On the western edge of Tampa facing Oldsmar is a gem of a park named Upper Tampa Bay Park. Packed into this quiet peninsula on the northern part of the bay is a nature center, three trails, a good playground, water fountains, plenty of parking, and most importantly plenty of restrooms. There are many covered picnic tables and pavilions. You can also rent canoes there.
For those who get up early enough, a free educational tour of the port is available on the Bay Spirit Two (which also does paid dolphin tours). Leaving from the back of the Florida Aquarium next to the American Victory Ship, I got see well-known buildings from the opposite side. I learned the history of how the channels were deepened from twelve feet to thirty feet to accommodate larger ships and how the excess sand was used to create islands such as Davis Island, Harbour Island, and several small “spoil islands” reserved for birds and other non-humans only.
Tampa imports and exports material from all over the world. I saw giant gantry cranes for moving shipping containers on and off ships. It’s hard to appreciate the size of these until you drive under them. Elsewhere, liquid cargo such as fruit juice is pumped through pipes. Giant silos store grain, phosphorous, sulfur, solar salts, and other materials. There are several dry docks that work by being filled with water until they sink, allowing a ship to slip into them, and then are raised by pumping the water out of them allowing them to float again. This allows workers to clean and repair ships without having to use scuba gear, which I gather is quite an inconvenience. I also imagine that welding might be a problem. There are also docks set aside for several shrimping boats and for the sheriff’s department.
The tour is a treasure to many. It makes for a good field trip and is a good way to kill some time waiting for the aquarium to open.
Make reservations by calling 813-905-7678
Other Tours on Bay Spirit II
Once upon a time, Honeymoon Island was known as Hog Island and was owned by a pig farmer. Then a hurricane flooded the land and cut the channel known as Hurricane Pass. The former southern half of the island was renamed Caladesi and the former northern half was developed as a getaway for newlyweds. Honeymoon Island was born. It later became a state park. It is accessed by causeway.
The north of Honeymoon Island is split, forming Pelican Cove between the east and west arms. I first explored the eastern arm, which faces the mainland. I saw several nests in the trees. Ospreys and vultures were all over the place. There were even bald eagles. From October until May that section of the trail is closed so as not to disturb them. I also saw a moth sitting in a bush. It had an iridescent, hairy back that reminded me of a hummingbird.
Returning to the playground parking lot to eat, I saw a tortoise. So did the playground kids. They got enormous pleasure from watching it eat the grass, and I watched them watch it. When I finished, I headed for the west side of the island and walked north along the beach.
I could not find a high tide line and judging by the shells and seaweed strewn everywhere, I suspect that the entire western arm is submerged on a daily basis. The sand was moist and large gulleys led into Pelican cove from among the mangroves. I planned on hiking to the northern tip and back, but I found much to distract me and eventually ran out of sunlight. There was a path part of the way between two groves of trees and numerous doorways cut into them leading to some stunningly beautiful places...
The Dog House is the place in Ruskin for everything barbeque. Seating is outdoors at covered picnic tables surrounded by tiki statues. Everything is smoked on the premises and their pork always has the perfect ratio of smoke to meat. You can really taste the smoke. They certainly have the instinct to understand what makes good pork. The sandwiches are the best. The pulled pork sandwiches and boneless rib sandwiches are local favorites. I like the southwest burger, which comes with onions, bacon, barbeque sauce, and southwest seasoning worked into the meat. It was amazing. They also have a variety of beef hot dogs, other burgers, chili, macaroni and cheese, tacos, seafood, and ice cream. Why would you ever go anywhere else? After eating all that, how would you go anywhere else? It’s easy to get full there.
106 N US-41, Ruskin, Florida
On the back side of Sun City Center plaza, lies Nearly New. This is where one can find inexpensive clothes of every variety packed inside. Around every corner is a great deal on something you didn’t even know you needed. There are several rooms containing goods such as clothing, bedding, shoes, books, decorative figurines, jewelry, appliances, and clocks. Outdoors on nice days along the back side of the building there can be found furniture and sometimes other items such as golf clubs or walkers. There are blouses and jeans for three dollars and chairs for twenty-five dollars.
Nearly New keeps its prices so low by using volunteer staff and all merchandise is donated. They provide value to the community in multiple ways. They provide low-price goods that help struggling families afford things they need. They provide a place to get rid of excess items for those that don’t need them. They also provide a friendly place to volunteer. Finally, the money raised funds the Interfaith Council of Sun City Center, an alliance of nine local houses of worship that grants money to various charitable causes in Hillsborough County (almost half in the form of scholarships).
Nearly New is open every Saturday from eight until noon. During the winter months, it is also open Wednesdays during the same hours. Donations can be dropped off any weekday between eight and three.
1515 Sun City Center Plaza, Sun City Center, Florida
Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa is a popular route for joggers, bicyclists, and those who just want to stroll by the sea. It also serves as daily driving commute for many. Fortunately for everyone the Boulevard’s median is magically sprinkled with strange and wonderful works of art. One of these is called The Wave – a metal sculpture roughly ten feet tall created by Mary Ann Unger (1945-1998). It is supposed to represent a crashing wave, but people see different things in it. I like to think of it as a gelatinous sea creature sucking water through its body and filtering out plankton. When I see it, which isn’t often, it feels like an old friend.
Art of all kinds is important because otherwise what is the point of life? Do we work in order to pay the bills so we can continue to work? Or do we work to pay the bills in order to have time to play? Our art and our artists are local treasures.
