By T Michele Walker
It’s the curse of being a “local”: you live five minutes from the beach, but you go once a month. The sun sets every evening but you rarely see it. You are living in paradise but you’d might as well be living in Cleveland.
I decided to experience the Suncoast Beach Trolley, to hop aboard this local gem and enjoy everything paradise has to offer. The plan was to have no plan.
After a bit of research, I caught my first trolley in Clearwater and decided to ride south. The price for the day pass was $5, much cheaper than a tank of gas, an Uber or a cab. The convenient app, simple enough for even me to navigate, makes it easy to see when your trolley will arrive at your stop.
My first revelation was my sense of freedom. One drawback of going to the beach is the parking and the crowds. The trolley allows you to bypass all of this and come and go as you please. The trolley breezed through Belleair Beach, the one and only beach town with no stops. When we crossed over into Indian Rocks Beach, I rang my first bell to stop at an Indian Rocks Beach institution, Sandy’s Restaurant. After a hearty English breakfast, I topped it off with a delicious cappuccino at the French bakery, located next door.
After exploring a few historic markers and talking to friendly locals, I wound up at Guppy’s, another favorite restaurant, where I ate a light appetizer and had another coffee, which I swear was hands-down, the best I’ve ever had. It was around this time that I realized my plan was taking shape: I was going to eat my way down Gulf Boulevard.
It was time for more exploration, so I caught the next trolley and went as far as John’s Pass, which was created by a hurricane in 1848, cutting a large passage through the barrier island that today separates Madeira Beach and Treasure Island.
Walking the shops was touristy chic. Strolling the docks with my rich hot chocolate, wind whipping at my face, lost in thought as I studied the pelicans, my life came to a delicious standstill. It finally hit me; it had been a long time since I felt this relaxed.
Back on the trolley heading south, you’ll find the “must see” Don Cesar and the historic neighboring beach town of Pass-a-Grille. Once our trolley made the turn and headed north to Clearwater, I became more interested in the people riding the trolley. There was a kind local father and his sleepy 5-year-old daughter, who filled me in on some Indian Rocks Beach pier history. There were veterans, locals, tourists, all friendly and helpful.
I did manage to make one more food stop on my way back, having an ice cream at the Kooky Coconut. Sluggish from the food, but my spirit refreshed, I walked to the beach to catch the sunset I rarely get to see.
Born in St. Pete and raised in Orlando, T Michele Walker is a native Floridian to the core. She’s worn many hats throughout the years from professional actress-singer at Walt Disney World, educator, director, writer of plays, musicals and children’s operas, four of which were performed at Carnegie Hall. Now living in Sarasota, Michele is a freelance writer and correspondent, theater and music critic for the Herald Tribune.