Wakulla Springs Overnight

Wakulla Springs

We recently spent the night at the historic Lodge at Wakulla Springs in the Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park.  The Lodge and park are about 250 miles north of Tampa Bay and about 30 miles south of Tallahassee.

We set out early on a Friday morning back in October for the  Springs.  Officially named after the original owner, it was about a half day drive for us, straight up US 19 from Clearwater to the Florida Panhandle.  We were actually headed to the Monarch Butterfly Festival at the nearby St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge on Saturday.

Arriving at the Lodge
Arriving at the lodge

The Lodge at Wakulla Springs was thirty miles away from the refuge, so provided for easy access to the Saturday festival. The lodge in its day,  a grand hotel, built with Tennessee marble, local heart cypress, and imported tiles, opened in 1937. Edward Ball, a financial manager and son-in-law of  the DuPont family built the lodge so that people could enjoy this unique woodland and spring. The State of Florida purchased he lands and lodge after Ball’s death in 1986.

Lobby
The lobby is resplendent in marble and cypress

The Lodge and the grounds have quite the history.  Archaeological finds in the park include early stone blades and Clovis spear points dating back to 12,000 BC, discovered during the lodge renovation. Fossilized remains of mastodon and other prehistoric animals remain in the spring and a fossil can be seen at the entrance to the jungle ride.

Wakulla Springs
Creature from the Black Lagoon

Florida Springs are favorite locations for movies because of the tropical appearance and Wakulla is no exception.  Most famous were Tarzan movies and many scenes from the classic film “Creature from the Black Lagoon” were filmed at the spring.

 

 

 

 

Art Deco Elevator
Art Deco Elevator

The Lodge is also home to the oldest working Art Deco Elevator, one that would have had an attendant …back in its glory.

World's longest marble soda fountain
World’s longest marble soda fountain

After lunch we had the house specialty, ginger yip at this historic soda fountain.

Swimmers in the springSwimmers in the spring

Wakulla Springs
Wakulla River Florida Jungle Cruise

While we waited to board the “Wakulla River Florida Jungle Cruise” for 5pm (reservations required), the last cruise of the day, we watched brave souls diving into the sixty-eight degree water.

Rangers narrate  a tour of the river in these historic little river boats. Unfortunately the spring is too cloudy for the glass bottom boat ride.

Alligator
Sleepy Alligator
Wading birds and turtles enjoy the day
Wading birds and turtles enjoy the day

Coming from south-central Florida , we found the bird population at the spring identical to those on our waterways.  Given that we were four hours north, I found this interesting.  For folks interested in seeing birds, such as the ibis, little blue heron and anhinga in this picture… normally seen in south Florida, this is the boat ride for them.

bed
Rooms

I don’t mean to do a review of the lodgings here or the restaurant, but I will follow-up with a Trip Advisor Review.  We paid $169 for our room.  This included a substantial breakfast and admission to the park.  Even with that, it was pretty expensive, given the room.  The lodge in many ways remains true to its 1937 roots and often not in a good way.  An awful lot is in need of repairs or just cleaning.

Dining Room
Dining Room

The park’s isolation pretty much guarantees that lodgers eat in the park. I looked at the various Google and Trip Advisor Reviews prior to our trip.  The food was well-reviewed and we thoroughly enjoyed all three meals…but the service…well there were definitely holes. Again a topic for a review.  The lobby is lovely so we were only a little annoyed at the long wait for dinner. People gather here to play antique checkers and other games as the rooms do not have televisions but do have wi-fi. There is even a Pokemon Gym in the back yard.

Early the Saturday morning I set out on my morning trail run on the Wakulla Springs Trail…right out the front door.  The six-mile trail crosses the river and heads east.  It was chilly, in the 50s, but with not a cloud in the sky. I gotta say that this was truly one of the best trail runs that I have experienced.  The well-maintained trail and woods are quite interesting, with many of the trees labeled so that I could read the little placards as I ran. Unlike the birds, the trees here are quite different from South-central Florida, with quite the mixture of hardwoods, uncommon in most of Florida, and trees common to south-Florida, such as palms.   Some trees were even losing leaves and exhibiting fall color. Truly a great end to our stay.

trail

 

Honeymoon Island

Honeymoon Island Beach
Honeymoon Island beach

Honeymoon Island State Park and theDunedin Causeway make up my second favorite Tampa Bay beach experience.

Kayak Rentals
Kayak Rentals on Dunedin Causeway

On the three-mile long causeway you can drive right off the road onto the beach to fish or rent/launch boats. Dunedin Causeway is also a branch of the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail, an ever extending rail trail.

The causeway ends at an entry kiosk. The cost to enter is $8, somewhat more than St. Pete. Beach. The park has a nice visitor’s center, oodles of parking, and a short walk between parking and the wide, sandy beach. Two cafes provide food and awesome views of the beach.  They rent the usual equipment needed for the beach, plus bikes and kayaks.  A Ferry that launches near the Park gate will take you to Caladesi Island, a great place to snorkel and hunt for shells.

