On the western edge of Tampa facing Oldsmar is a gem of a park named Upper Tampa Bay Park. Packed into this quiet peninsula on the northern part of the bay is a nature center, three trails, a good playground, water fountains, plenty of parking, and most importantly plenty of restrooms. There are many covered picnic tables and pavilions. You can also rent canoes there.
For those who get up early enough, a free educational tour of the port is available on the Bay Spirit Two (which also does paid dolphin tours). Leaving from the back of the Florida Aquarium next to the American Victory Ship, I got see well-known buildings from the opposite side. I learned the history of how the channels were deepened from twelve feet to thirty feet to accommodate larger ships and how the excess sand was used to create islands such as Davis Island, Harbour Island, and several small “spoil islands” reserved for birds and other non-humans only.
Tampa imports and exports material from all over the world. I saw giant gantry cranes for moving shipping containers on and off ships. It’s hard to appreciate the size of these until you drive under them. Elsewhere, liquid cargo such as fruit juice is pumped through pipes. Giant silos store grain, phosphorous, sulfur, solar salts, and other materials. There are several dry docks that work by being filled with water until they sink, allowing a ship to slip into them, and then are raised by pumping the water out of them allowing them to float again. This allows workers to clean and repair ships without having to use scuba gear, which I gather is quite an inconvenience. I also imagine that welding might be a problem. There are also docks set aside for several shrimping boats and for the sheriff’s department.
The tour is a treasure to many. It makes for a good field trip and is a good way to kill some time waiting for the aquarium to open.
Make reservations by calling 813-905-7678
Other Tours on Bay Spirit II
Once upon a time, Honeymoon Island was known as Hog Island and was owned by a pig farmer. Then a hurricane flooded the land and cut the channel known as Hurricane Pass. The former southern half of the island was renamed Caladesi and the former northern half was developed as a getaway for newlyweds. Honeymoon Island was born. It later became a state park. It is accessed by causeway.
The north of Honeymoon Island is split, forming Pelican Cove between the east and west arms. I first explored the eastern arm, which faces the mainland. I saw several nests in the trees. Ospreys and vultures were all over the place. There were even bald eagles. From October until May that section of the trail is closed so as not to disturb them. I also saw a moth sitting in a bush. It had an iridescent, hairy back that reminded me of a hummingbird.
Returning to the playground parking lot to eat, I saw a tortoise. So did the playground kids. They got enormous pleasure from watching it eat the grass, and I watched them watch it. When I finished, I headed for the west side of the island and walked north along the beach.
I could not find a high tide line and judging by the shells and seaweed strewn everywhere, I suspect that the entire western arm is submerged on a daily basis. The sand was moist and large gulleys led into Pelican cove from among the mangroves. I planned on hiking to the northern tip and back, but I found much to distract me and eventually ran out of sunlight. There was a path part of the way between two groves of trees and numerous doorways cut into them leading to some stunningly beautiful places...
The Dog House is the place in Ruskin for everything barbeque. Seating is outdoors at covered picnic tables surrounded by tiki statues. Everything is smoked on the premises and their pork always has the perfect ratio of smoke to meat. You can really taste the smoke. They certainly have the instinct to understand what makes good pork. The sandwiches are the best. The pulled pork sandwiches and boneless rib sandwiches are local favorites. I like the southwest burger, which comes with onions, bacon, barbeque sauce, and southwest seasoning worked into the meat. It was amazing. They also have a variety of beef hot dogs, other burgers, chili, macaroni and cheese, tacos, seafood, and ice cream. Why would you ever go anywhere else? After eating all that, how would you go anywhere else? It’s easy to get full there.
106 N US-41, Ruskin, Florida
On the back side of Sun City Center plaza, lies Nearly New. This is where one can find inexpensive clothes of every variety packed inside. Around every corner is a great deal on something you didn’t even know you needed. There are several rooms containing goods such as clothing, bedding, shoes, books, decorative figurines, jewelry, appliances, and clocks. Outdoors on nice days along the back side of the building there can be found furniture and sometimes other items such as golf clubs or walkers. There are blouses and jeans for three dollars and chairs for twenty-five dollars.
Nearly New keeps its prices so low by using volunteer staff and all merchandise is donated. They provide value to the community in multiple ways. They provide low-price goods that help struggling families afford things they need. They provide a place to get rid of excess items for those that don’t need them. They also provide a friendly place to volunteer. Finally, the money raised funds the Interfaith Council of Sun City Center, an alliance of nine local houses of worship that grants money to various charitable causes in Hillsborough County (almost half in the form of scholarships).
Nearly New is open every Saturday from eight until noon. During the winter months, it is also open Wednesdays during the same hours. Donations can be dropped off any weekday between eight and three.
