Newly Updated Travel Books Offer Florida Staycations and Day Trip Ideas

If you’re still not comfortable getting on a plane or cruise ship (or paying the high prices), it might be time for a Florida vacation.

Two recently updated travel diaries — Visit a small town in Florida and 100 things to do in Tampa Bay before you die – offer great ideas for city breaks and day trips, so you can enjoy living in a place where tourists flock. Most of their suggestions eschew the big, well-known attractions, offering local gems off the beaten path.

Travel guides can have a short shelf life, so it’s worth having both books revisit and update their advice and travel tips. Tampa native Bruce Hunt recently published his fourth edition of small town in floridaoffering succinct profiles and restaurant and shopping recommendations for “79 of Florida’s Most Interesting Small Towns.”

The Ozona Village Hotel Historic Site marks where the first settlers began to arrive at the turn of the 20th century. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Kristen Hare, journalist at the Poynter Institute and contributor to the Tampa Bay Weather, just released the third edition of its guide to living like a tourist in the Tampa Bay area. The premise is a bucket list idea that has taken on greater resonance for it during the pandemic.

“Although this nod to the to-do list seemed cute to me with the first and second editions, during the pandemic it took on a new sense of urgency for me,” Hare said. “Life is short. Nothing is guaranteed. How we spend our time – and who we spend it with – is up to us.

Some of the authors’ suggestions coincide. Consider small town in floridaThe suggestion to find the little Ozona.

“Palm Harbor grew around Ozona, but the little village still manages to retain its quiet, quirky charm,” Hunt writes. You’ll find a scenic section of the Pinellas Trail bicycle overpass and great food at Ozona Pig and Molly Goodhead’s Raw Bar, housed in a circa 1919 house. For shopping, Antiques and Uniques next to Ozona Pig “has a treasure trove of vintage collectibles”.

Antiques and Uniques, Ozona Pig's neighboring shop, has a treasure trove of vintage collectibles and Florida-themed home decor.
Antiques and Uniques, Ozona Pig’s neighboring shop, has a treasure trove of vintage collectibles and Florida-themed home decor. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

As with most small towns in Hunt’s book, it only takes an afternoon to see its sights. But Ozona is close to some of Hare’s day trip suggestions. In nearby Tarpon Springs, the influence of its Greek immigrants and sponge divers makes a visit “more like an international adventure,” Hare writes. Don’t miss the Spongeorama Sponge Factory for shopping and its setting for historical films, take a boat ride on the St. Nicholas Boat Line, and enjoy excellent Greek cuisine at Mykonos Restaurant.

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100 things to do in Tampa Bay

Other suggestions from Hare’s book that can be turned into a stay of a few days include:

Land of lakes: Head to the county town of Polk for lunch at the Carpentry Food Hall with a range of vendors and sit on the patio overlooking a beautiful lake. Visit Florida Southern College, the only campus architect designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Shopping near Kentucky Avenue is full of fun shops like Scout and Tag and the Lloyds of Lakeland antique store. There are also excellent restaurants throughout Kentucky.

Williston: Located about 30 miles northwest of Ocala, it’s horse country with rolling hills. “It should be on anyone’s to-do list to snorkel or scuba dive at Devil’s Den, a natural spring inside a cave,” Hare said. . Advance reservations are required to swim in the 72 degree blue water. Make reservations at 352-528-3344 or devilsden.com. Cedar Lake Woods and Gardens, on the same street as Devil’s Den, is a beautiful botanical garden with waterfalls, swans, and different levels to wander around ancient live oaks and lush gardens.

North Port: Soak in the Mineral Hot Springs, 12200 San Servando Ave., about an hour south of Tampa. “It’s a hoot. This is old Florida at its oldest,” Hare said. At 85 degrees, the water smells a bit funky from the sulfur, and Hare recommends bringing a pool noodle to float around in the deeper sections — it’s supposed to be good for the skin. “It’s like a spa day in Florida.”

