It seems visitors to Florida love all things large and glittery, from Orlando's theme parks to tony Miami Beach. But those of us who live here have a soft spot for little pockets of "Old Florida," where time seems to stand still.
"That's why I prefer the west coast of Florida. You can find a tucked-away, old-fashioned community right in the middle of a metropolitan area," said Gwen Campbell, a real estate agent with Keller Williams in Palm Harbor.
Crystal Beach is one of those places. It's off the beaten path, about 30 miles northwest of St. Petersburg and west of Alt. U.S. 19.
Its peninsular shoreline extends south from its northwest boundary, along St. Joseph Sound, then wraps eastward and north along Sutherland and Avery bayous.
It was first developed in 1912 and through the years larger houses were built on the waterfront. Homes from seaside mansions to one-bedroom cottages, nestled in an abundance of moss-laden live oaks, give it its character. It's estimated that about 1,250 folks live in Crystal Beach, according to city.data.com.
At its heart is the Crystal Beach post office. Opened in 1914, it's where residents get their mail. There's no home delivery. It gives folks a chance to run into their neighbors.
If they don't see them at the post office, they run into them near the 296-foot wooden fishing pier where residents walk or drive their golf carts to watch the sunsets. There is a public strip of land between houses and the water on much of the shoreline where residents can walk along a shell path. A boat launch is only for nonmotorized boats.
"Sometimes you even hear applause for a beautiful sunset," Campbell said.
It's that charm and quaintness that appealed to Lowell and Lori Fuller, who designed and built a house 15 years ago in Seaside Sanctuary, one of Crystal Beach's many small neighborhoods.
"We loved the charm of Crystal Beach. When we built in Seaside Sanctuary, there were 15 houses here; now there are 44," Lowell said.
"It's a great place to raise a family," his wife, Lori, said. "It's tucked away. Not everyone knows it's back here."
"Crystal Beach is our community but Seaside Sanctuary is our family," Lowell said.
Three of the Fullers' four children are grown and out of the house. Chad, 25, is at Utah State and plans to enter med school; Andrea, 23, is married and lives in Idaho; and Tyson, 20, is doing a two-year church mission in Colorado.
Kristine, 17, is the only child left at home. A senior at Palm Harbor University High, she will attend Brigham Young University in the fall on a basketball scholarship.
The schools are definitely a draw. The Fuller children attended Ozona Elementary, Tarpon Springs Middle School and Palm Harbor University High.
One other thing about Crystal Beach is that it doesn't really have one — a beach, that is. It's more a sliver as the tide ebbs and flows.
But no matter. It's where the land meets the water and beautiful just the same.
Patti Ewald can be reached at pattiewald@ gulfcoastwriter.com.