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Here Are 5 Things to Do in Tarpon Springs, Florida

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On the sponge docks of Tarpon Springs, Florida.

Tarpon Springs, Florida, is said to have the largest number of Greek-heritage inhabitants outside of Greece. So, if you’re looking for a day or weekend trip in the Tampa Bay area without getting your passport stamped, Tarpon Springs is a prime destination. It’s located 13 miles north of Clearwater and about 25 miles from Tampa.

So what’s the story behind Tarpon Springs, and why should you visit it? The town reflects its Greek heritage in full force. You’ve got Greek restaurants, flags, markets, and Greek music piping through the stores. Many of the buildings are painted white, so you’ll feel like you’re in Greece even if you just took a short drive to get there. The town is located along the Anclote River, and you can feel the breeze off the water if you’re walking near the Sponge Docks.

Statue of a traditional Tarpon Springs sponge diver.

Wait, Sponge Docks–what are those? Well, that’s another reason to visit Tarpon Springs, which is the oldest city in Pinellas County. The town has an interesting history related to sponge diving and is often called the Sponge Diving Capital of the World. The natural sponges that you use for cleaning or your skin care routine come from the sea and local rivers, and sponge divers (many from Greece, who already had experience with sponge diving) came to the area after the accidental discovery of an abundance of sponges in the area in the 1890s. Around that same time, Tarpon Springs became a winter resort for rich northerners. Tarpon Springs became the largest sponge port in the U.S. by 1900 and reached its peak in the 1930s. After that, a disease affected a large portion of the sponges, although sponge diving continues in smaller numbers today. The Tarpon Springs sponge docks also remain active for commercial fishing.

When you’re in Tarpon Springs, you’ll see pictures and a statue of the old-fashioned diving uniforms used by sponge divers that look like astronaut suits.

So, now that you know more about the history of Tarpon Springs, let’s talk about what you can do when you visit. Here are five fun activities for your next visit to Tarpon Springs, Florida.

Various sponges you can find inside stores in Tarpon Springs.

5 Things to Do in Tarpon Springs

  • Discover more of Tarpon Spring’s history and learn about the different kinds of sponges. We gave you the dime-store history tour of Tarpon Springs in our description above, but you can go into a lot more detail. At stores like Spongeorama Sponge Factory on Dodecanese Blvd. and The Sponge Factory (at the corner of Dodecanese and N. Pinellas Ave., you can watch short, free films all about sponges and the sponge diving business in Tarpon Springs. You’ll get a kick out of these retro films and may even feel like you’re back in middle school science class, using the time with the lights low to take a nap. Seriously though, the films are informative, and you’ll learn that there are different types of sponges and that sponges have oodles different purposes. Fun fact: Loofahs–often used to exfoliate the skin–are not actually sponges. Tarpon Springs also has a Greektown Historic District (which includes the tourist area) located on the National Register of Historic Places as a Traditional Cultural Property.
Baklava and flogeres from Hella’s Bakery.
  • Eat. If you’re going to go to Tarpon Springs, you have to try the local/Greek food. You’ll hear restaurant promoters beckoning you to their restaurant (“Come have some lunch, ladies,” “Are you hungry? Best lunch in town!”) If you’re new to Greek food, here are a few dishes to consider ordering: gyro (a type of sandwich with lamb, beef or other meat, along with onion and traditional tzatziki sauce in a pita bread), lamb shish kabobs, calamari, Greek salad (with olives and feta cheese and tomatoes, yum), rack of lamb, and spanokopita (a spinach pie with phyllo dough, spinach, and feta cheese). For desserts, think honey. Greek desserts are rich in honey, with baklava probably the best known dessert. Baklava combines phyllo dough with honey and chopped nuts. Other desserts seem to be variations on the honey/syrup and phyllo dough theme. And where to eat in Tarpon Springs? There are lots of great restaurants but some of the top- ranking ones on TripAdvisor include Hellas, Toula’s Trailside Cafe, Mr. Soulvaki, Mykonos, The Original Mama Maria’s Greek Cuisine. We enjoyed The Limani (number 8 on the TripAdvisor list) both for the fresh food but also its breezy, less crowded location right on the water. Hella’s Bakery & Restaurant is your go-to for Greek desserts.
  • Take a cruise. We’re not talking Carnival or Royal Caribbean. Instead, hour-long cruises that focus on dolphin watching, eco tours, relaxing (and we think drinking) are a focal point as you walk along Dodecanese Blvd. near the sponge docks. You’ll hear companies like Spongeorama Cruise Lines and Odyssey Cruises promoting their cruise tour specials and luring in visitors. We didn’t take a cruise but we’ve included links here to some of the cruise companies. It definitely seems like part of the Tarpon Springs experience and at the very least, you’ll enjoy the breezy boat trip.
Mural with the old-fashioned sponge diver. Notice the street sign names in English and Greek.
  • Shop. With Tarpon Springs so well known for its sponge diving, it’s not a stretch to think that the local stores are filled with sponges–lots of them. Most are reasonably priced as well. There also are many olive oil-based scented soaps because, well, the whole Mediterranean and olive oil connection. You’ll also find cute gift sets (about $7) with a small sponge along with a scented soap. If you’re a foodie, stop inside one of the Greek markets like Agora Food Market to load up on feta cheese, Greek beer, olives, and other Greek delicacies. Of course, you’ll find your share of Florida, Greek, and Tarpon Springs-themed T-shirts (one find: “I’m not yelling, I’m Greek!”). One other store we enjoyed: Getaguru, a handmade soap store (operated by the same family since 1934) with some cool artwork inside. It’s located right on Dodecanese Blvd.
Found outside Spongearama in Tarpon Springs.
  • Go to church. Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral has been a community pillar since 1907, bringing together local residents for events and worship. In addition to services (in both Greek and English), it’s worth a visit for its beautiful Byzantine-meets-modern architecture and stained-glass windows. The current location was built in 1943. Fun fact: The cathedral was named for Saint Nicholas, Patron Saint of Greece and protector of sea-faring people.

There’s lots more to do in Tarpon Springs (we even wrote about it 10 years ago–see that story link here). Feel free to share anything else you’ve enjoyed during a visit or what you’d like us to write about in the future regarding Tarpon Springs. Opa!

Opa!

Written by floridaculture

March 15, 2021 at 3:53 pm

What to See and Do at Silver Springs State Park in Ocala

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Silver Springs State Park in Ocala. On the right you can see the glass-bottom boats.

Silver Springs State Park is home to famous glass-bottom boats that allow you to see manatee, fish, and springs underwater. It’s the place where movies like “Creature from the Black Lagoon” and the TV show “Sea Hunt” were filmed. And there are 200 rhesus monkeys that reside there! For all those reasons and more, Silver Springs State Park in Ocala, Florida, has lured in visitors since the 1800s.

If you talk to people who visited Florida in the 1960s or 70s, there’s a chance they’ll tell you they went on a glass-bottom boat tour back in the day. That’s because the park and its famous boats were introduced as far back as the 1870s; the park was a “must stop and see” destination for those traveling by steamboat.

Views like this have kept visitors coming to Silver Springs State Park for a long time. Check out the clear water.

