Walk along the streets of Dunedin and ask pedestrians what they think of this small coastal town just north of tourism heavyweight Clearwater. The word “quaint” seems to come up in nearly every conversation. If the person asked is from the Tampa Bay region, it’s often followed by the phrase, “I wish I would have moved here.” Why is that?
At first glance, downtown Dunedin looks like a train stop from 100 years ago, but it’s far from being stuck in the past. The city provides free wifi and a forward-thinking culinary and craft beer scene, while a rails-to-trail transformation has made it one of the best cycling and all around pedestrian-friendly downtowns in Florida.
has tempered its development and managed to progress without regress, a skill many tourist spots have yet to master.
While exploring on foot or by pedal, you’ll notice there are no corporate chains and no skyscrapers, but still plenty to do and a thriving art scene. Much of its charm can be attributed to the fact that it’s not a big city or a tiny town, it’s somewhere in between and it revels in it.
Noon — Pull into the station
Most people will get to Dunedin by car, but biking to Dunedin is a great option for the adventurous cycler who can pack light. The heart of downtown is built around the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail
, a 38-mile paved trail running the length of Pinellas County from Tarpon Springs to St. Petersburg. Shops and eateries dot the car-less landscape through Dunedin with plenty of lodging just minutes from the trail.
The Pinellas Trail was originally the Orange Belt Railroad, and Dunedin was one of the biggest stops. But now there’s only one boxcar at the station, and it’s been transformed into a tiny coffee & gift shop called The Orange Crate Café. Grab a quick coffee or snack and head next door for a brief history lesson at the Dunedin Historical Society and Museum
, located in a former Atlantic Coast Line train depot.
Test your sailor skills by paddling a mock rowboat or learning some salty-dog knot tying just like the pioneering Dunedin fisherman of the past. Other recent exhibits feature the city’s role in the railroad, World War II and its Scottish roots (the name Dunedin derives from Dùn Èideann, the Scottish Gaelic name for Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland).
Armed with newly acquired knowledge, feel free to impress your friends with fun facts like Dunedin is the birthplace of the “Alligator” amphibious military vehicle and frozen orange juice concentrate.
12:45 p.m. — Seafood with a side of graffiti
Olde Bay Café and Dunedin Fish Market
is a combination of fishmonger and dockside dining with 22 brews on tap. Seafood is the specialty, but the scenery is the draw. Kick back and watch boats bobbing in the marina as seabirds and Bob Marley drift on the breeze. Order a Graffiti Orange beer crafted by local 7venth Sun Brewery
, freshly squeezed from the source less than a half mile away.
The beer earns its moniker from a guerilla art phenomenon a few years back, when graffiti oranges began popping up on walls all over Dunedin. Once a questionable occurrence that attracted authorities, people now sport the oranges on houses and businesses with pride. If they even realize that they have been blessed by the orange-art-fairies.
Asked about a plump painted orange on the wall outside the fish market, two employees seemed doubtful until they stepped out to see and believe for themselves. They were surprised, but pleased by the public tattoo.
Local artists Steven Spathelf
and Marsha Goins finally fessed up to creating the mystery oranges, and people began asking for more. There are now more than 300 oranges scattered around town. A sketched citrus scavenger hunt involving Graffiti Orange brews as a reward seems appropriate, but will have to wait for another day.
Bring in your own catch and the café will cook it up for you and include a salad and two sides for $8.99, or you can leave the fishing to the experts. See what today’s catch is by checking their website. A Blue Crab Stuffed Avocado ($7.50) served cold on a hot afternoon, pairs well with a refreshing brew and is a good starter for the food and drink adventures ahead.
1:30 p.m. — Check in and trade four wheels for two
The Best Western Plus Yacht Harbor
Inn offers bike rentals just steps away from your basic but bright room ($105~$170) on the water with coastal decor. You could pick up a fancier ride for the day at Dunedin Cyclery
, but for a short ride along the Intracoastal, the simple cruisers will do.
Edgewater Drive Park seems more like osprey avenue with the charismatic sea hawks sky diving for fish into St. Joseph Sound, then rising slowly from the water’s surface before their trademark mid-air shake, like a feathered Labrador retriever shimmying the water from its coat and delivering its catch to hungry hatchlings in nests punctuating treetops and poles along the path.
