Monday, October 3, 2011

A Few Favorites in Tampa Bay, Florida

Listening to The Amateur Traveler podcast (highly recommended!), I was inspired to write about my hometown area. The podcast guests often talk about places they have traveled, but are mixed with guests from a particular area talking about their hometowns. Even though we sometimes neglect to take advantage of all our hometown has to offer, we all know some of the great spots and can be inspired to get out and explore those things that we should be enjoying!

I've had the chance to visit a few local treasures lately that are well worth a visit. First is the Salvador Dali museum in St. Pete which I covered in a recent post, "A Surreal Adventure Nearby". This is a world class collection, now housed in a world class building. While you are taking in some art, it is worth stopping by the Chihuly Collection at the Morean Arts Center. Many people would be surprised to learn St. Pete is such a great arts destination. Complete your day of the arts with the Museum of Fine Arts and touring the local galleries and shops. Or, check out some great local theatre at American Stage or the Progress Energy Center for the Arts.

Of course, for those less inclined towards art, there are all of the expected activities in the area such as beaches and water sports. Cross the bridge from Tampa and head in almost any direction and you'll find some of the most beautiful beaches you have seen. Honeymoon Island State Park is one of my favorites and often voted a top beach in the U.S. For outdoor enthusiasts, there are unlimited opportunities to fish, swim, kayak, paddleboard, bike and do just about any activity. I'll dedicate another post to more specifics about the beaches and outdoor activities, as well as some ideas on specific towns to visit and places to stay.

For now, I cannot neglect to mention Clearwater's biggest current celebrity, Winter the Dolphin. If you've seen (or heard of) the movie Dolphin Tail, you know Winter's story. Winter lives in the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, another local treasure worth a visit. Not only can you see Winter (and buy any type of merchandise you can imagine) but you'll see many other animals with similar stories and learn about the rescue and rehabilitation done by this facility. Expect crowds, at least while the glory from the movie lasts. However, it is still very manageable. They offer various packages too, including a combination with a "Sea Life Safari" cruise and several behind the scenes and interactive options (and photo opportunities with the celebrity:-). You can get discounted tickets as a AAA member or senior citizen (sidebar: I find it amazing that 60 and older is considered senior!). I'd recommend checking it out online and consider purchasing your tickets online too (especially if you want to do any of the special tours) due to the popularity.

After your visit to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and Winter, hop over to Clearwater Beach for a sunset dinner at Frenchy's Rockaway Grill, preferably a grouper sandwich. If you're in town from about mid October to April/May, you have to try the stone crab claws. Frenchy's actually holds a big stone crab celebration every year at the beginning of the season. That same weekend is the Clearwater Jazz Holiday. If you are a fan of jazz, or just like sitting in a beautiful setting outdoors listening to live music, plan to visit this event. Another big surprise, this is currently a free event, run mostly by volunteers (such as ourselves) and embraced by the community for many years. Read more about the event in our Clearwater Jazz Holiday post from last year's event and on the Jazz Holiday website.

When you attempt to talk (or write) about your local area, you gain a better appreciation for all the area has to offer...and you realize you can't possibly cover it in one post. My goal is to do a series of posts covering the area as we "travel locally" so check back for more soon and let me know some of your local Tampa Bay favorites!

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