Dunedin is the Hidden Florida Getaway That Should Be on Your Radar for 2022

This Gulf Coast town embraces visitors year-round.

Dunedin Sunset
Photo: Getty/Matt English

An air horn silences the crowd at Hi-Fi Rooftop Bar and patrons turn their attention towards the man with the noisemaker. It's 5:37 p.m. on the dot. "Another beautiful sunset in Dunedin!" bartender Jordan Hensley bellows. A bar-top drumroll is followed by three claps of cymbals and drinks are lifted in high-saluting cheers. I can't think of a better way to end an idyllic Florida day.

I find this city of sherbet-colored houses instantly welcoming. I breathe in the salty, humid air, and it's a sense of relaxation that I didn't know I needed. Dunedin oozes with charm. Brick sidewalks and courtyards complement storefront awnings. Ample public parking is neatly tucked away behind buildings. There are 29 parks creating 270 acres of green space. This is the coastal version of Stars Hollow, to be sure.

Dunedin is one of those places where everyone knows everyone, and everyone has returned home, whether metaphorically or physically. In my five-minute chat with chef Traci Bryant of Caracara, an Asian tapas and taco bar, she divulges she came by her profession honestly—her family business is actually Dunedin Brewery, the oldest microbrewery in Florida. Earlier, at Olde Bay Cafe, manager Max Kitchener explained that he cut his teeth at the marina in high school before successfully conquering the tech industry and returning to his Dunedin roots. Honeymoon Island State Park manager Don Bergeron's first post-Coast Guard job was on the very same island. He spent several years at various parks throughout the state, but always felt called to return to Dunedin. Syracuse, New York, transplant Jody Pucello opened Wild Iris Cafe in 2021 after his previous job continually brought him to town. Even the young couple sitting next to me at dinner has found an unexpected home in this Gulf Coast city. They recently moved here from Seattle.

But, beyond its settle-down lure, Dunedin also has a bustling tourist scene that still maintains the city's charm and grace, while giving out-of-towners a taste of what keeps the locals sticking around. Here are the best places to stay, the best things to eat, and the best things to do in Dunedin, Florida.

Where To Stay

Fenway Hotel, part of the Marriott Autograph Collection, was built in 1924 in the thick of the jazz age. In fact, you can still see the Prohibition-era speakeasy door where three knocks would gain you entry. Because of its Roaring Twenties roots, there are Art Deco nods throughout the hotel, and it never misses a chance to incorporate live music to set the mood. Even better, the hotel has an unobstructed view of the St. Joseph Sound. Ask for a western-facing room for a picturesque perspective.

What To Eat

Beer is king in Dunedin; there are seven breweries within a 5-minute walking radius of downtown, all of which specialize in their own ales and atmospheres. As in many coastal communities, happy hours start a little earlier in Dunedin, and patrons at breweries range from fresh from the charter fishermen to the corporate crew. Many of the alehouses offer snacks of their own or partner with local food trucks. Everyone loves great bites with their beer, and the food scene in Dunedin is unmatched.

Breakfast is served all day at Wild Iris Cafe. The restaurant has an expansive, umbrella-shaded patio and several indoor tables as well. It's situated in a 96-year-old house where you can still see some of the original character. The menu has favorites like eggs Benedict and avocado toast, but its rotating selection of fluffy quiches are an excellent choice. Don't miss the daily pastry either, especially if it's the peanut butter and jelly muffin, inspired by Pucello's favorite breakfast item, a PB&J sandwich.

For lunch, there's nothing like grabbing a table on the water at Olde Bay Cafe. The marina bustles around as reggae music, and likely the rum punch too, lulls you into that coastal trance. Kitchener says the restaurant's mantra is "simple, salty, Southern," and that's exactly what you'll get. Order the fish spread made with house-smoked mahi-mahi to start your meal. Be sure to ask for pickled jalapeños and Sriracha to kick it up a notch. Next, turn your attention to the three-protein seafood sampler. It's sharable but perfectly acceptable to get for yourself too. Choose from the day's fresh catch such as cobia, mahi-mahi, grouper, shrimp, scallops, or even ahi tuna. All are seasoned with the restaurant's take on Old Bay and seared in cast iron. There are ample sides, but on a warm day, opt for the cold, gingery Asian noodle salad. Save room for dessert. The restaurant serves key lime pie from Mike's Pies in nearby Tampa because according to Kitchener, it's simply the best recipe around.

Dinner in downtown Dunedin ranges from casual pizza parlors to "Florida's tiniest taqueria," Taco Baby. The taco stand is inside an old ATM, so there's only room for the taco slinger. For a sit-down meal with a creative menu and laid-back ambiance, opt for Caracara, an Asian-Latin fusion tapas eatery. The dishes here range from chili curry queso to tandoori cauliflower pakora, and many are gluten free and vegetarian. "We do a lot of Middle Eastern food because we want people to experience the entire continent. We have the fattoush salad, but we also have amba on the chicken taco which is an Iraqi mango chutney," explains Bryant. Be sure to order the falafel bao, where Southern-style pickles, Middle Eastern falafel, and Chinese bao join forces for the perfect bite.

What To Do

No one in Dunedin goes anywhere fast, not even the bikers and walkers that fill the Pinellas Trail, a former trail corridor turned 60-mile pedestrian and cycling path that stretches from Tarpon Springs to St. Petersburg and weaves through the small towns and shorelines along the way. It's a place to stroll and roll, all while taking in the surrounding scenery. You can easily hop on the trail from any of Dunedin's access points, and bikes ranging from tandems and beach cruisers to electric bikes and fitness hybrids can all be rented at local bike shop Kafe Racer.

If you're feeling adventurous, you can take the trail all the way to Honeymoon Island State Park, a barrier island laced with public beaches, peaceful walking trails, and watersport activities. Nature walks through Osprey Trail are held almost daily at 11 a.m., and there are four miles of shoreline for beach-goers. For the best spot on the island, Bergeron says you'll need some stamina and patience, "At end of the nature trail, you pop-out on a little sandy beach that overlooks Three Rooker Island and Anclote Key with the lighthouse. You have the Gulf of Mexico on one side and the sound on the inside. It's a beautiful spot." From Honeymoon Island, you can also catch the ferry over to Caladesi Island which is largely untouched and only accessible by boat.

Back in town, take a stroll through the Dunedin History Museum, located in an old train station, to learn how the city went from a town of orange groves used as a shipping hub to a tourist destination. The museum is surrounded by quaint locally owned shops worth perusing too. Stop in to Butteryfly Footprint, a purveyor of eco-friendly goods, Citrus Styles, a casual chic fashion boutique, and Lafayette and Rushford, a home decor and gift store. Depending on the season, you can also catch a Dunedin Blue Jays baseball game.

Dunedin is a beach town, but it's so much more than its powdery sand. It's a vibrant, humming community where even furry friends are treated like neighbors.

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