We were sitting at a high top in Florida’s oldest microbrewery, which happens to be in the unhurried and unheralded town of Dunedin.
“I got mine two years ago,” a guy at the table next to us said. “Woke up in the morning and there it was.”
“We just got ours last week,” his tablemate replied.
We watched as glasses were raised and clinked in celebration.
The funny thing was we’d heard nearly the exact conversation from other diners the day before, sitting on the deck at the Olde Bay Café, overlooking St. Joseph’s Sound.
Turns out they were all talking oranges, graffiti oranges. The brightly-colored murals of oranges, showcasing this small town’s historic tie to the citrus industry, are found on buildings all over town. What started as a midnight prank by two local artists three years ago has become a great source of civic pride. We loved the look-on-the-bright-side story, and a whole lot more about this tight-knit town.
Down-to-earth Dunedin, overshadowed by neighboring Clearwater Beach and the string of touristy beach towns to its south, is a delightful surprise. The slow-paced city, one of the oldest on Florida’s West Coast, is at once folksy and stylish, home to a mixed-bag of fixed-up bungalows, one-of-a-kind shops, and innovative restaurants. And, full of people who have seen the world and choose to be here.
There’s a sweet waterfront boardwalk, several well-maintained parks and green spaces, and a causeway leading to Honeymoon State Park, a 4,352-square-mile oasis with paths and nature trails, about four miles of shoreline along the Gulf of Mexico, and a chain of white sand beaches.
Caladesi Island State Park, one of the few completely natural islands remaining along Florida’s Gulf Coast, is a short ferry ride away. The barrier island, three miles long and up to a half-mile wide, sits within the protected waters of St. Joseph Sound, and has miles of secluded mangrove forests, sea grass beds, tidal flats, windswept dunes and one of the top-ranked beaches in the country. (So says Dr. Beach, Stephen Leatherman, who named Caladesi the number one beach in America in 2008.) The best part: this swath of pristine area is minutes away from charming downtown Dunedin.
“It’s the gem of the north,” says David Roy, co-owner of the Meranova Guest Inn on Main Street, of his hometown. “We have no tacky T-shirt shops, no spring breakers. You can go to the beach and come back to this lovely village, with its eclectic, artsy vibe.”
We decided to explore the town on two wheels. We rented bikes from a local shop and headed for the Pinellas Trail. The 15-foot-wide, 40-mile path, open to walkers, skaters and bikers, runs smack through the center of town and helped earn the city’s ranking as “Best Walking Town in America” from Walking magazine.
We discovered Dunedin’s version of rush hour: We passed moms and dads with strollers, townies on their bikes, Pinellas Trail through-riders, and dog walkers as we pedaled the easy-going, flat trail. We curbed the bikes to visit the small Dunedin Historical Museum, housed in a 1923 railroad station with exhibits highlighting the region’s history, and the Stirling Art Studios & Gallery, showcasing the work of a dozen or so local artists. We browsed locally owned shops, like the Enchanted Spirits Metaphysical Shop, Kina Kouture (with a nice selection of high-end, industrial chic women’s fashions), Lacy Lingerie, and Q Fashion Jewelry.