How do you summarize four months into one post?
We get asked all the time ‘what’s your favorite place’ or ‘if you decide to settle down, where would it be?’
After 13-years of full time travel and exploring hundreds of amazing places- Sanford, Florida will definitely be on a very short list of answers.
First, here’s the video version of this stay:
We had no expectations, and really didn’t know much about the marina or the area – except there was a downtown in walking distance.
Oh, and some mention of a German restaurant we should check out.
We figured we’d see Sanford, reprovision and then return to Jacksonville to store the boat for the winter while we returned to our RV. We had contractors lined up in Jacksonville to work on projects.
Within 2 hours of arriving to Sanford, those intentions were blown away.
We went to lunch at El Zocalo – an amazing Mexican restaurant just blocks from the marina. We stopped at the Goodwill and picked up some costume items to wear that evening.
We’re walking back to the marina along cobblestone roads admiring all that surrounded us.
I said to Chris:
We’re going to regret only being here a week, aren’t we?
I checked my e-mail, and there was a message awaiting us from the dockmaster in Jacksonville – the long term tenant in the slip we would be returning to had a medical issue, and wouldn’t be able to leave until January. And they had no other availability.
Could we find other arrangements?
Instead of feeling stressed and angry (as one might after putting up a sizable deposit and making plans) – we knew that serendipity had intervened.
We walked back to Monroe Harbour’s office and asked Cheryl if there happened to be availability for the winter. No problem she said.
And bam we signed a lease and we were storing the boat in Sanford instead for 1/2 the price – and we’d get a few bonus weeks before we’d head to Texas to return to the bus.
We went back to our boat and told our dockmates who had helped catch our lines upon arrival – they immediately invited us to join them for their regular Wednesday evening outing.
But a week later, we knew – we weren’t returning to our RV this winter.
No way. No how.
Sanford was too awesome to leave, the weather in winter is gorgeous, we had a fabulous slip, we were close to family for the holidays and we were really really craving some settled time.
When your road leads you to the perfect place you don’t just leave because of arbitrary plans.
And, we had found something special…
So let’s start here.
Community has been a constant struggle for us in our years of travel – it ebbs and flows. Nomadic community has it’s own pace, and you just have to get used to it.
Somedays you may be abundant and others feel completely alone.
Both have thrived beyond belief, but we rarely personally benefit from the community aspects – especially now that we’re on the water.
We’ve been to many marinas, and have met an amazing number of fellow boaters – either long term liveaboards to fellow cruisers.
But never before have we felt so welcomed and embraced by an entire neighborhood.
Not just a few folks who say hi and perhaps you share docktails with.
But an existing open hearted community of folks who have shared a dock for nearly a decade. They became family to us – people we could share about our mutual days with, help with projects, battles midges, celebrate life milestones and experience major moments with.
And they didn’t know us before we arrived.
We could just be Chris & Cherie & Kiki (not Technomadia) without the pressure that comes along with living up to expectations folks form from ‘knowing’ us online.
When it finally came time for us to pull away, they organized a dock-party for us – we cried. Never before have we felt so included.
But it doesn’t stop there. (Wait.. there’s more!)
Sanford is centrally located in Florida, just north of Orlando.
Which means many of our RVing community would be coming through during their winter travels.
Where to RV in Sanford?
Unfortunately, there’s not an RV park or campground with as sweet as access as Monroe Harbour Marina.. but there are options. Here are some that our friends selected nearby:
- Lake Monroe County Park – About 4 miles to downtown, this is the closest option. It’s only $15/night with water & electric. This is the only we visited, and it’s a cute little county park with wooded sites. There is a 7-day limit, and you can only make reservations by phone.
- Twelve Oaks RV Resort – On highway 46 not too far from downtown. It’s more of a typical RV Park and right along a busy road that is currently under construction. Friends who stayed there said it was ‘ok’.
- Wekiva Falls RV Resort – A bit further away, but friends staying in the area long terms enjoyed it.
- Highbanks Marina & Camp Resort – Located right on the St. Johns River not too far away in DeBary. We had friends who were staying here long term and quite enjoyed it. There’s an onsite restaurant and bar.
Sanford turned out to be an amazing place for embracing that. I don’t think a week went by where we weren’t meeting up with old friends or making new ones.
We hosted three huge meet-ups during our time there – which really isn’t our preference, quality smaller groups are much easier for us introverts. But they were awesome nonetheless.
We spent quality time with so many friends who put Sanford into their winter plans simply because we were there. We loved showing off this amazing town and discovering new things through their eyes.
And Sanford is also right smack in between where my mom lives in Melbourne and where Chris’ folks winter over in Spring Hill. Which gave us lots of quality family time. Both our parents visited multiple times (hooray for having guest quarters!), and we visited them too.
But whew, there’s no way we could have managed all this social time without really feeling at home and comfortable for the season.
And then… that “German Restaurant”
Sanford used to be a run down neighborhood strife with racial conflict.
That started to change when the Hollerbach’s opened up Willow Tree Cafe – bringing German culture to the old historic downtown.
From that the town became revitalized. New shops and restaurants opening up. Money pouring into the city and hosting several city-wide festivals a month.
I can’t say the racial divide doesn’t still exist, but diversity seems to be more embraced… and we soaked it in.
We had been told we just HAD to check out Willow Tree during our stay. So on our second night, after hearing they also had a Gluten Free menu (what?!!?) we decided… y-not?
We’re seated at a table on a Thursday night, amazingly right next to Technomadia fans.
We’re enjoying getting to know them, and they asked ‘This must happen all the time.. you being recognized?’.
Oh.. no, not all the time.. we’re not that famous. It happens just often enough to be exciting and fun.
We’re listening to some live German music, but I’m honestly not paying too much attention. We’re just soaking in the ambience.
