Travel Destination: Dunedin, Florida
Dunedin is a small town on Florida’s West coast, located just West of Tampa and just North of Clearwater. It is a remarkable town with a vibrant feel, mostly due to the large number of residents and visitors who avail themselves of the balmy, clear weather that seems to favor this town nearly year-round.
One of the town’s unofficial mottos is “Come for a visit and you may stay a lifetime.” Judging by the number of residents who say they fell in love with the town on a visit and moved here, there must be a great truth in that statement. One can certainly understand why after spending a weekend here.
Dunedin’s most recent claim to fame is Caladesi Island, which was named America’s Best Beach in 2008. Caladesi Island is a state park that is only accessible by ferry, private boat or an hour long walk from Clearwater Beach. Most visitors choose the ferry, but don’t discount the walk, especially if you don’t mind walking. It’s a beautiful and relaxing stroll along white sandy beach with an abundance of shells for collecting and brightly-colored homes set back from the water. At one time there was a channel between Clearwater Beach and Caladesi Island, making the latter a true island, but that has since closed up and filled in, leaving only a sign as any indication that one has crossed from Clearwater Beach onto Caladesi Island. Along the beach walk and on Caladesi Island, a number of shells can be collected, including sand dollars. Shore birds roam the edge of the surf and are generally uninterested in the people walking by. Sand dunes and sea oats grace the beach further back from the water. Caladesi Island is a nature preserve as well as state park. It offers visitors a concession area, picnic tables, restrooms, a marina and kayak/canoe rentals. The island is an excellent place to rent a kayak to explore the many mangrove trails, walk a nature trail and catch up on birdwatching, or simply relax on the beach.
Nearby, across Hurricane Pass, Honeymoon Island is another state park and the place from which Caladesi ferry departs. Honeymoon Island is also a state park, and is accessible by car, walking, biking or private boat. It is also a nature preserve and offers a nature trail and nature center. Once a part of Caladesi Island, it became its own island when the 1921 hurricane split what was then called Hog Island into two. In 1939, Honeymoon Island received it’s named when several cottages were built and raffled to newlyweds for their honeymoons. This state park offers visitors a four-mile walk to the North end of the island with an abundance of beach-combing possibilities, as well as a family beach and a dog beach. It has recently opened a café and has several restrooms. The main beach is popular with families during the summer and warmer winter days. It has a tidal pool at low tide that often has many kinds of small wildlife – snails, crabs, minnows and even stingrays – giving parents a wonderful interactive lesson to share with children as well as a shallow and safe place for small children to play. Couples also love this beach, particularly at sunset. The North beach is popular with fishermen and walkers.
The Dunedin Causeway leads out to Honeymoon Island. It is 2.5 miles of sidewalk and waterfront. The sidewalk is utilized daily by walkers, cyclists, dogwalkers, families, joggers and skaters. With unparalleled views of Caladesi Island and beautiful sunsets, the Causeway is a very popular place with locals. Two bridges and waterfront on both sides of the Causeway offer fishermen good places to try their luck, and dog-friendly beaches bring out the dog lovers year-round. Halfway down the Causeway, there are watercraft rentals – hobie cats, kayaks, canoes and windsurfers.
Besides the nearby Gulf of Mexico, fabulous water activities and pristine beaches and parks, Dunedin is an arts-driven town. The Main Street downtown area carries through it a small-town feel and friendliness that drives locals and visitors to its heart. With five blocks full of specialty shops and restaurants, Main Street has a little something for everyone. For excellent seafood, Sea Sea Riders is unparalleled and offers waterviews across the marina. Al Fresco’s is another excellent place to eat, offering American cuisine with an enticing twist, such as Cajun Meatloaf, Mussels Marinara, and Orange Chicken Stir-Fry. At the beginning of Main Street, by the water and adjacent to the municipal marina, the Marina Café and Bon Appetit restaurants are a prime choice for sunset cocktails and a relaxing waterside dinner afterwards. The shops along Main Street range from jewelers and dog groomers to those specializing in Celtic or beach-inspired items. The Historical Museum is located along Main Street as well in an old railroad depot, and Pioneer Park is situated just a block from the Museum. During spring, a green market is held here weekly and throughout the year all of Main Street is closed from time to time for art festivals and craft fairs.
Another outdoor treasure of Dunedin, and all of Pinellas County, is the Pinellas Trail. The Trail was once a railroad track but upon its closing, it was paved and is now a 40-mile long biking, skating and walking trail. Mostly shaded and providing access to the westernmost towns in Pinellas – Dunedin, Palm Harbor, Tarpon Springs, Clearwater and down to St. Pete – the Trail is widely used by locals and visitors. In fact, many residents in Dunedin opt to leave their cars at home and walk or ride their bikes downtown, to the library, to the Causeway and any other place or park that is easily accessed via the Trail. With such an easy means of transportation and everything within walking or biking distance, it’s no wonder the town is so vibrant.
Besides these unique aspects of Dunedin, golf is a large draw as it is in most parts of Florida. The Dunedin Golf Club and St. Andrews Links welcome the public to their courses, and other golf courses are within a 10-minute drive, such as the Chi Chi Rodriguez course in Clearwater.
History abounds in Dunedin as well. As the oldest town on Florida’s West coast South of Cedar Key, there is a rich history here worth exploring. This sleepy town was once a thriving port, and even the home to Florida’s largest fleet of sailing vessels. In 1926 the first radio transmission in Pinellas County came not from St. Pete or Clearwater, but from the Fenway Hotel in Dunedin, which is currently undergoing renovations to restore it to its former splendor. Victoria Street down by the water remains mostly unpaved and takes a visitor back in time with Victorian mansions along its 3 blocks. Take a bike or simply walk down Victoria from Main Street. Other historic homes and buildings can be found throughout the town.
Dunedin is a splendid town with much to offer the most discriminating visitor. From history to golf, festivals to beaches, specialty shops, excellent restaurants, and cozy B-&-Bs, a trip to Dunedin may have you staying for a lifetime.
© 2010 Cristina Vanthul