Open-Air Mail -- St. Petersburg residents don't have to go inside to get mail out of their boxes at St. Petersburg's open-air post office, at the corner of 1st Avenue North and 4th Street North. Built in 1917, this granite, arcaded Spanish Colonial structure is a local landmark and is often photographed by those enchanted by its charm.
Pier Around by Trolley -- You can spend a small fortune in a parking garage or by feeding the meters in St. Petersburg, or you can cut costs substantially by parking at the Pier ($3 all day) and taking the Looper, the city's trolley service, which operates between the Pier and all major downtown attractions.
A Town Runs Through It -- The scenic Pinellas Trail happens to run right through downtown Dunedin, a charming Gulf Coast town known for fishing, beaching, and the Toronto Blue Jays' spring training. The 6-block downtown area is dotted with shops, restaurants, old-fashioned street lamps, and brick sidewalks, and it's a world apart from neighboring big-city Tampa and St. Pete. Just off the coast are Honeymoon and Caladesi islands. For more information contact the Dunedin Chamber of Commerce (tel. 727/733-3197; www.dunedin-fl.com).
Ancient Burial Mounds & manatees
Drive north of St. Petersburg for an hour on congested U.S. 19, and you'll come to one of Florida's original tourist attractions, the famous Weeki Wachee Springs (tel. 877/469-3354 or 352/596-2062; www.weekiwachee.com). "Mermaids" have been putting on acrobatic swimming shows here every day since 1947. It's a sight to see them doing their dances in waters that come from one of America's most prolific freshwater springs, pouring some 170 million gallons of 72°F (22°C) water each day into the river. There's more than mermaids here; you can also take a Wilderness River Cruise across the Weeki Wachee River and send the kids on the flume ride at Buccaneer Bay, the water park part of the attraction. Admission to Weeki Wachee only is $13 for adults, $5 for children 6 to 12. To Buccaneer Bay and Weeki Wachee, it's $26 for adults, $12 for children 6 to 12. Weeki Wachee Springs is open Monday through Thursday from 10am to 3pm, Friday through Sunday from 10am to 4pm. Buccaneer Bay water park is open only on Friday from 10am to 4pm, Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 5pm. Parking is free.
You can rent kayaks on the Weeki Wachee River for $30 for a one-person kayak, $35 for a two-person kayak, and $35 for a canoe per day (tel. 352/597- 0360; www.floridacanoe.com).
From Weeki Wachee, travel 21 miles north to the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, 4150 S. Suncoast Blvd. (U.S. 19), in Homosassa Springs (tel. 352/628-5343; www.floridastateparks.org/homosassasprings). The highlight here is a floating observatory where visitors can "walk" underwater and watch manatees in a rehabilitation facility, as well as see thousands of fresh- and saltwater fish. You'll also spot deer, bear, bobcats, otters, egrets, and flamingos along unspoiled nature trails. The park is open daily from 9am to 5:30pm (last tickets sold at 4pm). There are also very educational, entertaining wildlife programs, including the alligator and hippo program and the manatee program. Admission is $13 for adults and $5 for children 3 to 12; it includes a 20-minute narrated boat ride.
About 7 miles north of Homosassa Springs, more than 300 manatees spend the winter in Crystal River. You can swim or snorkel with the manatees in the warm-water natural spring of Kings Bay. American Pro Diving Center, 821 SE Hwy. 19, Crystal River (tel. 800/291-3483 or 352/563-0041; www.americanprodive.com), offers daily swimming and snorkel tours. Early morning is the best time to see the manatees, so try to take the 6:30am departure. The trips range from $30 to $50 per person. Call for schedule and reservations. American Pro Diving also rents cottages on the Homosassa River.
Tour the Crystal River with Captain Russ Holliday's Native Sun Tours (tel. 352/212-6142) via a three-tiered airboat that glides over the shallow water. For a sublime stay, the Blue Moon Bed & Breakfast (tel. 352/621-1960; www.thebluemoonbb.com), located amid the thick forest along the Homosassa River, offers themed rooms and a lodgelike lobby with fireplace from $155. Don't miss an afternoon in Heritage Village in downtown Crystal River, with delicious cafes including Café on the Avenue (tel. 352/795-3656; www.dineontheavenue.com), known for the best three-layer banana-pineapple-pecan cake in the South, and Back Porch Garden & Tea Bar (tel. 352/564-1555; www.backporchgarden.com), where you can sip an iced tea under an oak tree.
Also check out the Weedon Island Preserve, 4801 37th St. S. (tel. 727/893-2627; www.weedonislandcenter.org), in the upper Tampa Bay waters of Pinellas County, on the western shore of the entrance to Old Tampa Bay directly west of Port Tampa. The island was named for Dr. Leslie Weedon, a renowned authority on yellow fever, who acquired the 1,250-acre island in 1898 in what is now north St. Petersburg. Weedon had a fascination with Indian culture and developed a weekend retreat on the island, from which he began excavations that first revealed the importance of the site as an Indian burial mound. A Smithsonian expedition to the island in 1923 and 1924 further documented the importance, which is now managed as a county preserve. Today it's home to an assortment of fish, snakes, raccoons, and dolphins. Rent a canoe to explore, and find yourself "becoming one" with nature.
Baseball fans won't want to miss the Ted Williams Museum & Hitters Hall of Fame, Tropicana Field, One Tropicana Dr., St. Pete (tel. 352/527- 6566; www.tedwilliamsmuseum.com). The museum holds the great hitter's personal memorabilia, including his two Triple Crown batting titles. The museum opens 2 hours before home games, and stays open through the last inning. Admission is exclusive to fans attending games at the stadium.
For more information about the area, contact the Citrus County Chamber of Commerce, 28 NW Hwy. 19, Crystal River, FL 34428 (tel. 352/795- 3149; fax 352/795-4260; www.citruscountychamber.com). The chamber's visitor center is open Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 4:30pm, Saturday from 9am to 1pm.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.