There’s a lot of charm in Land O’ Lakes. Along the shores of its many lakes, tall cypress trees draped in Spanish moss loom over the scenery, offering an immersive taste of pre-development Florida only occasionally interrupted by a WaveRunner jetting across the water.
This is one face of Florida: the “old Florida,” if you will. The other face, familiar to both Floridians and outsiders, is one of white-sand beaches, lined with palm trees, waves of warm water crashing gently on the shore. That’s one that no one associates with Land O’ Lakes, a city filled with bodies of water despite being landlocked for 20 or more miles in any direction.
For the past few months, word has spread of a beachside tiki bar of the sort that you might find on the beaches of St. Pete or Clearwater — only this one is in the heart of Land O’ Lakes.
The Tiki Cove, located just a block off Land O’ Lakes Boulevard on the southwestern shore of Lake Padgett, is an improbable proposition, bringing the beach inland by way of truckloads of white sand, volleyball courts and a massive thatched tiki hut looking out to the water.
Admittedly, it’s an odd juxtaposition: watching a game of beach volleyball framed by tiki thatch, with cypress trees, boat docks and lakeside homes in the background. If you squint, you’d think it’s an ordinary beachside tiki spot. With eyes fully open, it’s in a category of its own — a place to sip rum cocktails and get some sand between your toes while also enjoying a small touch of unspoiled Florida.
The Tiki Cove is removed far enough from the main road that you’d never see it if you missed the sign pointing down a long dirt road to a large grass lot. Despite that, it’s built a substantial following primarily via word of mouth. That’s not surprising — if you lived in Land O’ Lakes and wanted to chill on the beach, would you drive an hour or just throw on some flip flops, go down the road and enjoy the next closest thing?
The Tiki Cove is a weekends-only deal for the time being, so a limited window of opportunity probably helps. Throw in some live music on a small stage near the entrance and a few TVs playing sports behind the bar and you’ve got a strong case for spending a few weekend hours at this faux beach.
That said, there could be a few improvements. With a full liquor selection available, it sure wouldn’t hurt to have a small menu of tiki drinks to choose from. Maybe it’s playing too hard on the theme, but some proper rum cocktails would really do the trick for me.
And the kitchen could probably step it up a notch while still keeping it casual. My red pepper hummus came with some baby carrots straight out of the bag, served on a plastic takeout container lid. It was tasty enough, but for $7, it could probably be dressed up a bit.
Those are relatively small details when you look at the bigger picture of a real-deal tiki hut and a huge stretch of sandy beach built in the middle of Land O’ Lakes, of all places. It’s a wild concept, but The Tiki Cove has pulled it off surprisingly well.
I really don’t think there’s anything else like this anywhere; certainly not in the bay area. While The Tiki Cove is surely a boon to locals who want the sand without the commute, it’s also the kind of Florida-only novelty that anyone passing through will be sure to get a kick out of. Next time you’re cruising down U.S. 41, consider taking a brief detour, kicking your shoes off and enjoying some drinks on a sandy beach in a location where you’d least expect it.
The Tiki Cove
2700 Land O’ Lakes Blvd., Land O’ Lakes 34639. (813) 683-0385; facebook.com/thetikicove
The vibe: A huge thatched tiki bar and improbable white sand beach, built on the shore of Lake Padgett.
Food: Appetizers, $4-$8; entrées, $9-$13.
Booze: Beer, wine and liquor. Beer, $3.50-$6; wine, $6.50; liquor, $9-$12.
Specialty: Just like a real beach, The Tiki Cove is well-suited for buckets of beer and tropical punch drinks, like the house’s Hurricane Hooch Punch, made in bulk and topped with a rum floater. The beers are somewhat garden variety, but you’ll find a few solid locals in there, like Passion of the Heights, a hibiscus- and cinnamon-flavored wheat ale from Tampa’s Florida Avenue Brewing Co.
Hours: 4 p.m.-11 p.m. Friday; noon-11 p.m. Saturday; noon-7 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday-Thursday.
Contact Justin Grant at email@example.com. Follow @WordsWithJG.