On the west coast of Florida, approximately 45 minutes from the Tampa International Airport—depending on the traffic, naturally—you’ll find the charming town of Port Richey. This Pasco County escape is known for a lot of things, including boating, stunning murals that coat the town center, boating, casual restaurants serving fresh seafood, boating, and plenty of historic architecture, like the soft-coral-pink Hacienda Hotel and the remaining stilt houses. Oh, and did we mention the boating?
In addition to all that this region is known for, there’s one particular thing that locals and visitors come from all over to try: scalloping. This special season runs in the summer during a specific time frame—this year’s ran from July 1 through August 6—but it’s never just as easy as showing up and hitting the open water. There’s plenty you’ll need to know before next year’s big outdoor adventure.
Learning the Ropes
Scalloping is like an Easter egg hunt for adults, but instead of chocolate and candy, you get sweet, delicious shellfish—almost always a better deal. The voyage is only a short one, so visitors should scan the water for dolphins and manatees popping up on the shoreline. Once at the sight of the captain’s choosing, Captains Mark Dillingham and Curt Romanowski will go over how to spot the scallops in the water.
You’ll get snorkel gear and a mesh bag to fill with scallops, before jumping overboard to begin your search. With the targets hiding in sandy areas and seagrass on the ocean floor, you’ll have to dive down to grab the shellfish. If your goal is a significant dinner, your bag will need to be full, especially since these are smaller bay scallops.
After a couple hours diving for fresh scallops, you’ll hop back into the boat to shuck and clean your haul, tasting some raw if you’d like (at your own risk), as these bivalve mollusks are like oysters, mussels, and clams. One cleaned and bagged, they go into the cooler until dinner.
Where to Stay
You always know what you’re getting at the Homewood Suites by Hilton Tampa-Port Richey. With sweltering Florida heat highlighting this scallop season, the incredibly cold AC alone can seem like the most important amenity for those much-needed breaks from the action.
The rooms get incredibly cold with AC and ceiling fans, giving you a much-needed break from the sweltering heat around the time of scalloping season, when temps can feel like they’re in the hundreds. There’s plenty of plugs and working space available, and the suites have full fridges and kitchens. They have a beautiful pool with a waterfall for guests to enjoy during their free time, strong Wi-Fi, and free hot continental breakfast every day.
However, if you’re looking for something less modern and with a history (maybe even a few ghosts), The Hacienda, a Classic 1927 Florida Hotel, is the ideal place. Its salmon pink exterior is something Barbie would approve of, and the hotel is filled with history, having had guests like Charlie Chaplin and Johnny Cash as guests over the years.
It has always been a popular spot for the entertainment crowd and is officially on U.S. National Register of Historic Places as of 1996. Dating to the late 1920s, the property is simply full of character and charm. The rooms are basic but comfortable, and the staff encourages guests to spend time gathering in the shared spaces, rather than in the bedrooms.
What Else to Do
Although you’re there for scalloping, there are plenty of ways to get out on the water during the day. For example, first-timers will enjoy booking a boat voyage with Windsong Charters to view the stilt houses, which are incredible to view in person, as the concept dates back to the early 1900s. And beyond the scallops, there are plenty of local dining options to enjoy on land.
After a day of scalloping and working with your local captains to learn how to shuck and clean, it’s now time to take your catch to a famous local restaurant for their hook and cook special. You can bring your bag of cleaned scallops to Gill Dawg Tiki Bar & Grill where the chef will prepare them for you (blackened or grilled), served with your choice of two sides. You can relax and have a drink while waiting for your food, overlooking the Cotee River and listening to the live music.
Whiskey Joe’s is more than just a good launching point for the scalloping boats. It’s a casual dining spot to enjoy some quality seafood dishes and BBQ with waterfront views. The Gator Bites (yes, they’re actually alligator nuggets) and Coconut Mahi Nuggets with a coconut rum sauce are incredible. The Strawberry-Guava Rib Basket is another delicious, filling option consisting of slow cooked ribs smothered in a sweet, strawberry-guava barbecue glaze, and served with fries and crisp coleslaw.
The Social NPR is a great place to enjoy the views from the top deck and share some appetizers. They have incredible Shrimp Tacos—that you can have grilled, blackened, or fried with ginger slaw, boom boom sauce, and juicy tomatoes—in addition to a variety of shared plates like their Barbecue Pork Nachos or their Fried Green Caprese Salad with fresh mozzarella, pesto, and balsamic.
For dessert, check out Cotee River Creamery & Desserts for homemade ice cream. They offer plenty of classic options like chocolate, strawberry, or pistachio, in addition to some funky flavors like Lavender Honey, Banana Cream Pie, and Key Lime Pie. They even have 21 and over flavors with liquor like Bailey’s Irish Cream & Chocolate Shell, Margarita, and S’mores Kentucky Bourbon Cream.