The boat tours are just one reason visitors have returned to Silver Springs State Park over time. It’s also because the park is located centrally in the state in Ocala. Nearby Highway 27 (a 1,400-mile highway that Florida Culture once wrote chronicled for Visit Florida–find our articles here, here, and here), also called the Orange Blossom Trail, brought out-of-state tourists and visitors to Silver Springs as early as the 1920s. After World War II, Silver Springs State Park, along with Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales and the former Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven (now the site of Legoland Florida theme park), were among Florida’s most popular roadside attractions, according to information on display at Silver Springs State Park.

The pristine springs also made Silver Springs State Park a hit with filmmakers. Episodes of “Tarzan” from the 1930s, “The Yearling,” “Smokey and the Bandit Part 3,” “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” some episodes of “Sea Hunt,” and even “Rebel Without a Cause” with James Dean were filmed at the park. A total of 20 movies have been filmed at Silver Springs State Park.

However, as the interstate and Disneyworld changed Florida and took visitors’ attention elsewhere, Silver Springs State Park fell on some hard times. Environmental runoff also affected the beautiful waters at the park. The Florida Park Service took control of the property and nearby Silver River State Park in 2013, to help preserve the park for future use.

An entrance to Silver Springs State Park in Ocala.

Things to See and Do Today at Silver Springs State Park

So, fast forward to modern times–what can you see and do today at Silver Springs State Park? Pay the park admission (the fee can range from $2 to $8 depending on what entrance you use) and get ready to explore. You’ll feel as if you’ve stepped back into a simpler time. Here’s our list based on a recent visit.

A manatee seen underwater during a glass-bottom boat tour at Silver Springs State Park.
  1. Go on a glass-bottom boat tour. Of course, this is a highlight of visiting the park. The captain will also orient you to the park’s history, some of which we’ve outlined above. On the boat tour, you’ll sit with fellow passengers in a rectangle so you can peer down into the glass bottom of the boat, where the clear water reveals fish, marine life, springs, and the occasional manatee. The park is home to dozens of underwater springs, and the Ocala Limestone that is part of the Mammoth Spring Cavern (seen underwater) is said to be 35 million years old. Your captain also will likely point out alligators that are near the shoreline–or perhaps underwater. There are half-hour glass-bottom boat tours ($12 each) that run constantly, and then there are 1 1/2 hour boat tours ($25 each) to give you a more in-depth look and feel of life at the park.
  2. Search for monkeys….but good luck finding them. There are about 200 rhesus monkeys living at Silver Springs State Park, some of which now also live outside the park environs. The monkeys were brought there in the 1930s to be part of a river-cruise attraction. Our captain said that if you spot them, 90% of the time, you’ll find them at the Ross Allen Island, which is one loop of trails in the park. We saw no signs whatsoever of the monkeys during our walk on the Ross Allen Island trail, but we’ve seen the occasional photo of them on Instagram. One warning: Experts warn that the monkey population there could double by 2022, and that some of the monkeys carry the herpes B virus. Keep your distance!
  3. Paddle away. Silver Springs State Park attracts a whole slew of kayakers and canoe lovers. You can bring your own kayak, canoe, or SUP or rent one onsite. The views from both a kayak and land are stunning, and if you’re from up North, you may kind of feel like you’re in a park back at home….until you spot a palm tree or a gator, of course. We visited in early January and were treated to fall-like scenes and changing leaves that we do not see regularly down in Southwest Florida.
  4. Take a hike. The park has several trails, whether you want to merely stroll along the water or do some serious walking. You never know who you’ll meet along the trails–we spoke with a lady who was walking her beautiful white wolf hybrid dog. Bring water, sunscreen, insect repellant, good shoes, and a map for any hiking. Bicycling and horseback riding are also available.
  5. Spend time at the tourist center. Although the Victor Lundy Tourist Center and Silver River Museum were closed during our visit, we could see that they provide a ton of info to visitors, both about the park’s history, wildlife (including some live animals on display, like snakes), and filmmaking background. A stop at the gift shop never hurt anyone either.
Kayakers taking in the view at Silver Springs State Park.

Wrap up your visit to Silver Springs State Park by grabbing a bite to eat in Ocala. There are many old-fashioned diners where you can continue your Old Florida, old-fashioned kind of day. Or, on the complete other end of the continuum, there’s an Earth Origins Market about 10 minutes from the park that has healthier fare.

Silver Springs State Park also has camping spots open for RVs, tents, and cabins. From what we can see online, those camping spots stay pretty darn busy.

A replica of the “Creature From the Black Lagoon,” filmed at Silver Springs State Park. Spoooooky.

Written by floridaculture

January 15, 2021 at 8:30 pm

12 Farmers Markets to Visit in Sarasota and Bradenton

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Citrus sold by Brown’s Grove at the Sarasota Farmers Market.

If you’re looking for the scoop on farmers markets in Bradenton and Sarasota, then you’ve come to the right place.

We’ve done our share of articles about farmers markets in Sarasota and Bradenton, like this one here. And here. This one, too. There are many others, but you get the idea. This year, in 2020, we’re doing our farmers market update right here on our blog.

In the winter, Central Florida is a major strawberry producer.

Farmers Markets and Florida Agriculture

Before we dive into market details, here are a few fun facts about Florida agriculture to keep in mind before your visit. Most of these are from the following link on the Florida Department of Agriculture site:

  • Florida makes up 45% of the total U.S. citrus production. The vast majority of the state’s oranges are used for juicing. However, the industry’s citrus business has been cut drastically by a disease called citrus greening.
  • Florida ranks numero uno in the U.S. for the value of its production of oranges, grapefruit, cucumbers, squash, fresh market tomatoes, and other items.
  • You may not know it from looking at the coastline, but agriculture still plays a dominant role in Florida’s economy. (Drive through the middle of the state, and you’ll understand the ag connection.) The state ranks 18 in the U.S. for its number of farms. There are 47,000 commercial farms in the state, and 5,600 of them have sales that exceed $100,000.
  • Florida ranked 13 in the U.S. for its number of beef cattle and 18 for total cattle, although its cattle numbers are dwindling.
  • Plant City, Florida, near Tampa, is considered the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World.
Carrots for sale at a Sarasota area farmers market.

So, bottom line, there’s a lot of ag going on in Florida. One thing that’s different in Florida is that the market season is mainly in the fall, winter, and spring, due to the sweltering heat in the summer. That’s why we like to provide our Sarasota and Bradenton farmers market update in the fall, just in time for the snowbirds flocking south.

Many of the markets accept SNAP, short for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. When you spend your SNAP benefits at the market on Florida-grown produce, you often can double how much food you can buy through a program called Fresh Access Bucks.

Right now, in late 2020, you’ll notice that the markets have made certain changes to promote social distancing, such as spacing vendors apart and asking customers to wear masks. Another tip: Go early to avoid crowds and ensure social distancing.

The socially distanced scene at Sarasota Farmers Market.

Our List of Sarasota and Bradenton Farmers Markets

Let’s move on and provide the details on our Sarasota and Bradenton farmers markets:

Sarasota Farmers Market. Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., year-round.1 N. Lemon Ave., Sarasota. Considered the granddaddy of area farmers market due to its size and decades of longevity, the downtown Sarasota Farmers Market has more than 70 vendors and live music on Saturday mornings. There are dozens of terrific vendors, including Worden Farm, Browns Grove, Sea Salt Florida, Alpine Steakhouse, and the Empanada Lady.

