Waiting for Manatees, Tropical Mango Salsa {recipe} & Ponce Inlet, FL hotspots

 Nothing like a taste of the tropics to capture that vacation feel.  Tropical Mango Salsa is just the ticket!  Sweet, spicy and tart; all conceived during a Florida vacation and some unexpected wildlife sightings!

Waiting For Manatees & Tropical Mango Salsa - BoulderLocavore

For the last few summers our vacation ‘planning’ has been haphazard at best.  Dodging last minute job-related obligations, summer swim team for the kids and early back-to-school needs has left us getting deeper and deeper into the summer without a confirmed plan.  This year was down to the wire with nothing on the books by mid July.  Sometimes I will say letting things go to the last minute produces unexpected, surprising ideas.  This year was just that.

We rolled into the third week of July in full vacation panic mode.  That might sound dramatic as related to summer vacation but for me I not only like to travel, I NEED to travel.  It’s Life Priority #2 after my family.  I’m a consummate explorer, lover of learning and revive by going somewhere new.  It’s mandatory before I dive into another school year to keep my sanity and to refresh my creativity and enthusiasm.

As we floundered, my Sister-in-Law suggested we visit her vacation home in Ponce Inlet Florida, a sleepy little hamlet delicately straddling the Intercoastal Waterway on the west and three blocks to the east the Atlantic Ocean.  It was a perfect idea.  For years I’ve wanted to go rent a cottage somewhere and to allow enough time to really embed locally to get to know a place and this idea provided exactly that.

West Indian Manatee - Ponce Inlet Florida - BoulderLocavore.com

What I imagined the trip would focus on abruptly changed the first night.  The house backs up onto an inlet from the Intercoastal Waterway where residents park their boats.  We heard there can be manatees that are occasionally seen from the dock behind our house.   The novel nature of these endangered creatures made it a very exciting prospect to possibly see one up close.

West Indian Manatee head - Ponce Inlet Florida - BoulderLocavore.com

Our first night we must have taken 20 trips to the dock, hoping to catch some glimpse of a manatee.   Much to our delight as the dusk set in, a mother and baby manatee surfaced underneath our dock.  They were directly below us, about 3 feet away, so we could see every detail of them; their algae covered backs, sadly scarred from boat propellers on the mother (not uncommon), their whiskers, sleepy eyes and their snort of exhaled water when they’d surface from grazing every 5 minutes.

West Indian Manatee with babies - Ponce Inlet Florida - BoulderLocavore.com

Over the first days we realized there is some plant matter directly below the dock, actually it seems under half of the dock that attracts the manatees.  Day two brought one solo adult male in the evening.  Day three delivered 10 at once during a lower tide so they were very easy to watch.  My entire family sat quietly just watching for over an hour.  Ironically when speaking with some locals who work at the Ponce Inlet Marine Science Center no one has spotted any manatees since the beginning of the year and they have just begun to reappear in the waterways.  Lucky us!

West Indian Manatee back-scars - Ponce Inlet Florida - BoulderLocavore.com
The back of a manatees tells the tale of the gentle, slow-moving nature covered with algae and plant matter never spotted more fast moving marine species. They are often riddled with white scars from boat propellers as well as seen here.
West Indian Manatee drinking fresh water | BoulderLocavore.com
We noticed the manatee were drawn to the fresh water hose draining into the brackish waterway below the dock next to ours. Local experts told us manatees love a hose with fresh water!

Our hours of dock-sitting leave everyone wishing they had something to snack on which dovetails perfectly into a favorite travel activity of mine; discovering local food.  A quick nosh with tropical flavors seemed a great partner to our dips in the house pool and popping out for wildlife watching on the dock, all set to the loudly vibrating  insects  and steamy humid temperatures.  Tropical Mango Salsa captured the our setting with sweet, juicy mangoes, local Hungarian Wax Peppers for heat, fresh Key Lime juice to add tartness.  It was a definite hit and the recipe will follow us home without a doubt.

Mango Salsa - BoulderLocavore.com


Tropical Mango Salsa

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 20 minutes

Yield: 3+ cups of salsa

This tropical salsa captures the essence of equatorial travel with sweet mangoes, spicy chile pepper and tart freshly squeezed key lime juice for tartness. It's refreshing and unique....and will be gobbled up quickly!


  • 2 large Mangos, ripe yet firm, peeled, pit removed, chopped into ½ inch cubes
  • 1-5 inch Hungarian Wax Pepper, de-stemmed, seeded and diced (approximately 3 ½ tablespoons)*
  • 2 large Scallions, thinly sliced white and lower light green portion of the stock, then diced (5 tablespoons)
  • ¼ cup fresh Key Lime Juice
  • 3-4 tablespoons Cilantro, chopped
  • Salt and Pepper to taste


  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine fully.


*Chile peppers can vary greatly in heat. I suggest adding a few tablespoons of chile pepper to the salsa, stir to combine and taste. Add more based on your heat preference/tolerance.


Mango Salsa - BoulderLocavore.com

Ponce Inlet Florida lies on a narrow land mass ending in a waterway opening from the Halifax River into the Atlantic without through traffic to the mainland hence allowing a more quiet existence.  A hop away from more touristed Port Orange and South Daytona Beach, Ponce Inlet enjoys the same expansive beach with far fewer visitors and some local color and points of interest of its own.  There are restrictions on dwelling rental frequency encouraging longer stays, further keeping the local scene authentic and exempt from a dense tourist-focused feel.  If in the area don’t miss:

Ponce De Leon Inlet Lighthouse:  Completed in 1887, the lighthouse is a National Historic Landmark and still in operation.  The immaculate grounds include several original keeper homes, a museum and buildings illustrating all aspects of the lighthouse history including the original restored lighthouse lens and the life of the three families who managed the lighthouse manually.  The two hundred and three steps up the spiral staircase inside the lighthouse are worth it for the expansive view of the entire area as far as the eye can see!