Frenchy's Outpost
Frenchy’s Oupost

 

Many people will pedal from the trail into the park, with perhaps a stop at one of the restaurants along the causeway. We sampled one of the newest restaurants, Frenchy’s Outpost...a part of a local chain.  Frenchy’s is a colorful, comfortable, mostly outdoor, sports bar offering a wide selection of beers plus reasonably priced bar food. They specialize in grouper, which they serve in a multitude of ways. On a rainy day, which it was when we visited the other day, it was a fine alternative to the beach.

Endless Beach

Honeymoon Island is at the north end of town so that it is possible to park in downtown Dunedin, hop on a bike or even rent a bike and pedal into the park and back into town to enjoy the eminently walkable downtown Dunedin all in one day.

Dunedin Sunset
Dunedin Sunset

St. Pete Beach: My Favorite!

 

Pass-a-Grille
St. Pete Beach

Yes, there is an actual place called St. Pete Beach. It isn’t St. Petersburg Beach and it isn’t even part of St. Petersburg. The Beach sits about as far south in Pinellas County as one can be and it is my favorite beach. Pinellas County has 130 miles of beach   fronting the Gulf of Mexico, with some islands thrown in for good measure. No one can say that we don’t have our pick of beaches. If you arrived here looking for a beach, there are many lists of best beaches published, but these are flawed because repetition of a beach will actually cause the beach to be retired from the list. Often the list will be limited to one beach per state and many of Florida’s beaches have long since been retired: You may just be seeing the runner-ups.  Arguably, I am talking about the strongly held opinion of one person here, but it seems to me that in talking with friends, many locals consider the section of St. Pete Beach called Pass-a-Grille  to be our best beach.  In our mind runner-up beaches include Honey Moon Island State Park  and Ft. De Soto.  St. Pete tends to get the nod from locals because of the reduced hassle factor.  It is one of the last remaining beaches on the Gulf where you can simply drive to the beach; open your car door; and walk across a short boardwalk out onto the beach.

Pass-a-Grille Beach
Another gorgeous sunset

This is great if you have a lot of stuff, need easy access to restrooms, have mobility challenges, or have small children. Though you will have to pay to park right at the beach, free two-hour parking is often available nearby.   It’s just up and out here to a wide sandy beach.  Not only is this beach easy to get to by car, you can also travel there via a charming trolley

Central Avenue Trolley
Trolley awaits passengers

or direct bus from Downtown St. Petersburg.  Still thinking about it, well consider that the beach still sits on a quiet, lightly-traveled road, easily crossed to choose from one of a number of restaurants with amazing views and good food.  One restaurant, Paradise Grill, even sits right on the beach. Rent beach equipment or buy what you need in the shop.

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Perhaps, that is what makes this our favorite…it combines the peace and quiet of the beach with a small town Main street. Combine all this with some of the best sunsets, and you have beach nirvana. Sunset photography is, well, it’s a Gulf thing that even most locals do on a fairly regular basis. St. Pete Beach guarantees locals and tourists, alike, great swimming, photos and food.

Sunset in St. Pete
Sunset in St. Pete

The St. Petersburg Art Scene

ArtWalk

Wow! The September Second Saturday ArtWalk was amazing.  As with many towns around Tampa Bay, St. Petersburg holds a monthly ArtWalk where local galleries remain open late and often have special exhibitions or openings.  St. Petersburg has one of the best in the area.  This month we were lucky enough to have ArtWalk coincide with the finale of the St. Petersburg Mural Festival (SHINE 2016).   Here are a some of our favorites. The Festival attracted official and unofficial entries…with many businesses adding public art.

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Some of the murals weren’t quite complete so we were able to watch some of the artists still applying paint. Lucky for us, unlike a chalk festival, we can return during the next few months to see ones that we missed and revisit our favorites. A map of the murals and information on all these great artists can be found here.

In addition to the murals, twenty-one museums and galleries had special exhibits.  Each month is different so before we headed out  we downloaded the monthly map and guide from ArtAlliance website.  As the ArtWalk covers about four square miles, we have found it better to decide in advance to focus on one or two of the five arts districts .

We usually choose a centrally located restaurant, park nearby and walk to galleries. You can also use the trolly.  Central Avenue continues to evolve into a gastronomic haven, with new restaurants and cafes opening every month. Our restaurant choice this time was the recently-opened Hawkers Asian Street Fare. Check out this intriguing, yet inexpensive menu. It was worth the wait.

Hawkers restaurant
Hawkers Asian Street Fare

By far, the Warehouse district has the largest number of galleries that participate in the ArtWalk and it has been many a month that we spend a large part of our Saturday night at Duncan McClellan’s Gallery sipping wine and watching the glass blowing demonstration where a featured artist creates amazing art glass.  These are great photo ops! During ArtWalk a food truck is set up and often they have live music.

Glass Blowing
Duncan McLellan Art Gallery

I can’t promise that ArtWalk will be this exciting every month….but with more new galleries and restaurants opening all the time, you can’t go wrong visiting St. Pete during this  monthly event.