Explore Tampa Bay

Destination: Dunedin, Fla.

This seaside town just north of Tampa offers a quick getaway and a little Scottish pride

What makes Dunedin so special might be argued over a hand-crafted Piper’s Pale Ale at the Dunedin Brewery. Most would probably say it has the feel of a true neighborhood. Under the shade of giant moss-strewn oaks that line the quiet streets and avenues, families for generations have been raising children in old bungalow and Key West-style homes, preserving their heritage and sense of community ownership, and offering a warm embrace to visitors.

Dunedin (pronounced dun-EE-din) is a rare gem along Tampa Bay’s west coast, and its nearly 40,000 locals take pride in their laid-back, old-Europe way of life. They boast of the town’s Scottish roots; exotic mix of restaurants, galleries and shops; famed walking and biking trail; and access to state-protected beaches.

On weekends, little Dunedin bustles with activity. Both visitors and residents come to browse the offerings at the farmers market along Main Street or entertain themselves at juried sidewalk art shows, antiques fairs and regularly scheduled food and drink fests. Dunedin may be diminutive, but it knows how to throw a party: its Mardi Gras and Celtic celebrations, in February and November, respectively, draw people from around the state. Of special interest is the annual Dunedin Highland Games, a nine-day event held each spring that attracts athletes the world over to compete in ancient Scottish sports.

People also come for the water, and Dunedin has plenty. One of the few waterfront communities on Florida’s west coast not obscured by tall condos, Dunedin and its picturesque Edgewater Drive open up to St. Joseph Sound, the Dunedin Causeway, Honeymoon Island and Caladesi Island State Park, consistently rated among the country’s best beaches.

Dunedin is home to a thriving artist colony, much of it located around the Dunedin Fine Art Center, with its variety of exhibits and education programs. “It’s a treasure,” says Lynn Wargo, president of the Dunedin Chamber of Commerce. “Thousands of people take art classes at the center each year.”

The town also pays its respects to the military and law enforcement through the National Armed Services & Law Enforcement Memorial Museum on Douglas Avenue, which includes historical artifacts, some dating back to the Revolutionary War. The museum started as a pooling of personal collections of memorabilia by local residents and grew significantly larger over the years.

Downtown Dunedin’s postcard atmosphere is especially attractive at dusk, when twinkling lights and the aromas of culinary creations waft down Main Street. Dozens of privately owned restaurants and shops—don’t expect corporate chains here—operate in a sort of cooperative agreement. “Each restaurant is unique; no two compete for the same cuisine,” Wargo says. “And because of the close proximity of its restaurants, downtown is a great place for pedestrians.” Visitors arriving by car can leave their quarters at home: Dunedin has no parking meters.

A popular pastime is the Friday Night Pub Crawl, where pedestrians go from shop to shop, bar to pub, restaurant to restaurant, soaking in the diverse offerings. Many pub crawlers start at the Dunedin Brewery, where a pint of specialty ale or pilsner won’t disappoint the discerning beer lover. For dinner, choices range from casual to elegant, from fresh local seafood to European or Latin classics. The list of eateries includes the popular Casa Tina Mexican restaurant and the eclectic Kelly’s for “Just About Anything.” At Bon Appetite, down the street on the waterfront, diners can enjoy spectacular sunsets over a plate of steamed lobster. “The locals are what make Dunedin what it is,” says Brock Rasor, who works at Kelly’s. “They work and live here. It really is a family town because everybody who works here knows everybody else.”

Dunedin is not a typical Florida town, nor is its name typical. In 1870, George L. Jones put a sign over his general store that read “Jonesboro,” but soon the newcomers from Scotland—some of whom came to work the cotton fields and citrus groves—wanted a name that reflected their heritage. So in 1882, a good majority of the town residents signed a petition to embrace the name Dun Eideann, the Gaelic word for the Scottish capital of Edinburgh. In 1899, Dunedin became incorporated, and this variation on the old Gaelic name stuck.

Traditional Scottish names still adorn many street signs: Aberdeen, Locklie, Highland, Loudon, Lyndhurst, Douglas and James. Dunedin residents uphold their Scottish heritage today. Dunedin High School and Dunedin Middle School support pipe and drum marching bands. Adult musicians make up the City of Dunedin Pipe Band and can be heard at many civic functions and celebrations. Nor has the town neglected Scotland’s chosen sport: golf. The Dunedin Country Club, an 18-hole tract designed by the prominent course architect Donald Ross, opened in 1927 and served as home of the PGA from 1945 to 1962.

Economically, Dunedin once owed a lot to the town’s port and railroad, although both faded with Florida’s growing system of highways in the 1960s. At its height, Dunedin’s port played host to the largest fleet of sailing vessels in Florida, and the sight of so many seafaring craft in the Gulf was, as many old-timers admit, breathtaking. The rumble of trains was last heard in 1985, and the tracks were torn up shortly after.

Today, a relic of the old railroad remains, permanently stationed next to the Dunedin Historical Society. The Box Car serves as a pit stop for thirsty bikers and hikers along the trail, selling ice cream, snacks, sandwiches, coffee, cold drink and gifts.

Savvy government officials and residents of Pinellas County didn’t let the old railroad corridor go to waste. In 1990, the county funded what is now the newly paved, 15-foot-wide Pinellas Trail, running 34 miles from St. Petersburg to the south to Tarpon Springs to the north. The trail takes the intrepid hiker, biker or Rollerblader through some of the county’s most beautiful backcountry; its eight bridges allow travelers to pass safely over busy streets and intersections. Security task force rangers ensure that the estimated 90,000 people who use the trail each month can better enjoy their picturesque trek. On most any weekend morning, you can find a good many of them in Dunedin, taking a breather on their way north or south, or maybe just sticking around downtown for the rest of the day.