1515 Sun City Center Plaza, Sun City Center, Florida
Located at the intersection of North Tampa Street and East Kennedy Boulevard, Solstice is a twenty-eight foot metal sculpture created by Charles Perry. I always think it looks like it is about to unravel or roll away. I can definitely picture some mad scientist harnessing lightning with it to open a rift to a dimension full of goblins or something. Could this have been Perry’s plan all along? Placing it in a place like Tampa known for its frequent thunderstorms? I can almost see the goblins now climbing up the sides of the surrounding skyscrapers, cackling and stealing babies. I really should pay more attention to traffic.
I like the flow and the symmetry of the piece. It is rumored to be named Solstice because it casts a perfectly circular shadow on the solstice. That seems harmless enough.
See list of public art in Tampa
When I have business in the area, I like to walk through the William F. Poe plaza to look at the plants, fountain, and architecture. There are many semi-secluded nooks at different levels connected by stairs. I don’t usually stop, but others do, sitting on benches or at tables outside the café. There is also a covered footbridge overhead connecting the bank and the leasing company. This area is mostly in shade and surrounded by trees. It always makes a nice place to spend one’s lunch break.
What I did not know until recently is how much Tampa history is connected to the place. It was the starting point of the 1909 auto race from Tampa to Jacksonville. Later in 1980, a forgotten Seminole-War-era cemetery was discovered during construction of an adjacent building. Finally, the plaza was built and named after the former mayor Bill Poe.
The plaza is located between East Jackson Street and East Whiting Street and between North Tampa Street and South Florida Avenue.
Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa is a popular route for joggers, bicyclists, and those who just want to stroll by the sea. It also serves as daily driving commute for many. Fortunately for everyone the Boulevard’s median is magically sprinkled with strange and wonderful works of art. One of these is called The Wave – a metal sculpture roughly ten feet tall created by Mary Ann Unger (1945-1998). It is supposed to represent a crashing wave, but people see different things in it. I like to think of it as a gelatinous sea creature sucking water through its body and filtering out plankton. When I see it, which isn’t often, it feels like an old friend.
Art of all kinds is important because otherwise what is the point of life? Do we work in order to pay the bills so we can continue to work? Or do we work to pay the bills in order to have time to play? Our art and our artists are local treasures.
List of public art in Tampa
Simmons Park has some great views across Tampa Bay. There are tables and shelters throughout offering places to sit in the breeze and watch the boats go by. There are numerous coves and mangroves as well. Along the edge there are breaks in the trees to get down next to the water and look for fiddler crabs, horseshoe crabs, or fish. Beware of sharp oysters! Every time I go exploring, I see something interesting. There are osprey nests there. I even saw raccoons once. Another time I was able to get close to some pelicans. Another time I saw dolphins! Of course, sometimes I don’t go exploring because it is also a great place to pull my folding chair out of the trunk onto the grass and read (or write) a book.
Simmons Park has a boat ramp, RV parking, two campgrounds, two playgrounds, and a small beach. Shelters can be reserved for large parties. Many people go there to fish or catch snails. It seems there is something there for everybody.
2401 19th Ave NW, Ruskin, Florida
One of Tampa’s local treasures is also a national treasure that connects us to the past. When the Navy cargo ship American Victory was sitting in Virginia destined for the scrapyard, Captain John C. Timmel arranged for its rescue to live on as a floating museum. One of only three WWII-era Victory-model ships still fully operational, it is open most days of the week for self-guided tours. Not only does it connect us to the past and provide educational benefit, but it serves as a reminder of the efforts of those that kept American soldiers fed, armed, and equipped in Europe, the Pacific, Korea, and Vietnam.
I went to see it and my first impression was that it looks like the game pieces in the Axis-and-Allies board game – only bigger. Once up top, I was surprised how many floors it had. One can see across the channel or look down at the kids playing in the water park nearby. I wandered around the deck, seeing the giant anchor and big guns. Inside I saw the kitchen and insulated food storage. Somewhere a radio played 1940’s-era music. At first I thought that there seemed to be a lot of toilets and showers, but now I think it appropriate based on how many beds there were. My guess would be one bathroom per eight beds. I didn’t count. I suppose when one is on a ship, one doesn’t need to worry about running out of water. Another thing I noticed was that the deck seemed rather smooth and slick. I can only imagine what it would be like rolling back and forth in a storm once it gets a little bit of water on it. It seems like a safety hazard. Is this normal on ships? I should have called ahead to schedule a guide to ask questions (yes, you can do that). Down below there is a collection of various model ships, artifacts, and information placards. I saw giant bullets and shells taller than most children. Wow.
A history of the ship can be found on the website, including the tale of how American Victory broke up sea ice for other ships while leaving a Soviet port despite not being designed for it.
To get to American Victory, take Channelside Avenue in Tampa to the rotary and turn into the entrance for the Florida Aquarium. At the stop sign, take a right and head for the water. Free parking is just around the corner.
705 Channelside Drive, Tampa, Florida
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