Birds of a different type play a few blocks away at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium (373 Douglas Ave.), where Major League Baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays hold Spring Training and the class-A minor league Dunedin Blue Jays
take roost for the rest of the summer.
Make sure to get a glimpse of the historic Fenway Hotel building (453 Edgewater Drive). Just like Pinellas County’s other pink palaces, The Vinoy Hotel
and Don CeSar
, the Fenway was built in the 1920s to serve as a high society waterfront getaway and has faced many highs and lows along the way. The Fenway is now on the rise again as it is currently under construction to become the new national headquarters and international conference center for the Taoist Tai Chi Society
3 p.m. — Explore an arts enclave
The sound of creativity is in the air at the Stirling Art Studios & Gallery
. The art enclave is made up of nine working studios, exhibition space and classrooms for the Dunedin Fine Art Center
and Creative Clay’s Transition’s Program
Today a metalsmithing and jewelry making class sends the pinging of tiny hammers piercing through the studio walls of painter Wendy Davis, until it resembles the sound of Morse code by the time it penetrates the workspace of Vincenti Studios
. The rhythmic treble meets the coarse overtures of extravagant brushstrokes working bright blue paint into canvas by Laura J. Vincenti. Vincenti and her husband Len moved into the space earlier this year and she says it’s a combination of community support and a constant flow of new art that has made the art scene in Dunedin so successful.
“There’s been all these wonderful people that support the arts, supported my work and other artists work, and we have a call to artist that we put out into the community. … Then once a month we have a new gallery show.” The resulting shows at the gallery coincide with the 2nd Friday Dunedin Wine/Art Walk
where a $10 wrist band gives you access to wine tasting, art appreciating and other special offers and giveaways at studios and shops around town. Before leaving the Stirling galleries, make sure to grab the magnifying glass hanging on the wall and check out the tiny masterpieces of the permanent art collection of the Miniature Art Society of Florida.
3:45 p.m. — Sculptures, Celtic curiosities and kilts
Heading back toward the Pinellas Trail, public sculpture abounds. A cartoonish couple climb a ladder above The Candy Bar
, while below stands a bright red U.K. telephone “box.” Nearby, classic bronze figures
depict a train conductor calling out as a mother and child try to catch the last train. And across the street, a blue fiberglass dolphin declares “You Are Here, Dunedin, FL est. 1899” in script scrawled across its chest.
A few steps off the Pinellas Trail is The Celtic Shop of Dunedin
, an obligatory stop in a town with Scottish roots deep enough that they hold a yearly Dunedin Highlands Games and Festival
and the high school boasts a kilt-clad Scottish Highlander Band
complete with bag pipes. From meat pies to tartans, the shop offers items from all over the U.K. At one time you could stroll in and rent a kilt for a special occasion, but alas, times are changin’ and they no longer offer this service. But they do recommend an online kilt rental operation and they will hook you up with a discount
if you call or email the shop!
Sounds like the perfect time to pick out your outfit for The Dunedin Celtic Music & Craft Beer Festival coming up on Nov. 21 featuring the Red Hot Chilli Pipers
4 p.m. — Toast to great Mexican food and not getting lost
A Dunedin favorite, Casa Tina Mexican Restaurant
is a visual & culinary fiesta. Décor a la Dia de los Muertos, combined with happy hour margaritas ($4) and carnitas seasoned with onion, cilantro, jalapeno salsa and corn tortillas, beans and rice ($17.95) kick off happy hour a little early. If the margaritas are too good and you happen to lose your car keys, or your spouse, stop by and pray to Saint Anthony of Padua, or at least the altar to him. San Antonio, as he is also referred to, is the patron saint called upon for the return of lost articles and missing persons. He is conveniently located past the trapeze (aerial shows during dinner on Saturday and Sunday evenings) on your way to the restroom.
St. Joseph Sound. 5:10 p.m. — Bon Appetit before bon voyage
Bon Appetit Bar and Restaurant
has been a Dunedin dining landmark since 1976, and offers a variety of culinary experiences in one spot. The main dining room is an upscale option with a pianist in the lounge Wednesdays. through Sundays, while outdoors, Marina Café & Terrace is more casual with romantic views for entertainment.
