Tag Archives: Tampa Bay

Jimmy Buffett, My Dad, and Florida Road Trips

A man in glasses and a woman in glasses. They are father and daughter, down by the water, like in the Jimmy Buffett song

Jimmy Buffett died last night.

This isn’t a post about that, not really.

While I’ll miss hearing new music from him, I don’t mourn him. I didn’t know him; I have no illusions that I had a clue about the man behind the legend. Few similarities exist between the Gulf and Western icon father and my own dad, but I feel a heartbreaking kinship of mourning with his daughters.

A few weeks ago, my dad died unexpectedly.

I have a lot of wonderful memories of my father. His death was so unexpected, and still so raw, that those memories still assault me at odd times. Grief is like, my friend Tamara says, a ball banging around inside a box. Sometimes it slams into the side of the box, and other times, it doesn’t, and you never know what it’s going to be.

In Backroads of Paradise, I wrote about my earliest experience with Florida’s salt water, with my dad, as we made our way to what would be our forever home in Clearwater:

“Look at that, Cath,” my dad said, his voice reverent. “Look at how clear it is, not like Staten Island at all.” My father still made the sign of the cross on himself when we passed Catholic churches, but not until this moment had I heard such hushed worship in his voice.

I nodded and peered out the window, feeling something new and familiar inside my chest as I gazed at the sandy landscape offering itself to me. I recognized this, much later, as the sense of coming to where I needed to be.

I figure today y’all will see a lot of “Margaritaville” tributes to Jimmy Buffett on social media, but I never had much use for that song. I’ve always been a bigger fan of his B-sides (so much so I wrote this review about his concert a few years ago.)

One song in particular, “Delaney Talks to Statues” has a special place in my heart. Since the day I first heard it, made me think of every wonderful thing about my dad.

Father, daughter/Down by the water

We moved to Florida when I was 7. I loved going to the beach with my dad. Some weekend mornings, we’d get up early and go to Clearwater Beach. Early mornings at the beach — before the crowds — is when you might find shells. I still have some of those shells we collected down by the water so many years ago.

Shells sink, dreams float

There’s a lot more to say about my dad — a lot that doesn’t have anything at all to do with Jimmy Buffett — but one giant takeaway is that he instilled in me a love of road trips.

Shortly after we moved to Florida, my dad had surgery, and he couldn’t work for a few months. Once he recovered enough to drive, though, we’d go on long drives and talk.

This continued for years. As an angsty teen, I’d go for drives with him, and he’d let me talk. He always treated me like an adult in those conversations, those wonderful, rambling conversations that unfolded and went in different directions, much as the roadways we traveled. We never set out with a destination; we simply drove and talked, talked and drove. I saw a lot of Florida’s central west coast on those drives with my father. I remember a lot of trees on those drives, and a lot of love.

Life’s good on our boat

While I won’t paint everything as sunshine and roses in our home growing up — I hate how people deify the dead — I will say that yes, overall, life was good on our (metaphorical) boat. I had two parents who loved each other, loved me, and made sure I knew it. We didn’t have lots of money for big cross-country or international vacations, but we took road trips. My mom and dad both embraced Florida life, never once looking backwards to what they’d left behind in New York. I credit them both with a lot: Instilling in me a love for Florida, for facing life head-on, even when it hurts to do so, and for all the good parts of me.

The Captain and The Kid

My dad and I had a wonderful relationship. Oh, sure, we fought. More than once he left my home in a fit of anger, but he always came back, and there was always a hug and “I love you” after the fight. There’s not a day I’ve been alive when I ever doubted my father’s love.

And in my memories, my love for Florida is tangled up with my parents and their love for it. My passion for road trips is forever linked to those drives I’d take with my dad.

The last drive we took was in 2019, shortly after I’d left full-time work at a local alt weekly. We drove south over the Skyway, out to Anna Maria (another beach we’d visited as a family when I was younger). We drove as far south as we could along the barrier islands, then turned around and headed north along US 41.

That would be our last road trip together.

My dad and I talked about when we could go again, but then… the pandemic came. After that, my dad had some health issues that made longer road trips unpleasant for him. Finally, a few weeks ago, when he was the healthiest he’d been in decades and at the cusp of being able to take a longer drive with me once more, a freak set of circumstances meant we’d never take a road trip together again.

And so this morning when my husband read me the news of Jimmy Buffett’s death, my first thought was of my father — and then of Buffett’s daughters. Because I didn’t know the man, but I knew a man a lot like the man who sang about his daughters.

