80. MeMail me if you want an earful...
posted by ElGuapo at 8:14 AM on August 9, 2016

Seconding Pass-A-Grille near St Petersburg. It's lovely and not very crowded, has good restaurants too. You can probably get a shuttle from and to the airport. I just looked at airbnb and there were numerous listings.
posted by mareli at 2:08 PM on August 9, 2016

If you're signed up for Pittsburgh groupons, I often get deals for the Bahamas or Dominican republic that are surprisingly affordable. A lot of them include transport from airport to resort.
posted by nakedmolerats at 3:17 PM on August 9, 2016

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