Bradenton Farmers Market in Fall 2020.

Bradenton Farmers Market. Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., October through May. 400 12th St. W. in Bradenton. If you haven’t checked out downtown Bradenton lately, come to see the farmers market and stay to enjoy several new eateries, shops, and Riverwalk. Chef demonstrations and weekly arts event Mainly Art are part of the market’s offerings.

Anna Maria Farmers Market. Tuesdays from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., mid-October through mid-May. City Pier Park, Pine Avenue and N. Bay Blvd. in Anna Maria. The Anna Maria market takes place at City Pier Park, near the recently renovated City Pier. Find Florida-grown product, juices, honey, and more.

Florida tomatoes for sale at the Sarasota Farmers Market.

Atlanta Braves Farmers Market. 8 a.m. to noon, Wednesdays, October through March. CoolToday Park, 18800 S. West Villages Parkway in Venice. The spring training home for the Atlanta Braves has its own weekly in-season farmers market at CoolToday Park. The market is operated by the same friendly folks who operate the Englewood Farmers Market and the Venice Farmers Market.

Beach Market at Coquina Beach. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sundays, November through March, Wednesdays, December through July; and Fridays, April through July. 2650 Gulf Drive South in Bradenton Beach. It’s hard to beat that perfect Gulf view at Coquina Beach as you browse the market’s eclectic offerings, including artisans and prepared foods. If you’re staying nearby, you can take the free local trolley to get to the market and the beach.

Dearborn Street Market. 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Thursdays, October through May. 348 West Dearborn Street in Englewood. Find a mix of food and craft vendors to liven up your Thursdays at Dearborn Market. Find the market on Facebook: Dearborn Street Market.

Englewood Farmers Market. 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Thursdays, October through May. 300 block of West Dearborn Street in Englewood. Who knew the party was in Englewood on Thursday mornings? It’s always a food party over at the Englewood Farmers Market, where you’ll find dozens of produce, prepared food, plant, and other vendors.

Worden Farm is a big hit at the markets for its organic veggies.

The Market at Lakewood Ranch. 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sundays, November through April. Lakewood Ranch Medical Center, 8330 Lakewood Ranch Blvd., Lakewood Ranch. Add this market to your Sunday to-do list. The Market at Lakewood Ranch came on the farmers market scene just a couple of years ago but has already grown to more than 50 vendors.

Newtown Farmers Market. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays, year-round. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park, 2601 Cocoanut Drive in Sarasota. Historic Newtown’s market features Florida-grown produce, including pre-sliced veggies. Plus, the market can deliver goods to nearby residents.

Colorful radishes at the Sarasota Farmers Market.

Phillippi Farmhouse Market. 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Wednesdays, October through April. Phillippi Estate Park, 5500 S. Tamiami Trail in Sarasota. Now in its 11th season, Phillippi offers a fun mix of fresh food, fruits and veggies, and live music. While you’re there, take a tour of the Edson Keith Mansion located on site.

Siesta Key Farmers Market. 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Sundays, year-round. 5104 Ocean Blvd. in Siesta Key. Grab breakfast at a nearby restaurant, check out the market, and then make your way to the beach. That’s what the folks at Siesta Key Farmers Market recommend for a relaxing Sunday.

Venice Farmers Market. 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturdays, October to March; 8 a.m. to noon, April to September. 401 W. Venice Ave. in Venice. Check out more than 50 cool vendors and then browse the many stores in downtown Venice.

Four Lighthouses in Florida You Should Visit

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Lighthouse at Egmont Key State Park in St. Pete, Florida.

If you’re like Stanley Hudson from “The Office” and have dreams of living in a decommissioned lighthouse, then you’ll want to read on to find out more about four lighthouses located in Florida.

Florida actually has a total of about 30 lighthouses, according to this handy lighthouse map from LighthouseFriends.com.

As far back as the Seminole Indians, Floridians relied on goods arriving by boat, but the Florida coastline was dangerous and often led to shipwrecks, according to the Florida Lighthouse Association. To help give ships a visual reference, lighthouses were built along Florida’s coastline and even on coral reefs. Other lighthouses were built to guide ships safely into port, the Florida Lighthouse Association reports. At one time, Florida had 65 lighthouses. Although lighthouses don’t play the same prominent role they used to in guiding boaters, smaller boats that don’t have electronic systems still find visual comfort from lighthouses, according to the association.

Plus, there’s a real lure to lighthouses, as they give you a sense of history and sometimes an extra special view of the area, if you’re allowed to climb to the top.

The four lighthouses we feature here are random—it simply means that we’ve visited them. However, as we’re able to check out more, we’ll add to this story.

The lighthouses we describe below are:

  • St. Augustine Lighthouse in St. Augustine
  • Egmont Key Lighthouse on Egmont Key in St. Pete
  • Boca Grande Entrance Rear Range in Boca Grande
  • Port Boca Grande on Gasparilla Island

Let’s go on to discover more about our four Florida lighthouses.

St. Augustine Lighthouse in St. Augustine, Florida.

St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, St. Augustine

Not far from the downtown of America’s oldest city, you’ll find the St. Augustine Lighthouse, located on Anastasia Island. The lighthouse is 175 feet tall, making it one of the longest in the U.S.

The lighthouse site has some real history behind it, with the original lighthouse built in the 1500s and the current one constructed in 1874. The lighthouse continues to be lit at night, and the view from the top is stunning—definitely worth it after you climb the 219 stairs on a vertigo-inducing spiral staircase.

The stairs in the St. Augustine Lighthouse. Don’t look too long, it’ll make you dizzy.

One major hook with the St. Augustine Light house is its haunted history. There were two young girls, Eliza and Mary, who died on the lighthouse property in 1873, and some visitors and employees claim to hear their giggles or even see them. There are also reports of the spirit of former lighthouse keeper, Peter Rasmussen, smoking cigars—and the smell of his cigar is sometimes still detected. Another former keeper, Joseph Andreu, fell to his death from the top of the tower. Both the children and the former lighthouse keepers are said to still “live” on the property. The show “Ghost Hunters” has featured the St. Augustine Lighthouse several times, and the lighthouse’s own Dark of the Moon tours detail the lighthouse’s haunted history.

We’ve visited the lighthouse both during the day and for the Dark of the Moon tour, and we recommend both experiences. During the day, take advantage of the lighthouse museum, nature trails, and Maritime Education Museum. Plus, the gift shop is pretty cool. At night, get more scoop on the lighthouse’s haunted history, where you’ll also get free time to wander the property with an EMF meter, a device that detects electromagnetic fields and is said to spike high if spirits are nearby. Although we’ve never had a ghostly, ghastly encounter ourselves there, we’ve witnessed or spoken with others who have. It’s definitely possible to believe that it could be haunted.

But a tip for the living: Wear good walking shoes and bring a bottle of water with you for climbing up those 219 stairs. You’ll be glad you did. And read some of our other St. Augustine tips in our previous article. In that article, we share a picture from the lighthouse taken at night that could be a mere blooper—or something otherworldly.

