The one thing that Pinellas County has going for it is its Gulf beaches — unequivocally some of the best in Florida. I'm sure you've heard of them. Clearwater Beach, Indian Rocks Beach, Madeira Beach, Treasure Island, St. Pete Beach and let's not forget the world famous Fort Desoto and Honeymoon Island beaches. Considering the county is bordered on three sides by the water of Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, makes it desirable to those wanting to live on or near the water. Because of that, Pinellas County has 24 incorporated municipalities ranging in population from just 59 in Belleair Shores to over 240,000 in St. Petersburg. The third largest municipality is Largo, with an area covering just under 15 square miles and a population of around 70,000, it is nestled south of Clearwater in the middle of the county.
Largo's size and location doesn't exactly fit the criteria of other small towns I've featured this summer in my "Small Towns... Big Surprises" series. After all, it isn't located off the beaten path. It isn't necessarily quaint or charming. But there is one thing... it is full of surprises.
Before this summer, I thought I knew all there was to know about Largo. My brother, the former IT Guide for About.com, just happens to live in Largo. When you've shopped there, eaten there, and been stuck in traffic there. What else was there to do? Plenty.
Pinewood Cultural ParkLargo's close proximity to the beaches is a plus. It's just five miles from my brother's house to Indian Rocks Beach. Amazingly, he is even closer than that to another one of Pinellas County's treasures — Pinewood Cultural Park.
According to its brochure, Pinewood Cultural Park is "Where Nature, Art and History Come Together." Indeed. The park encompasses The Florida Botanical Gardens, Gulf Coast Museum of Art and Heritage Village in almost 200 acres of natural habitat.
Most impressive of the three is Heritage Village, a 21-acre living history museum featuring 28 beautifully restored historic structures set in native pine and palmetto landscape. As you stroll the mulched or red brick paths, you learn about Florida's past through the lives of Pinellas Park's early residents. Among the 28 structures, you'll see the oldest existing structure in Pinellas County, the oldest continuously lived-in home in Pinellas County, a one-room schoolhouse, a bandstand and an early neighborhood store complete with service garage and barbershop. Some sructures are open to the public and some feature guided tours.
Within the Visitor Information Center are two rooms of exhibit displays — one features Florida industries of past and present and the other contains displays of household items from the past with a hands-on living area that children will enjoy. For a generation of children who grew up with electric appliances, who would ever guess that hanging up clothes on a clothes line or washing dishes by hand could be so much fun?
The adjoining 150-acre Florida Botanical Gardens displays a wide array of Florida native and tropical plants in natural habitats, scenic landscapes and formal and themed gardens along paved pathways. It is also home to Pinellas County's Extension Services which pairs with the University of Florida to offer classes and hands-on workshops demonstrating landscaping techniques.
Finally, you won't want to miss the impressive sculptures on the grounds of the Gulf Coast Museum of Art. Home to contemporary art featuring Florida artists and southeastern crafts in nine permanent collections and an ever-changing exhibition schedule. The museum also hosts studio classes and workshops in a variety of media for both adults and children and occasional lectures by exhibiting artists and guest curators. While the gardens and Heritage Village is free to the public, Gulf Coast Museum of Art charges a small admission fee.
While there is handicapped parking and facilities that are handicap accessible at Pinewood Cultural Park, wheelchair-bound visitors may find the going a little rough in Heritage Village. The red brick pathways are a little uneven and the mulched pathways may be soft after rains. Also, only a handful of the structures are wheelchair accessible.
Largo Central Park and Cultural CenterLargo boasts 640 acres of parks, with Central Park being the largest. Situated on the site of the former fairgrounds property, located in the center of downtown, the 70-acre area includes the 31-acre Largo Central Park, which opened in 1994 with fabulous rolling open spaces, its landmark clock tower and fountains. It includes a fabulous children's playground and picnic pavilions for all to enjoy.
At the heart of the area is the Largo Cultural Center that opened in 1996 and provides the community with live theater and music performances. And, in 2005, a new 90,300 square foot state-of-the-art public library, was built on site to serve the community.
The Pinellas TrailCarved from a 34-mile corridor of abandoned CSX railroad right-of-way, the Pinellas Trail offers county residents and visitors the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors. On any given day, you will find skaters, joggers and bicyclists taking advantage of the scenic traffic-free environment.
The Bottom LineI like to say that Largo is close to everything... even nature. All of its wonderful parks provide almost unlimited exposure to the outdoors. While I don't consider Largo a getaway destination by itself, if you are visiting any of Pinellas County's fine beaches, Largo's Pinewood Cultural Park or Central Park is certainly worth considering for something to do one afternoon.
If you are in the area, you'll want to consider eating at the newly created Dagwood's Sandwich Shoppes. Dagwood has taken his sandwich-making skills and stepped out of his comic strip "Blondie" to open his own sandwich shop. One of the first locations to open was in Largo.