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A First Timer's Guide to London: Where to Visit, Eat, Sleep, and Shop

A First Timer's Guide to London: Where to Visit, Eat, Sleep, and Shop | CosmosMariners.com

Are you headed to the UK? If so, you cannot leave without this first timer's guide to London, where I'll share where to stay, what to eat, what to do, and where to shop.

Why London is Worth a Visit


Of all of the cities that I've visited, London remains my absolute favorite. Why? It's a combination of the deeply layered history, the vibrant and distinct neighborhoods, and the dozens of iconic sites. I've had the chance to visit five times over the last 13 years, and I find something new to discover--and love--about the city every time I go.

London was the first city I visited on our first European trip. It was my home away from home during my study abroad program in college. It was where I realized the depth of my British literature obsession...which would ultimately lead me to get my graduate degree in English.

Yes, the weather can be moody (to put it nicely) and you'll never be fully dressed without an umbrella in your bag, but if you can look past that, London can be one of the most phenomenal trips of your life.

In this article, I'm going to share what you need to know for your first trip to London. It's by no means a comprehensive list of things to see or do in the city, as that would be nearly impossible on just one trip (or even 10!).

What I've offered below should give you an overlook into this fascinating place on your first trip to London and, hopefully, whet your appetite to come back and explore even more deeply.

A First-Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep


Hugging the western coast of Florida just outside of St. Petersburg is a 23-mile stretch of white sand and blue water. Welcome to the St. Pete Beach/ Clearwater area!

From Caladesi Island State Park at the northernmost point to Pass-a-Grille at the bottom, this beautiful collection of beaches and resorts has something for everyone. Whether you're visiting for the day from Tampa or downtown St. Petersburg, or you're here for a week long family vacation, you'll be dazzled by the wide, flat beaches, the stunning sunsets, and the wide variety of activities.

Plus, there's plenty of history along the way for people who want their beach vacation to have a side of culture!

A First Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com

Although the area is often referred to as St. Pete Beach or St. Pete Beach/ Clearwater, this stretch of Gulf Coast is actually composed of a series of communities, each with their own feel.

Pass-a-Grille, in the south, is eclectic with a bit of a hippy vibe while St. Pete Beach is filled with high rises, lots of gift shops and restaurants, and a lively, happening atmosphere. Indian Shores and Indian Rocks Beach are both laid back and homey feeling; Belleair Shore and Belleair Beach have some beautiful--and gigantic--houses! Clearwater, at the top of this stretch, always has something going on, and you'll find plenty of restaurants, dancing, and gift shops.

Where to Stay

As this area is a favorite vacation spot (Clearwater Beach alone draws around 4 million visitors a year), you'll find hundreds of apartments, condos, hotel rooms, and camping spots up and down the beach. I've had the pleasure of staying at several locations during my visits; while I have personal experience with these and can recommend them, this is in no way a comprehensive list!

A First Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Coconut Inn, Pass-a-Grille, Florida

  • The Coconut Inn, Pass-a-Grille. This adorable inn dates back to the 1920s, but it has every modern amenity a visitor could need or want. Relax in the pool, flip burgers in the outdoor kitchen, or walk across Gulf Way to get to the beach. You might also want to check out the sister properties, Havana Inn and the Sabal Palms Inn, both of which are also in Pass-a-Grille.[Read my review here.] 

  • Don CeSar Hotel, St. Pete Beach. The Pink Palace defined the beach vacation for the rich and famous for a decade--during the 1920s, the Don CeSar was the place to see and be seen. It's been completely restored, so you can now stay where F. Scott Fitzgerald rested his head. 

  • The Plaza Beach Hotel, St. Pete Beach. For a kitschy experience with a throwback to the old mom and pop stops of the 1950s, the Plaza Beach Hotel is your spot. The hotel is aimed towards families and adventurous young travelers, so you'll find plenty of activities on-site, including water sports, a pool, a volleyball net, shuffleboards, a lifesized chess board, and a 9-hole miniature golf course. [Read my review here.]

  • Barefoot Beach Resort, Indian Shores. Since each of these units are personal apartments that are rented out by the management company, they feel more like home and less like a hotel room. Swim in the pool, go fishing off the docks in the Narrows, or step just across Gulf Boulevard to the gorgeous water. [Read my review here.]

  • Cay Pointe Villas, Indian Rocks Beach. These four apartment units are still run by the same family in quiet Indian Rocks Beach who built the property in the 1970s. You'll be well taken care of by the live-in property managers--so much so that you'll feel like you're part of the family by the time you leave! All of the units have huge porches that face the Gulf, and the beach is about ten steps from the back of the units. It's your own private paradise. [Read my review here.]

