Kapok Tree Restaurant

Statues and columns outside the former Kapok Tree restaurant in Clearwater, Florida

If you grew up in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area in Florida as I did, then you no doubt have fond memories of the Kapok Tree restaurant in Clearwater. This fabulous restaurant was as over the top as it comes, complete with its own garden of earthly delights. Sadly, the restaurant passed into culinary oblivion many, many years ago, but the ghosts of the past still remain…and I have the photos to prove it.

Ballroom in the former Kapok Tree restaurant
Main ballroom

For those of you from New York, the Kapok Tree was a little bit like Tavern on the Green in Central Park at its height of popularity. Built in 1958 by Richard Baumgardner, the Kapok Tree was at one time one of the top 100 restaurants in the United States. There were three locations (Clearwater, Davie, and Madeira Beach), but of the three, the Clearwater location was the best known and, of course, the most ostentatious. In addition to the magnificent gardens, complete with fountains and waterfalls, the restaurant had 12 dining rooms that featured stunning chandeliers worthy of the grandest ballrooms in Europe and a grand staircase that would look great on the Titanic.

Speaking of the Titanic, the restaurant closed its doors in 1991 due to mismanagement. Seeing the building during its heyday, it is clear that another restaurant on the scale of the Kapok Tree will never again see the light of day. It is with a nostalgic tear in my eye that I decided to spontaneously visit what remains of the structure. I am happy to report most of the original restaurant and gardens have been preserved: the main restaurant has been turned into a special events venue and music school, and what used to be the shopping galleria is now a Sam Ash music store. As a quick comparison, you can view photos of the original Kapok Tree restaurant here.

Kapok Tree Restaurant staircase
Grand staircase

Shirley, at the Kapok Tree Event Center and Gardens, was kind enough to give me a tour of the building and grounds. My memory of the Kapok Tree comes from a family wedding that was held at the restaurant when I was just a little kid. The restaurant originally had shops on the lower level, tropical plants everywhere, and even birds in cages. For a kid in Florida, a visit to the Kapok Tree was a visit to another world, and I loved every minute of it. It is a bit surreal to now see guitars and percussion equipment side-by-side with the Grecian statues, but it brings an extravagant twist to the usual musical instrument shopping experience, which I am sure would have made Richard Baumgardner smile.


For anyone in the Clearwater area looking for a great wedding or party venue, the Kapok Tree is a decadent option not to be missed. (This video shows a wedding at the Kapok Tree in all of its glory.)  Aside from the close proximity of the venue to the traffic nightmare that is McMullan Booth Road and US Highway 19, you can still escape to a magical dreamland in the Kapok Tree’s garden. If you are in the area, take a minute to get off the highway and check out this gem of Florida history.For more history on the Kapok Tree restaurant, please visit this site.

To find out more about the Kapok Tree Events Center and Gardens, please contact Shirley at 727.725.8733 or info@kapokspecialevents.com.

To view more of my travel photos, please visit my personal website – Kelly-Williams.com.

Exterior of the former Kapok Tree Restaurant, now a Sam Ash music store Exterior of the former Kapok Tree Restaurant, now a Sam Ash music store

Kapok Tree Restaurant exterior detail
Detail of the raised tile exterior

Exterior of the former Kapok Tree Restaurant, now a Sam Ash music storeExterior of the former Kapok Tree Restaurant, now a Sam Ash music store

Chandelier and music equipment in the former Kapok Tree Restaurant, now a Sam Ash music store
The store’s manager is very much a KISS fan. I like what he has done with the place.
Chandelier and music equipment in the former Kapok Tree Restaurant, now a Sam Ash music store
Drum room with one of the world’s most stunning chandeliers

Door with engravings leading to music equipment in the former Kapok Tree Restaurant, now a Sam Ash music store Bird statue and colonnade in the former Kapok Tree Restaurant, now a Sam Ash music storeMusic speakers in the former Kapok Tree Restaurant, now a Sam Ash music store Lamp with statue in the former Kapok Tree Restaurant, now a Sam Ash music store Planter with figures covering it in the parking lot of the former Kapok Tree Restaurant

Statues and waterfalls at the Kapok Tree venue
These are the garden waterfalls, though not turned on at the time of my visit
Kapok Tree Restaurant ceremony room
The ceremony room where most of the weddings take place
Kapok Tree Restaurant ballroom chandelier
Ballroom chandelier

Kapok Tree Restaurant chandelier

Kapok Tree Restaurant cocktail hour room
The main cocktail hour room

Fountain with cherubs outside the former Kapok Tree restaurant in Clearwater, Florida Patio and gardens outside the former Kapok Tree restaurant in Clearwater, Florida Kapok Tree venue gardens

Exterior of the Kapok Tree venue with namesake tree
The restaurant’s namesake tree is still standing





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    1. I grew up in Tarpon Springs Florida and I had the pleasure of dining at the Clearwater Kapok Tree restaurant numerous times it was a place that my family members would always take out of town guests their food was amazing and I believe the writer in the story is correct the likes of which will never be seen again

      1. My sister and I remember visiting when we were younger. We can’t remember if it was the Clearwater location or not. Does anyone know where the other Florida locations were? My grandmother lived in Kissimmee but we could have driven to Clearwater.

