Category Archives: Road Trip

Take a Drive to One of These Seven Florida Springs Near Tampa Bay

Oranges in central Florida
Not one of the Florida springs near Tampa Bay, but the park that inspired me thinking about them. Pictured: Oranges at Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings State Historic Site.
Cathy Salustri

Why am I writing about cooling off in Florida’s springs when all you have to do is step outside right now?

Because I hate the cold and I’m daydreaming about a time when it’s warm. But also: When the air is chilly, spring water feels warm. At least in Florida. 

And make no mistake: As I write this, it’s not only chilly, it’s ridiculously cold. It warmed all the way up to 51º this morning, which is really lousy on your part, Florida. We had a deal. 

In February, I’m giving a book talk at Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park, and so planning a road trip (because, you know, it’s what I love to do). Yes, I could go out there and back in one day, but we haven’t had the camper out in far too many months (2023, as I mentioned, was horrible, and I didn’t feel much like enjoying anything for a few months).

In between looking at campsites and figuring out what we can do that’s new, I allow myself to fantasize that it might be warmer than 80º when I go. And that, of course, leads to me thinking about all the great Florida springs near where I live and also near where I’ll be in February.

It likely won’t be “jump in the springs and cool off” weather when I get to the park, but hey, I can dream, can’t I?

When I worked for Creative Loafing Tampa, I wrote this article about Florida Springs near Tampa Bay.  Forgive any typos; I’m publishing it unchanged, except for removing an eighth “spring” that was not a spring at all. I… I didn’t have the best editor at the time, and I clearly can’t edit myself worth a damn.

Cool off in these 7 Florida springs less than a day away from Tampa Bay.

If you’re anything like us, you’re probably more than ready to explore the concept of “pantsdrunk” right about now. What is it, 99º in the shade?

Look, we’re not saying we’d trade one moist second of Florida’s in-your-face August heat for donning snow pants and ski boots to shovel out the car up north, but we are saying that right now, the idea of laying out on a hot sand beach with no shade in sight isn’t top on our list of things to do this weekend. The saltwater’s great, but you have to fight about seven million people to get to it, plus that sand is damn hot on your bare feet. 

But Florida has a secret: Our springs. OK, they’re not that much of a secret, but because we don’t have a whole lot of them less than an hour away (we do have some; keep reading, and we’ll tell you), we don’t always think about them. So this weekend —or, hell, right now — pack a sammy, your towel and maybe even a snorkel and take the plunge into a Florida spring.

Here’s a few to get you started, but remember, Florida has almost 1,000 springs — that we know of, with plenty more we don’t.

They’re not all suitable for swimming, and quite a few may sit inside private land, but if these don’t wet your whistle, check out thiswaytothe.net to find your own swimming hole. Some of these springs are part of parks that allow dogs, but remember: There’s not so much as a puddle of freshwater in Florida that alligators won’t call home.

1. Three Sisters

one of Florida springs near Tampa surrounded. by cypress trees
There’s magic at Three Sisters, and it’s about two hours from Tampa Bay.
Photo by Cathy Salustri

Best for: cooling off, getting Zen and believing in magic.

How to get wet: Leave the boats at the entrance and fight the force of this mighty set of springs as you walk —likley stooped over, to fight the current —towards the springhead.

Three Sisters Springs Wildlife Refuge & Tours, 123 NW US Highway 19, Crystal River. Sunrise-sunset. threesistersspringsvisitor.org; 352-586-1170 .

2. Werner-Boyce Salt Springs

a waterway surrounded by marsh grass and trees
A spring and a paddle. Sounds ideal.
Photo courtesy of Florida State Parks

Learn why Florida isn’t flat at Werner-Boyce Salt Springs. Anyone who thinks Florida is flat has never been to Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park. Its 351-foot-deep spring proves not having mountains doesn’t mean a state is flat.

10333 Scenic Dr., Port Richey. floridastateparks.org; 727-816-1890.

3. Manatee Springs State Park

a spring surrounded by trees
Manatee Springs State Park is on the Suwannee River in Chiefland.
Photo by Cathy Salustri

Best for: camping and swimming.

How to get wet: It’s a state park. Pay your admission, park and walk right into the water.

11650 NW 115 St., Chiefland. 8 a.m.-sundown. $6/vehicle; $4/single occupant; and $2 car-less arrivals. floridastateparks.org; 352-493-6072.