Adult admission to the St. Augustine Lighthouse is $12.95 for adults and $10.95 for kids. The Dark of the Moon tour has a separate charge and requires advance registration. If you google “St. Augustine Lighthouse coupons,” you can find some discounts. Or, pick up those handy printed guides on site in St. Augustine and you’re likely to find a coupon to save you a couple of bucks.

Egmont Key Lighthouse in St. Pete.

Egmont Key Lighthouse, Egmont Key State Park, St. Petersburg

The Egmont Key Lighthouse is located on Egmont Key, a small, secluded island only accessible by boat in St. Petersburg. If you have a boat, you can get their on your own, or you can take part in boat trips like the Egmont Key Ferry, which takes off from nearby Fort De Soto Park. The trip over to Egmont Key is 15 to 20 minutes. The Egmont Key Lighthouse and island also are also visible from Anna Maria Island.

The 87-foot lighthouse was built in 1858, and its beacon is still managed by the Coast Guard to help navigate ships and recreational boaters, according to the Egmont Key Alliance, a group that helps to preserve the island.

The island itself served as a yellow fever quarantine site for soldiers returning from Cuba during the Spanish American War and as an internment site for Seminole Indians on their way to reservations in the Midwest. During most of the Civil War, the island was occupied by the Union Navy. Find out more about Egmont Key’s history here. With that kind of history, we wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Egmont Key or its lighthouse could be haunted.

Although as of now you can’t go inside the lighthouse, you can still enjoy its looming presence on Egmont Key, which is worth a visit for its beautiful beaches, nature, and secluded feel. Discover more about Egmont Key in our article here.

There’s no charge to visit the Egmont Key Lighthouse, although unless you have a boat, you will have to pay a fee for the ferry to take you to the state park.

The Boca Grande Entrance Rear Range Lighthouse.

The Two Lighthouses in Boca Grande

Boca Grande is an isolated, affluent community in Southwest Florida’s Charlotte and Lee counties. The town is located on Gasparilla Island, and the whole area is generally known for some great fishing.

The two lighthouses on Boca Grande—Port Boca Grande Lighthouse and Boca Grande Entrance Rear Range—and are often confused. People looking for them may assume they are one and the same, or assume that they are located right beside each other (that’s what we thought). The two lighthouses even had the same name at one time due to a clerical error. Actually, they are two separate lighthouses that are a mile or so apart.

Let’s look first at the Boca Grande Entrance Rear Range in Boca Grande, which has a more traditional lighthouse look. This lighthouse is the one closest to the actual town of Boca Grande, before you reach Gasparilla Island State Park. The history of this lighthouse actually began in Delaware, of all places. That’s because there was a lighthouse in Lewes, Delaware, in the 1880s that helped to guide vessels into Delaware Bay, according to US Lighthouses. By 1918, that lighthouse was no longer needed.

The beach area near both of Boca Grande’s lighthouses.

As railways expanded in the Boca Grande area in the 1920s, it was decided that shipping phosphate (which was transported in rail cars) right off of the waters near Boca Grande would be economical. As the lighthouse in Delaware was available, local leaders aimed to obtain the 100-foot lighthouse tower. The iron tower in Delaware was disassembled, with each piece marked to put it back together (if only Legos were so easy). Eventually, the tower was shipped to Gasparilla Island and reassembled in 1927. By 1969, Port Boca Grande was the fourth-busiest port in Florida. However, by the 1970s, phosphate companies began to use ports in the Tampa Bay area. After 1979, Port Boca Grande was no longer used for phosphate transportation, US Lighthouses writes.

There were plans to demolish the lighthouse in 2004, but those were quickly met with resistance. Nowadays, the lighthouse is managed by the Barrier Islands Park Society, and it was restored in 2017. You currently can’t climb to the top, but make sure to check the society’s webpage for updates. If you’re into lighthouses, it still is a site to see, and you can always enjoy the adjacent beach area.

Port Boca Grande Lighthouse and Museum.

Just about a mile down, drive straight into Gasparilla Island State Park and you’ll find Port Boca Grande Lighthouse and Museum. It was built in 1890 and originally used to guide ships into Charlotte Harbor. It doesn’t have a traditional lighthouse look as you just climb up a flight of stairs to reach it. Once you do get up there, you can tour through the museum and gift shop and learn more about the area’s history. The Port Boca Grande Lighthouse also is managed with help from the Barrier Island Parks Society.

Due to COVID-19, as of October 2020, the Port Boca Grande Lighthouse was closed, although you can still walk around the exterior and enjoy the beach area in Gasparilla Island State Park. Park admission is $3. Check the lighthouse’s webpage to find out when it is usually open.

Another view of Port Boca Grande Lighthouse in Boca Grande, Florida.

What It’s Like to Visit Egmont Key in Florida

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Shells found at Egmont Key in St. Pete, Florida.

Egmont Key State Park, located in St. Pete at the mouth of the Tampa Bay, offers a primitive island feel mixed with history, a lighthouse, and gopher tortoises.

Egmont is actually an island that’s a little over 200 acres and only accessible by boat. It’s about a 15-minute boat ride from St. Pete’s Fort De Soto Park (see here for our article on Fort De Soto) and a short distance from Anna Maria Island in Manatee County.

Egmont Key has some pretty cool history behind it. You may want to visit because of the lighthouse or because you have friends who’ve gone there to hang out for the day to shell or snorkel. However, you may stick around longer to check out the island’s history:

  • It was first charted by Spanish explorers in the 1500s.
  • The lighthouse was built in 1848 to help guide ships going to Tampa.
  • Confederate and Union soldiers occupied Egmont during the Civil War.
  • It was briefly home to Seminole Indians who were defeated in war.
  • More than 70 buildings were constructed between 1898 and 1916, including a hospital, school, and post office, all as part of Fort Dade. Fort Dade was built to defend Tampa Bay during the Spanish American War. What remains on the island now from that era are brick roads, gun batteries, and the cracked foundations of several buildings.
Interesting angles at Egmont Key.

Those who support the island, including both the Florida state park system and groups like Egmont Key Alliance, are protective of Egmont Key’s nature—and that’s not always easy to do because of “the eroding forces of nature and the contemporary tide of politics,” as an Egmont Key Alliance brochure describes. Part of the island is closed to the public because it’s a shore bird refuge (nesting birds like royal and least terns make their home there, along with brown pelicans, ibis, and others). The island is also home to the largest population of gopher tortoises in the Southeast U.S. There are also box turtles that call the island home and loggerhead sea turtles who lay eggs there in nesting season.

What It’s Like to Visit Egmont Key

So, you’ve probably figured out by now that Egmont Key is off the beaten path. Just what is it like to visit there? Here’s the scoop—and make sure to read till the end of this article for a few tips for your visit.

The ferry that goes from Fort DeSoto to Egmont Key.

First, if you or your friends and family don’t have a boat, you’ll need to find another way to get there (swimming there would take a long time, LOL). There are private boat tours and ferries that go there. One company we like is Hubbard’s Marina, which also led our ferry ride to nearby Shell Key Preserve. We took the ferry out of Fort De Soto Park—there’s a $5 entrance fee to the park, and the Egmont Ferry is $25 for adults, $12.50 for kids. You may also have to pay for parking inside Fort DeSoto, depending on where you park. You can buy your ferry tickets online or in person. Online or by phone may be better as the ferry ride does fill up – the original time we wanted to go was all booked until a cancellation pushed us to the time we originally wanted.

