We discovered a small town gem of a place…right in our own backyard

Editor’s notes: Rorie and Bart love #smalltowns. That’s obvious. But they especially love discovering awesome places when they’re only a stone’s throw (well maybe a 1 or 2 hour drive) from their home. They’ve reported on “Backyard Gems” before, spotlighting places like Micanopy, FL (http://bit.ly/2tCji5o) and Collinsville, CT (http://bit.ly/2tF06DO).


We recently navigated our way to the town of Dunedin (pronounced DONE-EE-DIN) in the Tampa Bay region of Florida. Bart’s father “Buddy” often mentioned the place when reminiscing about his time in the Army Air Corps during World War II. He trained near Dunedin as a rear tail gunner on a night fighter before being deployed to the Philippines.

Today the town is said to offer some of the best dining in the Tampa Bay area, hosts the minor league Dunedin Blue Jays baseball team, and has art, culture and – according to some locals – the #1 Beach in America!  Your DSTA Tour guides focused on Dunedin’s quaint downtown village. What fun!

A patriotic archway “announces” the town’s retail district – The Shops on Broadway.  

Shops on Broadway

Colorful signs and sidewalk “ornaments” put a smile on our faces.

colorful chairBloomin Bikes

The sweet tooth among us made a beeline for this charming sugar mecca. Check out some of its old school confections.

Sweet treatsOld school candy

To Rorie’s defense, she did take a pass on Sweet Treats’ Sky Bars, Charleston Chews, ice cream and other goodies that were calling her. But, that’s only because she knew what was waiting for her just a few blocks down the street…lunch.


View from our counter seat

The Olde Bay Cafe is attached to the Dunedin Fish Market. Their seafood is fresh and just plain good. The views from our bar stools were spectacular. It was a hot day so we ate inside. In cooler weather the outside deck is where you want to be.


Our Dunedin explorations – and chow down lunch – were terrific. But the day wasn’t over….Here’s where things got even more fun.

Normally we start our #smalltown “tours” with a specific destination in mind. But, invariably, we discover random, really cool places that weren’t on our radar. And that’s what happened in nearby Largo, Florida.

Thanks to some good road signage, we noticed a sign that caught our attention.

Botanical garden

The screeching sound you may have heard was Bart making a sudden U-turn to get back to the entrance of The Florida Botanical Gardens. Oh my, what  wonderful discovery.

After parking (the place was deserted because of the heat), we headed out to explore the park. The first thing we noticed was this rather amusing sign.


Needless to say, we had no intention of either feeding or molesting a gator. Whaaaat?

The Gardens are a maze of beautiful walkways.


It’s also an extraordinary venue for weddings.


There are plantings of every kind imaginable around the grounds. They’re stunning.


Pictures may be worth a thousand words, but our ability to capture the amazing beauty of the Gardens was extremely limited. All we can say is, if you’re ever in this area, put The Florida Botanical Gardens on your bucket list!

And while you’re there you MUST take in Heritage Village. It’s literally right next door to The Gardens. This 21-acre living history museum features 31 structures, some from the mid-to-late 19th century. It averages 4 1/2 stars on #TripAdvisor for a good reason.



This wonderful recreation of a #smalltown village includes a school, church, railroad depot, sponge warehouse and general store as well as a variety of historic homes.


We will be back to spend more time exploring the sights and smells of the village of Dunedin, The Florida Botanical Gardens and Heritage Village. Maybe we’ll see you there!


The Tour Heads North…

“Old Florida” Really is Old

On a tip from one of Bart’s favorite coffee house baristas in Lido Key, FL (population 12,525), Rorie and Bart headed North to New England to and through the “Old Florida” town of Micanopy (population about 600). Its town center is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is home to a number of antique stores, a large used book store and several restaurants.

According to Wikipedia, “Micanopy is believed to be the state’s oldest inland town and is named for Chief Micanopy of the Seminole Nation”.


The sign’s arrow points south along Cholokka Boulevard and is located a few yards from the start of the Micanopy Historic District.