4. Warm Mineral Springs

Warm things up at Warm Mineral Springs. Yes, we know. It’s face-of-the-sun hot right now and we’re telling you to go to Warm Mineral Springs? Chill out (literally), it’s only 87º, not “hot spring” hot. So, still pretty chill. Bonus: the spring discharges a whopping 9 million gallons of water per day, which means the water turns over in the spring every two hours.

Best for: swimming and picnicking.

How to get wet: You pays the entrance fee, you gets your swims.

12200 San Servando Ave., North Port. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. 20; $15, under 18; free, under 5. Aug. 11: All Sarasota residents (who pay a lower entrance fee all year) get in free. northportfl.gov 941-426-1692.

5. Wakulla Springs State Park 

A billboard with a fish about to pole vault. Text reads "Wakulla Springs – Henry the Pole-Vaulting fish"
Henry’s really talented. Well, he was. Of all the Florida Springs near Tampa, this one is the longest drive.
Cathy Salustri

Learn about pole-vaulting fish, Old Joe and the Creature From the Black Lagoon at Wakulla Springs. Henry the Pole-Vaulting Fish may have moved on to the great freshwater spring in the sky, but his legend remains at Wakulla Springs State Park. And this place is hallowed ground to some people, particularly people who love Creature From the Black Lagoon, Tarzan (both were filmed, in part, in the spring and on the river) and Old Joe, the taxidermied alligator who lives in the lodge (he was apparently the friendliest gator ever).

Best for: swimming, wondering who the hell thought an alligator was friendly.

How to get wet: Pay the park admission, then walk right in, or dive.

465 Wakulla Park Dr., Wakulla Springs. 8 a.m.-sundown. $6/vehicle; $4/single occupant; and $2 car-less arrivals. floridastateparks.org; 850-561-7276.

6. Rainbow Springs State Park

Check out this crumbling zoo and float down the Rainbow River. Rainbow Springs State Park used to have a zoo. Because why wouldn’t you put wild animals in cages when they’re surrounded by wild animals? Nature’s reclaiming the cages, so go find them before you float down the river.

Best for: Creeping yourself out at the remnants of yesteryear, and, as every kid who was part of any youth group in Florida ever knows, tubing down the river.

How to get wet: Find a local livery to rent tubes. Yes, you can bring your own, but this way you don’t need to shuffle cars —they’ll pick you up. If you want to stay in the spring, after you pay your entrance fee, you can.

19158 SW 81st Place Road, Dunellon. 8 a.m.-sundown. $2/person for the spring entrance; $5/vehicle at tubing entrance. floridastateparks.org; 352-465-8555; 352-597-8484 for tubing info.

7. Devil’s Den, Devil’s Whatever

Have a Devil of a time. Up ‘round Gainesville, you can’t take two steps without tripping over a spring or sink with the word “devil” in its name. Devil’s Den, Devil’s Sink, Devil’s Kitchen, Devil’s Open Concept Living Room… you get the idea. Devil’s Den is a below-ground-level sink that has its share of divers, but you don’t need to gas up to go down there. Snorkelers can also cool off in the sink (it’s like a spring, only geologically different, with the same result for humans), check out the ancient limestone, then have a picnic topside.

Best for: snorkeling, SCUBA, feeling subterranean. Do not go in the caves; the odds of survival are not in your favor.

How to get wet: There’s a set of stairs down to the sink, then a platform to get you in the water.
 
5390 NE 180th Ave., Williston. Mon.-Thurs., 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Fri. & Sun., 8 a.m.-5 p.m.; and Sat., 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Snorkelers, $15-$20; divers, $38. No swimmers. 352-528-3344, devilsden.com.
 

This article about Florida Springs near Tampa originally appeared in Creative Loafing Tampa sometime in 2018 or so. Please check with each venue before making the trip.

Mellowing Out: Mello on Anna Maria Island

pool at at Mello on Anna Maria Island Florida
Mello on Anna Maria Island — technically, Holmes Beach — reminds me of mid-century Miami Beach.
Cathy Salustri


While I have many wonderful qualities, relaxing for more than, say, a couple hours is not one of them.

I do, however, love to plan trips on which I could, theoretically, relax. Last month, I had a work-ish vacation for one week, but left almost an entire week open for wherever my whims took me. (I’m fortunate to have a husband with remarkably similar whims.)