A First Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
The view from our apartment at Cay Pointe Villas, Indian Rocks Beach.


Booking.com

What to Eat

One thing I love about this stretch of the Gulf Coast is that there are only a few national chains. Stop into one of the many locally owned restaurants for fresh seafood, a quick breakfast, or some evening cocktails.

A First Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Having fun at Hurricane Restaurant in Pass-a-Grille!
Hurricane Restaurant, Pass-a-Grille. I had some of the best blackened chicken alfredo I've ever tried here, and my husband loved the grouper. It's right on Gulf Way in Pass-a-Grille, so you can watch the sun go down in the evenings or do some people watching!

Shaner's Land and Sea Market, Pass-a-Grille. On our last trip to the area, my husband, my toddler, and I stopped by here at least three times. There's a delicious sandwich counter for quick lunches, and a huge selection of freshly caught seafood in the back. I loved the stuffed chicken breasts--we had those two nights in a row. The market also offers a small selection of grocery basics (fruit, veggies, beer, bread). 

Lighthouse Donuts, Indian Rocks Beach. On our first morning of our first visit to the St. Pete Beach area, Landon and I discovered this place, and it quickly became a favorite. The doughnuts are freshly made each morning, and they've got a nice selection of coffees, bagels, and breakfast sandwiches as well. 

A First Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com


Toucan's Bar and Grill, Clearwater Beach. After we'd attempted Frenchy's one night and discovered a 2 hour wait, we began to wander in search of food and came across this place. It's nothing fancy--a sports bar, really--but it's a sports bar with a great view. Try to eat outside if the weather's nice: you'll be able to people watch, and you'll have a view of the Gulf.

A First Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Frenchy's Rockaway
Frenchy's Rockaway, Clearwater Beach. This place is a Clearwater institution, and the hours-long wait is a testament to that fact. To beat the crowds, we went right as they opened one morning. After eating there, we were glad we'd found a way to try it out. The conch fritters and spicy dipping sauce were worth the entire trip. 

I've also heard amazing things about Snappers Sea Grille (St. Pete Beach), Crabby Bill's (Clearwater), and Seared 1200 Chophouse (St. Pete Beach) from my readers, but I haven't had the chance to try them out myself. Next time!


What to See

The main attraction here is, of course, the beach! Most of what's offered here revolves around that. Try stand-up paddleboarding in Pass-a-Grille, or see how long you can stay on one of those huge water trikes in St. Pete Beach. Clearwater offers multiple parasailing outfitters from which to choose. Kayak rentals are a great way to see this stretch of island from the bay side. Many hotels also offer bike and fishing rod rentals.

A First Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Standup paddleboarder near St. Pete Beach


Don't forget to do that staple of beach vacations: go putt-putting! There are plenty of courses all along this area. We had a blast one night at Smuggler's Cove in Indian Shores, where you can pause halfway through your game to feed some alligators.

A First Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com


Spend the day at Caladesi Island State Park or Honeymoon Island. Caladesi Island is only accessible by ferry, kayak or personal boat, so it's one of your last chances to see a Florida beach completely unspoiled! Honeymoon Island was Florida's most visited state park for the last six years.

Don't forget to go to Pier 60 in Clearwater at least once on your trip. There's a nightly festival held there (much like the one in Key West's Mallory Square) two hours before and two hours after the sunset. Check out the street performers and see what the local crafters have on offer.

A First Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Soaking in the arts history at the Dali Museum in downtown St. Petersburg
Downtown St. Petersburg is only a quick car ride away, where you can experience the Dali Museum, and the Chihuly Collection, and see glassblowing at the Morean Arts Center. Historic Fort De Soto is just south of Pass-a-Grille and makes for an easy day trip: rent a bike, surrey, or kayak, and bring a picnic.

A First Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Our surrey at Fort De Soto!

What to Know

  • While the stretch of land from Pass-a-Grille to Clearwater is only 23 miles long, you won't go anywhere quickly. If you have dinner or activity reservations, make sure to allot plenty of transit time. Between the busy areas of St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, stoplights, and everyone being on island time, traffic is often fairly slow. 

  • Make sure you clarify which side of the land your hotel is on. There's water on both sides of the St. Pete Beach/Clearwater area, but if you're interested in an Gulf view (and not just a "water" view), it's worth a call to your hotelier. 

