Hop Aboard the Trolley

Leave your car behind and enjoy the ride from Clearwater to Tarpon Springs

DUNEDIN –  The bright red and yellow flash … have you seen it? A couple from Oklahoma, a young lady from England, three college-age lads and a young family of six  have all seen it and even embraced it on a recent Saturday afternoon. As a matter of fact, up to 600 people experience it on any given weekend.

No, we’re not talking about the mysterious green flash, a phenomenon said to occur at the very second of the setting sun over the Gulf of Mexico during certain atmospheric conditions. The bright red and yellow flash is the Jolley Trolley,  which can be seen blazing a trail on weekends along Alternate US 19 between Clearwater Beach, Dunedin, Palm Harbor and Tarpon Springs.

Since 1982, the Jolley Trolley was only seen on Clearwater Beach, where it offered convenient transportation from Sand Key to the northern tip of the beach on a regular schedule. Last November, however, the new Clearwater to Tarpon Springs route was announced and two new trolleys were added.  An agreement allows holders of a $4.50 trolley day pass to transfer to any Pinellas County bus (you can pick up the trolley at any bus stop), thus making the trolley an integral part of a comprehensive transportation plan in the region.

Ed and Lois, the aforementioned couple visiting from Oklahoma, said they decided to hop aboard to avoid the traffic hassles. “We don’t enjoy driving here,” said Lois. “So the trolley seemed like a good idea.”  They were riding the entire 36-mile roundtrip route this particular Saturday and discovering the pleasure of a scenic ride from the Memorial Causeway at Clearwater Beach to the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks. (Trolleys can  be open-air or closed with air-conditioning according to weather demands.)

From the best natural sponge in the world to unique jewelry or classic antiques, Tarpon Springs has all the makings of a shopper's paradise. Everything from boutique shops to warehouses line the streets from the Victorian downtown to the Sponge Docks.
From the best natural sponge in the world to unique jewelry or classic antiques, Tarpon Springs has all the makings of a shopper’s paradise. Everything from boutique shops to warehouses line the streets from the Victorian downtown to the Sponge Docks.

Indeed, along with avoiding driving hassles and parking fees, this leg of the Jolley Trolley makes an ideal sightseeing excursion minus the tour guide (although the driver is happy to answer any questions about local sites, shopping and dining options). For an ideal day trip, try parking in downtown Dunedin where you can catch the trolley along Main Street as it heads north to Tarpon Springs.  Be alert, however, as it only comes by once an hour. If you miss it,  just take a stroll and visit one of the many shops, art galleries or eateries.

Once on board, you’ll be able to disembark at nearly any location by simply pulling the bell cord. Destinations worth checking out on your trolley ride  to Tarpon Springs might include  beautiful Wall Springs County Park just a few blocks off Alternate US 19 in Palm Harbor  or one of several noted restaurants there including Thirsty Marlin and Peggy O’Neill’s. The trolley does a loop through Palm Harbor’s small restaurant district, so patrons will find it easy to just hop on and off.

The Jolley Trolley makes an ideal mode of transportation for a pub crawl or restaurant hop.  Dozens of dining and drinking establishments line the route from Dunedin to Tarpon Springs. Many riders  like to get off at  Dodecanese Boulevard in the heart of the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks for a few hours of shopping at the many gift shops and a bite to eat at the Greek restaurants that line the thoroughfare.

As a low-cost sightseeing excursion, you can’t beat a ride along the full Clearwater to Tarpon Springs route.   You’ll enjoy scenic views of the Gulf Coast, Pinellas Trail and Clearwater Beach,  an up-close look at downtown Clearwater and its new marina along Coachman Park, downtown Dunedin’s Main Street district,  downtown Tarpon Springs and its  historic Sponge Docks.

The Clearwater to  Tarpon Springs leg of the Jolley Trolley route ends on the south end at Island Estates Publix on the Memorial Causeway, where riders can transfer onto the trolley that heads to Clearwater Beach every 30 minutes. You may also transfer onto PSTA buses at the main bus transit station in downtown Clearwater.

To say the new leg of the Jolley Trolley route has been a success is an understatement. According to executive director Bob Longenecker, the ridership is “more than double our expectations.”

“We are getting up to 600 riders per weekend,” he says, “and we’re figuring about 80 percent are locals. Of course, we expect that to change to about 80 percent tourists during peak periods like March.”

Trolley driver Jamie Prosser says her 30-seat trolley is generally filled to capacity during peak hours. “It can be standing room only,” she warns.

Now, it’s your turn to see the bright red and yellow flash. I guarantee it will be much easier to see than the green flash!

For more information on the Jolley Trolley:

Clearwaterjolleytrolley.com  Click on NEW MAP to see the Clearwater to Tarpon Springs time schedule and route

By Marcia Biggs written for Destination Tampa Bay Magazine

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