Monday, December 28, 2009

Safety Harbor: A Great Place

One of the prettiest spots around Tampa Bay has to be Safety Harbor.

If you like small towns, lots of big beautiful trees and birds, you'll love it, too.

I like to walk down Main Street and visit the quaint shops or ride my bike from Phillippe Park south along Bayshore Boulevard which turns into a paved bike trail. It goes through parks, along wetlands and is about 5.5 miles each way.

Favorite places to check out in Safety Harbor include the Safety Harbor Spa, the Whistle Stop restaurant for fried green tomato sandwiches and a walk along the pier at dusk. Don't forget to check out the amazing heron fountain on Bayshore at the marina. At night it is lit and absolutely beautiful.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Weekend Getaways - Part One

I love weekend getaways ... don't you? Florida's got some great destinations for a long weekend. Here are a few of my favorites in West Central Florida:

Anna Maria Island
One of the best beaches on the Gulf of Mexico to kick back, this quiet island north of Sarasota offers beautiful beaches, casual restaurants and a range of accommodations from beach cottages to hotels and condos. Not much for kids to do and not much nightlife, but a great place for adults who just want to relax and recharge. A great location to watch the storms move over the Gulf of Mexico in summer (photo above).

Homosassa Springs
If you want a guaranteed manatee siting in a natural setting, head to Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park about 75 miles north of Tampa. Naturalists provide programs daily. This is a nice family excursion with lots of native animals, birds and plants to enjoy along a lovely boardwalk. Stay in nearby Crystal River for best options in lodging and other daytrips.

Sanibel Island
Renowned for its shelling, this tiny island off of Fort Myers is a favorite for its lush vegetation and white, sandy beaches. Try to visit just after a storm for best shot at finding shells and sharks teeth. If you're into nature, check out the 6,300-acre "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Rooms can get pricey during season, but there's plenty of cheaper lodging in nearby Fort Myers.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Tampa's Best Fundraisers

The new issue of VerticalTampaBay just came out! This is an online upscale lifestyle magazine that I write for which focuses on everything that's fabulous about Tampa Bay. Features include fashion, food, travel, health and profiles of interesting people. This month I write about six of the hottest fundraisers in Tampa Bay in the coming months from the popular Einstein on Wine event at the Museum of Science and Industry to Tampa Theatre's Oscar Night America. You can check out this and the rest of the magazine at

Sunday, December 6, 2009

It's Beginning to Feel a Lot Like ....

It's been rather chilly here in Central Florida in the past week.
Being a native Northerner, I don't mind it, really. I find it a pleasant change from the months of sweltering heat and humidity. Until it dips below freezing.
I recently spent Thanksgiving week with my family in Michigan where I got a good reminder of what winter is all about. Here's me at the Mt. Clemens Christmas Parade waiting for my nephew Steven's marching band to show up. Let's just say it took a couple hours for my toes to thaw.

On the other hand, the chilly temps also serve as a reminder that ski season is here! I love snow skiing and try to head to the Rockies a couple times each winter. Last year I visited a beautiful resort just outside of Winter Park, Colo. Devil's Thumb Ranch is a center for nordic skiing with luxury Western-style accommodations, first class restaurants and a fabulous spa.

My favorite thing about Devil's Thumb Ranch, however, is it's dedication to being green. Named one of the top 15 eco-friendly hotels in the world by Travel + Leisure, the resort's eco-friendly features include a sand filtration water sanitation system and geo-thermal heating in all cabins and buildings. Pine forest trees that fell to a rampant Asian beetle disease during the past decade were used for interior walls and ceiling beams and recycled spruce trees were used for the floors. Field stones and stones from local rock slides were used to build fireplaces. Of course, natural cleaning products, fluorescent lighting, an in-house recycling program and water conservation are mandatory. The spa uses only products with natural, herbal and organic ingredients and bathroom amenities feature vegetable-based soaps and hair products packaged in recycled paper or corn-based “eco-plastic” bottles. Two full-service restaurants, the Ranch House Restaurant and Heck’s Tavern, offer locally grown and organic meat, fish and produce.

All this and 500 acres of trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing ... you gotta dig it!

If you want to check it out, go to

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Great Bike Trails Around Tampa

Anyone who knows me knows I love to ride my bike. I have a Trek 7400 hybrid, which means it can go both on and off-road. It's a great ride for recreational bicyclers like myself, who ride mostly paved trails, but like to have the off-road option.

Hillsborough River State Park

My friend Steve is an avid off-roader and introduced me to the wonderful trails around Hillsborough River State Park and Flatwoods Park in northeast Hillsborough County. These trails are good for beginners - not too rugged - and take you through some beautiful terrain. We traveled along the river, through pine forests, wetlands, uplands, you name it. If you have ever considered trying off-road, I highly recommend these trails. In the thick of summer, be sure to douse yourself in bug repellent before you take off and bring water.
For more information on this wonderful park, where you can also canoe, camp and hike, go to

Upper Tampa Bay Trail
I've been riding the lovely Upper Tampa Bay Trail since it opened about 5 years ago in northwest Hillsborough County. This wide, paved trail winds for 7 miles through greenways, along a canal and eventually follows an old railway track. It's superbly maintained by the county, with lots of water stops, picnic tables and benches along the way.
There are currently three trailheads with parking lots, but I like to start at the southernmost one near Hillsborough Avenue and do the entire roundtrip of roughly 14 miles.

Be sure to read the many signs posted along the way describing the trailside geography. Hard to believe the large green hill you pass at one point is a reclaimed landfill!

This trail is a favorite of rollerbladers and dogwalkers, along with bikers. You can stop at Bally hoo's Restaurant right on the trail at Ehrlich Road for a bite to eat or a drink. I recently joined a fun group from St. Petersburg called the Sunday Bladers as they did a morning run on the Upper Tampa Bay Trail.

To learn more about the Upper Tampa Bay Trail, go to

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Welcome to My New Blog: Getaway Girl Travels

Some people wonder “What is the meaning of life?” I, on the other hand, wonder where my next trip will take me? Welcome to my site, Getaway Girl Travels. I am a travel writer based in Tampa, Florida, but you won't see any guides to theme parks here. I do adventure travel "light": skiing, biking, hiking, rafting, kayaking and exploring the great outdoors across the United States, Europe and the Caribbean. If you suffer from wanderlust and like to learn about new places, join the discussion. I promise you won’t be bored, and you may even find your next vacation!

Marcia Biggs, The Getaway Girl