  • Carefully choose where you'll stay. Because the ambiance of each area is so different, you'll want to make sure that your accommodations match your expectations. If you're looking for lots of nightlife and restaurants within walking distance, St. Pete Beach or Clearwater are safe bets. If you'd rather enjoy quiet evenings and uncrowded beaches, head to Pass-a-Grille or Indian Rocks Beach

  • There aren't many grocery stores directly on the Gulf coast. While there are a few scattered here and there, you might find that the closest grocery store is actually back towards St. Petersburg, Seminole, or Largo. Use that GPS!
Have you visited the St. Pete Beach/ Clearwater area? What did you like doing there?

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If you liked this post, you'll love my other first-timer's guides! Check out the guide for each city by linking on the image below:

First-Timer Travel Guides First-Timer's Guide to St. Augustine, Florida First-Timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia First-Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach, Florida First-Timer's Guide to Charleston, South Carolina

This post contains affiliate links. If you choose to purchase through one of these links, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.


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A First Timer's Guide to St. Augustine, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep

A First-Timer's Guide to St. Augustine, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com

Over its 450 years of existence, St. Augustine has had to reinvent itself many times to stay relevant and to continue thriving. The modern day city is no exception, and St. Augustine has found new life in reworked classic attractions, daring chefs, and upfitted shops and streets. It might have plenty of history, but St. Augustine, Florida, is anything but old and stuffy.

In my first time guide to St. Augustine, Florida, I'll give you my best recommendations on every part of your visit: from my favorite hotels to where to eat. All you have to do is book your St Augustine hotel and hit the road!

A First-timer's Guide to Historic Charleston, South Carolina: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep

A First-timer's Guide to Charleston, South Carolina: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com

After my First-Timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia, made some waves, I figured that the time was right for me to impart my knowledge about my beloved hometown of Charleston, South Carolina. I was born here, and other than an eight-year-gap when I lived elsewhere in South Carolina, I've called Charleston my home my entire life.

From school field trips to my own wanderings, I've seen most of what the Holy City has to offer. If you're heading this way on a trip, my first timer's guide to Charleston is a must-read!

A First-timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep

A First-timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com

Stately oaks dripping Spanish moss.

Gentile Southern mansions nestled around small parks.

Artsy students hurrying off to class, sketchbooks clutched in their hands.

Sounds idyllic, doesn't it?

You can find all of this (and lots, lots more) on the streets of Savannah, Georgia, one of my top three favorite Southern cities (Charleston being the numero uno in my book, of course, and New Orleans rounding out the trio).

Savannah's historic district isn't very big, but if you're visiting for the first time, you've probably got plenty of questions about what to see and do and where you should stay and eat. This isn't a definitive guide by any means, but hopefully, it will help you dive into the beauty and charm of Savannah.

Where to Stay

In the downtown area, there are plenty of great hotels within walking distance of everything that Savannah has to offer. Over the years, we've taken a bit of a hotel tour with all of the different places that we've stayed.

A First-timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
The view from our room at the Hilton Savannah DeSoto

The Hilton Savannah DeSoto doesn't have a very glamorous lobby (though it does have a Starbucks!) but the rooms have recently been renovated. It's about halfway between River Street and Forsyth Park which puts you within easy walking distance of the entire historic district.

A First-timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Andaz Savannah on Ellis Square
We stayed at the Andaz Savannah (then known as Avia Savannah) one night of our honeymoon and loved the trendy vibe and super modern decor. It's located on Ellis Square just across from the City Market.

For my 29th birthday, we took a trip to Savannah with my parents and my sister and stayed in the Hampton Inn and Suites Historic District. As far as Hampton Inns go, this was a particularly nice one. A note to newcomers: at night, I wouldn't recommend wandering too far off Martin Luther King Boulevard away from the historic district if you stay at this hotel. I never felt unsafe walking to and from the Hampton Inn, but the area behind the hotel towards I-16 gets into not-so-great-for-tourists territory pretty quickly.

A First-timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
The Westin Savannah Harbor Resort from the water taxi

On our most recent trip, we ventured across the river and stayed at the Westin Savannah Harbor Resort. Initially, I was hesitant about taking the water taxi back and forth, but I ended up loving the fact that we could retire to a quiet hotel away from the hustle and bustle of downtown. Plus, the views were amazing!

