Maybe it’s the Scottish name. Maybe the fact it’s the Blue Jays spring training home makes people think it’s all about baseball and old folks with ball caps and rolled up programs. For whatever reason, I’ve always thought Dunedin doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
I started coming to Dunedin in 1993, when I was covering the Blue Jays for the Toronto Star, and immediately fell in love with the place. I could provide a lot more, but here are seven reasons why I keep going back.
- For one thing, it’s a very walkable town. Unlike some suburban areas of big Florida cities, there’s a real downtown with a small, curving main street that’s lined with flower planters bursting with colour; always a sight for Canadian eyes tired of dirty brown snow piled on grey sidewalks. Another big benefit is that there are several hotels within a couple hundred meters of Main Street. The Best Western Yacht Harbor Inn is right on the Intracoastal Waterway and adjacent to a pretty marina with gleaming white boats resting in the Florida sunshine. Right around the corner there’s a Holiday Inn Express. Even better is the Meranova Inn, a small B and B that’s run by an engaging couple of guys with a great eye for detail. The grounds are lush and thick with flowers and deep green vegetation, the rooms are charming, and it’s literally across the street from the best shops and restaurants in town.
- There used to be three or four cool restaurants along Main Street. Now there are probably a dozen. Sea Sea Riders is always good for a blackened fish sandwich.
Casa Tina is a fun Mexican restaurant with good margaritas and a lovely, shaded patio out front, right on Main Street. Pensare is an Italian spot with a patio that serves great pasta and a lovely salad with arugula, lemon and shaved parmesan. The Living Room has a nice menu and often has live music, while The Olde Bay Café is a small spot right on the marina that’s perfect for a light bite or a beer. The views at sunset are lovely, especially if you climb up the stairs just outside the café. Also right on the water is Bon Appetit, a fine dining spot at the Best Western Yacht Harbor Inn.
- Shopping seems to get better each time I go, too. The last time I was there I wandered into Patina, a beautiful spot with colourful signs, bits of and even an old Blue Jays spring training program for sale.
You’ll also find casual spots selling blow-up palm trees and other beachy kitsch, or maybe postcards showing a parrot with the words, “To heck with a cracker, Polly wants a drink.”
- I love taking a walk up Victoria Ave, an unpaved road that runs along the Intracoastal Waterway behind the Best Western and is lined with gorgeous homes, some with huge docks extending into the water or huge porches and giant oak trees dripping with Spanish moss.
I’d give my eye teeth for one of those homes. They’re utterly spectacular, and they feel like a part of an old Florida that’s sometimes hard to find these days. You also can take a bike along the road, which is only a few metres from the wonderful Pinellas County bike path and jogging trail, which stretches approximately forever.
- Also part of Dunedin is Honeymoon Island State Park, where you’ll find lengthy stretches of beach where you can drive your car or swim in shallow waters or rent a kayak. Nature lovers flock a little further out to the park’s nature centre, where there are quiet walks and interpretive displays that explain the flora and fauna of the area.
One of my favourite things to do in all of Florida is take the short ferry ride from Honeymoon to deserted Caladesi Island, where you’ll find awesome nature trails and an endless beach that features some of Florida’s best seashells. At low tide, you can walk to Caladesi from nearby, happening Clearwater Beach.
- Too old school for you? Okay, Dunedin also is home to a pair of killer breweries. Just off Main Street you’ll find Dunedin Brewery, a mainstay in the area for several years.
It’s large and airy and they make killer wings. Try the Apricot Peach or the Gold Ale, or perhaps one of the seasonal brews. Just a few steps away, near the Holiday Inn, is a relative newcomer called 7eventh Sun. It’s small and funky and they make some sensational brews, including some wickedly good and rich IPA’s. I especially loved the Mangrove Double IPA. Some of the beers are aged in bourbon, rum or other spirits barrels.
- Still too mainstream? Okay, here’s the piece de resistance. Dunedin looks sleepy, and the town does feature the likeness of a Scottish piper on their welcome sign.
But for a couple decades it’s been something of a gay hotbed, so to speak. It’s also home to a renowned Main Street bar and nightclub complex called Kellys/Chic-a-Boom/Blur where they have Drag Queen Bingo on Tuesday nights. It’s a great night of entertainment and the hosts/hostesses are hilarious. When I was there last, a bearded fellow with a flowered dress and bright lipstick was addressing the crowd, “Ladies and gentlemen, homos and heteros…”
Definitely not your grandmother’s Dunedin.
What’s your take on Dunedin? While we’re at it, how many games do you think the Blue Jays will win next year?