For the first time in years, Jeff and I were able to take a 2-week vacation this year. December/January is our Florida vacation time, and as we can’t spend more than a week at Baytree, we decided this year to go to the Gulf Coast. We found an incredibly convenient hotel in Dunedin, right on the 45+ mile Pinellas Trail.
What could be better?
Why, nothing, of course!!!
We had a great time. We biked over 150 miles in 5 days, including 45 miles (me, anyway; Jeff did 30, as I biked to and from the ride start) with the Suncoast Cycling Club, on the Saturday we left. The Pinellas Trail is a great connector. Martin County, where we usually vacation in Fla, has nothing like it, and if you want to bike distances there, you either have to take your life into your hands on less than optimal roads, or else haul the bikes to where you want to go.
Pinellas County, though, has not only some great trails, but also an extensive bike lane system, more extensive than Martin County. We weren’t restricted to the trail; we biked to the shore, to a couple of Starbucks (well, what did you expect?), and to downtown Clearwater.
It’s amazing how far you can go, effortlessly (and how fast) when all the miles are flat. (Well, the trail does have overpasses, and Floridians consider these to be part of a HILL ride.) I don’t think we did less than 20 miles a day, and usually much more.
Scenes from a Pinellas County biking vacation . . .
Nothing like having a neighborly Tiki Bar in your back yard. This one fronts onto the Pinellas trail in Dunedin, and on Christmas Day, it was actually open (TV blaring and all). The neighbors must love this guy.
The Starbucks we "adopted" for our stay. It was, blessedly, open on Christmas, as there were few other pee stops to be found.
Neener, neener, neener . . . sitting outside the Palm Harbor Starbucks on a balmy Christmas day. (Wow, my handlebar needs a rewrap job.)
View of the ocean from the top of a "hill" in Palm Harbor. Yes. Waaay in the distance.
A delightful day, and a beautiful trail.
A "hill" on the trail:
The Pinellas trail has nice railroad-y signs announcing each town:
It was about 10 miles north of where we were staying; we biked to it once on our own, for lunch and baklava, and a second time with the Suncoast group (it was early and the bakery was closed, dammit). My Mom visited the town years ago, on a visit to see her best friend, sometime in the 70s. She brought back a little Greek fisherman's cap for my Dad, which he wore just about until he died. (I still have it.)
Mykonos . . . highly recommended, and truly good.
Me . . .
Jeff . . .
And the town, all decked out in Christmas.
I kid you not: a "sponge" Christmas tree, set up by a homeowner on a back street.
Dunedin itself had a lovely little downtown, and a public fishing pier. This birdie just stood around waiting to be fed . . .
And so did this guy.
South of Dunedin, we found a nice bike shop with a great message. (One of the shop employees said the message was put up to jerk the owner's chain; he apparently needs to drop a few pounds.)
One of the parks/rest stops on the Pinellas.
Sunset over the Gulf. (No, not on the trail; we were driving to Sarasota.)
Biking’s not nearly as fun, of course, unless there’s great eats. Besides Mykonos, here’s where we ate, and what we thought (most of these were from suggestions made by the many helpful and knowledgeable denizens of Chowhound):
Dunedin Brewery -- nice brewpub, with some strooong brews. I had an apricot pint (6%), then I had to try their their cherry-flavored Christmas beer (8%). Good thing we were walking. OK. I might have staggered a bit.
Kelly’s Chic-a-Boom -- decent enough place; we just wanted a snack after the brewery stop. I had a cheese plate and a glass of wine. Nice outdoor covered patio, with heaters. Kelly's bills itself as Tampa Bay's state-of-the-art martini bar. I'd had too many brews, though, to sample any.
Jolly Mon -- really great Key West/Jamaican eatery right by our hotel AND the Pinellas trail . . . more visible from the trail than the road, really. The Suncoast club oftentimes eats there after rides, so we had a nice lunch after biking with them on Saturday. Their french fries set the standard for all subsequent french fries I'll ever again eat (Jeff said their fish sandwich did likewise for him). Their jerk chicken is also awesome. Pretty much all the outdoor tables were filled up with cyclists in full mufti.
Ceviche -- tapas bar in St. Petersburg, with another location in Tampa. We sat outside and had a number of small dishes, including steak, rice, green beans (not that great), and a few other bits and pieces. Excellent.
China Yuan -- authentic Chinese restaurant serving the real thing . . . we were the only non-Asians in the restaurant. Great dim sum, noodle dishes, whole fish.
Vizen -- outstanding sushi, in a nondescript little strip shopping center in Sarasota. Recommended highly by Chowhound. Fabulous presentation and creativity, and the prices were not out of the ordinary, even though there really weren't that many tables in the place. SillyGoose has a good review here.
Cristino's Coal Oven Pizza -- good pizza, though not a huge variety of toppings. High heat makes a wonderfully crispy crust, and this was among the better pizzas we've had. Wood-fired pizza joints are everywhere, but we are only now starting to notice coal-fired places. Cristino's web site says the pizzas cook in less than 5 minutes. Wow. That's a hot oven. Don't try this one at home.
Hellas Bakery -- in Tarpon Springs . . . we went there for baklava right after eating at Mykonos. We went back on Saturday to get more baklava to cart with us to Stuart. They make these round jobbies, thick, heavy, about the size (and weight) of a hockey puck. Um . . . they also come drenched in chocolate.