Hiking in the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, Florida

If you’ve been on a day trip kayaking with manatees, dancing with mermaids, and have some extra time in the area, you may want to hike around nearby Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge. The Salt Marsh trails [S Mason Creek Rd, Homosassa, FL 34448] is a small section of the park that has a little over a miles worth of trails. A shaded path leads out to an observation where the view opens up and stretches for miles.

Follow the banks of a winding creek with your eyes, the perfect place to look for birds.

We spotted a clapper rail that was too elusive to photograph. Don’t forget to check in the sky for the swallow-tailed kite.

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Finding Mermaids in Weeki Wachee Springs, Florida

The ultimate roadside attraction, the essence of Florida tourism, a visit to Weeki Wachee Springs State Park [6131 Commercial Way, Spring Hill, FL 34606, United States] is an unforgettable experience – the chance to see real live mermaids! Originating in 1946, this popular tourist destination was visited by Elvis Presley. Watch the remarkable girls from an underwater theater in an ‘enchanted’ natural spring. It is one of the deepest in the country, the bottom has yet to be found. Over 100 million gallons of fresh 74 degree water flows out of the cavern creating a current, making it is extremely impressive what these young ladies are capable of doing.

Since this is a natural setting and the entertainers actually encounter wildlife such as turtles and fish during the show.

There are multiple shows put on where they perform ballet, eat, and drink, all underwater!

While it is the biggest draw, there is more to the park than the amazing mermaids! Don’t miss the river boat cruise down the endlessly gorgeous Weeki Wachee River.

You are bound to see a variety of wildlife including interesting fish,

beautiful birds,

and plenty of turtles too. There is also an educational wildlife show which exhibits native creatures, like the beautiful Florida kingsnake.

Mermaid shows, river boat cruises, and wildlife shows all happen at specific times – be sure to plan your day accordingly to see all three, complimentary with your ticket. Be sure to leave some time to visit Buccaneer Bay, a fantastic mini water park! There are great water slides, a lazy river, kiddie pool, and the wonderful natural crystal clear spring water to swim in.

Kayak rentals are available as well. This family friendly destination is great for adults as well, you can spend the whole day participating in the various attractions and activities of the park – very worth the price of admission ($13 adults, $8 children, under 5 free). Be sure to get to the park as early as possible on weekends and in the summer, it often reaches capacity at peak times.

PS – how many roadside dinosaurs can you count coming from the south?!

I spotted two big ones.

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Kayaking with Manatees in Crystal River, Florida

The only place in the world where you can legally swim with majestic gentle giant, the West Indian manatee, is Crystal River, Florida. Although manatees are a protected animal, the economy of Citrus County was dependent on the ecotourism. The rules were bent and by following a few respectful guidelines, you can have the experience of a lifetime. Winter months are the best time to see large numbers of these beasts (who can weigh up to 3,000lbs!) who seek refuge in the warm waters of the Three Sisters Spring, remaining a constant 72 degrees year round. However, there are resident manatees that live in the area all year long so it is possible to have an encounter at any time. Best chance is early in the morning when the animals are most active.

An excursion with Crystal River Kayak Company [1422 SE US Hwy 19, Crystal River, FL 34429] should be on everyone’s Florida bucket list. You can choose to kayak with a chance to swim or to take a dive trip. We decided to kayak and you have further options, take a guided tour or go on your own. We went solo, but had great direction. After watching an informational video to perpetuate environmental safety, we were given a map for directions, which also highlighted the best spots to catch the manatees! The gorgeous turquoise water was about a ten minute paddle away, we had a couple of close encounters with the beautiful creatures here – though no good photographs.

This was a popular spot with boats and divers, so we paddled onward to find a quieter viewing spot. Sitting at the edge of one of the highlighted off limits areas was a hotbed for activity, all of those grey bumps are manatee backs!

We didn’t feel the urge to jump into the chilly water, but felt elated and accomplished with the occurrence. Having plenty of time to spare, we headed on into Kings Bay to continue the adventure.

This is a bigger area and it was quite windy, we fought the current and made our way around a lush island. Another wonderful wildlife sighting occurred – a bald eagle soared in only to land on a close by tree.

Two hours was the perfect amount of time, and I would highly recommend this trip to nature lovers visiting the Gulf Coast.

