Sunken Gardens

In 1903, four acres of land were purchased by George Turner Sr, a plumber by trade but a gardener by heart.  He drained a shallow lake, which turned out to be an ancient sinkhole.  It dropped 15 feet below street level and provided a wonderful soil perfect for growing fruit and tropical exotic plants.  By 1924, he was charging admission ($.25 per person) to let people see his amazing garden.  In the 1950s, they started adding exotic wildlife as well.

Then, in 1967, he opened the World’s Largest Giftshop, which is now home to the main entrance to the gardens.  Fully restored to its natural beauty after being purchased by the City of St. Petersburg, this location provided a spot of quiet serenity in a bustling coastal town.

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Upon entering, you’re greeted with a natural looking green space.  I’ll admit, I forgot how close I actually was to a major roadway until right before I left.  The trees, multiple varieties of palms, pines, oaks and more, tower overhead, keeping the area cooler in the Florida summer.

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Tucked up among the trees and flowers are quiet little oasis where you can sit and just enjoy nature.

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There were several areas with animals, including one set aside for birds.  There was one parrot who had obviously heard many a crying toddler, because she sounded just like one.  I kept looking for a kid who had wandered away from their parents, but there was just a parrot.

Of course, my favorite bird there were the flamingos.IMG_7941

Sounding like a traffic jam, they honked loudly and would knock their beaks together if someone cut them off while moving around.

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Water plays a big part in the design of the gardens.  With water falls and burbling streams, they also have a koi pond to sit by and relax.

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A lovely respite from the busy beaches that stay well occupied at this time of year in Florida.  The price is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors (62+) and $4 for children (2-11).  Right next door is the Great Explorations Children’s Museum.  They do have combined tickets if you decide to do both.

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Fort De Soto Park

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Just off the coast of St. Petersburg, Florida likes 5 keys (islands) that make up Fort De Soto Park.  Part of the Pinellas County park system, it covers over 1,100 acres.  The 5 keys are Madelaine Key, St. Jean Key, St. Christopher Key, Bonne Fortune Key and the main island, Mullet Key and are connected by bridges or causeways.  In order to reach the park, you have to take the Pinellas Byway, a toll road that costs $1 and then another toll of $0.75 and parking of $5 per car for the day.  There are camping facilities for those interested.

Around the time of the Civil War and into the Spanish-American War, these islands were believed to be good military outposts to protect Tampa Bay and in 1898, the actual building of Fort De Soto commenced.  After World War II, however, the islands weren’t considered necessary for national defense and sold back to Pinellas County, who in turn made the islands a county park.

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Since this is a typical summer’s day in Tampa Bay, I opted to make a quick run down to the park before the afternoon rain storms hit.  Yes, the Sunshine State often gets quick rain showers during the summer months.  But don’t worry.  Just wait 15 minutes and then you can head back outside to enjoy the beaches.

Speaking of beaches, there are several to chose from along the park.

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There is a shorebirds nesting site on the North Beach that is off limits to humans, but there’s still plenty of space for beach fun.

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There’s also fishing available from the piers.

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And if that wasn’t enough, you can purchase tickets on ferries to either Edgemont National Wildlife Refuge or Shell Island.  Also, you can rent paddleboards, kayaks and bike to ride around the islands.

With beaches and activities galore, Fort De Soto County Park is a sight that needs to be seen and experienced to be believed.

Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo

As summer looms in Florida, when temperatures and humidity work against outdoor enjoyment, I decided to head out to Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo.

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Since I  live nearby, I opted for their “Buy a Day, visit for a year” promotion.  From now until the end of the year, I have access to the park with minimal black out dates (primarily their highest attendance dates).  That works just fine for me.

I opted to ask one of the employees the best place to start the day off.  He suggested starting with the primates, as they tend to be most active in the morning. And he was right.  The howler monkeys were serenading the park guests

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Other primates were hanging out, including some orangutans who were proudly supporting Tampa’s ice hockey team, the Lightning, in their bid for the Stanley Cup.

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From the primate area, I headed over towards their African animal section.  I was delighted to see one of my favorite animals, the penguins.

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I could have stayed here all day, but there was still more zoo to see, so off I continued, taking in the Safari Africa section, with both an open cart ride and walking trails.

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The ground hornbill followed along the fence by the carts, keeping a keen eye on the passengers.