If you’re not feeling romantic or upscale, give the In The Loop bar a try. It literally sits in the traffic loop for the restaurant, but still offers fantastic views of the harbor and slightly obstructed views of St. Joseph Sound, which is plenty enough partnered with the casual vibe of chatting locals and tiki feel, sans thatch hut.
Today’s entertainer serves up karaoke style entertainment channeling Bob Marley and Jimmy Buffet, ranging from steel drums to guitar as an electric backbeat keeps the rhythm. Fruit stabbed with tiny pirate swords floating in tropical concoctions are best suited for this occasion (think Hurricanes and Pina Coladas) but In The Loop also offers beers including the previously mentioned 7venth Sun Graffiti Orange if you find yourself on the citrus scavenger hunt after all. But don’t over do it, there’s parrot punch in your future.
6 p.m. — Enough booze to float a dolphin boat
First mate Tim Febbraio calls all aboard the Parrotdise Express
and offers a pink parrot punch. When asked what’s in it, he responds straight-faced, “parrots… a lot of them.” Pressed harder he finally confesses, not lots of parrots, but there is a lot of rum.
Bring on the Captain. Capt. Jeff Gearhart sets sail for the 3-hour tour to the tune of Gilligan’s Island, drifting down the Intracoastal where spoil islands serve as oasises to boaters at play. Cruising toward Clearwater, a tour of celebrity homes develops as Captain Jeff points out palatial estates that have served as home to the likes of Kirstie Alley, John Travolta and Hulk Hogan, but the true stars in this neighborhood are dolphins. From time to time, the marine mammals make an appearance, riding the wake and making acrobatic flips as they dance in the frothy waves.
"I love being out here,” Febbraio says. “Everybody's happy, everybody has a smile on their face."
That might be due to more than just the dolphins. While the Captain encourages the chant jump, jump, jump for the dolphins, there’s a similar chant for Yuengling, Yuengling, Yuengling as free beverages are included in the $28 ticket making this one of the best happy hour deals in town. All you can drink beer, sunset and dolphins. Try and top that!
The comparatively mellow down-home Dunedin boat weaves among a pirate ship, Clearwater party pontoons and a double-decker booze cruise topped with nearly life-size palm trees. Heading back toward the sheltered waters of St. Joseph Sound, the sun blazes into the sea and a calming cobalt hue engulfs the scenery.
10 p.m. — If it ain’t broke
Opened in 1996, Dunedin Brewery
is the oldest craft brewery in Florida, and it has lasted for a reason. Their beers are solid, the space is great, the food fantastic and they’ve developed a real sense of community. Grab a beer and explore. The Red and Pale Ales are like old friends, tried and true, yet there are always new brew options ready to make your acquaintance. Try a trio of dark Dunedin goodies, united in the Bière de Café Brown Ale with locally roasted coffee and chocolate.
Tonight a blaring trombone and saxophone fills the large main room, which is a mix of brew house and industrial garage. The band Public Sounds Collective
is funky enough for patrons to put down their craft brews and break out some dance moves, but if the music is a little much, the back patio has a backyard feel popular with the doggie-loving crowd.
After a day full of explorations, a welcome option is to catch your breath and grab some pub grub in The Nook — if you can find a seat. Dunedin-style Poutine is a must with golden tater tots and breaded white cheddar curds lovingly smothered with pulled pork tossed in Snakebite Sauce and green onions ($10).
The Nook is a cozy annex of the brewery down an escape-hatch-like hallway beyond the men’s bathroom, which by the way, houses one of the best brewery sticker collections in the Universe. Sources report the women’s room is equally impressive. If you still need more solitude, take your brew outside for a beer garden vibe and complete what feels like a pub crawl without leaving the property.
11 p.m. — Skip Skips and head to Kelly’s-Chic-A-Boom-Blur
rocks an intriguing dive bar vibe, but any attempt to play it cool and act local is unmasked by a cash only speed bump. The ‘tender, seemingly happy with less traffic at the bar, watches as the credit card-toting-tourists depart thirsty for the ATM walk of shame. No hard feelings as once back on the street, the welcoming glow of cool blue neon a few doors down beckons like an oasis.
You might want to test the waters before diving in though, because at Blur Nightclub and Showbar
, the weekly lineup ranges from drag queen bingo to country line dancing. At first, Blur might seem out-of-place on Dunedin’s quaint main strip, but it’s part of the variety that gives the city charm and adds to the bank for owners Virgil Kelly and Kathy Carlson.
