With the countdown to our departure from St Pete’s rapidly approaching, we still had a few more things to check off of our to-do list. And we’d saved one of the best for last, which happened to be another one of Florida’s famed roadside attractions.
The Weeki Wachee Mermaids had been at the top of our list since we got to Florida. The mermaids have been swimming around the Weeki Wachee spring (which is so deep that the bottom has never been found) since 1947, when a former Navy Seal scouted the location and trained women to breathe underwater with hoses he’d created that connected to the spring’s surface. Their ability to stay underwater, and in a time before scuba diving was a mainstream thing, wowed audiences who couldn’t believe their eyes. In the 1950s, Weeki Wachee was one of the nation’s most popular tourist stops and even Elvis Presley came to see the mermaids. They used to do tricks like eat bananas and drink cola underwater but today’s show is a lovely 30 minute reenactment of The Little Mermaid.
We parked overnight at a nearby Sam’s Club and then moved 10 min down the road first thing in the morning so that we’d be ready. I was so excited and up way too early, just like a kid on Christmas morning. We were the first ones in the parking lot, so we killed a couple of hours before the park opened by making coffee and breakfast and putting on mermaid makeup (well I did, anyway).
$13 admission grants you access to all three daily mermaid shows. And you can channel your inner mermaid or merman afterwards by going for a swim in the same lagoon as the performers. It also gets you a boat ride down the Weeki Wachee River on the Aqua Belle. The water was this unreal aquamarine blue and teemed with wildlife. Pro Tip: Get there when the park opens and head straight to the boat. Seating is first come, first serve. If you come late, you run the risk of long lines and missing your chance to make one of the two daily sailings.
Oh, and did I mention that there are actual peacocks roaming the grounds?
We were still able after our boat ride to head up the front of the line for the mermaid show (also first come, first serve). We waited for the doors to open and were gradually filed into the 400-seat auditorium that’s submerged about 16 feet below the water’s surface. We were able to snag some seats smack in the front of the stage and watched the tv monitors above the blue curtains run old-school videos of yesteryear’s shows, which was some kitschy fun. Once everyone had settled into their seats and it was time, the curtain rose and gave way to the giant underwater theater/mermaid lair.
We half expected the show to be this hokey display but it was far from that. Champagne bubbles rose up between scenes to transition us to the next act. The mermaids glittered and sparkled and dazzled us with their elegant acrobatics. The mermaids even have to navigate around the odd intrusion of a real fish or turtle (apparently water moccasins and a couple of gators have made their way in before). They put on a hell of a show for us. Considering their pay is a mere $13/hr, you just know they have to love doing this. In a world where we’ve collectively pretty much seen and done it all, this exceeded our expectations and filled us with genuine wonder and delight. We loved every minute. It’s kind of a special thing when you’re still able to find magic like this in the world, and we highly recommend putting this on your Florida itinerary.
Some links to our TikTok videos if you want to see the mermaids in action:
After our swim and a little lounging on the beach, we packed up KKBB and started the drive back down to the bay. It was a slow drive because I didn’t have to be back at work for another couple of days, giving us the opportunity to overnight along the way and see more places. So we spent the night in a Planet Fitness parking lot and then the next day made a stop in Tarpon Springs.
Who’d have thought that we’d find a piece of Greece along the coast of Central Florida?
Tarpon Springs was settled by Greek sponge divers in the early 1900s and sponges became a booming business. You can still see remnants today on the sponge docks, which are lined with shops and tons of delicious Greek restaurants and bakeries.
We stopped at the legendary Hellas bakery for a bunch of baklava to go. The lady at the counter asked, “Is that all?” And we were like, “Well, what else do you have for us?” She smiled and said, “We’re known for our baklava cheesecake.” Well alright then, load us up with one of those. She did, and it was divine.
We also hit up Five Branches Brewing, which was founded by 5 veterans who are each from a different branch of the US military. It was a cool, cozy little taproom with delicious beer.
We then capped the afternoon off with a stroll along the waterfront.
Tarpon Spring’s another Florida gem, for sure.
We decided that after this road trip we were just going to relax and enjoy St Pete’s for the time we had left. I mean after all, paradise was right in the backyard of my work all along. We were able to purchase a Passe-A-Grille parking pass because I worked there, which gave us unlimited free parking by the beach. Shane would often camp out to work from his computer while I was at the restaurant, and then we’d either go for a dip in the ocean or a beer by the water once I was off.