The ferry itself fits about 50 people—if you’re social distancing and concerned about COVID-19, you’ll want to wear a mask as it’s a bit of tight squeeze. That said, it’s a short ride to the island and the captain and other staff aboard are pleasant and funny. We listened to reggae music playing in the background and had wind whipping all around us.

The lighthouse at Egmont Key.

It was a particularly windy day when we visited, and the crew from Hubbard’s suggested that we go to the other side of the island, where it would be calmer. Once off the ferry, we marveled at the lighthouse right in front of us (we couldn’t go inside due to COVID-19 restrictions), and then we followed the masses to the other side of the island, which was a 5- to 10-minute walk through palm trees and pathways.

It sure enough was calmer on the other side and hidden-island beautiful. There were people, but it wasn’t packed like some Southwest Florida beaches can get. A few jet skiiers were hanging out, and some snorkelers stayed in the water with their snorkel gear on just about the whole time we were there.

Beach views at Egmont Key.

The water was turquoise-green and comfortable, and we spent some time both hanging on the shore and in the water. During our visit, the shelling was OK. We’ve read of people making spectacular finds, but like any place, it may depend on when you’re visiting and what you’re used to. We’ve visited many area beaches and found bigger shells at places such as Shell Key Preserve. That said, you may get shell-lucky at Egmont. The captain also told us to look out for shark teeth, which have washed ashore over many years. (Our article about searching for shark teeth in Venice shares some tips on best ways to search for shark teeth.)

We knew the ferry ride return trip would give us about three hours on the island, so we wanted to take advantage of our time there. Although we could have stayed longer on the beach, we decided to check out the rest of the island. We took pictures at some of the gun batteries—older, white-gray, asymmetrical structures that have no doubt been used in modern times for photo or video shoots. We also lost our way briefly, although we did get back on track just in time to grab our stuff on the beach before it rained.

A gopher tortoise making its way on a path at Egmont Key.

During our walk, we saw signs that showed the gopher tortoise and then were tickled to see one coming toward us from afar. She stopped in her tracks when she saw us, and we crouched to the ground, off to the side, to get photos. She scurried fast us—as much as a tortoise can scurry—and we snapped away. She looked like she was in a hurry to get her Saturday errands done. You’re not supposed to touch or approach the gopher tortoises on Egmont Key, so just keep that in mind when you’re getting any pics.

One of the old gun batteries at Egmont Key.

Heading back toward the lighthouse, we stopped to eat a light lunch at some picnic tables under the cover of a few palm trees—which was perfect because it started to pour down rain, but we only got minimally wet. We then walked past the park ranger office to the historical area with brick roads where there were remnants of the hospital, officers quarters, mess hall, and other buildings. Some are no longer there, but there are signs to give you some information about them.

Sky meets sky–at Egmont Key, looking toward the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

It had started to rain harder so we cut our walk short to wait for the return ferry, along with many of our fellow passengers. During our wait, we looked toward the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and watched an imposing gray sky start to eat up blue and white sky.

Our ferry ride back to Fort De Soto Park was uneventful, although it was obvious that everyone felt more wet and tired. It was also even windier at that point. The staff had to help us all step off the boat and onto the dock so we wouldn’t (oops) fall in the water.

Tips for Your Visit to Egmont Key

If you want to explore Egmont Key, here are a few tips we recommend:

1. Use the bathroom in advance. There are no public restrooms on the island!

2. Pack carefully. We saw some people with a lot of beach gear. You can bring it, but it takes more maneuvering, especially on a boat when it’s windy and there are a lot of people. One easy thing you can bring or buy: a mesh bag to hold any shells or shark teeth.

3. Bring water/drinks and any food you’ll want. As you can probably guess, there are none for sale on Egmont, although the ferry has some snacks and drinks.

4. Snag a brochure if you can. We got one of the few brochures available on the ferry.

5. Bring a few extra bucks to tip your captain and crew.

A water-torn Egmont Key Map.

Written by floridaculture

September 17, 2020 at 1:25 pm

Here’s What It’s Like to Visit Fort De Soto Park and Shell Key Preserve in St. Pete

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If you’re looking for a close-to-home adventure, head on over to Fort De Soto Park in St. Pete. You can make a day out of your visit, or you can choose instead to take a short ferry ride from Fort De Soto to Shell Key Preserve or Egmont Key. Here’s what to expect at Fort De Soto Park and Shell Key (we’ll update this article to include Egmont Key soon).

North Beach at Fort De Soto Park in St. Pete.

Fort De Soto is nestled among five interconnected islands, according to the Pinellas County Parks website. Here are a few cool facts and figures about the park:

  • It’s 1,136 acres, making it the largest park in the Pinellas County Park System. The park has seven miles of waterfront and three miles of sandy beach.
  • There are 328 species of birds. The park is home to a protected shorebird habitat area that’s not open to the public.
  • The beaches at Fort De Soto also attract loggerhead sea turtles, which lay eggs there between April and September. If you visit in those months, you’ll likely see several areas marked by signs to indicate where sea turtle eggs are buried.
  • TripAdvisor named Fort De Soto America’s Top Beach in 2009, and “Dr. Beach” named it the nation’s top beach in 2005.
  • There are more than 2.7 million visitors each year. It can get busy but if you time your visit right—as in, start early in the day—you won’t feel like you’re there with all 2.7 million.

Be prepared to pay some tolls on your way there – first the Skyway Bridge if you’re coming from the south and then local tolls (this is where a SunPass comes in handy). Once you get to the park entrance, you’ll pay $5 per vehicle.

So, you’re ready to check out Fort De Soto? We highly recommend it. Here are nine things you can do at St. Pete’s Fort De Soto Park. Then read on to discover more about Shell Key Preserve, a short ferry ride away from Fort De Soto.

One of the piers at Fort De Soto Park.

9 Things to Do at Fort De Soto Park in St. Pete, Florida

1. Discover the fort. The park is called Fort De Soto for a reason. Construction first began in November 1898, following a demand for military defenses in the Tampa area after the Spanish American War. That led to the construction of an office, mess hall, sleeping quarters, and a stable. (History buffs, find out more details about the fort in this handy brochure.) Now, a walk around the fort makes for some good photos and reflection on history. The fort is named for explorer Hernando De Soto.

The beautiful beaches at Fort De Soto Park.

2. Have a beachy time. Naturally, the major attraction for Fort De Soto Park is its pristine beaches. There’s North Beach and East Beach, and North Beach is the busiest of the two. When we visited, the beaches had a quieter, family-like feel. One warning about North Beach: Perhaps this was a weather thing, but it was a long walk from the car to the beach. Then, there was a large area of beach water—it looked like a pond—to cross before actually reaching the shoreline itself. Some people stopped before that to set up their stuff, while others went through the water (while hauling all their beach gear and also talking on the phone) to get closer to the shore.

An angler at North Beach, Fort De Soto Park.

3. Fish. There are lots of great fishing spots both right outside of Fort De Soto Park (you can avoid the Fort De Soto entry fee but still have to pay for parking) and in the park itself. The park has two piers and bait shops, and there are plenty of spots where you can pull over and thrown in your line.

The dog beach area at Fort De Soto Park.

