Florida Gulf Coast Beaches ‘so many choices’

May 17, 2012 · 0 comments

in Best Road Trips

So many choices … so little time

Greetings again friends, this is Bill Taylor writing about a road trip we enjoyed. This was my mother-in-law’s favorite joke. “One dark night, a couple was out looking at the stars. She said, “Look at the stars; they are so numerous?” Her feller  replied, “Yup, there’s lots of them too.”” Counting the beaches on the Florida Gulf Coast makes you feel like the feller in Mom’s joke who missed the meaning of “numerous”, but still knew there were lots of them.

We have a short agenda for this road trip

This road trip begins at Perry Florida, where the Florida Panhandle Beaches post ended. Driving south from Perry, FL the highway owns three numbers. It is US27, US98 and US19. Hwy 27 veers east in Chiefland, FL. Neither route stays right along the coast, so this is the best you can do. There are a dozen villages and hamlets along here. I can’t mention all of them. You will enjoy the woodlands through here. They are sub-tropical and have a charm unique to Florida. This website is dedicated to this general area which will help you navigate this area.

After you leave Crystal River, FL the beaches are closer to the highway and population density increases. Six miles south of Homosassa Springs, FL, US Hwy 98 veers to the left. Stay on Hwy 19 south which is closer to the coastline.

Do you believe in Mermaids?

Weeki Wachee Mermaid

The attractions at Weeki Wachee Springs should not be missed. I first visited here 48 years ago. This Florida State Park has hosted an enduring attraction for 65 years. Built around the enormous natural spring  a beautiful underwater show is orchestrated with real live mermaids as the stars. (After watching this show, you will believe in mermaids.) They perform in an aquarium style enclosure full of spring water. It is an amazing choreographed underwater show featuring 15 female and 4 male swimmers.

Ticket price includes other attractions in the water park. For full value, set aside several hours, and time your visit for the twice daily underwater ballet. This is not a Florida beach, but it deserves special mention as a water attraction. Bathing suits are used on the rides in the park. At 6700 feet, this is the deepest fresh water spring in America.

There’s more to Florida’s Gulf Coast than beaches

“Cotee River” New Port Richey, FL

While Florida Gulf Coast beaches are the main attraction there are some towns through this stretch that are unique enough to call out for, at the very least,  a drive-through. Turn left on Main Street from Hwy 19 right in the middle of New Port Richey, FL. This tiny Gulf Coast town of 4.1 square miles has the Pithlachascotee River flowing right through the center of town. The town is so small they shorten the name of the river to “Cotee” so it will fit on the map. Bird watchers have identified more than 300 species of birds here. The James E Gray Preserve is a primitive nature lovers delight. It has bike, hiking trails and wilderness camping. You can walk along the paved banks of  the “Cotee River” which provides quiet beautiful scenery as it meanders through downtown.

If you would like a quiet town to stay the night, you couldn’t do better than New Port, Richey, FL.

Tarpon Springs is one of our most enjoyable discoveries

Greek Church Tarpon Springs, FL

Several years ago we were driving north from Tampa. We passed through Tarpon Springs. I saw the spire on a Greek Orthodox Church then glanced left to spy the harbor area of Tarpon Springs, FL. The international influence and intrigue is obvious at a glance. Sponge diving boats, shops, restaurants and a film that retells the history, of how Greek Immigrants came to Florida, and began a sponge diving industry which has evolved, but continued for several decades. Tourists flock to this town for its unique, one-of-a-kind atmosphere. Tarpon Springs is a fascinating short stop along this Florida coast. Several of our friends have stopped here at our recommendation and were pleased with their visit.

Clearwater, Tampa and St Petersburg-The Sun-drenched Tampa-Bay Triangle

The bustle of the beaches hits full stride in the metropolitan area of Tampa, Clearwater and St Petersburg, which has in excess of 2.7 million people. With a population that large, year-round activities are sustained. This is a major market for big-time sports. The Tampa Bay Bucaneers of the NFL, the Tampa Rays of Major League Baseball are complemented by The Tampa Bay Lightning of the National Hockey League. The Tampa Bay Storm of the Arena Football League, and The Tampa Bay Rowdies  of the North American Soccer League; all are located in the Tampa Bay metropolitan area.

The three cities are situated on the rim of beautiful Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Bridges criss-cross the bay making local travel easy and entertaining. The 2012 Republican National Convention will convene here.

