When I told a friend at work years ago I lived in Safety Harbor, he said, “Ah, Safety Harbor. It sounds like a place where nothing bad ever happens.”
It sometimes seems that way still. With a crime rate less than half that of Florida’s, this little town on the northwestern edge of Old Tampa Bay is the perfect place to take long walks, picnic in a picturesque park, or pick up a book from one of the Little Free Library boxes scattered around town like whimsical birdhouses.
Locals seem to like that the town has only 17,139 residents, and that they often run into neighbors at Main Street’s 3rd Friday Music Series or at Market on Main every Sunday at the gazebo.
The Safety Harbor Chamber of Commerce even advertises the 4.92-square-mile town as a “secret little hideaway,” – that for years did not have one single cellphone tower.
It doesn’t have as many restaurants, breweries or shops as its more glamorous sister city, Dunedin, but it has plenty of options to please visitors looking for quiet walks, good places to eat and to fly kites.
Some residents are so proud of Safety Harbor, they nicknamed themselves “Harborites,” and, to celebrate the town’s 100th birthday this year, they launched a literary journal and a project to collect video town memories. They’ve also planned 100 centennial events, including those the town usually hosts annually.
The town’s jewel is Philippe Park, a Pinellas County park just 1 ½ miles north of downtown, bordering Old Tampa Bay. It has a boat ramp, picnic shelters and tables, playgrounds, paths along the bay, and plenty of places to launch kayaks and paddleboards.
A canopy of ancient oaks arches over the park’s main road, leading toward a 20-foot temple mound used by the Tocobaga tribe, which left the area in the mid-1700s. The top of the mound offers million-dollar views of the bay and is a popular setting for weddings. On weekends, especially, the park teems with bikers and walkers, many with dogs – on leashes, a park rule requirement. Birdwatchers are likely to see great blue herons, night herons, snowy egrets, osprey and the rarer roseate spoonbills. We once even saw a flock of flamingoes, just south of the park.
We like to leave our car at the park and walk south along a bayside sidewalk to downtown to see manatees from the municipal pier, just south of the Safety Harbor Resort & Spa. Then, we have lunch in town before walking back.
Often, between November and early May, four or five manatees float in the bay right next to the pier. On a recent visit, a Washington State visitor looked amazed to see five manatee faces — bursting from the water for air.
A boy named Colin peered over the pier railing and called out “I love you, manatees’’ repeatedly, while fishermen took time out from cast netting for mullet to watch the manatee show.
Meanwhile, in Veterans Memorial Marina Park, between the pier and the Safety Harbor City Marina, families picnicked under a shelter, enjoying the bay breezes.
The town’s annual seafood festival – this year March 10 through March 12 – in Waterfront Park, across from the marina, attracts visitors from throughout the bay area. Safety Harbor prides itself on its festivals, featuring everything from arts and crafts to a sidewalk chalk art festival March 18 through March 19, a British car show Oct. 21, and a wine festival Nov. 4.
From the marina, it’s an easy walk to Main Street and to the town’s restaurants – from Whistle Stop Grill and Bar, known for fried green tomatoes; to Bar fly, a locals’ favorite, with a popular Taco Tuesday; to the pricier critics’ pick, Parts of Paris, a French bistro serving smoked frogs legs, duck confit and other delicacies.
Two pizza restaurants, a barbecue place, a Latin American cantina and Green Springs Bistro, known for tasty bison burgers, are among other options.
The Syd Entel Galleries and Susan Benjamin Glass, at 247 Main St., is worth a visit, with art shows, as well as artwork, glass and jewelry for sale. And, we like Tupelo on 4th, a boutique in a turquoise house with a tin roof that sells home decor, jewelry and women’s fashion.
But mostly, we go downtown to stroll, to manatee watch and to eat lunch. One day, we bought tasty sandwiches at The Sandwich on Main and picnicked in Veteran’s Memorial Marina Park. The sandwich shop’s motto: “We Got It Good” – a sentiment that might well describe Safety Harbor itself.
If you go:
Safety Harbor is in northern Pinellas County, off McMullen Booth Road. Its downtown is roughly south of State Road 580 and north of County Road 611.
Philippe Park is at 2525 Philippe Park Parkway. Hours are daily 7 a.m. to dusk, and closed only the Friday after Thanksgiving and on Christmas.
For events, including those for the city’s centennial, and for dining options, visit CityOfSafetyHarbor.com.
For a map of downtown, see SafetyHarborChamber.com, or stop by the chamber of commerce, at 200 Main St., for free visitors’ guides and attraction brochures.
By Karen Hamon Long
Published March 8, 2017