Brunswick, Georgia

Continuing our journey, we decided to take it easy the first day (travelled a mere 340 miles) and motored on to Brunswick, GA, (pop. 15,583). It was an uneventful 6 hours in the car, where we spent our time rocking out to music from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s and tried to best each other in a spirited and loud game of “name that tune”. Sadly, the game ended in a tie so nobody could be declared the one true winner – not that we’re particularly competitive by nature (hah).

Special Shout-Out

Though we didn’t go there this trip, historic Brunswick is home to a fabulous restaurant called Indigo Coastal Shanty (http://www.indigocoastalshanty.com). Great food, cool atmosphere. Owner/chef Kate Buchanan is warm and very friendly. If you’re ever passing through the area be sure to stop in and enjoy this nearly 5 star (Yelp) eatery – http://www.yelp.com/biz/indigo-coastal-shanty-brunswick.


After checking into our hotel we hopped back in the car and headed to nearby St. Simons Island (pop. approximately13,000). Crossing over the bridge leading to the island, we were treated to a view of beautiful low-country marshlands with curving, vivid blue waterways as far as you could see. Rorie is not a huge fan of bridges (OK, she hates them) but the scenery on both sides of this one was a good distraction.

St. Simons pictiure

St. Simon clouds

Part of Georgia’s famous Golden Isles and the largest of these barrier islands, St. Simons is a beautiful small community. Everywhere you look there are majestic oak trees dripping with Spanish moss, and an amazing array of architecturally diverse homes (and of course mansions!). This is where some of the 1%-ers live.


The island’s village center is chock full of shops, restaurants, boutiques, candy and ice cream stores (no we didn’t imbibe) locals and tourists. After a brisk power walk through the neighborhoods, we strolled past the village to the pier. This is quite the gathering place with lots of people fishing, sitting on benches eating lunch, or like us, just out for a little exercise.


Next to the large, t-shaped pier is a park, children’s play area, miniature golf course, public swimming pool and walking paths. It’s a great place to relax, fish, and “people watch” – one of our favorite past times!

St. Simons is steeped in history. The Fort Frederica National Monument, built in 1736, protected the island from the Spanish. The Fort’s remains have been preserved and it is designated a national historic site. And those beautiful, massive oak trees that are all over the island? Well 2,000 of them were used to build warships including the USS Constitution, knicknamed “Old Ironsides” because cannon balls bounced off of its oak planks.

The St. Simons Island Lighthouse, located near the village and pier, guards the Sound with a beacon that flashes every 60 seconds. It is a grand old structure, open to the public and definitely worth a visit, especially if you want to brag about how you climbed the 129 steps to the top! The original structure was built in 1811, destroyed in 1861 during the Civil War and rebuilt in 1872. The light keeper’s home, a Victorian brick structure, is now a museum.


There are many historic sites here, so if you visit allow plenty of time to explore. Whether you’re a Civil War buff or into Maritime history, St. Simons Island has something for everyone.


Next up? Who knows. We’ll let the road tell us. Stayed tuned for some more Discover Small Town America Tour surprises…

Something Fishy Happened…on Our Way to the Small Town of Tarpon Springs, FL

Earlier this week The Discover Small Town America Tour decided  to explore the quirky small town of Tarpon Springs, FL (pop. 24,600). As often happens on the Tour, Bart and Rorie got sidetracked by an “on the way” restaurant they heard about on the HGTV show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and from some well-traveled friends. The place? Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish Restaurant in St. Petersburg, FL (http://tedpetersfish.com). This family owned and operated restaurant has been in business in the same spot on Pasadena Avenue in St. Pete since 1952. A covered eating area with picnic tables and counter stools, and a separate smoke house with old-fashioned wood smoking trays, make up this iconic roadside  eatery.

Ted's sign

After bellying up to the counter, Rorie told Sue (who, by the way, was one of the most personable, enthusiastic and attentive waitresses ever), she and Bart had never been toTed’s before.


Well before you could say “holy smoke Batman”, Sue presented them with a sample of Ted’s famous smoked fish, amazing German potato salad and root beer served in an icy mug. The samples were all it took for Rorie to order one of their specialties sandwiches, an enormous treat overflowing with a tuna-like spread made of smoked mullet and mahi, sweet relish and mayo. Mmmm. Although the sandwich was big enough to feed 4 adults (or 2 Sumo wrestlers), Rorie and Bart managed to polish it off in record time.