The beaches here will suit the fancy of the most discriminating variety of beach-goers. National parks, old forts, museums, amusement parks (Busch Gardens in particular), and The Florida Aquarium, public and private beaches, fishing piers and charter boats, golf and world class shopping all rank high among vacationers. A mere list of the attractions by name would consume several pages.

Beautiful Beaches in Clearwater, FL

Clearwater, FL is a popular Florida Gulf Coast Beach. Clearwater, FL is the county seat of Pinellas County. It has a population of more than 107,000 and is the smallest of the three spectacular Tampa Bay cities. This town also has access to more beaches than the two other cities.  High-rise condos line the beach fronts. Clearwater visitors share the amusements of land based attractions. Moving from one city to the other is easy due to the excellent road network of the bay area.

The primary reason for a Clearwater vacation is to experience the beach. There are miles of white sand beaches with glorious water. Each has oodles and scads of free beach activities. That makes this a great family area. Check out the area forts, parks and historical areas.

A major daily attraction is Pier 60 in the heart of Clearwater Beach. Two hours before sunset and two hours after, artisans, street performers, musicians and more take over the activity center of Clearwater Beach. Voted the second best sunset in the state behind only Key West.

Tampa Skyline

Tampa, FL is the largest of the three cities in the metropolitan area. We first visited Tampa when our children were small and the main feature was Busch Gardens. This is a combination amusement park with rides, shows, animal attractions and dining. Busch Gardens is a major attraction.

The Serengeti Safari takes you for a ride through an area themed after the African Serengeti. It is filled with animals which give you a close encounter of a wild kind. They offer four different animal ride experiences in the park.

Ybor City Tampa’s Latin Quarter

Integrated into the downtown area of Tampa is Ybor City, Tampa’s famed Latin Quarter, named for Vincent Ybor Martinez, its founder. Over 100 years ago, Cuban cigar makers migrated from Key West, FL to Tampa, FL and founded what is known as Ybor City. Martinez built a cigar factory which was, at the time, the largest industrial building in the state. The district is filled with the exotic flavor of Cuba. Red brick buildings, wrought iron balconies and narrow brick streets add an old-world charm. You will find a refreshing change of pace from the beach. The shops are as unique as the restaurants and hotels.  When you stroll down  La Setima, the main street of the Historic District, you feel like you have been transported to some other place. On our first visit the area was beginning a restoration to reclaim the original flavor. You can watch a cigar being hand-rolled and smell coffee roasting in the early morning hours. The sights, sounds and smells will spur your imagination to carry you on an exotic island trip. Restoration is virtually complete now.

Approaching St Petersburg, FL at Sunset Sunshine Skyway Bridge over Tampa Bay

St Petersburg, FL, is called St Pete by locals. It is the second largest city in this area. The Sunshine Skyway Bridge of Interstate 275 connects Tampa with Clearwater and St Pete as it crosses the upper end of Tampa Bay. St Petersburg is on the southern tip of the peninsula which is the outside land area of Tampa Bay. This is my favorite bridge of any interstate highway. The span takes you so high you get a beautiful panoramic view of the bay area. The bridge itself is beautifully built, but the sights from it are breathtaking. It is especially beautiful at sunrise or sunset, but any time of day it is awesome.

While in St Petersburg you should visit The Dali. This museum is the largest collection of Salvador Dali art anywhere in the world. AOL Travel News lists the museum as “One of the top buildings you have to see before you die.

Throughout this area seafood restaurants dominate by number, but there are many choices for dining whether your taste is local or continental. The favorite fish in the area is Grouper, since it is plentiful in nearby waters. The meat of the Grouper is light colored and the flavor adapts well to a variety of cooking methods. Grouper is cooked with recipes that range from oriental, to continental to back-yard grilling, to Cajun.

I love Cuban food and this is one of the best areas in Florida to find good Cuban food. The Cuban cuisine here is equal to that in Miami or the Florida Keys.

Driving south, you exit the Tampa Bay area on Interstate-275 where you intersect into I-75. The next stop will be Sarasota, FL as we move into the southern end of Florida’s Gulf Coast Beaches.

Each town has a distinct personality and though there are similarities, each is different from the other.

I need to park for a while. You can keep on driving and I’ll try to catch up. Next we are going to explore Florida’s Gulf Coast Beaches on the southern end of the coast.

Keep rolling up the miles and dialing up the smiles. A bad day on a road trip is better than a good day slopping hogs.

Until next time,

Bill Taylor


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