4. Bring Fido for some fun. One cool thing about Fort De Soto Park is its dog beach area, located near one of its piers. One you enter the park and reach a stop, make a right. There are signs to guide you to the dog beach area. There’s also a non-beach dog park, so if your favorite canine buddy is not into the water, you can hang out at the dog park instead. During our visit, we saw lots of dogs frolicking near the shore – or remaining patient while their doggie moms and dads chatted.

5. Take a walk. While you can always walk on the beach, there are several designated trails in the park, including the Arrowhead Family Picnic Area, the Multipurpose Trail (it’s seven miles long and spans most of the park), and the Barrier-Free Nature Trial. The latter is wheelchair-accessible and has several auditory interpretive stations.

Sand dollar remnants found on North Beach, Fort De Soto Park.

6. Do some shelling. There’s some good shelling to be had at Fort De Soto Park although if that’s your main focus, you should venture out to Shell Key Preserve or Egmont Key for even more shells. That said, one shelling trend at Fort De Soto is sand dollars, especially at the tip of North Beach. We read Trip Advisor reviews of people finding scores of sand dollars at North Beach, some of which were found while snorkeling. Although we didn’t find a similar bounty, we did find lots of sand dollar fragments as we walked along North Beach.

7. Go biking, canoeing, or kayaking. The park has a 2-mile self-guided canoe trail; biking is popular especially on the Multipurpose Trail. The good news is that you can rent bikes, canoes, or kayaks at the park itself.

Part of Fort De Soto’s fort.

8. Camp out. Right before you enter the park, there’s a campground where you can set up your tent and enjoy some bonding with nature, right on the water. When we took a peek, the camping area was crowded. Bring your bug spray.

9. Picnic. You have your choice of shelters with grills where you can set up with friends or family for a cookout or a relaxing day at the beach. Some beach and picnic areas are even near playgrounds, so the little ones in your group have even more things to do during your Fort De Soto Park visit.

Here’s What It’s Like to Visit Shell Key Preserve

So, let’s say you’ve visited Fort De Soto Park and you want to explore the nearby area even more. Or, your friends have mentioned something about a little barrier island near Pass-a-Grille and St. Pete Beach called Shell Key – maybe they were there on a boating outing or they took the ferry there – and you want to see Shell Key Preserve for yourself.

First, here’s the first big question you might ask: Is there good shelling at Shell Key Preserve?

How’s the Shelling at Shell Key Preserve?

Sand dollar at Shell Key.

The answer is yes. There are tons of small shells. If you’re newer to the area or don’t do shelling a lot, you’ll be amazed at some of the larger finds on Shell Key. If you collect shells regularly (or even just snap pics of them for your IG feed), then you probably have visited beaches that offer just as many shells without the extra step of hopping on a boat to visit.

That said, if you’re into sand dollars, Shell Key is definitely worth a look. It’s not that far from Fort De Soto’s North Beach, so both areas have lots of sand dollar and sand dollar remnants.

Plus, during our visit to Shell Key, one person was snorkeling in shallow water and found a huge—probably a foot or so big—conch shell. So, your shelling experience may depend on how much you’re willing to look around and when you are visiting (low tide is usually best).

Getting to Shell Key Preserve

Our visit to Shell Key started at a boat ramp located before you enter Fort De Soto Park. So, you avoid the $5 park entrance fee but there’s a $5 fee to park at the boat ramp area. That said, Hubbards Marina—the company that operates the ferry—will cover your parking fee. Check their website for current ferry rates. During our visit it was $20 per adult and $10 for children. You can pay in advance online or pay onsite. There also are other companies that have a ferry/shuttle to Shell Key, such as Shell Key Shuttle.

Ferry operated by Hubbards Marina that goes to Shell Key.

If you’re using information online from Hubbards to time your ferry trip to Shell Key, call them to double check that the times online are still valid. We got there and found some slight variations in the time the ferries went to Shell Key and the times when it would return to the boat ramp that day.

Here’s another important planning note for visiting Shell Key Preserve: It’s literally a preserve and nothing else. Zip. Zilch. Nada. So, make sure you hit the restroom before leaving (there are bathrooms at the boat ramp) and bring lots of supplies with you, including water, beach gear, and any food. We also recommend wearing or bringing shoes you can wear in the water, as the sand is a bit rocky due to shells and rocks.

We boarded the ferry, where the friendly guide oriented us to the nearby area, including Tampa Bay Watch (an environmental group that has helped clean the local waters) and the upscale Tierra Verde neighborhood. You can always watch out for manatees and dolphins on your ferry ride—we saw three friendly dolphins splashing about on the return trip. The guide also offered us water for sale and a $4 mesh bag for shell collecting.

Shell Key’s beach area.

After the 20-minute ferry ride, we landed at Shell Key, which is essentially a long shoreline with some trees. We thought it’d be completely peaceful, but there were people who had set up their boats and were playing music. Plus, we visited on a Sunday, so there were lots of boats out and about. Nothing wrong with any of that, just be forewarned that the beautiful scenery may come with a soundtrack and more people than you anticipated.

Once on Shell Key Preserve, we watched others lay on the beach, walk along the shoreline, swim, collect shells, bird watch (it’s a designated area for migrating and nesting birds), and snorkel. The water was turquoise, and the sky was blue, so it was a picture-perfect Florida day for boating and beaching. At a certain point, people would bring out their drinks or food because, after all, beach time requires refueling.

The first ferry to leave Shell Key Preserve was about two hours later, and we noticed many of the people who came on our original ferry returned on that trip. There’s plenty to do at Shell Key but it was hot. For those with young kids, you know your limits when doing things with them. If you plan to spend several hours during your visit, bring a beach umbrella so you don’t get overheated.

A bounty of shells on Shell Key in St. Pete.

We definitely enjoyed Shell Key, and now we’re more curious to visit nearby Egmont Key, which has similar attractions as Shell Key but also has a lighthouse and old fort. We’ll update this article to cover Egmont Key after our visit.

If you’re completely into Shell Key, you can also camp there. Make sure to get a camping permit in advance. However, during sea turtle nesting season, you can’t do any campfires as the light from the fire would disorient the turtles. Plus, remember that there aren’t any facilities on Shell Key, so be prepared!!

View on the ferry ride back from Shell Key.

Written by floridaculture

September 3, 2020 at 4:01 pm

9 Fun and (Mostly) Free Things to Do Outside in Sarasota and Bradenton

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There’s no shortage of things to do in the beautiful Sarasota and Bradenton area. However, like anyone, you may sometimes feel at a loss about something new or different to try. If you’re watching your wallet, cost becomes an issue. If you’re trying to social distance, then you may want to limit yourself to outdoors activities.

Well, fear not, because we’re here to suggest a few ideas of fun and mostly free things to do in Sarasota and Bradenton. Try one of these today to liven up your week or weekend.

Point of Rocks, Siesta Key, which is popular for snorkeling.
  1. Go snorkeling at Point of Rocks in Siesta Key. Near Beach Access 12 in Siesta Key, there’s a tiny parking lot where you can park and then walk onto the beach. From there, take about a 10-minute stroll to the left, and you’ll dead-end at Point of Rocks, which has limestone rocks underwater that attract fish and shells. All you need is a mask and snorkel tube, as well as some fins if you want to be fancy schmancy. It’s a pretty location that has a rustic feel to it, even though the beach crowd will remind you you’re not on a private island. Fun fact: The home owned by 1-800-Ask-Gary’s Gary Kompothecras, who’s behind the MTV show “Siesta Key” (his son Alex starred in the show until he was cut from it) is located in the area where you’ll go snorkeling. Seen from the beach, you’ll think the house is a hotel. One tip: If you’re not staying in Siesta Key, then arrive early to find parking in the narrow, small parking lot for Beach Access 12.
Shark tooth find on Caspersen Beach.