Blur is just part of a winning trifecta that showcases the open-minded mentality that enables Dunedin to support a wide variety of establishments side by side (by side). Kelly and Carlson started Kelly’s
for Just About … Anything 25 years ago and have gradually put together three businesses under the same proverbial roof, yet all scratch a different itch.
At 11 p.m., Kelly’s is wrapping up after serving a kaleidoscope of culinary options all day long, while The Chic-A-Boom-Room
, known for fun cocktails
(a slice of bacon for your bloody mary?), fine wines and brews, is in full swing with an acoustic duo that doesn’t appear old enough to order a drink entertaining a mellow coffee-house-like crowd.
Back at Blur, things are just getting started. Tonight’s karaoke with Stormie Normie might sound tame compared to other evenings, but it’s brought out the animal in many ordinary looking folks. Bathed in rainbow laser lights and the potential for karaoke glory, it’s a battleground scene with a backbeat.
As a small woman weaves through the crowd selling roses (that lady is EVERYWHERE!) Disney fans dish out dreams on the mic. A little mermaid impersonator in blue Converse All-Stars offers an endearing performance, but Blur employee Taylor Nicholson blows her out of the water. Channeling Miley Cyrus, his version of ‘Wrecking Ball’ brings the house down. Now it’s time to leave before the Disney crew can produce a sequel. Things have gotten blurry.
8 a.m. — Wake up and walk it off
Osprey cries and a Blue Heron trumpet serve as a wake up call, beckoning to the waterfront. On St. Joseph Sound, sailboats and islands are the only interruptions in the blue-on-blue scene of water and sky.
Victoria Drive is more suitable for pedestrians than cars, making it the perfect road to stroll, checking out historic homes and waterfront views, before detouring to 9th Bar Espresso
to fuel further explorations. A little over a year ago, 9th Bar opened in leased space from the Dunedin House of Beer
. The space served as a DHOB’s wine bar at night called Wine & Brew, and 9th Bar Espresso used the space as a coffee shop during the mornings. Food offerings had ranged from specialty cereal to chicken and waffle sandwiches (think chicken strips on Eggos).
Now owner Omar Hamid has moved his shop a few hundred feet north to an airy space with local artist décor and his brother Chef Ahmed Hamid is stepping up the culinary game serving an evolving seasonal menu for brunch on weekends that currently sports such dishes as the Working Hipsters Plate (poached eggs, sweet potato, bacon, onion, farmers hash, house-made virgin butter and toast for $9.25), the Epic Egg Sandwich (eggs, torta bread, chipotle aioli, crispy prosciutto, havarti cheese for $8.25) and the Kitchen Sink which is one of everything on the 4 dish menu for $30.
With coffee to go, keep strolling to Josiah Cephus Weaver Park
and the pier extending far out into the water. Watch wading birds stalking schools of tiny minnows swirling like starlings in murmuration
. This would be a great spot to grab a book from the Little Free Library
(one of a several around town) and relax watching little ones youthfully frolicking on the playground.
But heck with that, the smell of barbecue is in the air. Head down the trail by Eli’s Bar-B-Que
and sniff the smokey goodness to come. But you must be patient, despite the beefy-clucky-porky-scented cloud engulfing the smokehouse, they don’t open till 11.
10 a.m. — Meander through the market
Waiting for the crossing signal to Pioneer Park, giant iridescent bubbles cross against traffic, drifting through the air from the Dunedin Downtown Market
. Stiks, aka Brad Van Schoy, is the Bubble Man behind the overhead apparitions. Every week he drives from Gulfport to Dunedin for the market.
“It still has that quaint feel to it,” he says. “They’ve been able to keep that small town feel.”
Van Schoy patiently guides 5-year-old Caleb Ford through the process of dipping the rope & stick bubble makers that he’s selling. Ford and his mother, Leslie, are visiting from Belleville, IL and she watches carefully as he processes the situation. After a few impatient, unfruitful attempts, he settles and listens to his teacher. His little hands raise the sticks skyward and a light breeze lifts a bubble bigger than his head into the air as he squeals with delight.
