Cottage life at Indian Rocks Beach gives visitors a taste of 1950s-esque Florida

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It’s a comfortably cool evening in Indian Rocks Beach, and a solitary couple strolls along the sand, watching the sun slowly dip over the Gulf of Mexico horizon. On this particular night, they have the beach to themselves, as there is not a person in sight after glancing in both directions.

Tranquility is a part of the appeal that draws travelers to Indian Rocks Beach. Legend the community’s name derives from the 19th century when a native medicine man miraculously healed his chief with the waters from a natural sulfur spring believed to have been located in Kolb Park across from the current City Hall. Watching the native Americans venturing to the rock encircled spring, early settlers would reportedly say, “The Indians are on their way to the rocks.”

Today, Indian Rocks Beach features the nostalgic ambience of a 1950s-esque Florida beach town void of chain resorts and adorned with cottages, condos, restored old motels, boutiques and charming cafes. It is drastically different than nearby St. Pete Beach and Clearwater Beach.

Indian Rocks residents drive across the Bellaire Causeway to buy groceries at Publix. A Sunoco station along Gulf Boulevard is the lone gas station and the Holiday Inn on the Intercoastal is the lone chain hotel. No fast food restaurants and sprawling shopping malls here, but Indian Rocks Beach is far from a tumbleweed town.

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It is lined with renowned dining establishments like Keegan’s Seafood Grille, Guppy’s on the Beach, P.J.’s Oyster Bar, TJ’s Italian Café, Slyce Pizza Bar and the original Crabby’s Bills. The beach is fronted with condos, single-family homes and groups of cottages.

In fact, cottages are a key part of Indian Rocks Beach’s heritage and appeal. It is fitting that the Indian Rocks Historical Museum is housed in a rustic beach cottage located in Chic-A-Si Park. The 1930s beach cottage chronicles the rich heritage of Indian Rocks Beach from its founding as one of the earliest beach communities to the present day. Exhibits showcase relics of the past, such as the Polynesian-themed Tiki Gardens, Pueblo Village and the Big Indian Rocks Fishing Pier. Much of the Indian Rocks depicted in museum exhibits are still alive, including the array of cottages that are showcased in old photographs at the museum.

North of the museum off 20th Avenue in Indian Rocks Beach, husband-and-wife Brian and Roxanne reside in a colorful home built in the 1950s that occupies a property adorned with two cottages and a courtyard area enclosed with a white picket fence. The couple owns and operates Indian Rocks Rentals (www.indianrocksrentals.info), which includes the pet-friendly Cozy Cottage, the SUnRise Villa and SunSet Village (which are situated in a canary yellow stilted building), the nearby Grandma’s Bungalow and their most recent addition, We’re At the Beach (a three-bedroom rental).

Brian and Roxanne have completely renovated the interiors and exteriors of their vacation homes, and the courtyard area includes a variety of tables, grills and beach chairs that invite socialization and relaxation.

Sometimes, in the evening hours, Brian tinkers with his acoustic guitar in the courtyard area, giving guests complimentary entertainment. He is a musician who performs at local venues.

Roxanne first saw Indian Rocks Beach in 1990 when she visited with family. She envisioned a time when she would live there, and eventually she met Brian. The couple lived in suburban Chicago and relocated to Indian Rocks Beach in 1997 to care for Brian’s elderly father.

“One day, while driving around the town, we saw a for sale sign tacked to a tree in front of what is now the Cozy Cottage,” Roxanne said. “And that is how Indian Rocks Rentals got its start.”

Guests at Indian Rocks Rentals can use bicycles free of charge. The town is inviting for walking and bicycle riding as well as venturing around in golf carts. Indian Rocks Beach also welcomes boaters of all types to dock for free during the day at its public docks on the Intracoastal Waterway. Within two blocks of the docks, visitors will find more than a dozen restaurants, shops and attractions.

“We think Indian Rocks is paradise because of the beach itself, the lack of crowds, the nostalgic ambience and the variety of great restaurants,” Roxanne said. “This is what Florida was like long before the rapid development.”

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