That’s how I happened upon Mello on Anna Maria Island. El Cap and I, sitting in a hotel room, wondering where we would head upon checkout. I had my criteria: I wanted to stay so close to the water I could hear the sound of the sea. I wanted something close to food, and I wanted to have the comforts of the indoors. Don’t get me wrong, I still love our camping trips, but every now and then I want to sink into a soft bed and shower in a full-size shower that isn’t part of a public bath house. This was one such time.

So, using the parameters “beachfront” and “dog friendly,” we started searching.

A sleek yellow chair and a sleek white chair on artificial turf, with a green round table between them. They are backed up against a hedge of autograph trees at at Mello on Anna Maria Island Florida
Each room has its own “lawn” furniture, which is far more comfortable than it looks.
Cathy Salustri


At first, I went right past Mello.

Simply put, it looked too good to be true, especially for the price. A living room, bedroom, separate bath, kitchenette, and washer and dryer in the room? Pool on property, and the whole thing decorated in what I call “Mid-Century Florida Dream” (think sun-washed tropical colors, throwback decor, hints of Gary Monroe’s 1970s South Beach series)?

Exterior walkway at dusk at at Mello on Anna Maria Island Florida
It felt a bit like I’d stepped back in time.
Cathy Salustri


We both assumed the photographer had used some digital trickery to make the rooms look less cramped than they were, but booked the stay nevertheless. After all, it was right on the Anna Maria Island beach, the dog fee wasn’t ridiculous, and it had a pool.

pool scene with beach chairs and gold-and-white-striped umbrellas at at Mello on Anna Maria Island Florida
The pool was as inviting as the photos promised. 
Cathy Salustri


We assumed incorrectly. Look, these rooms aren’t as big as your house, most likely. But there was no photographic trickery; these rooms are decidedly lovely, and comfortable, and well-appointed. So much so that, although no one’s paying me to write this or giving me anything in exchange for doing so, I wanted to share this gem with fellow Florida-philes.

Two dogs staring at a floor-length mirror. Mirror has white lettered "stay Mello" phrase at the bottom at at Mello on Anna Maria Island Florida
The hounds perfected the art of mirror-assisted begging in no time flat.
Cathy Salustri


And as for the dogs?

They settled in almost immediately, but they’re hounds, so it doesn’t take much to entice them to flop down and have a nap.

a galley kitchen at at Mello on Anna Maria Island Florida
This is about twice the size of my first kitchen on St. Pete Beach. 
Cathy Salustri


The kitchen, too, was all we needed — and more.

It gave off some true “high-end IKEA” vibes, but it had a setup that made me long to style my kitchen as simply. Of course, Mello doesn’t have to have a kitchen that can handle Feast of the Seven Fishes, so it’s easy to streamline, but it did make for a delightful, breezy change.

While you wouldn’t call it a traditional beachfront hotel, it was actually better. Why? The fringe of Australian pines between our room and the beach. I realize there’s a lot of hate out there for Australian pines, but I’m not one of the haters (have I told you about Fred the Tree yet? The breeze through those pines sounds like pure Florida to me, and at Mello, I had that sound whenever I stepped outside.

Of course, we made it past the trees to the water every night, because there’s nothing on the planet like a sunset off the west coast of Florida.

Sunset outside the rooms, over the Gulf of Mexico, at at Mello on Anna Maria Island Florida
This photo doesn’t do the Anna Maria Island sunset justice.
Cathy Salustri


While on the beach, we noticed something else, too: The people who gathered here didn’t all look alike. They all did share one thing, though: They loved being at the beach. Kids played with each other and their families along the sand. Closer to the motel, families grilled dinner. People played catch, and some sort of kickball, and whatever else they could play with a ball. Anna Maria Island itself may have homes out of the average Floridian’s budget, but this stretch of public beach felt like a beach for everyone.

In between soaking on the pool, people-watching on the beach, and sitting in the water watching the sun go down, I forgot to think about relaxing, and I forgot to worry about the work I could be doing.

Which, actually, was kind of the point.

Florida’s Historic Hotels (Where You Can Stay the Night)

a white hotel — the Belleview Biltmore one of many of Florida's historic hotels
Take a virtual — or real! — road trip to Florida’s historic hotels..
(State Archives of Florida)


My friend and fellow historian Joey Vars and I recently gave a talk about historic hotels in Florida where people can book a room and spend the night. The talk proved popular, garnering an encore performance at OLLI at Eckerd College. That second session also filled up fairly quickly, and I promised those who attended I’d list the hotels and their booking information in a post they could reference.