The walking trails show some of the same animals that you see on the cart ride, but you can get a closer look.

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I will admit that I might have gotten a slight bit anxious when it looked like the rhino was giving me side-eye, but it was still amazing to get so close to such a rare animal.

One of the newest animals on exhibit are the African Painted Dog.  While similar to your pet dog, this animal is actually in a separate genus, separated from domesticated dogs by having fewer toes and teeth that are hypercarnivorous (more than 70% of their diet is meat).  They are also considered endangered, as there are only about 8,000 adults in existence.

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I couldn’t resist stopping by the meerkat enclosure as well.  Obviously, these guys know how to pose for the camera.

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From there, I crossed over to the aviary.  The large enclosure has separate sections, with hanging chains that help keep the birds from one section out of the others.  I guess they’re trying to keep birds of a feather flocking together.

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As we neared noon, the animals in the Asian Gardens section were all taking naps, so I opted to check out the Florida Wildlife portion of the park.  Native and not so native species were on display.  The park is currently upgrading several sections and the manatees were not available.  But others were.

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The regular admission for Lowry Park Zoo is $34.95 for adults and $25.95 for children aged 3-11.  There are several other packages you can purchase tickets with, including the TampaBay CityPass or reservations with hotel stays.  There are also several other activities you can participate in within the park, including behind the scenes tours and animal feedings.  With several areas to buy food and snacks, you could easily make a full day of it.

The Florida Aquarium

This morning, after purchasing a ticket through Groupon yesterday, I packed up Rover and drove over into Downtown Tampa to check out The Florida Aquarium.  Even having lived here for 15 years, I hadn’t taken the time to drive into downtown.  I probably should have done it earlier, as it is closing in on the end of the school year here and there were several school groups on field trips.  But it was great to see all the excitement that these young children had for the creatures who inhabit our Gulf and oceans.

I started off walking through the Wetlands exhibit, which replicate a typical mangrove forest in Florida.

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It is amazing the array of life that teams in these forests.

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It wasn’t just the underwater inhabitants that drew excitement from visitors.

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As well as the usual suspects who roam the waters of Florida.

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Up a set of stairs, I found the exhibit about creatures of Madagascar.  It was really popular with the school kids, but I was able to get one family portrait.

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There were many other exhibits throughout the aquarium, giving us glimpses of the denizens of the deep.

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Tiger sharks are known to live in and around the beaches of Florida, but they’re most active at dusk and don’t often head into the shallows.

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Lion fish are an invasive species in the Caribbean and Gulf waters.

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If only the tiger sharks would eat them…

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If you’re visiting with little ones, the Florida Aquarium has a splash park by Ray Cafe, out by the water, which will give them an outlet for excess energy before you head over to the 4D duck theater, which presents shows that are designed for both kids and adults.  Other, interactive presentations happen throughout the day.

Regular price for adults (13-59) is $28.95, seniors (60+) is $26.95, children (3-11) is $23.95 and free for those under 3.  There are add-ons available as well, including a dolphin cruise into the bay, dive experiences and behind the scenes tours.

San Francisco Bay Trail

This past weekend, I decided to check out the San Francisco Bay trail.  It runs all the way around the shore of the Bay for a total of 354 miles.  I opted to stick to a much more reasonable about of trail and went to Baylake Park in Sunnyvale and Shoreline in Mountain View Park.

The day was supposed to be rainy, but the sun opted to make an appearance instead.  I first headed to the Sunnyvale portion of the trail, but found myself in a bit of a pickle as it was Free Dumping Weekend and the line to get to one portion of the trail was backed up.  So, I went down a bit more and entered through the Baylake Park portion.  It was $6 per car.

The sun was still struggling when I got there, but that didn’t matter as the view was amazing.

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This area is mostly wetlands and it is outside of the season for bird migration, but there were other creatures in the park.

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Even if not all of them were visible.

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Later, I headed north to Shoreline in Mountain View to check out more of the trail.

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You could see all the way to Fremont across the bay.

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The wildlife was more prevalent here.

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The plant life was very interesting as well.

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The trail meandered along the creek that feeds into the bay.

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And no matter where you go, there’s always that one guy…

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Also at the Mountain View portion is the Rengstorff House.  Mountain View’s oldest house, it was moved to its current site in 1989 and fully restored in 1991.  A fine example of Victorian architecture, it is also a beautiful place for events.