I’m then tapped on the shoulder by some dude in a plaid shirt who says:
‘YOU’RE THE RVERS?!?! I HAVE TO TXT MY WIFE.. WE HAVE A CLASS-C!!’.
Umm.. ok dude. Text your wife.
And we go back to getting to know our new friends… re-iterating that no, we don’t really get recognized that often.
We then look up.
The dude who just tapped my shoulder is the crazy guy on stage playing the glockenspiel (or bells? or alphorn? or yodeling.. I forget which.. he’s super talented and does it all).
Who turns out to be Eckhard of ‘Jimmy and Eckhard‘ who have been performing at the Willow Tree for 16 years.
They’re like.. locally famous.
At this point, we’ve lost all hope of convincing our new friends what we don’t get recognized all that often.
Eckhard’s wife, is Sabine – who I had actually been communicating with for months and she had been helping us organize a Patreon meet-up that weekend (we have since ditched Patreon and moved to a more interactive Virtual Crew format for our community).
Over the course of the next few months, Sabine & Eckhard became dear friends – and our connection to this German restaurant quite deep.
We enjoyed so many evenings hanging out and #sanfording together – often joining Sabine for whatever event was going on downtown and then joining up with Eckhard after he got done performing for some bar hopping or late night dinner.
We brought in the new year (German time) at Willow Tree, we celebrated German holidays together (tie-cutting?) and we hosted events together.
The restaurant was very kind, securing us primo front row seats for the big holiday parade for our RVillage Gathering party of 25.
Oh, and yes – Willow Tree is very Gluten Free friendly (and vegetarian).
I hadn’t had snitzel in years!
And they have a bakery around the block with amazing GF treats that I crave to this day.
The Rest of Historic Sanford
All of the above would have made our stay in Sanford amazing on its own.
But Sanford itself has so much to offer. The historic district is just a couple blocks from the marina, and we had what felt like an entire world to explore right off our transom.
First, along Lake Monroe is the river front. Almost 2 miles of sidewalk right along the lake, offering a great opportunity for fitness and relaxation.
We typically got several miles in a day of walking, and some jogging. When we left, they had started a project to expand the riverfront all the way to the Sanford Zoo – adding even more miles.
And then you head into town – and you have several locally owned eateries, shops, bars, hair salons and not one, but TWO communities theaters.
For dining, we frequented El Zocalo (amazing Mexican), Mr. Z’s (awesome phillies), Willow Tree Cafe, Sanford Brewing and Da Kine (poke bowls) food truck at Tuffys Battleshop (the local cidery).
But there’s so much more there, especially if you enjoy a more farm-to-table gastropub experience (we’re really more into casual dining). Ethnic cuisine was abundant; from German, Belgian, Irish, Tennessee and Jamaican. What was lacking downtown was much of an Asian influence – we really craved having some Thai or sushi in walking distance (we have to find something to complain about.)
And if you like to drink, you definitely won’t go thirsty. The running joke is that Sanford is a drinking town with a historic problem.
There are five breweries, a cidery, tap houses, casual bars and high end cocktail bars (one that is also a furniture store, where we purchased the chair we were sitting on). And word is that a new tiki bar has opened, and the new distillery should be opening soon too.
But we became big fans of Boba Babes, where we could pick up bubble tea in the middle of the day and enjoy a nicely mixed non-alcohol beverage (the liver does need a break from #sanfording after all).
We went to just about every performance scheduled at both the West End Theatre and Wayne Densch Performing Arts Center – which kept us super busy. We saw so many amazing shows, tribute bands, festivals and monthly classic movies.
And then, there’s the official sign of Sanford ‘Street Closed’.
It seems you can’t walk anywhere downtown without being forewarned a festival was upcoming. From food trucks, live music, arts & crafts, free beer to couch racing.
If you get bored in Sanford, it’s your old darn fault.
Getting Stuff Done
At this point, you’re probably thinking we just hung out with friends, ate a lot, drank a lot and partied.
While true… this stay was also about balance. We got an amazing amount of projects done.
Sanford has marine services, but at non-South Florida prices. Contractors here were pretty darn affordable. We already shared our 2-year boat project wrap-up, and a lot of those projects where accomplished over the winter.
A quick re-cap:
- New canvas & flybridge enclosure
- New bolster cushions in the cockpit
- Air conditioning ducts redone
- Rebuilt our turbos
- Start of the solar installation (which had a last minute ditching by the contractor.. grrr.)
- Replaced the washer/dryer
- New blinds in the salon
We were tempted to take on other projects, but had to remind ourselves about balance. We resisted the urge to take on more than we could handle and still have fun.
We also used the extended stay to get our bodies up to date on maintenance.
We found a local physician on our health plan and had our physicals. We also both got new eye glass prescriptions.
We got into a rhythm of physical fitness and got a daily dose of activity – and we even participated in a local 1/2 marathon (Chris ran it, I hiked it).
And of course, we orchestrated a major relaunch of our work website, the Mobile Internet Resource Center.
While we were stationary for the winter, we definitely weren’t idle.
Quite frankly, we could have talked ourselves into another month or two… or maybe a lifetime.
But once you see our upcoming post about the midges, you might understand why we decided it was time to leave.
We traveled back north down the St. Johns River arriving back to Jacksonville in time to pop on over to the RVillage Rally 2.0 at the end of March. It was fabulous, but we both picked up some ‘crud’ that kept us down for the first half of April
We’re wrapping up some projects here in Jax (solar being installed right as I type), and then this weekend a momentous occasion will occur.
We will be taking Y-Not out of the state of Florida. After two years aboard, it’s our first time crossing a state line aboard our own vessel.
We’re headed to Georgia, and will be attending the MTOA National Rendezvous in Brunswick next week.
From there.. who knows where serendipity will lead us.