In the rolling hills of eastern Pasco County, is a place where Southern hospitality can be felt: Dade City. Established in 1889, this Nature Coast gem is the seat of Pasco County. Its downtown restaurants, antique, and specialty shops are fun to visit – you may want to stay – and you will probably return.
In recent years, Dade City has become synonymous with its largest event, the Kumquat Festival. Kumquats are a marvelous fruit that is both sweet and sour. The whole town joins in this annual celebration held the last weekend of January, but there are many reasons to visit this Nature Coast town any day of the week.
First, the historic architecture.
On September 14, 1885, the first regular train of the Florida Central and Peninsular Railway passed through Dade City. An historic brick rail station, originally built in 1912, is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The iconic Pasco County Courthouse was built in 1909, and a thriving downtown radiates from it. Designed by noted architect Edward Columbus Hosford in the Classical Revival style, it is also on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Visitors can view the common areas inside. The craftsmanship is impressive.
Two excellent educational institutions, St. Leo University and Pasco-Hernando State College, are located in the Greater Dade City area, as is the Pioneer Florida Museum. On the outskirts are two exotic animal attractions, Dade City Wild Things and Giraffe Ranch, a Tree Hoppers adventure park, and the Joy-Lan Drive In Theater, where you can see first-run movies or attend a swap meet on weekends.
But the real magic of Dade City, in my opinion, is the charm of its residents and proprietors.
This is a place with local shopkeepers offering service and selection. Choose from ten or more antique stores in the downtown area offering selections from primitive to ostentatious at all price points. It is really fun to go from shop to shop and see what is new in the “old stuff” while reliving memories from finding a toy, tool, or piece of art reminiscent of one’s youth.
There are many specialty shops with a little of this and a little of that, including home décor and furniture, fashion and jewelry, whimsical gifts and cards, art and wine, an authentic Mexican market and taqueria, grocery items and more. Most of these shops offer modest prices and excellent service.
Plan to stay for a meal because there are at least twenty restaurants to choose from! Sandwich shops and bakeries lead to fire-grilled gourmet and restaurants owned and run by top-chefs – all located within historic and sometimes eclectic buildings. A tea room decorates for each season located next to a quilt shop that offers classes.
The variety of choices ensures that you will find what suits your palate and your wallet right in the courthouse square. Lunch on Limoges is famous for its servers wearing starched white uniforms and its open kitchen – but I always remember their Fairy Cake.
Dade City is a pet-friendly place and some restaurants offer outdoor seating and even a menu for your canine companion. A huge pet store offers everything from healthy treats to custom specialty items to visitors. The owners welcome your pets in the store and love to help solve diet and skin problems with their extensive line of products.
There is a true community atmosphere here. Originally a farming community, you will find ranchers and farm workers traveling through or stopping in for a meal while visiting Dade City.
Several parks are located in the downtown area, including Hibiscus Park where a farmers market is held the first Saturday of every month from September through May, and Price Park, which offers more traditional city recreation including playground equipment, racquetball and tennis courts, and picnic tables with barbecue grills.
Enjoy the historic buildings as you meander around. Historic storefronts abound. It can be fun to discover what’s inside, such as these 1960-70s chairs and lamps next to an exposed brick wall from the early 1900s.
Sometimes one visits a place and not everyone wants to shop; Then what? Dade City has a nice cigar bar, sports bars, coffee shops, and a Brass Tap location featuring several locally crafted brews for refreshment, including seasonal kumquat flavored brews.
Dade City plays host each year to a large number of popular community-sponsored events, including the Kumquat Festival, Church Street Christmas, and the Country Christmas Stroll. A former Main Street organization, the Dade City Merchants Association puts on several events throughout the year, including Antique Faire & Markets in the spring and fall and a monthly Car Cruise In around the Courthouse Square.. There is a strong Chamber of Commerce that provides visitor information and business promotion.
There is a nice Hampton Inn south of downtown if you decide to stay overnight because you simply want to see more than one day will accommodate. Stop in and visit Dade City.
Plan to visit for an event and stay to enjoy the leisurely pace and friendly residents. You’ll be glad you did.