And so I close with this thought from another Jimmy Buffett song I love; one that also evokes images of my dad, and also my grandfathers: And though I cried, I was so proud/To love a man so rare.

These streets are made for walkin’

A guide to the area’s guided (and self-guided) tours.

People say Florida doesn’t have seasons. That’s simply not true; our seasons may not look like leaves changing color in fall or cheery yellow daffodils announcing spring, but we have seasons. Every fall, shortly after Labor Day, citrus starts to come back into season, temperatures edge back from the high 90s and walking tours resume.

On either side of the bay, such tours abound, and locals and tourists alike fill up the tour spots as quickly as groups make them available. The Tampa Bay History Center is the latest entity to step up; starting next month, the museum will offer walking tours of Ybor City.

“Tampa’s maturing as a tourist destination, and Ybor City and Tampa’s historic neighborhoods are getting a lot more attention than they used to,” says Manny Leto, director of marketing for the History Center. “I think people are curious about Tampa’s history now in a way they haven’t been. As people start to move into the historic neighborhoods, I think that they are then curious about their community’s history.”

Emily Elwyn, president of St. Petersburg Preservation, worked as a tour guide in Atlanta before moving to St. Pete. She started giving tours of her adopted home town about eight years ago.

“St. Petersburg has become a destination,” says Elwyn. “People appreciate a city up close, and you can really experience it up close when you’re walking through it. When tourists come, they want to talk to someone who lives in the city. It connects people with the place they’re visiting.”

SPP runs a different tour each week and recently partnered with the Gulfport Historical Society to add a tour there. The tours often sell out, which prompted the St. Pete group to raise its prices for non-members from $5 to $10. Tampa Bay History Center will charge $20 for its tours; they, too, have sold out previous tours, often within hours of making them available on their Facebook page.

“There’s a demand for it,” Leto says. “People know we have a reputation for quality and accuracy. Adding walking tours to that makes a lot of sense.”

Walking tours offer tourists and locals an alternative — or an add-on — to drinks and dinner.

“You want the bars, you want the nightlife, but that shouldn’t overshadow the history and the architecture,” Leto says. “That’s why people want to be there.”


Downtown St. Petersburg Tour Tour historic downtown St. Pete and learn about the Fountain of Youth (yes, every Florida city has one), the history of the Vinoy and the story behind the most ornate bathrooms in town. Tourgoers also learn about St. Pete’s architectural achievements, like the Snell Arcade and the open-air post office. First Saturday of every month; meet at the entrance to the Saturday Morning Market, 1st St. S. and 1st Ave. S. October 1, 10 a.m. $10; free for members. stpetepreservation.org.

Roser Park Self-Guided Tour This stroll through St. Petersburg’s first historic district takes you along Booker Creek from 4th St. S. to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. St. S. and up Roser Park’s hilly brick streets. The tour, organized by longtime resident Ron Motyka and referred to as the Outdoor History Museum, comprises 28 plaques, covering everything from architecture to the Tocobaga Indians to Charles Roser, who developed the neighborhood in the early 1900s and (legend has it) had a hand in the invention of the fig newton. Find a map at historicroserpark.org/outdoor-museum.

St. Petersburg Waterfront Tour Home to one of the longest waterfront park systems in the United States, St. Pete has a waterfront that’s the envy of many other cities. Learn how city planners created this unique urban amenity on a tour that pokes through the past and also discusses how the city tries to get new buildings to embrace good design. Second Saturday of the month; meet at the entrance to the Saturday Morning Market, 1st St. S. and 1st Ave. S. October 8, 10 a.m. $10; free for members. stpetepreservation.org.

Self-Guided tours St. Petersburg Preservation will also release a self-guided tour pamphlet in print and digital formats. Join them for their launch party Oct. 5 at 5 p.m. at the St. Petersburg Museum of History, 335 2nd Ave.

Mural tour St. Petersburg
Photo by Cathy Salustri

Walking Mural Tour A tour of almost 40 murals in St. Pete’s Central Arts District, including some created for the 2015 and 2016 SHINE mural festivals. Guides include artists who painted the murals, providing tourgoers with intimate insight into the process of design and execution. Every Saturday morning. Meet at Florida Craft Art, 501 Central Ave., St. Pete. 10 a.m. $19. 727-821-7391. floridacraftart.org.