Frost mug

Next time you’re near St. Pete, make sure you stop at Ted’s, ask for Sue and tell her Rorie and Bart sent you!

Having fed their hunger and partially satisfied the “beast”, Rorie and Bart took off for their next destination, Tarpon Springs (http://www.tarponspringschamber.com). Famous for harvesting and processing natural sponges, divers have been fishing the sponge beds and keeping this maritime industry alive since the late 1880’s. And, where there’s a large Greek population, you can bet there are gorgeous ornate churches, the smell of roasting gyro meats, colorful overflowing platters of food, and most importantly, bakeries with the sweet aroma of sugar and honey serving every treat imaginable! Welcome to Tarpon Sprtongs

Historic Tarpon Springs

Most of the sponge divers migrated to the town from Greece and today,Tarpon Springs has the highest percentage of Greek-American residents in the U.S.  As soon as Bart and Rorie arrived in Tarpon Springs, they headed towards the water and The Sponge Docks and Sponge Exchange (http://www.spongedocks.net). Both historic and touristy, this area has numerous statues and plaques honoring the original sponge divers who created the industry, aging sponging boats listed on the U.S. National Register tied up at the dock and beautiful old buildings lining the side streets.

Tarpon Sprongs Harbor

Sponge diver

Sponge Mural

Barely out of the car, Rorie tested her newfound conviction to reduce her sugar intake when she passed up the chance to indulge in an ice cream cone at Sweeties Ice Cream Parlor. With it’s red, white and black interior, Sweeties is a blast from the past where they serve 32 flavors of ice cream, 8 flavors of Italian Ice, hand-dipped waffle cones and monster milkshakes. It was a tough decision.


Beginning their stroll on Dodecanese Boulevard which runs along the waterfront docks, Rorie and Bart encountered hundreds of sightseers, colorful locals stopped in the narrow streets and sidewalks carrying on animated conversations in Greek, all types of Greek and seafood restaurants, bakeries, marketplaces, an aquarium, gift shops, and of course sponges in every size and shape imaginable. These are not your pot scrubbing sponges! The sponges in Tarpon Springs are various shades of beige, and are big enough to be vases, wall ornaments or sculptures! Grab a sponge, some locally made soap with olive oil and get ready to scrub your way to a glowing complexion!


Greek Market

Main STreet

And speaking of restaurants and bakeries, Bart and Rorie’s neighbors recommended they stop by Hellas (http://hellasbakery.com), a cornerstone of the Tarpon Springs Greek community since 1970. This large establishment was jam-packed with locals and tourists and the attached bakery had huge cases filled with the largest selection of pastries and treats Rorie and Bart had ever seen. There were so many delicacies to choose from it was both awe-inspiring and a little bit overwhelming. After eyeballing and drooling over every sugary confection, Rorie denied herself the perfect dessert…chocolate dipped baklava overflowing with cinnamon, nuts and honey!

Hellas Bakery

Rorie Hellas Bakery 2

Before you leave Tarpon Springs, grab some pastry to go (just in case you get hungry during your trip home), drive along Spring Bayou to see the gorgeous Victorian mansions built by wealthy Northerners who wintered here, take a stroll downtown and browse the many antique stores lining the streets.  And, say hi to this cute little guy who you’ll see in the window of one of the many storefront shops you’ll pass.

Little Greek Orthodox guy

P.S. In case you’re wondering why Rorie’s been on a new and temporary “Just say no to sweets” kick, it’s because she and Bart are taking the Discover Small Town America Tour to some small Caribbean island towns next week and she wants to be able to “Just say yes” to every delectable treat she encounters. Stay tuned for our report about small towns in “El Caribe”…

You Can Check out (of This Small Town) Anytime You Like, But You Can Never Leave…

Just like the Hotel California featured in the Eagle’s tune with the same name, the small beachside community where the movie The Truman Show was filmed was a place actor Jim Carey could never leave. After Rorie and Bart’s recent visit to this unusual place they weren’t sure why anyone would want to leave. It’s name? Seaside, FL (pop. approximately 10,000 year round).


