Fun Times in Tampa Bay
We had a pretty fantastic Saturday filled with gluten-free goodies, a late morning bike ride, and more Florida wildlife. We which consider a lovely trifecta of events. I might get a bit winded, so feel free to jump to the section that interests you most. However, just amuse me and say you couldn’t dare miss a word of today’s adventures.
- Thanks to the creepiness of Facebook we found out about a gluten-free tasting that was going on near us. The Gluten Away event showed up as a sponsored post and oh are we thankful it did. Gluten Away was started by a teenage-guy with celiac disease, named Taylor. He and his mom are passionate about sharing gluten-free products, recipes, and information to make gluten-free eater’s lives easier. They recently started Sample Saturday events once a month. These are small, intimate gluten free gatherings that offer education, social interaction, cooking demonstrations, and gluten-free product samples. It way exceeded our expectations as we left with a goodie bag exploding with gluten-free products to try, some of which we were familiar with, but many that were new to us. We were beyond shocked with the amount of stuff we left with all for a $10/person price (only $5/person as we used a super sweet promo code). There were 9 stations each hosting a different gluten-free company with products to giveaway and a recipe to taste. For a foodie like me, this was a totally cool concept. They compared it to a wine tasting as they wanted there to be a social aspect and not simply expo-like. Taylor is a rock-star blogger, social media guru, and marketer with over 30K followers on facebook, not bad for a teenager! Way to go, Gluten Away, we were impressed. It was even sweeter to learn that they are Ohioans and there next location will be in Columbus, Ohio. Can’t wait to visit that location too! If you are a gluten-free eater in the Clearwater area - you MUST check out the Gluten Away event space.
- We have crossed the Courtney Campbell Causeway for years, many times it was related to travel to and from the Tampa airport. Each time we crossed it, I would look over at Russ and say this would be a great place for a bike ride. When we crossed it yet again on our way from Palm Harbor to our campground in Thonotosassa, I radioed to Russ to add it to our list for the week. So when we knew we would already be in the Tampa / Clearwater area Saturday morning, we strapped the bikes to the bike rack to fulfill our wishes of peddling the Courtney Campbell Trail. This has to be the the prettiest pedestrian and bicycle trail in Florida. If it isn’t - I’m pretty darn excited to find the best one! The trail runs along the Courtney Campbell Causeway which links Tampa to Clearwater as well as Hillsborough to Pinellas counties. The 9.5 mile trail runs across Tampa Bay providing spectacular views. If you are approaching from Clearwater, choose the first parking lot on the causeway as there is no fee to park - WooHoo! Miss that one and the second one runs $3/hour - BooHoo! The trail is all smoothly paved and is between 8’ - 12’ wide, allowing up to four bikes to pass without issue. We were there on what might be considered a busy time - Saturday late morning and it didn’t once seem crowded. We will let the photos do the rest of the talking….
- Though our day had been pretty fantastic so far, we decided to go for the triple threat. We had read about the Manatee Viewing Center ran by Tampa Electric that sits right next to their power plant. Admission was priced right - FREE. Saltwater is taken from Tampa Bay to cool the unit at the power plant which then flows clean, warm water back into the bay. The manatees seek this warm water area out as refuge when the bay reaches 68 degrees or colder. This discharge canal is now a state and federally designated manatee sanctuary providing critical protection from the cold.
When we arrived, we were shocked by how full the parking lot was. We found a spot and headed down the “Tidal Walk” which was a boardwalk that goes out along the discharge canal. From this location, we didn’t spot any manatees, but tons of fish, sharks, rays, and pelicans. Although we didn’t see any of the rays close up, several times we caught a glimpse of a spotted eagle ray jumping out of the water. Cue the oohs and ahhs! They are so cool to see jump several feet out of the water and flap their “wings” before crashing back into the water. Along with the jumping rays, were some jumping sharks. We believe they were either black-tipped or spinner sharks. They would leap out of the water and spin a couple times before landing. Since you never knew when or where the rays and sharks would leap out of the water, we didn't think we would be able to snap a photo of the excitement. Much to our surprise, in the far background of a manatee photo, we captured this guy leaping out of the water. We had to zoom in a few too many times to see what was in the background, thus we are left with this blurry photo. But, still a pleasant surprise as we didn’t even know it was happening in the background.
After we finished up the tidal walk, we headed to another viewing area close to the educational center. Here were spotted a few manatees out in the distance. As we waited, more and more manatees kept appearing and they were getting closer to the viewing area. There was a storm coming that evening that was cooling the water temperatures in the bay, drawing the manatees in to the warmer canal. It is a bit off the beaten path from downtown Tampa, located in Apollo Beach, but still worth the drive to enjoy some of Florida’s wildlife during the winter months.
Believe me, not all our days on the road are as eventful is this day which was full of good food, scenic exercise, and Florida wildlife. Now back to our recliners for our regularly scheduled lounging!