Westward Ho to Historic Kenwood Tour Bungalows everywhere! This tour highlights some of Kenwood’s most fascinating homes. Tourgoers get to go inside a restored bungalow and, after the tour, linger on the front deck of the Craftsman House, the neighborhood’s original model home, built in the “airplane bungalow” style (so named because the small, multi-windowed second floor kinda resembles a cockpit). Fourth Saturday of every month; meet at the Craftsman House Gallery, 2955 Central Ave, St. Pete. October 22, 10 a.m. $10; free for members. stpetepreservation.org.


Downtown Dunedin Walking Tour Discover Dunedin’s early history and learn about its historic structures, including a home from the 1870s, the oldest structure in Dunedin, the first theater, the first icehouse and the first newspaper. The tour guide also tells stories that reveal the history of the town. Advance reservations requested. Meets at the Dunedin Museum, 349 Main St. October through May on the third Friday of the month, 10 a.m. $15. 727-736-1176. dunedinmuseum.org.

Dunedin Victorian Sunset Stroll Join a tour guide costumed in Victorian-era clothing for an in-depth look at the history of Dunedin’s Victoria Drive and its early 1880s homes. Tourgoers will learn about the families who lived there as well as the history of the homes themselves. On Second Fridays, the guides are costumed in Victorian period clothing. Advance reservations requested. Meets at the corner of Victoria Dr. and Main St. by the Dunedin marina and the Best Western October-May on the second Friday of the month, 5:30 p.m. $15. 727-736-1176. dunedinmuseum.org.


Historic Gulfport Tour Walk through the historic downtown neighborhood and learn about square mullet, the WPA’s impact on the town and its one-time topless bar. Tourgoers will also see a freshwater spring, learn the story of the horse that wandered through downtown a few years ago and why the casino, now on land, used to sit over water. September 29, 6:30 p.m.; thereafter, third Saturday of the month at 3 p.m. Tour starts at Gulfport History Museum, 5301 28th Ave. S.; ends at Pia’s Trattoria, 3054 Beach Blvd. S., a few blocks from the museum. $10; free for members of Gulfport Historical Society. stpetepreservation.org.


Safety Harbor Ghost Tour A two-hour tour of Safety Harbor’s most haunted spots, including the Safety Harbor Spa (we’re not sure whether its ghosts wear sheets or towels). This tour requires advance reservations; the Oct. 29 tour will take tourgoers inside a haunted house. Meets at John Wilson Park, corner of 4th Ave. N and Main St. Thurs.-Sat., 7:30 p.m. $20. 727-687-8785. safetyharbortours.com.

Safety Harbor History Tour This tour goes past the oldest oak tree in Pinellas County, called the Baranoff Tree, the site of the old Safety Harbor Herald building, and ends at the Spa. Advance reservations required. Tour meets at John Wilson Park, corner of 4th Ave. N and Main St. Wed.-Sat., 10 a.m. $15. 727-687-8785. safetyharbortours.com.


Historic Central Avenue District Walking Tour Located slightly north of downtown Tampa, this walking tour takes tourgoers through six blocks of Tampa’s African-American culture, from the historic St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church building to Booker T. Washington Elementary School. Stops include Oaklawn Cemetery (the first person buried there in 1850 was an enslaved African), Perry Harvey St. Park (the historic Central Avenue site), Encore housing development (including Ray Charles Boulevard) and the Robert W. Saunders African American Research Public Library and Cultural Arts Center (named for the former Florida NAACP executive secretary). By reservation only for groups of 10 or more. $15. 813-545-3183. fhearns@netzero.net.


public domain

Discover Ybor Historic Tour This free tour, downloaded to your phone, has three routes from which you can choose: short, medium or long. It also has a scavenger hunt feature, and many of the stops also have audio content. Created by the Ybor City Museum Society. Starts at the Ybor City Museum State Park (the old Ferlita Bakery Building), 1818 E. 9th Ave. Download at savvycard.com/ybor.

Mafia Tour Presented by Cigar City Magazine Scott Deitche (author of The Silent Don and Cigar City Mafia: The Criminal Underworld of Santo Trafficante Jr.) partners with Cigar City Magazine to give tourgoers the colorful underworld history of Ybor City. The tour visits old gambling places and shows where many mobsters met a mobster-riffic ending on city alleys and corners. Tour price includes t-shirt. Meets at King Corona, 1523 E. 7th Ave., Ybor City. Sept. 10 and Oct. 1 (tours run monthly through May; check website for future day), 5:30 p.m. $30. cigarcitymagazine.com.

