Lesser Known Gems
There is more to the Tampa Bay Area than the beaches, attractions and major cities. Here are few gems; little known facts, less known places and areas, that are quaint, quirky, interesting and, or, historically significant.
... by Nova
Ozona is a small, quaint, unincorporated community located on the Gulf of Mexico and just north of Dunedin. This small coastal town is quite eclectic as it offers a little bit of the old and little bit of the new. Here you can find newer high priced homes nestled among smaller, older Florida homes that don’t appear to have changed very much. The look and feel of this charming little town is a throwback to old Florida with its funky little antique shops and restaurants along the main road. Enjoy a simple meal at one of the restaurants then take a walk through the neighborhood and you will be happy to know a gem like this still exists in our area.
Crystal Beach is a small unincorporated community located on the Gulf of Mexico in the Palm Harbor area. In some places, you can still find some of the old cracker style Florida homes among unpaved streets although the closer you get to the coast the more you will find more modern day homes, many of which are designed in the ‘Key West’ style which is much suited to the community. This small town which was once a small fishing village boasts its own Zip Code, yet there are no mailboxes – residents still collect their mail from the same little Post Office just the way it used to be. One of the best features of Crystal Beach is, the coastline belongs to the everyone. You can park your car and take a walk along the water in a park-like setting or bring your fishing rod and fish off the small pier. Sunset is especially beautiful so transport yourself back to a little bit of the old lifestyle and enjoy a visit to Crystal Beach.
Dunedin is located on the Gulf of Mexico just north of downtown Clearwater. This town offers a wide range of experiences from the brick paved roads in the older residential district to the charming little downtown that boasts a number of restaurants, shops and nightlife, to the marina and parks that always seem to be beaming with all sorts of fun activities. For the water enthusiasts, you can rent various water crafts including paddle boards, hobie cats, sail kites, kayaks and much more from the Dunedin Causeway. Honeymoon Island is just a stones-throw away where you can enjoy the beautiful Gulf beaches or catch a ferry to Caladesi islands for a day of fun and sun.
Historical Stilt Houses in Gulf of Mexico
Did you know that a key piece of Florida’s history can be found right here off the coast of Port Richey? In the early 1900s, approximately 24 stilt houses were built out in the Gulf of Mexico and while it is not exactly clear who built them and why, it is believed that they were built as a storm refuge for fishermen at sea. In 1968 Hurricane Gladys destroyed most of the houses but due to legislation, no new houses can be built. The existing ones have been grandfather and can be repaired and maintained until they have outlived their useful life. This is truly a priceless piece of history that will not be there forever. Some of the houses can be seen from the shores of Port Richey but you can get an up close and personal view by a catching tour boat, or for the more adventurous, rent a kayak or take your own but make sure to stay on the boat! No-one is allowed on these delicate and priceless historical structures.
Manatee Viewing Center - Apollo Beach
Tampa Electric has built a manatee viewing center that includes a small environmental education building which can be enjoyed free of charge, all year round. Manatees, also known as sea cows cannot survive in prolonged exposure to water temperatures below 20°C or 68°F. The Gulf of Mexico often drops below this temperature during the winter months in the Tampa Bay area and because of this, manatees tend to flock to the Big Ben Power Plant in Apollo Beach where the plant dispels warm water into the Bay, and where the temperature remains comfortable for their low metabolic rate. This means if you want to be assured of seeing manatees, check it out during the winter months! It is a worthwhile experience for both grownups and kids alike.
Interested in a little taste of Greece right here in the Tampa Bay area? This is the place to be, the largest Greek settlement in the USA. Tarpon Springs is located just north of Palm Harbor along the Gulf Coast graced with a series of bayous and is well known for its historical sponge diving. Once the city began recruiting divers from Greece back in the early 1900s, their influence started growing and today the city still has a strong Greek community where much of the heritage is still celebrated. There are numerous restaurants by the old Sponge Docks that serve authentic Greek food with many little shops to browse. If you love pastries then you are in the right place to enjoy those sweet Greek favorites and more! For a wonderful cultural experience, be sure to check out ‘Night in the Islands’ which is hosted once per month, mainly from April to September where you can enjoy outdoor dining and dancing. It is a fun evening for all.
Parkesdale Farm Market - Plant City
Parkesdale Farm Market has been around since 1956 and is located in Plant City FL, right in the heart of strawberry growing country. This little farm market has a very unassuming presence yet their strawberry shortcakes are ‘world famous’, made from fresh berries grown on the farm. Since strawberries are harvested in the cooler months, the winter season is the only time that these shortcakes are sold. Don’t be surprised to see long times and parked buses flocked with tourists. In fact, Parksdale has welcomed Former President George H. Bush and President Barack Obama among others who already know about this place so it’s time that you do too! Remember it’s about the experience so stay in line, meet some friendly folks and keep tally of where they are from. While you are there, be sure to visit the small plant nursery and pick up some fresh produce from the local farms. The price is pretty good too.
Keel & Curly Winery - Thonotosassa
Yes, Tampa Bay has its own winery too! Keel & Curly Winery began in 2003 but they have come a long way in a short time. What began as a blueberry farm has turned into a full experience from wine tour to wine tasting with live music thrown in. It is located in Thonotosassa FL which is just outside of Plant City. They are known for their fruit blends called fusion wines but don’t worry, the wines are not all sweet and offers the full range from sweet to medium to dry. The brand can now be found in a number of retail stores so why not enjoy the hometown experience by visiting our own local winery.