When Kristen Hare moved from Missouri to Tampa Bay with her family, the plan was to stay for one year. That was six years ago, and Hare hasn’t stopped living like a tourist. Hare, a journalist with the Poynter Institute and contributor to the Tampa Bay Times, offers the ultimate bucket list in her book 100 Things to Do in Tampa Bay Before You Die. Here are a few excerpts.
— Stephanie Hayes, Times staff writer
Find the mermaids at Weeki Wachee Springs
Once you’ve taken a swim in the clear blue cold springs at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, you’ll appreciate the hard-working mermaids here. They’ve been performing since 1947, and they twist and turn, slipping their hookah-like oxygen tubes around them as they perform. It is not Broadway underwater, but the play of light, the floating hair, and the shimmering tails make for a great show. They perform The Little Mermaid, of course, and a show that includes a set of tricks such as eating and drinking underwater. The shows are also a great chance to wildlife watch, with turtles and fish making regular guest appearances. After you’ve seen the mermaids, rent a tube and float the lazy river at Buccaneer Bay. You can also enjoy water slides and a river boat cruise that’s included with admission.
Hear the bells at Bok Tower Gardens
Recordings of the bells’ songs play every half hour from this 205-foot Gothic tower surrounded by a small pool of water and twisting black iron gates in Lake Wales. Bok Tower was built in 1929 by Edward Bok, who became editor of the Ladies’ Home Journal. The Dutch immigrant built the fairy-tale tower as a gift to his new country, and it holds sixty carillon bells that ring and sing with live concerts during the weekends through the fall and spring. Bok Tower sits on Iron Mountain, the highest spot in peninsular Florida, and it is surrounded by lovely gardens, mulched paths, and some of nature’s own music, too. While at Bok Tower, visit nearby Pinewood Estates, a 1930s home that you can tour throughout the year.
Take in the view at Fort De Soto
Unlike a lot of the beaches in Tampa Bay, at Fort De Soto Park, the skyline’s just sky. You won’t see any high-rises. You won’t see any condos. You’ll just see blue water and blue horizon. The area, which was first the home of Tocobaga Indians, played a role in defense during both the Civil War and the Spanish-American War. The actual fort was finished in 1900, and you can see what remains today for yourself. Visit the beach here, for sure, which feels quiet and remote. And before you head back to the concrete and traffic, climb the steep stone steps up to the top of the fort and enjoy the uninterrupted views of Tampa Bay.