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Filling your lunch hour when you can’t go home.


By Hannah Wallace


When I lived in Indian Beach, I went home for my lunch breaks. I could cook some food, watch TV, take a nap, you name it. But when CCB and I moved to a house in Bradenton, 12 miles up traffic-light-laden 41 (gah, that was, what, nearly two years ago now), I had to find new ways to refresh my mind in the middle of the workday. But it’s amazing just how refreshing an hour outside of the office can be.


For instance, I just got back from a stroll to Laurel Park (less than half a mile from our office), where I can sit on a park bench and read for 45 minutes (today I finished Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex). Bayfront Park isn’t a bad option for this, either, but Laurel Park is arguably an even easier walk (no daredeviling across 41), and it’s almost always completely deserted. Which is odd, to my mind, because it’s an incredibly accessible and peaceful oasis, especially for anyone who works downtown. Big oak trees keep most of the park in the shade and double as acoustic accompaniment when the wind rustles their leaves—often the only sound you’ll here. There’s a tiny kids’ playground with sandbox sand and a bunch of toys, unattended. That no one steals them serves as a testament to the community mindset, and makes the park that much more comforting.


Plus, I can swing by the Short Stop deli on Orange Avenue on the way and grab a bottle of iced tea and a homemade sandwich to enjoy during my read.


Other options? When it gets really cool, I’ll walk right out of the office and march three-fourths of the way over the Ringling Bridge and back. The route takes me exactly an hour and it’s a helluva workout—plus you get fresh air and a great view for all 60 minutes.


When it’s warmer, the downtown Y is my lone exercise option. If I drive over to Main Plaza around 1 p.m., there’s almost always parking along Links Avenue (and if not, Second Street around the corner has plenty of parking, and in the shade, too). I can get in 30 minutes on the stairmill, plus a shower, and be back to the office within the hour.


I don’t mind going to restaurants by myself (again, I’ll take a book as a safety blanket), but some places seem to suit solitary dining better than others. My favorites? Citrus Café, just up the road here on Pineapple—I usually go for the balsamic grilled chicken breast sandwich on focaccia (with goat cheese—yum) or the California club (I add avocado). And Sahara, a short drive away at the corner of Bahia Vista and 41: The spanakopita platter, which comes with Greek salad, fresh warm pita and Sahara’s famous homemade hummus, is filling without being too heavy. Or I can walk up to Whiteberry and get some frozen yogurt (a blueberry, raspberry, coconut smoothie is my new favorite) and enjoy the clean modern atmosphere and sidewalk view.


What else? Well, shopping, of course. Target and TJ Maxx are close enough when I have specific items in mind, but when I just have a random urge to browse, there’s no beating the big Goodwill on Tamiami Trail near Myrtle. Nothing takes you out of yourself like an hour of sorting through records and sporting equipment and knickknacks. And if I happen to find something I never knew I always needed, I’m usually only out $10 at the most.


I’ve even found a way to sneak in a nap when I need it: I just park my car somewhere quiet along the street in the north Rosemary District or by Gillespie Park, put up the windshield shade, crank the seat back and grab some Zs.


I do enjoy the alone time, but arguably the best lunch activities are the meals with friends—such a city feel to meeting Rock Star Kim on foot at the corner of Orange and Main, then walking over to Pho Cali (No. 80 with chicken) or Whole Foods (avocado sushi and some samosas). Or Jimmy John’s, which is all of 100 yards from where I’m sitting right now. Sometimes Ma and I will meet up at Starbucks for lattes and a fruit-and-cheese tray, or Copy Editor Megan and I indulge in El Greco or Libby’s.


So I’ve learned a transient lunch hour downtown isn’t such a bad thing after all. Did I miss anything?