Passe-A-Grille was I think our favorite beach of all.
Gorgeous white sand that was like sugar – check.
Cerulean blue bathwater to swim in – check.
Some of the best known seashell collecting on the whole coast – check.
But it also had this really laid back, old school vibe and more of a neighborhood feel than the more built up tourist areas. There are lots of cute little bungalows and the area attracts plenty of locals. Even though it’s a spring break destination, it draws more of a family crowd than a bunch of frat bros and it actually gets pretty quiet around there after sunset. We’d even enjoy just watching the fisherman gut their catch while fending off the hungry storks and pelicans.
And the sunsets never got old either, it was as if the sun just kept one-upping itself night after night.
One day after work I suggested that we try out this beach bar down the road that promised fun locals and cheap drinks, and that ended up delivering on both. For starters, the bar is in this really cool tiki hut that’s part of a beachside boutique motel with a quirky vibe. While we were on our first drinks, we overheard two people shrieking with excitement. They’d met at the bar the day before and just discovered that they were Leo bday twins (born same day and year), so in true Leo-like fashion they were all like, “Yay us, how fun, let’s buy the bar a round of shots!” We ended up hanging out with those guys until well after sunset. Chris’ Beachside Bar quickly became a favorite hangout of ours.
In the blink of an eye, though, it was already my last day at work. I said my good-byes to a crew I’d grown very fond of and have deep respect for. It was hard to believe that it was almost time to hit the road again full-time after three months of being more or less stationary. But what an incredible three months of glutting our senses with unique experiences, beautiful beaches, fun and interesting people, and all kinds of yummy things to eat and drink. Plus, we also accomplished a lot on our truck to-do list like replacing our broken skylight window and all of our bedding, getting a kitchen backsplash, fixing our exhaust and getting our hands on some aluminum brightener to polish our girl up to her former glory. We knew we were going to like it here but we didn’t expect to fall in love with Florida life the way we did. We’re so grateful for all of fun and the love and kindness we were shown during our time here. St. Pete will forever have a piece of our hearts, and this whole experience has given us the ability to breathe easy and reground ourselves and to reconnect with some pure joy. A gift you just can’t put a price on.
Some more highlights of St Pete’s that are worth checking out if you’re ever in the area:
We made sure we got to experience the Dali Museum for a really cool exhibit in a beautiful building with a hell of a view. It covers pieces from all the phases of Salvador Dali’s career. The best part was the virtual reality walk through Dali’s surreal paintings, so much fun. Tickets are a bit pricey but you can always go on Thursday evenings for half price.
We also wanted to experience the Fairgrounds, an interactive art installation that paints a mystery while taking participants through the highlights of Florida culture and lore. It was a really cool exhibit and a real highlight.
In Between Days is a really cool Tokyo-style listening bar. They play vinyl over vintage hi-fi and offer Japanese tapas and all kinds of whiskey and sake. It’s located in what looks like a house, except for the telltale sake bottles sitting outside, and has a really nice vibe.
If I Brewed The World is a cool little brewery that has a cat walking around in a gold chain. ‘Nuff said.
Valkyrie Donuts have to be some of the best we’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting. Do yourself a favor and pick up some coffee from across the street at HoggBatch to go with it. The twin brothers who own the joint are into experimental coffee and they age their beans in liquor barrels.
Dirty Laundry is a coffee bar by day and a speakeasy with live music and a small dance floor by night. It’s just fabulous. Not only is their coffee super strong and delicious, but you can sip it in the morning under a disco ball. You access the speakeasy at night via a dryer from the other side, how cool is that?
Our final favorite is speakeasy lounge The Saint. It has a heaven and hell theme but is so well done. You need to suss out the sin of the week before you get there and then recite it at the confessional inside the door. Only then are you granted passage into the bar done up in red lighting and religious decor with a cheeky twist. The cocktails are top-notch and this is easily one of the coolest speakeasies we’ve ever been to.
And then we bid farewell to St Pete’s with some final snapshots:
Oh, and as we made our way across the bridge one more time to Tampa, we stopped by Ybor City to check on Rusty. We were at first alarmed not to see him on the church property, but then we spotted this sign:
Aww, big yay for Rusty! So we left on a high, happy note and hit the highway as we began our road trip through the rest of Florida…