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The Mountain View portion was free to enter, though if you want to participate in some of the other activities offered (golfing and sailing to name a few), those have additional costs.  A beautiful way to appreciate nature and get some fresh air.

Art Boutiki

Last evening, I went with a friend of the family to see Romain Pilon at Art Boutiki in San Jose.  Set in a residental/business area of San Jose, this location wasn’t quite what I expected.  First off, the front of the shop is a comic book store.  You definitely get the feel of a more laid back view of comic books/manga/anime items.  Casually laid out, there are also more Island feel objects scattered around the room, like the monkey in a suit holding a tray on which sits a potted plant.

At the back of the comic book shop area is a tiki hut, where you check in for the show.  The show area is blocked off by floral print curtains, but they do nothing to block the sound from the other side.  We were lucky enough to hear some of the rehearsal before going back.

Tables and chairs were arranged in front of the stage, with sofas and loveseats ranging around the side and back of the space.  In one corner stands the bar/food prep area.  We had already eaten before arriving, so we simply got drinks and settled in to enjoy.

Unbeknownst to us, this offering was to showcase not just the jazz guitarist Romain Pilon, but 4 students from the San Jose Jazz Consortium.  They quartet preformed first a couple of songs, before being joined by the professional.  I’ll be the first to admit that jazz isn’t a music style I have any familiarity with, but they were good.  We really enjoyed the show.

If you’re traveling to San Jose and looking for an interesting evening, definitely check out Art Boutiki and see what’s on the agenda for that week.  Also, if you enjoy jazz guitar, you can find Romain Pilon on YouTube.

Stevens Creek Trail

In a break from the on again/off again rain that seems rather present in Northern California right now, I headed over to check out a small portion of the Stevens Creek Trail, a pedestrian/bicyclist path that stretches 5 miles from Shoreline Park to Mountain View.  A bit of nature in the heart of Silicone Valley.

The creek itself starts out in the Santa Cruz Mountains and winds its way down into the San Francisco Bay.  Originally named Arroyo San José de Cupertino by the explorer Juan Bautista de Anza, then Cupertino Creek, then around 1866 it was renamed again for Elijah Stephens, a blacksmith from South Carolina, who’s 160 acre property was around where the creek starts.

I entered the path in Mountain View, the city just up from where I’m currently staying in Sunnyvale.

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The creek, after a really good downpour, usually rises up high on its banks, but today, the creek wasn’t really visible for several sections of the part I walked.

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There was a puddle or two before I got to the bridge.

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From the looks of the walls of the creek and the downed trees at the bottom, when this creek floods, it is rather dangerous.  On the steep sides, there are fences set up to keep people safe, though not the entire walk.  One thing I did note, while walking, is that even though there is a major road way nearby, you could lose yourself in the nature of this pathway.

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The pathway takes you towards another path that leads towards a park/school.  It was rather welcoming and I simply couldn’t resist walking over and taking a peek down.

The sun did attempt to peek through, but for the most part, opted to take Sunday off for rest.  The pathway is surrounded by green grass and trees, but also many pops of color from the flowering plants that edge the walk.

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On my way back to the parking area near the former Mountain View CalTrain station, I happened to look into one of the parking lots edging the road, empty of its Monday-Friday cars and noted something that made me smile.

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This tree reminded me of the feeling a retail worker gets when a customer insists they look again in the back room for an item that isn’t in stock.  He even has a name tag!

A nice getaway from the hustle of Silicone Valley, Stevens Creek Trail is a great walk in nature.  One thing to note, though.  You share the walk with bicyclists, who sometimes go a bit faster than the posted biking speeds.  Stay alert while walking and you’ll be fine.

Aquarium of the Bay

On Tuesday, I caught the CalTrain from Sunnyvale, where I’m visiting family, up to San Francisco.

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That experience is a blog in and of itself that I’ll save for later.  Once in San Francisco, I caught the E light rail trolley down to Fisherman’s Wharf and over to Pier 39, home of the Aquarium of the Bay.

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You begin on the 3rd floor and look at some of the denizens who reside in San Francisco Bay.

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Then you take the elevator down to the first floor and the walk through tubes that represent the waters of the Bay, without all the cloudiness that is actually present.

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The jellyfish are set to the side, then you begin your walk-through.  I guess it is tiring being a display fish, as I found several just resting on their laurels (or tank shelf).