2. Search for shark teeth in Venice. Venice is known as the Shark Tooth Capital of the World because of the many shark teeth that have gathered there over millions of years. Visit just about any time of day, and you’ll find people hunched over, looking for small black or gray sharp teeth as well the occasional fossil or larger tooth. Shark tooth hunting is fun for all ages, and we’re written several articles to guide you on the different ways to look for shark teeth at Venice Beach, Caspersen Beach, and other nearby beaches. Find our most recent article here.

3. Walk the grounds of The Ringling Museum. Sarasota’s Ringling Museum has a world-class collection of European art as well as a separate museum to honor our area’s circus heritage. The grounds are also home to Ca’d’Zan, which served as the opulent home for John and Mable Ringling. Entrance to the museum is usually $25, but did you know you can walk the grounds for free? The museum property is located right on Sarasota Bay, so there are plenty of Insta-worthy views. There’s also a rose garden and a collection of native Florida trees. Find our previous article about The Ringling grounds here.

Bean Point, Anna Maria Island.

4. Try a new beach. If you’ve lived in the Sarasota and Bradenton area for any length of time, you’ve probably visited the beach. Even if you’re not a beach fan, you can’t help but dip your toe in the water and take in the views that tourists travel the world to visit. However, like most people, you’ve probably fallen into the habit of visiting the same beach repeatedly. There’s nothing wrong with having a fave beach hangout, but if you’re looking to mix things up, visit a new beach. One example: We recently visited Bean Point on Anna Maria Island after unintentionally ignoring it for a few years. Because you’re literally on the point of Anna Maria, you’ve got a view of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, Passage Key Wildlife Refuge, and parts of St. Pete in the distance. To find other beach areas to explore, here’s a listing from Visit Bradenton Gulf Islands and then another listing of Sarasota beaches from Visit Sarasota.

Bayfront Park, Sarasota.

5. Head out to one of our many parks and preserves. One draw for many people who visit or live in Sarasota or Bradenton is the abundance of nature. However, much like with the beaches, we all tend to slip into the habit of visiting the same places over and over. So, why not visit a park or preserve that’s new for you or that you haven’t visited for a while? Here are a few ideas, but this is by no means a complete list:

  • Robinson Preserve in Northwest Bradenton, which has added a new section to the park along with a nature center. There are also some nearby relatively new preserves, including Perico Preserve and Neal Preserve.
  • Celery Fields in Sarasota, which is big for bird watching and for actually having a hill–that can be hard to find in Florida!
  • Bayfront Park beside Marina Jack in downtown Sarasota. This is a popular attraction, but it’s always nice to visit again for its bay and boating views. Plus, for a bonus, you can walk over the nearby Ringling Bridge.
  • Bradenton’s downtown Riverwalk, a 1.5-mile family-friendly exploration along the Manatee River.
A gator friend at Myakka River State Park.

6. Bond with gators and other wildlife at Myakka River State Park. Speaking of parks and preserves, one place we wanted to mention separately is Myakka River State Park, famous for the many gators that call it home. There are lots of trails to explore, and there are also a tram and airboat ride (both for separate fees) to learn more about the park. Depending on the season, your views at Myakka could be completely different. For instance, you’ll see fields and fields of pretty Florida wildflowers during a spring visit. You’ll have to shell out $6 per car to enter the park, which can also be paid online.

7. Visit a pier or jetty. Piers or jettys help provide a new perspective on beach areas. They’re great for landscape, beach, and bird photography, and anglers piers and jettys constantly. If you haven’t visited a pier recently in Sarasota or Bradenton, now’s the time to go. Anna Maria’s City Pier recently reopened, and there’s the nearby Rod’n’Reel Pier. The Bradenton Beach area now has piers that are well used. Venice Beach has a long pier, and you can visit the well-known Sharky’s on the Pier Restaruant afterward (of course, you’ll need some $$ for that). Venice and Nokomis also have adjacent jettys, known as South Jetty Beach Park and North Jetty Beach Park, which both provide a neat way to watch the Gulf of Mexico and the Intracoastal Waterway.

Koi fish at Mixon Fruit Farm.

8. Enjoy the sweet life at Mixon Fruit Farm. This long-time Bradenton attraction made itself famous for citrus fruit, including Florida’s famous oranges. Over time, as the citrus industry has hit massive challenges, the folks running Mixon have continued to diversify and now grow other items like starfruit and bamboo. Mixon offers a grove and wildlife tram tour (for a small fee) that we highly recommend, but if you don’t have the time or money for it, visit long enough to check out their store. It’s chock-full of “Old Florida” souvenirs and food items as well as its famous fruit. Here’s an older article we did about Mixon Fruit Farm, although much of what we wrote still holds true.

Sunset on Bradenton Beach.

9. Take in a Southwest Florida sunset. Does this peaceful, beautiful idea really need an explanation?!

Feel free to let us know more of your ideas for fun, free things to do in Bradenton and Sarasota. Thanks for reading!

Written by floridaculture

August 20, 2020 at 1:56 pm

7 Ways to Search for Shark Teeth in Venice

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Looking to find shark teeth during your visit to Venice or Sarasota, Florida?

You’re not alone. After all, Venice, Florida, is the proclaimed Shark Tooth Capital of the World, thanks to the millions of shark teeth that have washed ashore there over time.

Visit Venice Beach or nearby Caspersen Beach at any given time and you’ll find dozens of people with their heads bent down, looking intently at something—and it’s not their phones, for once. Instead, they’re studying the many shells, shell fragments, rocks, and even fossils to find sharp, black or gray teeth from the coastline.

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A variety of shells — and maybe some shark teeth — on Caspersen Beach in Venice, Florida.

While you’ll occasionally read of some massive-sized shark tooth finds (such as from a megalodon), most of the teeth found now are tiny…but still fun to look for. It’s a family or solo activity that entertains all ages. Here’s a link to an article from WikiHow to help you identify what fossilized shark teeth look like.

So, let’s say your ready to search for those shark teeth….what are some different ways you can start shark tooth hunting? Here’s the scoop (literally, if you look at the picture below).

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    Here’s what a Florida snow shovel looks like. These are the ones available on the Venice Beach Pier.

    1. Use a “Florida snow shovel.” Up North, shovels are used for snow. Here in the Sunshine State, we use our shovels to scoop up and sift through sand and shells to find treasure. A Florida snow shovel is the tool of choice for many people looking for shark teeth. See the picture above for an example. If you’re hanging out near the Venice Beach Pier, you can rent one for $7.50 a day. Our previous shark tooth stories led us to find the Florida snow shovels at a Walmart in the Venice area for around $15 to $20. Since then, we’ve also noticed them at other Southwest Florida Walmarts. Bottom line: Check your touristy type stores or the Venice Pier, and you can sift away for shark teeth all you want.