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Adventures north of St. Petersburg, Florida

If you’re staying in the St. Petersburg area and are willing to drive an hour and a half north, the adventurous pickings are bountiful and well worth the effort.

+Kayak or dive in crystal clear springs with manatees

+Watch real live mermaids perform in an underwater theater

+Hike around a National Wildlife Refuge

+While you’re up this way, why not play some pinball at the local arcade Stop N Play [10933 US-19, Port Richey, FL 34668]

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Eat Jupiter Donuts, Florida

Driving between Dunedin and Tarpon Springs I saw a donut shop I didn’t know existed. I had heard of Jupiter Donuts [32130 US Hwy 19 N, Palm Harbor, FL 34684] on the Atlantic Coast (and sadly didn’t get a shot at visiting there), but not the Gulf! I hate making U-turns, but you’re allowed to pretty much anywhere in Florida (crazy roads!) so I went for it. It’s rare that I discover an unplanned gem – I was excited. It was getting on into the afternoon and they were close to sold out. We scored a half dozen donuts and devoured them on the spot.

The funkiest variety available was the coco-mango – done so well. Super unique and excellent executed flavors. The chocolate frosted tasted of real cocoa, so good! I loved the quiet location and easy parking in the strip mall. Pressed for time? They even have a drive-thru.

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An afternoon in Safety Harbor, Florida

Whimzeyland, 1206 3rd St N, Safety Harbor, FL 34695

Got a bit of extra time in your day? Stop by this fun, free, wonky, roadside attraction that is the essence of whimsy.

I felt a little shy going in at first, but it is totally open to the public and you are free to roam about. The house has a lot going on, it’s overwhelmingly good. Take your time. One noticeable characteristic is the number of bowling balls.

Mosaic tiling and bottle trees are positively majestic.

Heck, they even worked in a little caricature of yours truly!

Even the neighbors are getting into the spirit, and the local flavor is leeching out into the streets.

Joey Biscotti, 839 Main St, Safety Harbor, FL 34695

So much more than biscotti. We ate so much more than just biscotti. But we ate biscotti too (the next day with our morning coffee – it was magical). The take away – everything looked so obscenely delicious and sounded so funky that we just ate so much. So what did we devour?

+Mutt cookies. They’re for humans. They have five freakin chips in them: butterscotch, semi sweet chocolate, white chocolate, peanut butter, and toffee….in a dark chocolate cookie. Mmmm.

+Lime coconut bars with dark chocolate drizzle. This place has the tangy fruit flavor on point, with sweet coconut and bitter chocolate. This was a favorite of mine.

+Stoners paradise bar. Those people know what dessert is about, so we had to give it a go. Chocolate, peanut butter, marshmallow, and who knows what else! It was insane, all over the place, indulgent, absurdly good.

+Pineapple lovers cake with coconut pecan frosting. This could have been the only dessert I needed – a perfect piece of cake! Filling, sweet, tangy, creamy, chunky, gooood.

It might be safe to say I am as addicted to dessert as I am travel.

Harbor Bar, 840 Main St, Safety Harbor, FL 34695

Right across the street from Joey Biscotti’s is a divey neighborhood pub that just so happens to have a pinball machine! We happily rocked out on Avengers.

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Play Pinball in Dunedin, Florida

Let’s be clear. I wouldn’t say, come to Dunedin for pinball if you are visiting from out of town. However if you happen to be coming to Dunedin for other reasons (there are plenty!) and are looking to play some pinball on the side…note these spots!

Skip’s Bar, 371 Main St, Dunedin, FL 34698

The adorable ‘Dogedin’ mural lured me over and when I peered inside, I was hooked.

Two machines were inside the relaxed bar, Harley Davidson and Kiss. Funny thing, they were wearing boots too.

Eddies Bar & Grill, 1283 Bayshore Blvd, Dunedin, FL 34698

A sports bar where you can grab a bite, grab a drink, watch the game – and then play the game. A nice little arcade room including one fantastic pinball machine – the Wizard of Oz.

Dunedin Lanes, 405 Patricia Ave, Dunedin, FL 34698

If you’re looking for some bowling, weekend karaoke, and a pin – the lanes at Dunedin have all that for you. The vibe was actually hilarious and fun, Fridays and Saturdays are ‘cosmic’ – everything was glowing majestically.

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