Walk Tampa: The Ybor City Story Learn about Ybor City’s beginnings and what life looked like at the turn of the 20th century. As Tampa’s sole National Historic Landmark District, Ybor represents the spirit of immigration in America better than any other district in the area, and tourgoers will visit mutual aid societies to learn more. The tour also gives people insight into the people, social life and work culture of early Ybor. Meets at the Cuban Club, 2010 N. Avenida Republica De Cuba. Second Saturday of the month, 10:30 a.m. $20. 813-228-0097. tampabayhistorycenter.org.

Ybor City Ghost Tour Is King Corona haunted? Do the lovers trapped in the Orpheum Theatre’s basement still haunt the theater? What about the child who drowned in the Cuban Club pool? Did he ever find his way home? This tour tells these stories — and others. Reservations strongly suggested. Meets at King Corona, 1523 E. 7th Ave., Ybor City. Nightly, 7:30 p.m. $25. 813-386-3905 yborghosttour.com.

Ybor City Walking Tour Visit Cuban-owned land, learn how Ybor played a central role in freeing Cuba from Spain and discover Ybor’s immigration history. Ybor’s patchwork cultures come together in this tour of the city. Reservations required. Meets at Vicente Martinez-Ybor statue at Centro Ybor on 7th Ave. Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.; Sun., 12 p.m. $20. 813-505-6779. yborwalking tours.com.

This article initially appeared at cltampa.com.

Detours & Diversions – The Other Side of Tampa Bay: Paradise in the Sand

“Anna Maria Key, lying to the south of Tampa Bay and separated from the mainland by Sarasota Pass, one of the many sand and shell islands bordering the west coast. It rises but a few feet above sea level and is covered with mangrove swamps, palm savannahs, salt flats, cacti thickets, and buttonwood trees. Anna Maria, a resort at the northern extremity of Anna Maria Key, consists of many cottages in a jungle setting.” –The WPA Guide to the Southernmost State, 1939

WHAT: Much has changed on Anna Maria Island since 1937. The palm savannahs surrendered to beach cottages, and while the island itself rises but a few feet above the warm, turquoise Gulf, bungalows at Anna Maria’s edge prop themselves like mangroves, resting just out of reach of salt and waves.

The spirit of the island remains untouched. Sand and shells abound, and the entire low-lying tropical jungle has bursts of blazing pink bougainvillea  cascading over fences and dazzling orange birds of paradise standing guard along walkways. While the other side of Tampa Bay boasts the most densely populated county in the state, the pink Don CeSar in the distance fades against the tropical landscape of colors and the ever-permeating salt air.


WHY: You can draw the silhouette of much of Florida’s coast with condominium-and hotel-colored crayons. Not so here; everything on this seven-mile strip of paradise –even her stilt homes –is short. The island draws tourists without needing tall hotels and convention centers; visitors can make their way around the island’s shell-lined streets and paths using foot or pedal power. The island has no chain restaurants, and while you can get milk at a local market, you’ll need to head to the next town over for a supermarket.


WHO: It’s a small town of locals and visitors, fishermen and sunbathers. Anna Maria is one of six incorporated cities in Manatee county, a county with a third of the people of its neighbor to the north, Pinellas.


WHERE: If you look across Tampa Bay from Pass-a-Grille or Fort DeSoto, you can see Anna Maria in the distance. By boat it’s a short hop around Egmont to Anna Maria; by car, it’s just under an hour to cover the same distance. Anna Maria is at the northernmost tip of Manatee’s nothernmost barrier island.


BEST part: Anna Maria Island evokes memories of the Florida in your heart, the sandy paradise that draws people here year after year. It’s old Florida with air conditioning, bleached shell paths that crunch under your feet, and coral sunsets dotted with crimson blossoms. It’s fishing piers and walks on the beach; it’s beer at sunset and fish for dinner. Every part is the best part.
WORST part: With beaches everywhere, it’s a shame the city doesn’t allow dogs on at least one of them. There are a few places along the bay where you can get away with letting your pooch run off leash, but they’re not designated as dog beaches and you run the risk of being told to take your furry friend off the sand. Locals say there’s talk of a dog beach.


MAGIC Question: Free. Lodging and food run the gamut. Expect to pay a premium for waterside accommodations, although you can get a room for under $100 a night. Weekly stays cost less per night.
This initially appeared in the Gabber Newspaper in January, 2012.