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There was also two large fish that looked like something you would find in the fossil record.

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Certainly made it easy to photograph them.  Next, you come to a small break with displays of some other creatures that wouldn’t do well in the tunnels, including crabs and rock clingers.

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Oh, and this guy.

Then, you move on to the larger tunnel, featuring sharks, rays and sturgeons.

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Finally, you take the elevator back upstairs to see the touch labs and the river otter exhibit.

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We arrived just in time to watch the feeding and the training they do with the otters.

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While not the least expensive place I’ve ever visited, if you keep in mind this is California, then the prices aren’t as bad.  For anyone 13-64, general admission is $26.95, ages 4-12 is $16.95, and seniors 65+ are $21.95.  There are optional add ons of behind the scenes tours or shark feedings plus options of adding on other attractions in the Fisherman’s Wharf area.

 

Jolley Trolley

After living in the Tampa Bay area for the last 15 years, I finally took the time and rode the Jolley Trolley.  I mentioned the Trolley in my last post, when I finally made it over to Clearwater Beach.  I was going to try it yesterday, but the timing didn’t pan out, so I drove up to Dunedin to catch it, since Dunedin lies in the approximate middle of the Coastal Route.

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I decided to try and start on the Northbound route, which took me up to Tarpon Springs, which Mom and I visited when we came home for my doctor’s appointment in August.  Since it was one of the first runs of the morning, the trolley was pretty empty.  That gave me my choice of seats (so I snagged a window).  Then, we were off to Tarpon Springs.

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Since I’ve already talked about Tarpon Springs, I won’t go into details, but it was nice to be able to get off and stretch my legs.  I walked around for a little bit, but my main goal today was to ride the Trolley all the way, so I hopped back on and headed south to Clearwater.

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Also already talked about, but once again, Florida was showing off her beauty, so I had to snap a few shots as the Trolley rolled from North Clearwater Beach to South, over a causeway.

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I snapped one more shot before deciding to call it a day, though I could have easily kept on the trolley for hours.

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For $5, you can ride all day and get off and on as many times as you wanted.  You can stop for lunch on the beach, head back up to Tarpon Springs for dinner and still be able to ride until the last Trolley goes to bed.  I’m glad I was finally able to get to do this Clearwater staple and highly recommend it for anyone who wants to see these areas without having to shell out for gas.

Clearwater Beach…Take 2

After yesterday’s clear signs that I wasn’t supposed to go to Clearwater Beach that day, I decided to try again this morning.  Based on the lack of lost dogs or multiple fire trucks, I figured I was safe to head out there today.  And I was RIGHT!

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It was slightly warmer today, though not what many Floridians would consider hot, so the beach was relatively clear.  There were people there, but nothing like what it would be during Spring Break or the summer months.  And I noticed that the items washing up on shore were different from what I had been seeing on Indian Rocks beach.

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Multiple sponges and horseshoe crabs were littering the tide line, along with many fish carcasses, but since those are less than picturesque, I opted not to digitally collect those.

I parked down by Pier 60, a major landmark along Clearwater Beach.  Parking was $3 per hour, but still worth it.

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They were doing some cosmetic work up top, so I opted to get the view from below.

Before I decided to stroll along the Beach Walk, I opted to check out the different boat tours operated out of the marina.  The first one to catch my eye was The Original Pirate Cruise aboard a pirate ship.

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It has been in operation for 40 years and is one of the more recognizable in the Clearwater area.  But it isn’t the only themed ship to sail these waters.  I also checked out Mega Bite , a 40 foot dolphin sighting tour.

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There are even more than what I’ve listed here, including the Encounters with Dolphins sightseeing cruise, that also stops at Compass Island to collect seashells, snorkel and treasure hunts for the kids.  Prices vary with each tour company, so check their websites out to see which one is more in line with what you want to do.

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One great thing about the area is the Jolley Trolley, which runs from Tarpon Springs to the north down into Clearwater Beach, with stops along the way, including Dunedin (which I talked about in an earlier blog).  You can ride all day and get on and off multiple times for only $5.  Multi day tickets can be purchased from their website as well.

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With multiple hotels and restaurants dotting the main road and facing the beach, there are lots of places to stay and play along one of the most beautiful beaches in Florida.  Easy to get to even if you’re not staying right on the beach, a trip to this destination should be high on your list when you’re in the Tampa Bay area.