List of public art in Tampa
One of Tampa’s local treasures is also a national treasure that connects us to the past. When the Navy cargo ship American Victory was sitting in Virginia destined for the scrapyard, Captain John C. Timmel arranged for its rescue to live on as a floating museum. One of only three WWII-era Victory-model ships still fully operational, it is open most days of the week for self-guided tours. Not only does it connect us to the past and provide educational benefit, but it serves as a reminder of the efforts of those that kept American soldiers fed, armed, and equipped in Europe, the Pacific, Korea, and Vietnam.
I went to see it and my first impression was that it looks like the game pieces in the Axis-and-Allies board game – only bigger. Once up top, I was surprised how many floors it had. One can see across the channel or look down at the kids playing in the water park nearby. I wandered around the deck, seeing the giant anchor and big guns. Inside I saw the kitchen and insulated food storage. Somewhere a radio played 1940’s-era music. At first I thought that there seemed to be a lot of toilets and showers, but now I think it appropriate based on how many beds there were. My guess would be one bathroom per eight beds. I didn’t count. I suppose when one is on a ship, one doesn’t need to worry about running out of water. Another thing I noticed was that the deck seemed rather smooth and slick. I can only imagine what it would be like rolling back and forth in a storm once it gets a little bit of water on it. It seems like a safety hazard. Is this normal on ships? I should have called ahead to schedule a guide to ask questions (yes, you can do that). Down below there is a collection of various model ships, artifacts, and information placards. I saw giant bullets and shells taller than most children. Wow.
A history of the ship can be found on the website, including the tale of how American Victory broke up sea ice for other ships while leaving a Soviet port despite not being designed for it.
To get to American Victory, take Channelside Avenue in Tampa to the rotary and turn into the entrance for the Florida Aquarium. At the stop sign, take a right and head for the water. Free parking is just around the corner.
705 Channelside Drive, Tampa, Florida
Trinity Café provides human dignity by serving balanced gourmet meals at no cost to the homeless, disabled, and working poor without tedious means-testing or religious proselytization. For those who can afford it, a donation bucket is available near the door. I decided to volunteer to get an inside peek at how it all worked.
At 10:30 am (weekdays), diners line up to receive tickets for lunch. This lets the kitchen know how many meals to make. At 11:30 am (weekdays) the doors open and the diners are assigned seats as they become available. There are two volunteers to a table. One serves the meals and the other provides conversation. It’s actually not a bad way to meet interesting people.
The day I went, they had chicken underneath some sort of tomato-basil sauce and cheese next to grits and a vegetable mix. I had time to snag a plate after everyone else was finished. The tables have tablecloths and flower arrangements in the center, which gives the place a little character. I liked working there for a day (less than three hours). It had a fun atmosphere and a sense of camaraderie among the volunteers and employees. Spots fill up fast, so sign up well ahead of time. For their full schedule, visit their website below.
2801 N Nebraska Avenue, Tampa, Florida
2202 E Busch Boulevard, Tampa, Florida
What on earth is that? Strange looking..... Reading the sign, I see that it's a fig tree. Well, I sure didn't know figs grew like that!
And so, as I strolled the pathways in the Florida Botanical Gardens, more beauty and wonders were discovered. There was a Silk Floss tree, a very spiky barked tree belying its softer name. I wandered past a lovely water garden featuring beautiful blue water lilies. A stunning garden bed of brightly colored impatiens followed (Think of a red, purple, hot pink, and orange explosion). Bromeliads, in their many shapes and forms, were blossoming in and around trees along the way.
I counted seventeen different types of gardens – every fascinating and beautiful plant labeled so you can take notes for your own yard. There is a butterfly garden featuring host plants and nectar plants for butterflies. Butterflies are everywhere in this park! Lush kale, lettuce, and tomatoes grow in the raised bed garden display. What fruit can you grow in central Florida's climate? Check out the tropical fruit garden. Florida Botanical Gardens even has a wedding garden, walled and secluded for that special event. It is flanked by four other gardens: a rose garden, a "contemporary jazz” garden, topiary garden, and a cottage garden.
I love this place. There is always something different to see in this little piece of paradise.
12520 Ulmerton Road, Largo, Florida
Written by Lucy Noe
Sometimes little gems are easily missed, which is why in our travels we just had to turn around and explore. Owned by the Town of Longboat Key (west of Sarasota), Durante Park has a little bit of everything for nature lovers. Near the entrance is a botanical garden featuring many popular Floridian flowering plants. You can find hibiscus, bougainvillea, jacaranda, and wild coffee to name a few. Beyond the garden is parking, restrooms, a playground, a pond with a fountain, a pavilion, and an open grassy area. Trails begin here, winding through several ecological systems by means of shell paths and board walks.
As part of coastal restoration, a wetlands system was created in the park. This provides food to many species as well as being a pollutant filter for Sarasota Bay. The upland coastal forest is also being restored. Mangrove forests and salt marshes are other ecosystems found in this park. The many trails are popular for joggers and dog walkers as well as naturalists.
We saw egrets, a cardinal, a yellow warbler, mangrove crabs, and possibly an ovenbird during the short time we spent there having a picnic supper. If you are in the area, Durante Park is worth visiting.
5550 Gulf of Mexico Drive, Longboat Key, Florida
Written By Lucy Noe
LOCAL TAMPA BAY