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Finding the Best Places to Retire Since 2006!

Vol XIII   Issue 38     Home     September 25, 2018

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Sleepy Safety Harbor, Florida Boasts a Picturesque Waterfront Location, a Quaint Downtown, Safe Neighborhoods and Friendly Folks

Cost of Living:  Above the National Average

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Sleepy Safety Harbor (population 18,000) sits along Old Tampa Bay, just west of Tampa on Florida's central Gulf coast. Discovered by Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto and his men in 1539, the area captivated the newcomers with its five natural mineral springs, which the Spanish called Water of the Holy Spirit. Today, these springs have been commercialized and are managed by the inviting Safety Harbor Resort and Spa. Even though the spa attracts people from around the country, Safety Harbor remains quiet and quaint, not yet overtaken by urban sprawl or massive development. It receives high marks from its residents who enjoy its old fashioned charm while being close to big city amenities.

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Of the population, 45% is age 45 or better. The majority of residents call themselves Democrats, and 37% of locals have at least a four year college degree. The city has some racial diversity and has grown by 15% within the last decade or two. The crime rate is below the national average. The cost of living is 10% above the national average.

The median home price is $290,000. There are 60 or more separate neighborhoods, including established, modest areas as well as gated, waterfront sections. Home styles range from Mediterranean and Craftsman to Tutor Revival.

Florida is a tax friendly state for retirees, although sales taxes are high and real estate is assessed at 100% of fair market value. Still, there is no state income tax, and retirement income is not taxed. And when it comes to real estate taxes, permanent residents receive a $50,000 homestead exemption each year. In Safety Harbor, the annual taxes on a $290,000 home are approximately $3,000.

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Safety Harbor's downtown has a Main Street filled with restaurants, shops, bookstores, banks, cafes and a few galleries. Mature palm trees shade brick-paved streets, and antique lamp posts line the sidewalks. A large white gazebo is where residents gather to listen to music and storytelling during the evening. Fun events include the Safety Harbor Wine Festival and the Holiday Bargain Bazaar.

A few tourists wander in occasionally, but Safety Harbor does not attract the crowds that, for example, Orlando or the South Florida beach towns do. In fact, except for people coming for a spa retreat, most visitors stumble upon Safety Harbor by accident, and the Resort and Spa is the only hotel in town (although there are few motels and some B&Bs).

The small but cute marina, which has been recognized for its clean water, is next to the Safety Harbor Pier and pretty Marina Park where green spaces and blue water create a soothing tableau. Once out of the marina, it is a short trip south through Tampa Bay and then onto open waters.

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Safety Harbor, Florida


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Restaurants are not in great supply, but the ones that are here have a steady following. The Whistle Stop Bar and Grill on Main Street has an open-air section, live music and serves delicious green fried tomato sandwiches and green basil catfish. The Safety Harbor Resort and Spa has a nice restaurant.

Safety Harbor is primarily a residential community, so cultural attractions are not plentiful There are, though, some nice parks, including Philippe Park, which is along the water and has beautiful views of the Bay. John Wilson Park is home to the 3rd Friday music series (concerts in the park) and to the weekly, 16 year old farmers' market. Four golf courses are in and around town. And although Safety Harbor is not known for beaches, both Dunedin and Clearwater have close at hand strips of sand.

Shopping venues consists primarily of locally owned retailers. Box stores and large shopping malls are not here, but they are not far away (for example, Wal-Mart is in Clearwater, about five miles down the road). The Safety Harbor Public Library is located downtown and has a wine and book club, guest lecturers, a writers' group, scrabble games, public access computers and free wi-fi internet access. Tampa and St. Petersburg are just a few minutes away, too, and have museums, professional football games, a symphony orchestra, fine dining and much more.

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Safety Harbor senior services are provided through the parks and recreation department, which has a good menu of programs and two recreation centers. The department also sponsors a Seniors Expo, which showcases businesses that cater to the mature demographic. Pinellas County has a senior assistance hotline as well as Meals on Wheels, legal advice and home services.

Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) provides public transportation, with two routes running through Safety Harbor (and on into Tampa, Clearwater and St. Petersburg). People age 65 or better ride for $1.10 (the regular fare is $2.25). A door to door para-transit service is available, too.

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Mease Countryside Hospital (300 beds) is award-winning for overall patient experience and is accredited by the Joint Commission. It is a Primary Stroke Care Center, and Medicare patients are accepted. For military retirees, Palm Harbor, seven miles away, has a VA outpatient clinic, and Tampa has a VA hospital.

Summer high temperatures usually top out in the low 90s. Winter temperature highs are in the 60s and 70s with lows in the 50s. Average rainfall is 50 inches per year with the usual summertime afternoon showers. On the comfort index, a combination of temperature and humidity, Safety Harbor is below the national average.

Safety Harbor does have some drawbacks. Sink holes have been known to suddenly appear, swallowing cars and attempting to eat a dwelling here and there. And on average, this area is brushed by a tropical storm or hurricane every two years and suffered damage from Hurricane Irma in 2017.

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Yet, even with sinkholes and hurricanes, this Florida gem is hard to resist, offering a relaxing way of life in an area where several large cities provide hustle and bustle when needed. With its picturesque marina, friendly people and seaside charm, Safety Harbor is a safe choice for retirement.

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