The day we were there was one of those perfect Florida winter days. It was breezy, and not too hot or too cold. The water was another story. It took a minute or two for our feet to get used to it. We set up our folding chairs by the water and took a little walk to the south end where we watched boats of various kinds going in and out through the breach way. We went back to our chairs and watched the waves for a while – just basking in the beauty of it all – just listening to the calming surf and calls of the shore birds.
Written by Lucy Noe
I often visit the Camp Bayou Nature Preserve Park in Ruskin, Florida to walk the trails in hope of seeing some snakes or unusual insects, but this time I went when the fossil exhibits were open (Saturday 9-2). Florida has very few fossils from earlier than the Pleistocene, when there were giant pigs and Megalodon sharks, so the Velociraptor skull they have had to be brought in from elsewhere. Everywhere there are bits and pieces that used to be inside alligators, crocodiles, horses, llamas, and mammoths. On the floor was a mammoth tusk that probably weighs more than I do. There are original bones, mineralized bones, and resin casts. There are also many mollusks and echinoderms represented, as well as agatized coral, Florida’s official state fossil and stone. It was sad to hear that the places where most of these items came from were closed years ago and no longer looking for volunteers. It was fun, interesting, and informative.
The park has many trails, a butterfly garden, and an outdoor Seminole village exhibit. It has a miniature, outdoor, self-service library. In past visits, I have seen snakes, turtles, armadillos, and very many birds. This time, I just took a quick walk. The palmetto around rustles very loudly with the slightest movement. What I thought was a prehistoric pig crashing through the undergrowth turned out to just be a squirrel. I also saw an osprey in a tree and we stared at each other until I got bored. There is always something to see there.
It’s too far from my house to visit on a regular basis, but after I had run my errands that chili, cheese, and onion dog at Mel’s hit the right spot. They make their hot dogs on steamed poppy buns and they are awesome. The inside of the dining room is also very red. Don’t go if you don’t like red. If you don’t like hot dogs (what is wrong with you?), Mel’s also has burgers, sausages, chicken, and veggie burgers – so you should still go. The walls are lined with photographs of people in far-off places holding Mel’s bumper stickers. They even sell shirts. When you eat there, you become part of something larger because it has fans everywhere. I know some people who really like the place.
Unlike many places, it has fairly comfortable seating and the tables are mobile. This makes it easy to pull together tables for a large party or to get your sketchbook or computer keyboard at just the right distance for your arms.
The building Mel’s is located in is the only remaining structure of the old Henderson Air Field in Tampa, an army air base, and has been open since 1973.
4136 East Busch Boulevard, Tampa, Florida
Within walking distance of USF in Tampa is Mojo’s Bookstore, a great place to sit with a great book and great coffee. The store is divided in rough thirds, one devoted to records, one devoted to books, and one devoted to the café.
The last time I went, I perused the vinyl record section. They have big names like Billy Joel, Elton John, and Jethro Tull. They even have bands I’ve never heard of like Hot Tuna! I have no idea if they have any talent, but they sound delicious. Alas, I have no record player, but Mojo’s also has an entire bookshelf of CDs and DVDs.
I’m not a music person. What I really went for was the books. There are overflowing shelves of science, philosophy, science fiction, fantasy, the classics, law, psychology, how-to books, gardening, survival, and I’m pretty sure every other subject was covered, but I got stuck in science for a while (I saw something about quantum effects in biochemistry that slowed me down). I usually end up buying something. There is also a whole bookshelf devoted to used Star Trek books.
In the café section are snacks, cookies, tea, and coffee. I like the Yama iced coffee with chocolate syrup added. I also like that I can sit down there for a while to skim through the books better (assuming I can get away from the shelves).
2540 East Fowler Avenue, Tampa, Florida
I love to visit Emerson Point in Palmetto and get my dose of nature. I escape down the shoreline path, or take one of the many marked trails, or boardwalks, and around each bend I might see a new bird, spot a butterfly, or find a new flower.