A breakfast burrito from Charlie Tulum’s Dos Tacos Food Truck
is a good reason to kick back and watch the show that is the market. Eggs, bacon, peppers, cheese and pico de gallo is a simple and sweet start ($5.50) to another day of good eats.
The market has the expected veggie and craft offerings with people watching. As a swallow-tailed kite
drifts in and out of view from between shady oak treetops, a lazy day haze sets in, then seems to develop into a daydream as an older gentleman wearing a blue bandana, Hawaian shirt and a long white beard appears to float by on the other side of a row of bushes.
Reality sets back in somewhat upon the realization that he’s on two wheels. Glen Shaw zips from vendor to vendor, checking out their goods and chatting as he goes. He strategically pulls up just as the kettle corn starts to pop. Swaying back and forth on his Segway, he attempts to corral rouge kernels launching from the hot steel pan. A tambourine tied to the handlebars can barely be heard clanging above the sound of the popping kernels and fiery cooker.
A few minutes later, Shaw takes off the brim, apparently removed from a cowboy hat that was worn over his bandana, and has a seat in the shade to try and repair a disconnected wire that has stalled his wheels. As he works, he admits that he wishes he would have bought a home in Dunedin when he purchased his North Clearwater house 40 years ago.
“The city fathers are more advanced, it’s a more people friendly town, … they’re way ahead of other cities,” he says. “Today is the market, and tonight there will be hundreds of people with lawn furniture watching a free movie in the park.”
Despite residing in North Clearwater, he’s been coming to Dunedin for decades. He learned to windsurf at Weaver Park in his younger days. In recent years, he says he’s put thousands of miles on two Segways traveling to Dunedin and back. He pauses and adjusts his silver rimmed glasses fashioned with a tiny rear view mirror and says he has no plans to give up his Dunedin visits, as long as his Segway holds up.
11:15 a.m. — The lure of BBQ finally takes hold
Eli’s Bar-B-Que, sits right on the Pinellas Trail and is only open on Fridays & Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., so a seven-deep line with five people at the pick-up window isn’t unusual.
“This is a short line, it usually goes out to there,” remarks a regular, pointing toward the street. Right on cue, more customers show up. Another regular named George waits for his food perched atop a Bar-B-Que sign over the door.
Eric Davis steps from the smokehouse wearing an apron and a towel draped over his shoulder and a savory cloud follows. George soon lands within a few feet of him. Davis began calling the great egret George years ago after a white bird by the same name in a story he heard as a child. Ever since they’ve both spent their weekends here hanging around the smokehouse adorned with faded flames and the word Bigfoot painted on the side.
“Bigfoot is the smoker,” Davis says, as he begins telling the story of how the grill earned its name from Eli’s namesake, Eli Crawford, whom he refers to as his father. Davis shakes his head while telling how Crawford had to cut the original 12 foot smoker down to 8 feet.
“He had to make room for the wood,” he laughs, showing off his own grill as gold teeth flash the letters C-H-E-Z (cheese) when he smiles. “He always wished he had that four feet back.” Davis was Crawford’s right-hand man on the crowded cooker, and he inherited the grillmaster spot when Crawford died in 2013.
Davis says he has no idea how much meat he smokes each day, just that he’ll keep it cooking as long as people keep eating. Davis says he and Crawford never worried about making money much. “When people tell me that’s the best barbecue they’ve ever had, that’s worth 10 million dollars to me.”
It’s a no muss, no fuss kind of joint. Cash only, order at the window, then have a seat at a picnic table or be on your way.
A rib sandwich ($8) comes up with two sides and bread. It’s plenty for two and tender, falling off the bone with charred tips like meat candy. It comes un-sauced, so grab a couple squirts to go from the bottles on the tables if you are considering taking some for the road or bringing some back as a Dunedin souvenir for some poor soul who couldn’t join you, though it’s doubtful it will survive the trip home.
Chris Bunton of JuJu Swingkat11:30 a.m. — If the line at Eli’s is too long, don’t worry, get Happy’s
Happy’s Bayou Bites
offers Cajun country cuisine and music that feels like a dose of the Mississippi Delta. Just like Eli’s across the street, picnic tables sit beneath the outstretched arms of a giant oak, offering the feeling of a simple family gathering, but it’s a more polished operation. The tables are painted in a rainbow of colors and hiding behind the weathered looking façade.
