Being one of those Floridians who hasn’t done so many things that are right in my backyard, so to speak, (I’ve never gone to St. Augustine!), I had to check out Safety Harbor! Everyone knows about the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa, but what else was there? This week I decided to go take a walking tour of Main Street in Safety Harbor and find out for myself about this little town.
I parked just off Main Street by the library where I discovered my first interesting find: there was this huge tree surrounded by a park fence so I went to investigate. What I found was the Baranoff Oak Tree.
It is named after the original owner of the Safety Harbor Spa, Dr. Salem Baranoff. He purchased what was then called the Safety Harbor Sanitarium, which ultimately became the spa we know today. This tree is anywhere from 300 to 500 years old - which means it has been here even longer than the United States has been a country!
As I meandered along first block or so of Main Street, I noticed a few boutiques, carrying metaphysical items or artist items on one side of the street, and several food options on the other. Bar Fly is at the helm of Main Street on the east end, and I’m told it is quite popular and has a tasty menu. This is their second location, which started out as a place for people to meet and began to require more space, which was great for owners Jeff and Celeste. They also added a saltwater grill to their bar and have made it a wonderful place for all to come and enjoy.
Just behind the Safety Harbor Chamber of Commerce on 2nd Ave., I noticed a kitschy, pink house and figured it was an art gallery or coffee shop. I was right on the first guess. Although it was very welcoming and had a nice sitting area in the front, art really isn’t my thing. However if it’s yours, Safety Harbor has several galleries throughout this little area. Two things Safety Harbor seems to have no shortage of are real estate offices and salons. They weren’t all open so perhaps the real estate agents were out showing homes to new residents-to-be! I wasn't sure why the salons weren’t open but they all look operational and may just be by appointment.
In terms of eateries, the first that caught my eye was The Sandwich on Main. I wasn’t quite ready to stop yet, but I loved the Key West feel and the Sno Beach shaved ice stand next to it is the perfect accompaniment for a walk down the street on a warm day. Later in the day I was told The Sandwich on Main is a great place to stop and have something to eat so its reputation precedes itself.
Just a couple doors down, the window display of Antiques To Aardvarks caught my eye. This place is a collector’s dream, and an affordable dream at that! In the midst of memories brought on by vintage glassware, you can find Beatles cologne, mini-tea sets, metal signs, and board games and puzzles from your childhood. The amazing thing for me is that the prices were all so reasonable. Martha Sabo, one of the owners, said she is already putting out some Christmas stuff because she has so much. This is definitely the place to shop for specialty Christmas decor; you’ll probably find several presents here as well!
After leaving the store, I caught sight of a building on the next block that had a unique mural on the second story so, I cut down 7th Avenue North to see what this eclectic place could be. I was greeted first by a house, all painted with bright colors and sayings, and a huge pink elephant!
I had found the Safety Harbor Art and Music Center. It was unfortunately closed but the outside was amazing all on it’s own. A private residence next door was also painted and decorated to match its lot partner.
On the way back to Main Street, a very pretty New Orleans-style building was in my path, and I noted the coffee shop on the bottom, right-hand side, Cafe Vino Tinto, that had not only cozy patio seating but a walk-up window which you just don't see very often. I discovered the owner of shop and his daughter have a Costa Rican coffee farm. It’s amazing the details you can find out by just chatting with people, but this is where my day took its best turn.
As I rounded the corner to the next building, a sign caught my eye: “ Gigglewaters Social Club and Screening Room." "Social Club" connoted to me a vintage vibe and the sign said "OPEN", so I decided to venture inside. I saw the most spectacular speakeasy decor, a chandelier and a red leather booth. According to Rachel, one of the owners, the name "Gigglewaters" came from a term used in the Prohibition as a pseudonym for alcohol.
A few tables were occupied, but I decided to take a seat at the bar. Bartender Staci was a wealth of information, not only about Gigglewaters but about tattoo shops in the area and their history. She noted how the bar itself was made from wood taken from the old Belleview Biltmore Hotel.
"Everything in it except the mirrors and hardware are from 1897 and the bar top is the old dance floor," she explained.
"The front base of the bar is built from the doors and stair treads make the back bar shelves." Just knowing that this place has that kind of history to add to it's own made it even more unique.
They had a selection of mostly local craft beers on tap. I tried my first peanut butter flavored beer; it was interesting, but I decided on something more my "usual," a mango Hefeweizen. Their manager Lauren filled me on the screening room; the $5 fee helps pay the licensing for them to be able to show the movies they do, and you can sit and have your meal, snacks, and beverages in their full-service screening room.
September movies are showing, so pick your favorite of their “three generations of movies” choices and make plans to go! The menu has just enough options for everyone, including a bacon-wrapped, deep fried hot dog with various toppings. I’ve already picked out which one I’m having when I go back.
One of the places that Gigglewaters gets their desserts from is Joey Biscotti, which is just on the next block. Joey and his partner Steven, originally from New York City, began baking full-time after their coworkers raved about the things they brought in for them.
They began by selling at local markets, but in 2013 they bought a bakery where they make Joey’s grandmother’s biscotti recipe as well as other extremely tasty treats. No breads here, just awesome desserts. I took a couple home myself and I can testify that the dark-chocolate cherry brownie was ridiculously delicious!
During my stroll through downtown, locals raved about the Crooked Thumb Brewery that was just down 10th Avenue, so I knew I wanted to end my day there. It is within just a few blocks of Main Street, and easily walked to it and decided I would go back and get my car because I’d walked quite a bit already. On the way back down Main Street, I thought I would get a bite and I saw Pizza Cones on the opposite side of the street. Being a pizza connoisseur, I had to see what a pizza cone was. For $5.98 you can pretty much get anything in your pizza cone. I opted for the Hawaiian because that’s how I roll. It’s all made to order so after about a 10-15 minute wait, this wonderful invention appeared before me, wrapped in a cone-shaped pizza crust with piping hot mozzarella, sauce, ham and pineapple spilling over the edge just like a scoop of ice cream would! After posting this on Facebook, the reaction I received let me know that this is one of the most fantastic ideas anyone has come up with in some time.
So I cheated and I drove back up Main Street and down 10th Avenue South and saw the brewery doors open, revealing the large tanks Crooked Thumb Brewery uses to make their own beer. There was quite a list to choose from, but you don't have to choose just one. Most of the beers are $2 for a 4 ounce taster and - of course - the very friendly bar staff will give you a smaller taste if you’re just not sure it’s something you’ll like. Stepping out of my comfort zone, I got a couple tastes of things I would not normally, such as the Vortex Hexagon Swirl and the Green Thumb Brett IPA. The Green Thumb IPA is a combination made in conjunction with Green Bench Brewing and has seven different strands in it that continue to change the longer you leave unopened. My bartender said she has had a bottle at home for two months she’s waiting to open it, maybe in another month or two, to see how different it tastes at that time.
My day of fun in Safety Harbor proved way more fascinating than I could have ever imagined. From the historical markers I kept finding, to my new favorite speakeasy Gigglewaters, the dozen or more restaurants and pubs that I wished I could stop in, to the deliciousness that is Joey Biscotti, to ending with the hometown brewery that has its own fascinating story, downtown Safety Harbor proved to be much more than just a "spa," it was a unique experience unlike any other!
Photos from author.