Below you’ll find a list of Florida’s historic hotels still welcoming overnight visitors. The year next to each hotel denotes the year the hotel opened for business.

A black and white photo of a two-story hotel Florida historic hotels
The Florida House Inn in Fernandina is the oldest hotel in Florida still in operation.
(State Archives of Florida)


1857: Florida House Inn (Fernandina) 

How to book: floridahouse.com or 904-491-3322

1859: Cedar Inn (Cedar Key)

cedarinnmotel.com or 352-543-5455

1888: Casa Monica (St. Augustine) 

marriott.com or 904-827-1888

a 1955 of Florida's historic hotel The Breakers in Palm Beach
One of Florida’s historic hotels, the Breakers, on Palm Beach. This postcard dates to 1955.
(State Archives of Florida)


1896: Breakers (Palm Beach)

thebreakers.com or 844-285-3297

1904: Oak Park Inn (Arcadia)

oakparkinnarcadiaflorida.com or visitdesoto.com or 863-494-9500 or 863-491-8852

1907: Gibson Inn (Apalachicola)

gibsoninn.com or 850-270-2190

1911: The Plaza (Daytona)

Due to damage sustained during Hurricane Ian, the resort has closed through 2023 for renovations and repairs but expects to re-open in 2024. plazaresortandspa.com

1922: Park Plaza (Winter Park)

parkplazahotel.com or 407-647-1072

1924: Terrace Hotel (Lakeland)

hilton.com or 863-688-0800

1925: Casa Marina (Jax Beach)

casamarinahotel.com or 904-270-0025

1925: The Deland Hotel (DeLand)

thedelandhotel.com or 386-624-6710

January 1926: Seminole Inn (Indiantown)

seminoleinn.com or 772-597-3777

1926: Biltmore (Coral Gables)

biltmorehotel.com or 305-445–1926

1926: Tarpon Lodge (Pine Island)

tarponlodge.com or 239-283-3999

1927: Putnam Lodge (Cross City)

putnamlodge.com or 352-440-0414

a grand lodge with a green lawn Florida historic hotels
The Wakulla Lodge is a Florida historic hotel — the only one inside a state park.
(State Archives of Florida)


1937: Wakulla Springs Lodge (Wakulla Springs State Park)

thelodgeatwakullasprings.com or 850-421-2000

1938: Clewiston Inn (Clewiston)

cedarinnmotel.com or 863-983-8151

Florida Historic Hotels: Tampa Bay Hotels

Because we both live in the Tampa Bay area, we looked at historic hotels in that part of Florida. Tampa Bay and the Gulf beaches have a treasure trove of historic Florida hotels still open to guests.

a white hotel — the Belleview Biltmore one of many of Florida's historic hotels
While the Belleview Biltmore no longer looks quite as grand, you can still book a room here.
(State Archives of Florida)


Jan. 15, 1897: Belleview Inn (Clearwater)

opalcollection.com or 727-441-1774

1904: Peninsula (Gulfport)

Temporarily closed for renovations, but expect to open in the coming months. historicpeninsulainn.com or 727-346-9800

1915: Crystal Bay (St. Petersburg)

crystalbayhotel.com or 727-914-7676

1918: Castle Hotel (St. Pete Beach/Pass-A-Grille)

castlehotelonthegulf.com or 727-289-8767

1922: Ponce de León (St. Petersburg)

poncedeleonhotel.com or 727-550-9300

Jan. 8, 1928: Fenway (Dunedin)

fenwayhotel.com or 844-569-9879

1926: Vinoy (St. Petersburg)

marriott.com or 727-824-8015 or 888-236-2427

Jan. 1, 1926: Floridan (Tampa)

floridanpalace.com or 813-225-1700

Jan. 26, 1928: Don Cesar (St. Pete Beach/Pass-A-Grille)

doncesar.com or 727-360-1881

1926 Pennsylvania (Marriott Courtyard) (St. Petersburg)

marriott.com or 727-450-6200

This is by no means an exhaustive list of Florida’s historic hotels, so if you know of an historic hotel still operating in Florida, let me know!