I reserved January for my county, Pinellas, to do things close to home because school started again. Time is limited. Energy is usually in short supply. For January’s #Take12Trips one tank road trip, I decided to see three things – Church by the Sea, Heritage Village, and The Florida Botanical Gardens.

Church by the Sea

one tank road trip
The Church by the Sea’s unique feature – a Spanish-style tower that looks like a chicken – draws tourists to Madeira Beach.

A church? Yes, a church. This isn’t some kind of religious thing, though. Churches can be, and often are, beautiful, elegant, imposing. And funny. Yes, you see that right. The Church by the Sea, thanks to its architectural details, looks like a chicken from every side. It has earned a place on several websites as a “must see attraction” because of this unique feature.

The Church by the Sea, however, finds its roots in the middle of the 20th century and it’s foundation, construction, and community inclusion in a faith and ethic endemic to Florida settlers. Members of the community, from 10 different denominations, built the church over the course of several years. Reverend Ralph, the first preacher, poured the concrete floors and installed footers himself. Locals donated their services, such as the architect, and labor and materials from local businesses. The fishermen the church served built the walls, their anchors and chains used to strengthen those walls. “Wire Sunday” in 1945 brought donations of electric wiring from the homes in the area. In 1947, the Spanish-style tower with windows – what is now the prominent “chicken” feature of the church – was built and a 25′ mast with a beacon placed on top. At the time, it was the tallest structure in what was known then as Mitchell Beach, now Madeira Beach.

florida one tank road trips
The Spanish-style tower once had a 25′ mast and beacon on top. A lighted cross has replaced the mast.

The fishermen grew to know it as a landmark and the byword for those at sea was “look to the word of God to find your way home.” When the fishermen were at sea, the light stayed on until all had returned. Such was the closeness of the community. Nights when the beacon stayed on, everyone knew someone had not come in from the water yet, and they prayed for the safe return of the boat and all men.

The mast and beacon have been replaced by a lighted cross. The community is more snowbirds and families than fishermen. But the Church by the Sea remains a beacon for the community and a landmark for tourists. Even if they only come initially to see the church’s resemblance to a chicken. Eventually many come back to experience the sanctuary of faith built by the unity of community.

Florida one tank road trips
The Church’s tower looks like a chicken from all angles.

Heritage Village

florida one tank road trip
The McMullen-Coachman Log Cabin, circa 1852, is the oldest existing structure in Pinellas County.

Spread across 21 acres of natural pine and saw palmetto, Heritage Village features 33 historic attractions, including some of Pinellas County’s oldest and most historic homes. The landscape mimics the natural setting where many of these historic buildings were first built. Many of these buildings were  donated to the county and moved to Heritage Village to preserve the area’s living history. Every building in Heritage Village has been carefully restored to exhibit polished wood floors and the traditional clapboard walls, rooms displayed with historic furniture as they might have appeared 100 years ago.

The oldest building at Heritage Village is the McMullen-Coachman Log Cabin, circa 1852. This is also the oldest existing structure in Pinellas County. Heritage Village also features demonstration sheds where volunteers show, during special events, how things were done, such as the boiling shed, the smokehouse, and sugar cane mill. The Moore House shows what a typical orange grove house looked like, complete with kitchen garden, outhouse, water tower, and windmill. The H.C. Smith Store showcases a typical general store with service garage and barbershop. The store, though closed today for a meeting, has shelves of wares typical for the time, bags of supplies such as sugar, and an old cash register. A church, bandstand, train depot, and two schools finish the village feel.

historic Florida
The H.C. Smith Store (1915) would have served the local community as a general store, service garage, and barbershop.

Heritage Village’s Visitor Center houses a number of small collections donated to the Pinellas County Historical Society. The adjacent gift shop lives in a typical beach cottage from the 1930s. Rubberized walkways lead around the village though they are rather uneven. Most of the buildings are open to the public though two are only open during guided tours.

Know Before You Go
Heritage Village
11909 125th Street North
Largo, Florida 33774
Hours: 10 am – 4 pm W-S & 1 – 4 pm Su
Cost: Free. Donations welcome.
Pets allowed.
Food & drinks not allowed in buildings.
Entire site is non-smoking.
historic Florida road trip
The Walsingham House (built) is interpreted as a doctor’s home and office and is only open during guided tours.



The Florida Botanical Gardens

florida one tank road trips
A bromeliad in bloom in the Bromeliad Garden, one of the gardens in the East Gardens.

The Florida Botanical Gardens ranks very high as one of my favorite places in Pinellas County. Located adjacent to Heritage Village (you can walk from one to the other), the Botanical Gardens encompass 92 acres. It’s 2.5 miles of pathways wind through 18 different gardens that span formal settings, tropical landscapes, and native habitats. Since my first time visiting in 2009, the Gardens have changed a lot. Not really changed – more like grown. The Cactus & Succulent Garden, just a “coming soon” sign years ago, now grows over 50 varieties in the ground and in pots. The Vinery also didn’t exist back then, and though still growing, will be a fantastic section when it’s mature.

January can be a good month for blooms, though not as good as March or April. (Note to self: come back in those months.) This winter, however, has been the coldest in 10 years with a couple of below freezing nights week before last. A lot of plants froze and dried up, especially in The Vinery and Tropical Fruit Garden.

Florida Botanical Garden
The Tropical Fruit Garden did not fare well after our freezing nights. These plants, however, will grown again and soon produce their delicious offerings.

The Botanical Gardens are split into East and West Gardens. The agriculture extension building sits in the West Gardens while the East Gardens holds the formal Wedding Garden, lush Tropical Walk, and a walkway to Heritage Village. Adirondack chairs line McKay Creek at peaceful locations for visitors to take waterside rest breaks.  Memorial benches sprinkle the rest of the grounds, providing places for people to enjoy the plants and scenery, rest, or immerse themselves in nature for a bit.

Know Before You Go
The Florida Botanical Gardens
12520 Ulmerton Road
Largo, Florida 33774
Hours: 7 am – sunset
Cost: Free. Donations welcome.
Pets, food, and drink allowed.
Entire site is non-smoking.


florida one tank road trip
McKay Creek divides the East and West Gardens.


topiary garden
The Topiary Garden, part of the Wedding Garden, features this giant heart topiary.


florida botanical garden
One of the many roses blooming in the Wedding Garden.


florida one tank road trips
A stream with small flagstone rapids flows through the Tropical Walk.

20 thoughts on “#Take12Trips January – One Tank Road Trips

  1. I’ve seen many old churches in the Philippines
    when I was younger and I’ve always enjoyed
    discovering their history. But I’ve never seen
    quite like The Church by the Sea. It looks so
    unique and interesting. And I would love to visit
    it someday! ☺️

  2. Hahaha. I loved the comparison of the church looking like a chicken from each side. I haven’t been to the Florida Botanical Gardens in a few years.

    1. My pleasure, Karen! It’s my goal to show readers all the other things to do in Florida, besides theme parks and beaches. Which part of the state do you travel to?

  3. Great post with great pictures. That picture of the church is a different look on churches. It totally reminds me of a chicken. The historical aspect of
    Florida is very interesting and I would love to visit one day.

  4. I thought it looked like a chicken as soon as I saw the pictures, without even reading what you said first, haha! Looks like an amazing road trip. That
    giant heart topiary is so dreamy 😍

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