There are of course, dozens of other places to stay in the historic district including the Mansion on Forsyth Park, the Hyatt Regency, and the River Street Inn

Booking.com


What to Eat

The answer to this is everything. (I kid. Sort of.) If you're interested in the super popular restaurants of the historic district, head over to The Lady and Sons or The Pirates House. I, for one, was pleasantly surprised by The Pirate House, and their BLT salad is one of my favorite meals in Savannah. I love that you get to dine in the historic buildings which date back to Savannah's colonial days. While Clary's Cafe is one of those incredibly popular spots, it comes by the fame for the right reasons. They serve a top notch breakfast here all day. I'm a huge fan of their strawberry cream cheese French toast!

A First-timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Outside the Pirates House Restaurant
The River Street area has lots of places to eat. Huey's is right by the water, so you can watch the barges come down the Savannah river while you eat a muffaletta. Kevin Barry's Irish Pub is also a popular spot by the water.

Another concentration of restaurants is in and around Ellis Square. In the City Market, you can grab some tasty wings at Wild Wings Cafe or build your own pizza over at Vinnie Van GoGo's (the pesto pizza with mushrooms and onions is a personal favorite).

Sample some local brews over at Moon River Brewing Company or Southbound Brewing Company. Southbound is just outside of the historic district, so you'll have to hop in your car if you're staying downtown.

What to See

On your first trip to Savannah, you absolutely have to allot time just to wander: part of the city's charms can only be absorbed when you're away from a guide book or a tour bus. Park your car and walk from spot to spot on your itinerary--everything's close enough to easily walk if you're in decent shape.
A First-timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
One of the many beautiful historic houses in downtown Savannah

  • Take a historical tour. Savannah dates back to 1733, so you've got almost three centuries of happenings to discover. There are multiple ways to accomplish this, as Savannah offers walking tours, trolley tours, and carriage tours
  • Get spooked. If you're into the paranormal (or if you just like being scared a little!), Savannah's supposedly one of the most actively haunted cities in America. I guess the people who lived there liked it so much that they couldn't leave when they shuffled off this mortal coil. While there are ghost tours by foot and by trolley, my favorite is one that takes you around in an old hearse. I've taken a lot of ghost tours, and the Savannah Hearse Ghost Tours remains at the top of the list for both Landon and I. (And no, they didn't pay me to say that!)
  • Find the perfect souvenir. From your standard t-shirts and blankets in River Street shops to the first edition books over at the Book Lady Book Store, you'll be sure to find whatever tickles your fancy. Stroll down West Broughton Street for a bit of everything from Banana Republic to the Savannah Bee Company.  
  • Support the local arts. With one of the nation's top art schools (Savannah College of Art and Design, affectionally known as SCAD) located in downtown, you can be sure that there's no shortage of art galleries and exhibitions. There's an incredible rotating gallery on East Liberty Street where you can view and buy the work of SCAD students and faculty. 
A First-timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Outside of E. Shaver Booksellers, one of my favorite independent bookstores in Savannah
Other great spots to include on your trip are the fountain at Forsyth Square, the Juliette Gordon-Low house, the Mercer Williams house (famous for being the home of the songwriter and the later living quarters of Jim Williams, who features heavily in John Berendt's book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil), and Bonaventure Cemetery (the gorgeous final resting place of Johnny Mercer and poet Conrad Aiken, who's tombstone inspired my blog's name!). 


What to Know

  • Check the calendar. If you're going around the time of the Savannah Marathon or St. Patrick's Day, prepare to pay higher prices and deal with bigger crowds. The St. Patrick's Day parade draws over a million visitors and is consistently ranked among the nation's biggest St. Patty parades. 
  • Expect to pay for parking. As with any historic or downtown district, parking is at a premium. Even if you're staying at a hotel in the downtown area, you'll still see a parking surcharge on your hotel bill. If you're driving in from a hotel elsewhere, there are plenty of parking garages and on-street parking meters. 
  • Make use of the free transportation. The Dot trams run in a circle around the historic district, and the River Street train takes people along the waterfront. There's also a water taxi that goes in a triangle between the Westin (across the Savannah River from the historic area), the Waving Girl statue, and the Hyatt Regency. 
  • The Hyatt Regency on River Street has free bathrooms on the second floor. Technically for the use of those attending a function in one of the ballrooms, these bathrooms are always clean and generally empty. There's also a nice seating area for nursing moms who want a little privacy. 
This post contains affiliate links to the hotels listed. If you choose to book through those links, I will receive a small kickback from the sale at no additional cost to you. 

Have you visited Savannah? If you have, what was your favorite part? If you haven't, is Savannah on your travel list?

A First-timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com


If you liked this post, you'll love my other first-timer's guides! Check out the guide for each city by clicking on the image below:

First-Timer Travel Guides 
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