  2. Venice4

    In addition to Florida snow shovels, you can get creative and bring items from home, like this colander, to search for shark teeth in Venice.

    2. Bring everything from the kitchen but the kitchen sink. Let’s say you don’t want to shell out the extra money to buy or rent a Florida snow shovel to look for shark teeth. Here’s where you can get creative. Think of items from your kitchen that may work similarly, such as the colander we show here. Simply place it down in the sand, scoop up the many shells and rocks, and start sifting through for shark teeth. Similarly, you could also bring a mixing bowl or a cooking pot. Those may be a little harder to use than a colander, but they will give you a bigger range of items than you can hold by hand.

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These two guys on Caspersen Beach are using what look to be homemade fossil/shark tooth sifters.

3. Use a homemade sifter. During our most recent visit to Caspersen and Venice beaches, we saw several people use what looked to be flat, homemade, sand sifters. They would place the sifter in the water, down toward the bottom, and then bring it back up to search for items. This type of item also is used for fossil hunting. One advantage it might have is that everything you have found is laid flat, so it’s easier to see and search for those tiny teeth. Here’s a link to a YouTube video about making a homemade fossil/shark tooth sifter.

4. Go snorkeling. Just like the coastline of Venice and Caspersen beaches are awash with items, including shark teeth, so are the areas under water on the coastline. Snorkel near the shoreline in shallow water and you can use your hands or a sand sifter to collect or examine items, including interesting shells or shark teeth.

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Examples of our finds at Caspersen and Venice beaches. These aren’t all shark teeth (although the tiny black item on the left definitely is). Still, it gives you an idea of what you might find on your journey.

5. Dive for shark teeth. One advantage of diving for shark teeth is you’re more likely to find those giant megalodon teeth. We personally haven’t gone diving for shark teeth, but it looks like a fun option if you know how to scuba dive. A quick search online led to the websites for Aquanutz Dive Charters, Top2Bottom Offshore Charters, and the following YouTube video from AdventureLifeFiles about how to shore dive for shark teeth in Venice. The video has some helpful tips.

Venice86. Try another beach. If you’ve spent some time at Venice Beach and Caspersen Beach and want to try somewhere different for shark tooth hunting, fear not, as there are definitely other nearby beaches where you can continue the search for shark teeth. Those beaches include:

Also, keep in mind that Venice Beach is quite long so if you’ve tried one area, you can always move on and search for shark teeth on another area of the beach.

7. Buy ‘em. OK—you ran out of time for shark tooth hunting, or you went on a day when there just weren’t any good finds. It happens! Fortunately, there are places in Venice where you can buy shark teeth, such as Sea Pleasures and Treasures. This store is particularly fun because it also has a display of interesting fossils and shark teeth, along with souvenirs and shark tooth packets.

For more information on how to find shark teeth in Venice, Florida, check out Florida Culture’s previous (and popular) two related articles here  and here.

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An egret posing on the Venice Beach Pier.

10 Ways to Stay at Home Florida-Style During the New Coronavirus Pandemic

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Flower in yardIf you’re hunkering down at home right now due to the new coronavirus pandemic, then you’re probably dealing with all sorts of new challenges—working from home, staying home with kids, helping kids focus on online schooling, managing grocery store runs, and more.

While we usually focus on travel ideas around Florida, we’re going to use this article to suggest things you can do at home, Florida-style, during the current new COVID-19 crisis. Some of these ideas are ones you may want to do with the kiddos. Others are grown-up fun. Some of the ideas require time outside-. As always, follow the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding what you should or shouldn’t do to prevent spread of the coronavirus. Here we go!

  1. Stream movies set in Florida. The Sarasota Herald-Tribune just published a list of the top movies set in Florida. From “Cool Hand Luke” to “Scarface” “The Birdcage,” and “Caddyshack” you can spend time soaking in the Sunshine State without ever letting go of your bowl of popcorn.
  2. Stream TV shows set in Florida. “Miami Vice,” “Dexter,” “Claws,” “Golden Girls,” “Floribama Shore,” and “Siesta Key” are just a handful of shows set in sunny Florida. Some were actually filmed here, others were shot on a set in Hollywood. The latest one we’ll add to the list is “Tiger King,” a Netflix docu-series about tiger breeder/owner “Joe Exotic.” Although the series is not fully set in Florida, major parts of the story have Florida connections, including with Tampa’s Big Cat Rescue. And Joe Exotic may be from Oklahoma, but he’s a #FloridaMan at heart.
  3. Set up a bird feeder. With the warmer weather upon us, birds are out in abundance. We even had some mourning doves recently lay eggs in our yard. With a bird feeder, you’ll have some constant entertainment watching the birds angle for seed. Plus, you’ll leave fellow shoppers wondering why the heck you’re buying toilet paper and a bird feeder the next time you go to the store.
  4. Set up a photo contest. Have everyone take photos of interesting things in or outside the house. Who took the best pictures? What interesting angles did your family members find in their photos? The photo quest around the house could take the place of any Florida beach pics you usually snap.
  5. IMG_5430Do a nature quest. Have the kids search around your home for small animals or flowers. Today we spotted a light-colored large frog on top of our bird feeder.
  6. Grow a small garden. If you have seeds, soil, and containers, you can start a container garden. During your next Walmart run, you could even pick up an herb or two (basil is usually a no-brainer in Florida weather). Encourage the younguns’ to water the garden and check on how it’s growing. For more ambitious produce growing, here’s a guide to what to plant depending on the time of year, courtesy of the University of Florida IFAS Extension Office. It’s broken down by Florida region (North, Central, and South).
  7. BroccoliCook classic Florida recipes. From Key Lime Pie to Hush Puppies to Panhandle Grits, this link from Only in Your State features classic Floridian dishes. Of course, you may be limited by what you have on hand, so choose carefully. Same goes for this link from Fresh From Florida, which focuses on in-season Florida dishes. There’s Tomato Cornbread and Florida Strawberry Icebox Pie, among other recipes.
  8. Visit a museum virtually. Feel like you’re missing out on a museum visit during the time of corona? There are many museums with virtual exhibits. Here in Florida, the Dali Museum in St. Pete has a virtual exhibit that educators praise. Of course, you also can find virtual exhibits from museums around the globe, including The Louvre in Paris and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
  9. Make a mojito……or a rum runner…..or a daiquiri. There are lots of classic Florida cocktails, and you may just need one after staying home a long time. Here’s a link to some classic Florida cocktail recipes, shared in a 2017 News-Press article.
  10. Catch up on your fave Florida authors. Craig Pittman’s “Cat Tale” chronicles the surprisingly odd story of the Florida panther (we love his previous “Oh, Florida!” book and weekly newsletter). Then there’s Randy Wayne White, Carl Hiaasen, and Dave Barry among others.

Written by floridaculture

March 19, 2020 at 10:02 pm

We’ve Moved! To a New Website…

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Florida Culture has moved! Not out of the Sunshine State….just to a new website.

Find all of our great content at Florida Culture Travel (www.floridaculturetravel.com). We’ve got a couple of new posts on the site that have not been posted here to our old site.

Continue to like and share what you read, and follow our social media links for many other travel articles from Florida Culture!

Thanks.

Written by floridaculture

September 19, 2018 at 3:46 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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