Since early 2014 Westchase resident Marcy Sanford has written WOW’s Diversions and Excursions column. In it she highlights great places for residents to visit. After visiting and writing about dozens of fun and interesting Florida outings, which are her top five of all time?
Myakka River State Park
Developed as one of eight Florida state parks by the New Deal’s Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) during the Great Depression, Myakka River State Park’s 37,000 acres host activities all ages. The park, which has 38 miles of hiking trails and seven miles of paved roads for hiking and biking, is inhabited by plenty of wildlife, including hundreds of alligators. It’s located about an hour and twenty minutes away in Sarasota County and Sanford visited it in May 2016. She recommends residents take the air boat tour, where they will see some huge alligators. “It also has an amazing canopy walkway with great above-the-trees views,” she said. The Myakka Canopy Walkway is 25 feet above ground and extends 100 feet through an oak and palm tree hammock. See https://www.floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/myakka-river-state-park.
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
Located 55 minutes north of Westchase is Sanford’s second pick, Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, which she visited in March 2015. Famous for its natural springs, its mermaid shows and Buccaneer Bay, Weeki Wachee Springs Park features perfectly kitschy Florida entertainment, canoeing and water slides into the cool, clear blue spring water. “My daughter and her friend still believed in mermaids at the time so it was awesome to see their reactions to the mermaid shows,” said Sanford. “The water is beautiful and I’d like to go back to see if the water slides are still crazy tall (or if they’ve had to change them to make them safer) and to kayak or tube around the spring.” (In January the park announced the tallest slide was scheduled for demolition due to safety concerns.) See https://weekiwachee.com/.
Chihuly Collection and Morean Arts Center
July of 2014 found Sanford traveling to St. Petersburg to visit the Chihuly Collection and Morean Art Center. Chihuly Collection features the work of glass artist Dale Chihuly, brought to town by the Morean Art Center, which focuses art exhibitions and art education. The Chihuly Collection and the Art Center/Glass Studio are located about a mile apart, linked by the St. Petersburg trolley system (Walking, however, allows visitors to visit the area’s many fun stores, galleries and great restaurants.) “We just had visitors in town and they were all amazed at how artsy and cool downtown St. Pete is,” said Sanford. “I don’t think people expect that from a Florida city. We visited the Chihuly Collection and watched a glass blowing demonstration across the street at the Morean Art Center. Once you see them blow the glass, it gives you a whole new appreciation for how glass objects are made. Visit https://www.moreanartscenter.org/chihuly/.
Downtown Safety Harbor and Downtown Dunedin
Featuring great shops, wonderful restaurants and a wonderful, walkable small town vibe, Safety Harbor and Dunedin are great places that host lots of weekend activities, from farmers markets and holiday celebrations to art festivals. “We always end up taking guests to one of these two downtowns,” said Sanford. “Dunedin seems to be better for shopping,” she added, “while Safety Harbor seems to have better restaurants.” See https://www.cityofsafetyharbor.com/72/Special-Events and https://www.dunedingov.com/live-work-play.
Southeastern Guide Dogs Tour
Located in Palmetto, FL, 50 minutes south just across the Sunshine Skyway, Southeastern Guide Dogs is a non-profit organization that raises and trains service dogs for veterans, those who are sight-impaired and children with significant challenges — at no cost to those in need of assistance. The center offers many different ways to volunteer, including fostering puppies. But a visit to the center, at least pre-pandemic, also allowed for some puppy loving, causing Sanford to fall in love. “It does not look like they are having the puppy cuddling sessions right now,” she cautioned, “but when we went you could sign up to go sit in a puppy playroom, and when they opened the gates, all these adorable puppies would come running out to play.” Sanford added, “Even if you just go take the tour, it is an amazing place to learn about. And what the dogs can do at the end of their training is extraordinary. See https://www.guidedogs.org/.
What are you waiting for? With our Diversions and Excursions writer’s top five Tampa Bay spots, you can’t go wrong! Grab the kids, jump in the car and get out there!
By Chris Barrett, Publisher