We should note that the Russells have had Seaside on their DSTA Tour bucket list for a long time and went there during a recent road trip to the not-so-small-town of New Orleans. Like John Mellencamp sang in his hit tune Small Town, Bart and Rorie “got nothing against the big town”, especially when it’s serving up Po Boys, Muffaletta, beignets (OK, A LOT of beignets!) and some amazing jazz. But Bart and Rorie are all about discovering and sharing unique small towns – and that was their primary mission during this trip.

Seaside, located on the coast of the Florida Panhandle, is an amazing crayola-colored, master-planned community. The town was designed and built in the New Urbanism architectural style to create pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods that encourage conversations over white picket fences and foster a sense of community. And did you know that no two houses on the same street can have the same picket fence?

Pink House

Neighborhood Gazebo

Blue House

White House

This sun-drenched, vibrant town of whimsical colorful “cottages” sits on the flour white beaches of the Gulf of Mexico. The contrast of the blue sky, white sand and multi-hued homes is a feast for the eyes.

Seaside Beach

Seaside’s town center, which is the hub of the community, is a hip area with a laid back “no worries” kind of vibe and a great place to people watch. Its  locals –  tourists, bikers, honeymooners and families – all coexist wonderfully and the people the Russells met couldn’t have been friendlier.  The town center features an outdoor amphitheater, flag-flying food trucks, quaint shops, art galleries, restaurants, a coffee shop, an old fashioned bookstore and a gourmet, family-owned market.

Post office

Palm walkway

Pickles Burger Joint

Ampitherer with Airstream vendor


Speaking of gourmet food, Seaside’s Modica Market – with it’s endless shelves of goodies, cases of home baked desserts and menu of fresh sandwiches – is where Bart and Rorie fed their appetites, which they fondly refer to as “The Beast”. After circling the deli and dessert cases many times, they finally decided to share a huge sandwich with thickly sliced French bread stuffed with healthy turkey and cheese. They skipped dessert this time, but Rorie thought it was important to show you exactly what she was giving up.

Country Market


The Russells said goodbye to Seaside with a sense of regret, because their visit was way too short. They vowed, however, to return in the future for a much longer stay so they could get to know the locals better and luxuriate in all this town has to offer.

Discover amazing small towns…in your own backyard

The Discover Small Town America Tour takes us all over the country and we’re always on the lookout for new small towns we’ve never “met” (especially those with unusual stories and residents, charm, architecture, history, etc.). But sometimes we forget there are awesome places to discover right in our own backyard. Such was the case recently when we decided to tour nearby Collinsville, located just up the road from our old stomping grounds in North Central CT. The weather was spectacular for our 4th of July weekend excursion.

Before starting our walking tour of Collinsville, we took a nearly 4-mile power walk along the Farmington River Trail (FRT). According to its website, The FRT “is an 18.2-mile loop trail in Farmington and Simsbury and passes through the villages of Unionville and Collinsville and the towns of Burlington and Canton (Although we’re big walkers, the entire FRT was a little too ambitious even for us!). For much of its length, the trail nestles against the banks of the Farmington River tracing the route of the old “Canal Line” railroad. While the trail passes by some of the area’s loveliest landscapes, it also contains the longest stretches of on road riding.”

We’d like to give a BIG shout out to town leaders, volunteers and all the other people and institutions that provided the vision and support needed to make spectacular public trails, bikeways and parks possible in small towns and big cities throughout America.
Bike trail

A Classic Small Town Main Street

After completing our walk (8,000 steps on our pedometers) we meandered up Main Street which is “home” to several thriving small businesses, including the bustling Lasalle Market.
Main STreet

We stopped in the Market (http://bit.ly/1tc5PeX) for some cool refreshment and the place was hopping. People were sitting inside and out enjoying the market’s homemade vittles. Although hungry after all her exercise, Rorie refrained from chowing down on the mouth watering slices of pizza that were calling her name. Such will power.
LaSalle Market

After our quick break, we continued exploring the village and sauntered along its side streets. The historic homes decked out in their holiday flags and bunting, and the pristine church represent period architecture and are spectacular.
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