Devil's Den, a natural spring inside a cave in Williston,
Devil’s Den, a natural spring inside a cave in Williston, “should be on everyone’s list,” said author Kristen Hare. This caption has been updated to correct the location of this photo. [ Kristen Hare ]

Visit a small town in Florida

Hunt is now in its fourth edition of Visit a small town in Floridawhich he first produced in 1997 as “the antithesis of the Disney Guide”.

From North Florida to the Florida Keys, it focuses on cities with fewer than 15,000 residents. He enjoys finding family restaurants, historic general stores, and old hotels still in operation that offer a window into Florida history.

A good example is Evinston. Take a road trip to visit Cross Creek, about 22 miles south of Gainesville, which today is still as rural and scenic as when author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings captured it in Yearling and Cross the creek. Re-read classic books and visit the Rawlings house as she left it. Then do some antique shopping in the nearby town of Micanopy, where there are historic homes and a cemetery worth visiting.

Hunt then suggests that you circle Orange Lake across Cross Creek to find the small village of Evinston. “There’s nothing there except the Wood and Swink general store. But it’s been around since 1882, and it’s really cool and it’s still a working general store,” Hunt said.

A pelican rests on a stilt during sunset in Cedar Key, a small community on Florida's west coast known for its scenic beauty and fishing industry.
A pelican rests on a stilt during sunset in Cedar Key, a small community on Florida’s west coast known for its scenic beauty and fishing industry. [ FRED FOX | Times (1997) ]

Other Suggestions:

Apalachicola: He likes the Panhandle and suggests Apalachicola, long known as the oyster capital of Florida (though oyster harvesting in Apalachicola Bay is currently suspended until 2025). Maybe spend a few days renting a house on nearby St. George Island with its pretty beaches. . “It’s very laid back with good food and antique shopping. And they have done a very good job of retaining the historic feel of downtown Apalachicola.

City of Dade: The eastern county town of Pasco is becoming a foodie destination. Besides the famous Lunch on Limoges – Florida Cracker Kitchen, there is local staple Olga’s Bakery and Deli, as well as Green Door on 8th and Steph’s Southern Soul Restaurant. In addition to its well-known antique shops, Dade City has many gastronomic gems to explore, Hunt said.

The Apalachicola Pier is a scenic, quiet spot often overlooked by Florida visitors drawn to the state's much larger tourist spots.  The extra trip is well worth it for anyone who wants to experience Florida as it was before all the freeways, skyscrapers, and high-end development.
The Apalachicola Pier is a scenic, quiet spot often overlooked by Florida visitors drawn to the state’s much larger tourist spots. The extra trip is well worth it for anyone who wants to experience Florida as it was before all the freeways, skyscrapers, and high-end development. [ MELISSA NELSON-GABRIEL | AP (2015) ]

Cedar Key: About a two-hour drive north of Tampa Bay, there are great galleries, restaurants like Tony’s Seafood and Steamers Clam Bar, and rustic settings in which to relax and go fishing or kayaking. The historic Island Hotel has been restored to its former glory and its dining room is known for its Florida-origin seafood dishes.

Books

Visit a small town in Florida

By Bruce Hunt

Pineapple press, 283 pages, $19.95

100 things to do in Tampa Bay before you die

By Kristen Hare

Reedy Press, 142 pages, $17

Author appearances

Kristen Hare: the Tampa Bay Weather the contributor will join the radio show host Ernest Hooper about the new third edition of his travel diary 100 things to do in Tampa Bay before you die at 7 p.m. on April 22 at Tombolo Books, 2153 First Ave. S, St. Petersburg. Free; RSVP at tombolobooks.com/events.

Hare will also be in conversation with Time journalist Stephanie Hayes at 3:30 p.m. April 24 at Oxford Exchange, 420 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. Tickets are $5 at oxfordexchange.com/pages/calendar.

Correction: An earlier version of this report had an incorrect location for a photo of Devil’s Den, a natural spring in Williston.

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