Happy’s is actually a permanently planted food truck that opened in April 2015. It already has the feeling of an old favorite though as the place is packed and co-owner “Happy” Jordan herself is serving up orders and chatting with folks who are already regulars. After her husband, Mark, retired from the Air Force and their kids moved out, the couple took a road trip on the Gulf Coast to sample foods and bring the tastes they liked back to Dunedin.
A Shrimp Po'Boy Basket has all you need for $9.99. Fried (or blackened) gulf shrimp, lettuce, tomato, pickles and remoulade sauce on French bread with a choice of a side item HUSH PUPPIES. I repeat HUSH PUPPIES. When it comes to the side option, don’t even consider a bag of chips, these crack puppies are worth a trip to Dunedin alone and let it be known the phrase “best hush puppies ever” was overheard. The bold brown beauties have an outer crunch, yet crumbly golden goodness inside, all without falling into the greaseball category that best describes most poor puppies. Add a cup of Gumbo for an extra $2.
Adding to the outdoor party, guitarist Chris Bunton and singer Kimara Lee bring a jazzy blues banter as they toss lyrics back and forth between lively riffs. Quick licks on the fret board and punchy vocals and tambourine combine in a smooth swinging sound, which is pretty good considering they have only been practicing together for a little over a month and this is their inaugural public performance as JuJu Swingkat
Bunton and Lee have known each other for years, but it took a while to get together. Bunton lived in Dunedin briefly in 2010 where he first met Lee, but moved to New Orleans to ply his craft in the streets of the French Quarter. One night while Bunton was playing outside Café Du Monde he recognized Lee, who was vacationing in the city, and he joked that they should form a duo. But instead, they went their separate ways. Fast-forward to 2015 and Burton had drifted back to Dunedin and when a newly formed duo didn’t work out, he sought out Lee and they started practicing together.
Lots of artists seem to drift to Dunedin. Bunton explains, “It’s a small safe town, but still lively and colorful, and has enough of a bohemian attitude that hippies are welcome. Photographers, musicians, artists, painters and craftspeople of every shape and sort, it’s a cool enough little town that it attracts… and they don’t run you off if you have some talent.”
Noon — Gun guys and a swordsmith
An open door below a sign reading Metal Working Studio reveals a group of men in what appears to be a large industrial workshop creating large green machine guns.
“They’re replicas for the VFW,” explains Bill Coleman, director of The Institute for Creative Arts
. He then offers an opportunity to watch the creative process of a student of knife and swordmaking. It all sounds a little dangerous, but he insures this is a place of learning. Fair enough.
Using a foot pump, Christopher Miller fans a growing flame as his gloved hand plunges a gray steel shaft into glowing orange coals. After a minute or so, he pulls the smoldering steel and strikes it with hammer on anvil that sends the clanging sound resonating through the warehouse-like structure. The scene is reminiscent of Game of Thrones other than the Tampa Bay Lightning shirt Miller is sporting.
Coleman says the institute has brought many artists together to add to the interesting mix that is Dunedin. It’s another example of the town coming together and one of the reasons Coleman likes Dunedin so much.
“It’s the community, everyone gets involved. It’s quaint but there’s always something happening, from 20,000 people for Mardi Gras to (Dunedin) Wines and Blues
to events in the parks.” “Everything is fabulous.”
It’s that combination of quaint, quirky togetherness and “something always happening” that makes Dunedin the little town that everyone wishes they would have moved to. But thank goodness they didn’t, otherwise it might have become Clearwater.
No offense Clearwater, it’s just a different vibe.
If you’ve haven’t seen it, watch more than 500 of those quirky folks come together for the “Funedin Lip Dub 2012”
to get an idea of the fun vibe in Dunedin. Lip syncing to Shiny Happy People by R.E.M. and filmed in one take, even R.E.M. seemed to like it and posted it on the band's official website.
At least nine hotels call Dunedin home
, including Best Western Plus Yacht Harbor Inn, which offers bike rentals just steps away from your basic but bright room ($105~$170)
Beso Del Sol Resort
, Waterfront property with casual rooms starting at $135
Airbnb Waterside Cottage
on Victoria Drive, $270 per night (7 night min. w/ $250 cleaning fee)
with water views on Victoria Drive, minimum 1 month stay, $1,800