Monday, April 4, 2016

Columbia, SC to Tampa, FL

The Journey

back roads road trip: Columbia, South Carolina to Tampa, Florida

A long day’s drive.  Start Early.

The Route 

Hwy 321 to Ulmer, SC 
Hwy 301 through Georgia to Waldo, FL
Hwy 24 to Gainesville, FL
Hwy 121 to Williston, FL
Hwy 41 to Tampa, FL

Hwy 321, then Hwy 301 from SC’s capital (and our home) takes you through the “ruins” of the old SC highways.  Dilapidated, rusted, rundown gas stations, country stores, and homes have left society, and gradually joined the sepia-toned images of times gone by.  
An interesting theme develops as 321 weaves south through Norway, Sweden, and Denmark (and Finland, which lies 2.5 miles away down a side road), towns that are apparently named after the railroad (yes, the date on this newspaper article is 1891!).

Denmark, SC

Ironically, this defunct business has a sign that reads 'INTERSTATE' in front of it

Highway 301, South Carolina
The Carolina Theater in Allendale, SC
After crossing the Savannah River into Georgia, the next town on US 301 is Sylvania.  With a charming town square, and lively activity for a weekday at lunchtime, Sylvania is also home to a great little BBQ joint, A & T  Smokehouse, housed in an old service station.  

I enjoyed the chopped pork sandwich with a side of ribs (yes, you can get ribs as a side!) while watching Gunsmoke on the TV in their dining room, the attached former car garage, which was filled with an aromatic haze from the smoke house out back.

In Gainesville, FL be sure to take a ride through the University of Florida’s pretty campus, filled with mossy oaks.  And take a stroll into The Swamp, UF’s football stadium.  It is an impressive Saturday shrine, and open to UF students and the public during daylight hours.  We made it just in time as dusk fell.  We saw students running laps around its concourse and doing stairs up and down its bleachered walls.  Not a bad place to get a workout!


The Destination
Tampa – St. Petersburg, FL
Stand in front of a mirror, open your mouth wide, and take a look at the dangly thing in the back of your mouth.  That’s your uvula!  If Tampa is the mouth of Western Florida, then we stayed on Tampa’s uvula.

Take a stroll on the Uvula’s east shore, Bayshore Boulevard, the self-proclaimed longest continuous sidewalk in America.  During our morning run, many walkers, runners, and bikers were enjoying the view of the rising sun over a misty Hillsborough Bay.  Within walking distance of Bayshore Blvd is Pinky’s Diner, a fantastic brunch spot on Bay to Bay Blvd.  Settle in on a bench on the covered front porch while you wait for a table.  Enjoy the atmosphere, feel free to grab a book from their bookshelf, and order some great grub!

We spent the rest of the day traveling clockwise around the bay on Hwy 41 to Hwy 19, over the impressive Sunshine Skyway Bridge to St. Petersburg.  

On the eastern shore of the bay near Apollo Beach we found the Tampa Electric Manatee Viewing Center.  This is a free park with a viewing dock to observe manatees around Tampa Electric’s Big Bend power station unit 4.  When the bay’s waters drop below 68 degrees, manatees huddle around the warm discharge-water which flows through the station to cool unit 4.  We didn't see any manatees, but we did see some suspicious movement in the water a few times so assume they were being bashful and hiding just below the surface.

After crossing the bridge (Note on the map that although it's I-275, it's also US Hwy 19 and therefore still sort of a back road!!), from which there is a great view toward downtown Tampa, take a ride along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico through St. Pete Beach and Treasure Island on FL 699 - and stop to enjoy lunch with a view or relax on the beach for a while if you have time!

 ...if the wind doesn't blow you away first!
We knew little about St. Petersburg area before landing in-town from the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.  After our detour to the coast, we drove east in search of the downtown area and  pleasantly surprised to find a vibrant downtown along Central Avenue.  A wide selection of coffee, micro-brews, local art, and nifty knick-knacks is there for the imbibing.  We parked the car and walked along Central Avenue, stopping in at interesting stores, including a record shop (where we actually found a few to take home!) and an antique shop.

One highlight of downtown St. Petersburg is the variety of murals on sides of buildings throughout town.  As we passed through the historic Crislip Arcade, a shop owner we talked to told us about the alleyway of art on the backs of buildings in the alleyway running parallel to Central Avenue.  We continued through to the end of the Arcade and found ourselves on a brick paved alleyway full of huge murals.  For several blocks, we walked through the alleyway marveling at the art.

mural in St. Petersburg, Florida

mural in St. Petersburg, Florida
Look closely; the mural very creatively says both 'Tampa' and 'St. Pete'!

mural in St. Petersburg, Florida

Stay tuned as we depart from Tampa to travel across Florida’s panhandle


  1. Great. Thanks for the updates. Makes me want to plan a road trip. Have fun. Stay safe.

  2. Love the blog, and all the descriptions!!!! And seeing all the neat pictures!