Published Online: Sept/Oct 2003

Before You Go
Frenchy’s Salt Water Café: 727/461-6295.
Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish: 727/381-7931.
Dunedin Brewery: 727/736-0606.
Florida Orange Groves & Winery: 800/338-7923;
Tampa Bay Devil Rays: 727/825-3137;
Fort De Soto Park: 727/582-2267.
Caladesi Island State Park: 727/469-5918.
Caladesi Island ferry: 727/734-5263.
Honeymoon Island State Park: 727/469-5942.
Mykonos: 727/934-5316.
Regional tourism: 877/352-3224;

Travel Assistance
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Going Off-Beach on the Pinellas Peninsula
With food, drink, baseball, bike paths and backwoods, who needs the ocean?

By Chris King

For the sake of your skin, if for no other reason, you can’s stay at the beach for an entire vacation. Visitors to Florida’s Pinellas Peninsula may be tempted, since the peninsula has the party beach of Clearwater and magnificent nature beaches at Caladesi Island and Fort De Soto Park, among many other good options for surf and sand. But at some point, the sun will go down, the sky will cloud, the skin may even blister, and it will be time to do something else. Here are some ideas:

You can do your own tasting tour of local conch (rhymes with “honk”) chowder. This won’t require much effort, since every local seafood restaurant will try its hand at the dish (not to mention a fried flounder sandwich). If you stay on Clearwater Beach, make sure you stop at Frenchy’s Salt Water Cafe, the tastiest among three Frenchy’s that form a little local franchise (it’s not the one directly on the beach).

You practically can’t enter a place to eat in the area without encountering flounder, conch and quality seafood in general, but one place to seek out is Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish. These folks smoke 110,000 pounds of fish a year. One of the very few items on the menu is “extra plate”—you may need one to share a smoked fish dinner, a whale’s portion of smoked mahi mahi, mackerel or local (and boney) mullet with yummy sides of slaw and German potato salad. Eat at Petes!

If you have a designated driver (or are willing to pay for an inexpensive local cab) you can do some other sorts of tastings in the area. The cute little boutique town of Dunedin, just a few miles north of Clearwater, is home to the Dunedin Brewery, purveyor of delicious homemade beer and host to good live music (in a smoke-free atmosphere). It is more of a local hang than a tourist spot, and so affords a visitor the opportunity of enjoying the area the way the people who live there do.

For a more sterile environment with an even more distinctive line of beverages, hit the tasting room at Florida Orange Groves & Winery in St. Petersburg. That phrase should make you pause. Florida orange groves, yes; but winery? Yes! They ferment citrus fruits (as you would expect) but also blueberries and even hot peppers. Grapefruit wine? Hot pepper wine? All I can say is, taste for yourself. I bet you’ll buy more than one variety, thinking you have a novelty item—and then go home and open it and realize you have a delicious and legitimate spiritous drink.

You can see The Tampa Bay Devil Rays in nearby St. Petersburg. Go when the Yankees are in town for a rare experience—a professional sporting event in which two teams that are not hubbed in the same town divide crowd loyalties right down the middle. With the Yankees training in Tampa and so many transplanted New Yorkers having snow-birded to this part of Florida, a Yankees game in St. Pete feels agreeably like a high school game, with equal numbers of people rooting for both teams and perhaps everyone secretly hoping that all of the “kids” do well. (For the 2003 season, the Yankees play in St. Pete April 4-6, June 23-26 and Sept. 19-21.)

You can also do more than swim and bake at some of the best local beaches. Fort De Soto and Caladesi Island State Park have some back-country for hiking and exploring, and Honeymoon Island (which has the ferry launch to Caladesi) has a nice nature trail. For those who prefer bike trails, the Pinellas Trail is the local manifestation of the national rails-to-trails phenomenon, in which old railroad beds are transformed into recreation paths. It is home to just about every variety of non-motorized transportation and runs all the way from St. Pete to Tarpon Springs.

Tarpon Springs, the former sponge capital of the world, was a veritable Greek village in the days that Greek divers harvested the offshore sponges. Today, Tarpon is lined with Greek restaurants and curio shops, giving it the unusual vibe of a Disney World village that really exists—a fragment of Greece that washed up in Florida. It’s a wonderful day trip. A local directed me to Mykonos as the best Greek restaurant, as difficult a crown to wear as best Greek restaurant in Astoria. I like the homemade fare so well that I ate there twice during a brief local stay. It was one of many reasons I was tempted to stay on the Pinellas Peninsula much longer than a vacation—just forward my mail from New York!

Chris King is travel editor for AAA's New York Car & Travel magazine

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