Lighthouse Ponce Inlet FL  BoulderLocavore.com

Hidden Treasure Grill and Rum Bar:  Fun and funky this marina-side grill across from the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse is colorful with a surprising dedication to homemade, fresh food.  We were too early for their ‘catch of the day’ but enjoyed fresh salads, Sweet Garlic Chicken made with garlic, citrus and chili sauce, the seasonal beer sampler (4 4-ounce tasters for $16) and nachos made with their homemade potato chips.  And of course a Rum Runner cocktail.   Gluten-free knowledgeable with several GF dining options.

Hidden Treasure Grill Ponce Inlet FL  BoulderLocavore.com 1b

Hidden Treasure Grill Ponce Inlet FL  BoulderLocavore.com 3

Hidden Treasure Grill Ponce Inlet FL  BoulderLocavore.com 3a

Boondocks:  Another authentic local eatery also on a marina, this place defines a local ‘joint’.  Patrons flock to the airy open restaurant with local fish as well as burgers and more.  The bar was hopping and the portions abundant.  An added attraction was the throwing of unfinished French Fries into a school of marina catfish that school in the water outside the backdoor of the restaurant and compete with sea gulls for the scraps.   Gluten-free knowledgeable with several GF dining options.

Boondocks Ponce Inlet FL  BoulderLocavore.com

Marine Science Center

The discreet exterior of the Marine Science Center unveils a huge surprise when entering the facility.  Beachy and casual from the outside, this small center wields a big impact.  The Marine Science Center functions to teach about local animal species through a working public classroom, a boardwalk nature trail, interactive displays, a stingray petting tank and several fish tanks of local freshwater, saltwater and poisonous marine species.  The highlights are most certainly the sea bird, raptor and sea turtle rehabilitation programs.  Visitors can view animals in process of recovery with helpful docents to educate on all aspects of the center and the inhabitants.  Our visit coincided with the release back into the wild of three sea turtles which had been at the center for a number of months.  We joined the local masses at the beach entry for a joyous celebration to watch the recovered turtles waddle to the shoreline and depart for a swim home.  A definite trip high point.

Marine Science Center Ponce Inlet FL - BoulderLocavore.com

O Daddy Ho’s Surf Cream:  ‘Ice cream’ by any other name, a visit to O Daddy Ho’s for some ‘Gator Tracks’ surf cream is a must stop.  Also pop next door to the gift shop which features 80% local crafters and artisans.

Ho Daddy O's Ponce Inlet FL  BoulderLocavore.com

West Indian Manatee  - Ponce Inlet Florida - BoulderLocavore.com


  1. Sarai says

    Love Manatees, gentle giants! So happy for you getting to see them at this time of the year. We live in St. Augustine and enjoy finding other great places near by, we will have to check out Ponce Inlet. Safe Travels!

    • says

      Sorry for my delayed response Sarai; we have been traveling home. I don’t know alot about manatee behavior but as I understand it they are migratory and can’t take very cold water. I assumed that is why they were in Ponce Inlet now that it’s warming (the ocean temp lags the air temp by a month I’ve been told). The local folks from the Marine Science Center were surprised they’d just shown up; I’m not sure why and did not think to ask being thrilled to have them visit several times a day. It was a wonderful aspect to our time away and they are so slow moving they do encourage sitting ‘a spell’, relaxing and just taking it all in.

    • says

      Thanks much Liz. We just arrived back home after a wonderfully relaxing vacation with lots of unexpected adventures like the rehabilitated Sea Turtle release into the ocean, seeing a night time rocket launch from Cape Canaveral (fortunately the news covered it as we were sure it was a UFO) and loads of wonderful fresh food!

    • says

      Thank Jennifer! It was an unexpected surprise to have a daily dose of manatees, multiple times a day actually. They were so close you could really observe them which we loved. They would be under the brackish, murky water and then surface like an unexpected submarine with a snorting exhale and almost 9 feet long. We felt so fortunate. Also had a Great Blue Heron that was hunting daily at the dock next to ours and I was stealthy enough to watch him catch a fish one morning. Really a highlight of the trip. We are now landlocked again with no dock, no manatee, no swimming pool one step outside the backdoor and it all feels so odd after being away for 2 weeks. At least we have our new favorite salsa recipe to make!

  2. says

    Thank you for the glimpse back into my Florida adolescence. I’m happy the manatee seems so well loves these days. Back “when” I remember manatees were sort of made fun of (kids used the moniker as a nasty name for other kids). I even ran across one once when swimming. It scared me so bad (I thought it was a shark) I think I kicked it. Poor thing. We should better educate our kids to love nature. I know things are better now. But they can still get even better. GREG

    • says

      Sadly Greg I’ve heard them referred to by some boaters as ‘Speed Bumps’ (their scars certainly verify that). Now that they are officially endangered with a projected species demise, I think (and hope) it prompts a different type of attention and maybe some reverence. We absolutley loved having their daily presence at our dock. I loved hopping out wondering if any were around and within a few minutes, like a rising submarine, one would descend from the murky depths to exhale. Hopefully times have changed in our more environmentally conscious world! I certainly don’t begrudge your kicking one; it would be terrifying to come upon one unexpectedly, and they are huge!

      Thanks for much for taking the time to read and comment! Still reveling in my pre-vacation read of your fab cocktail book!


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