Emerson Point is located on Snead Island where the Manatee River meets Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. It is a quiet retreat rich in nature and history. Early Native Americans harvested the water's bounty here and built great shell mounds. Later, Europeans settled here. Today, fishermen cast their lines near the mouth of the river, where egrets and herons also fish.
Written by Lucy Noe
Haslam’s Book Store on Central Avenue in Saint Petersburg is big. How big? Big enough to contain more than 300,000 books. Books cover nearly every inside surface from top to bottom, and for those of us that love books, being in Haslam’s is like being a kid in a candy store (or like anybody in a candy store, really). Often coming in brightly-colored covers just like candy, every book contains an entire world of fun that can last many weeks or longer (and yet has zero calories).
Haslam’s is so big that they actually have a store map. One could otherwise be lost for years between the seemingly endless shelves. It would not surprise me if there were still customers in the back that haven’t seen the sun since opening day. There might be generations of descendants of the original book browsers deep in the bowels of the place (hmmm…that sounds like an idea for a book).
Haslam’s was started in 1933 by John and Mary Haslam and is now in its third generation of the family and at its fourth location. The owners have been active in the community, conducting field trips, book fairs, and once even had a show on PBS.
One can find practically any subject covered in Haslam’s. There is an entire room devoted to history. There is a room for psychology and self-help. There are sections for computer science and for physics. There are lots of art books. There are new books and old books, including rare books perhaps not found anywhere else you are ever likely to be. There are long-forgotten science fiction and fantasy titles from the forties, fifties, and sixties. Each book opens up a new world, and Haslam’s is a world of books. Haslam’s is a hidden treasure itself filled with many smaller hidden treasures.
2025 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg, Florida
I didn’t see any moccasins, but I did see some big spiders. Moccasin Lake Park in Clearwater, Florida has a long trail running over several boardwalks and ending in a shelter surrounded by trees. Along the way it passes a beautiful little pond also surrounded by trees. The pond is full of turtles and birds and peacocks roam free on the trails.
The nature center keeps and cares for many animals and birds. I saw an owl, a bald eagle, a vulture, turtles, a frog, a tarantula, and a scorpion. The owl walked right up to me. In many ways it is like McGough Park in Largo. Most of the birds are injured or have become accustomed to humans and are no longer suited to the wild. They also have taxidermy exhibits and a butterfly garden.
2750 Park Trail Lane, Clearwater, Florida
Whether you just want to sit on the porch in the shade of the trees with a coffee while you write your next novel, meet your friends for pesto chicken wraps in the cozy indoor nook, or wander from room to room enjoying the sculptures, pottery, glasswork, woodwork, jewelry, and paintings of local artists, at The Craftsman House in Saint Petersburg, you can do all three in the same day. At least, this is what I would do if I went again. Everything is for sale, including the stone-like salt shakers and the glass spheres decorating the dining room window. Where else can you find pasta salad (an amazing work of art itself), beer, wine, apple cider (cold, hot, or hard), roast beef sandwiches (haven’t tried them yet), and squash that looks like this?
I would probably eat a lot more squash if it were always that pretty. On second thought, I’d probably break my teeth that way. Never mind. I also do not recommend eating the flowers, the lobster, or the gnomes – unless of course you have metal jaws like those guys below.
There is an open pottery studio on site and sometimes concerts. Check the website for hours, menu, and special events.
2955 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg, Florida
Just north of the giant blue pipe that runs over the canal next to 301 is Veterans Park. It is an inspiration and a tribute to the bravery and memory of those who have served in the armed forces, especially those with a connection to Hillsborough County. It makes one proud to be part of Florida, knowing how our fellow citizens look out for each other. In the small museum are framed medal of honor citations of those who left positions of safety to rescue others in the line of duty. Also in the museum are the types of guns (handheld and those much larger) used in the various wars that Floridians have been involved in. I even saw in a case the actual machete used by a citizen of Hillsborough County while in the Pacific. There were also buttons from Spanish Army uniforms during the Spanish-American war.
3602 North US 301, Tampa, Florida
LOVES TAMPA BAY