HERNANDO BEACH — An airplane out of Tampa International Airport will whisk you a world away.
But so will an hour's car ride north on the Suncoast Parkway and then west to the Gulf of Mexico.
That's where you'll find the remote boating town of Hernando Beach, which sits snugly between the shallow waters of the Nature Coast and the Weeki Wachee Nature Preserve.
Fewer than 900 houses and about 2,000 people compose the 4 square miles in the three neighborhoods — North, Middle and South — in the coastal town where houses are built on "stilts" with no living space on the first floor. They sit on canals that were dredged in the 1960s, when carving up wetlands and the floor of the gulf were allowed.
The North is the oldest of the three neighborhoods. It has no deed restrictions; nor does the Middle. The South does, though, which means no boat parking in yards and no latticework enclosing the ground floors. The North and Middle sections have direct gulf access.
Raelene and Jamie Wentz, marketing consultants, were living in a deed-restricted community in Gainesville when they started looking for a weekend home on the water five years ago. They liked Gainesville and the weather was great, but it just didn't have that Old Florida feeling the Wentzes were hoping to find when they moved from Southern California years before.
They looked as far south as Sarasota for that weekend retreat, and rented a house for years in New Smyrna Beach, on the Atlantic coast. But it was only after a friend from Weeki Wachee showed them Hernando Beach and they rented a house there that they knew they had found their dream. "This feels like Florida; palm trees are growing wild and we can see the water," Raelene Wentz said.
They can see the water, all right — from every room of the home, which sits at the end of a winding road. Large windows offer views of the gulf and the canal whether the couple are sitting in the living room, cooking in the kitchen or working in the study. They rarely miss a sunset.
"We sometimes take a two-minute boat ride around the canal and out to the gulf to watch the sunset," Jamie Wentz said. The North neighborhood where they live and the Middle section are on canals that have direct access to the gulf. The South end is on freshwater canals and has no direct access. All boats have to use a lift to get out into the shallow waters.
Although Hernando Beach is remote, it's centrally located and perfect for a couple like the Wentzes, who have another home and a grown daughter, Jalene, in Gainesville. The town is about an hour and a half to Gainesville and Orlando, slightly less to St. Petersburg and Tampa.
Its remoteness makes it more affordable than other Gulf Coast communities with the word "beach" in their names — and a true sandy shore to go along with it. There is no beach in Hernando Beach.
That's of little concern to the Wentzes. Their weekend getaway has turned into a permanent residence for the couple in the four months since they moved in. "We are here 99 percent of the time," Jamie Wentz said. "It's mellow, but we can get everything we need around here."