  1. I had the pleasure of dining at this restaurant one time and remember it so well! Always wanted to go back! So sorry it is closed. The ladies restroom was amazing also! I will cherish my memories of dining there with my family.

  2. My uncle Donald Ringelspaugh was the decorater for the Kapok Tree. He wa responsible for all the statues and murals in the Kapok Tree. There is a mural by the staircase and if you look at the bottom right hand corner you will see his signature.
    He also decorated and designed the Kellogg Mansion.

  3. So sad to read of the demise of the Kapok Tree Inn. As a 14 year old in 1958 my parents took a driving trip from Erie, Pa. To Florida and our first stop on our way home from Ft. Lauderdale was Clearwater to see and dine at the Kapok Tree. Even as a young hard to impress teen It was a truly memberable experience.

    Later, after moving to Ft. Lauderdale in the mid 70’s I drove to Clearwater just to return to the Kapok. Again, on a business trip from New Jersey to Orlando I drove to the Kapok just to enjoy a dinner in a different room and to walk in the gardens.

    The visits were always a pleasant, memberable experience.

    A true loss. So sad, so sad.

    1. Hi Nancy, I’m looking for relatives of your uncle re: the Kellogg Mansion. Could you contact me at 727-798-0090? Thank you!

    2. Sometime during 1971 or 1972, I was a student at Saint Leo College, now Saint Leo University, which is located in Saint Leo, Florida. I traveled with two other Saint Leo.College students to The Kapok Tree restaurant. The ambiance and the food were incredible. Over 50 years later my memories of that night positively resonate with me. Like others, I was very sad to learn of the restaurant closing. However, the memories of that night at The Kapok Tree will remain with me forever.

  4. I’m confused. I played a wedding at the Kapok tree in Davie some years ago. Is that one closed or are they all closed?

  5. I came across this website at work and it brought back so many memories , i almost cried . You see i grew up in Clearwater and my Mother worked at the Kapok Tree Inn as a waitress for many years in the 60’s and 70;s … My sister and I and our brothers used to play hide and seek in the garden alot waiting for Mom to get off work ..Being little and seeing this place was like a fairy tale . There used to be big gold fish in the fountains and Peacocks running around in the gardens . The flowers were beautiful and the different rooms to eat in and the Ballroom , it was all just so amazing …. Thanks for posting these pictures it made me think of my Mom , she’s gone now but looking at the pictures I can still see her there …thank you .

  6. Isn’t it interesting how some posts take on a life of their own? I’m in a FB group called Remember in St. Petersburg When . . . someone asked about favorite restaurants that are now gone. Nothing will equal the grandeur of the Kapok Tree. Found your article when looking for pictures of it, and wondered if it was as grand as I remembered. Thanks for the memories!

  7. I was looking at recipes online and one popped up for chocolate mousse. Baumgardner’s and the Kapok Tree, jumped into my head! One of them, I think Baumgardner’s had the best! It lead me to look the restaurants up, I knew they had closed but I was so happy to find your article with the beautiful pictures of the Kapok Tree. I also was able to find a couple of Baumgardner’s also beautiful.
    I was fortunate that my best friend’s parents had a condo at Innisbrrok and took me to Florida with them. Her parents golfed everyday, we of course went to the beach and then out to a great dinner every night. I’ll be 63 next week and can remember going to dinner at all the great restaurants like it was yesterday. Siple’s Garden Seat, Bern’s Steakhouse, Tio Pepe’s, Le Corsaire, Pappas, then Zorba’s for an Ouzo and so many more.
    I’m very sad to realize that most of those great restaurants are gone as I have such fond memories of them but so happy I had the opportunity to dine at them!

    Thanks for the article and photos to bring it all back!

    Eileen Sussman

      1. Eileen Sussman, Pappas, along with Kapok Tree was our favorite go-to family restaurants when everyone visited. Most of my family is gone. My parent’s house in Holiday is sold but I’ve kept the condo at Tahitian Gardens in Holiday. I’m 68 now and frequent the Greek restaurants down the street from the Pappas building on Dodocanese Blvd in Tarpon Springs. Hellas is one of the best!

  8. Back in the early 70’s my three brothers and their families lived in St. Petersburg and Clearwater. We all loved this place and went there often for special occasions and celebrations for the family. It was always THE place to take your northern guests! Everyone had to have a Planters Punch or three! Those were such great times!

  9. My Grandmother lived in St. Petersburg when I was a child. We spent 2 weeks with her every summer. Going to the Kapok Tree Inn was special every year. The gardens, decor, fountains and family style dining were so unique. Wonderful memories!

  10. Kelly, is there anyone with deep history. It appears as a very small child, I had an experience there and I believe I knew Dickie (that’s what I called him) and a man named Gordie ( 1 of his friends) I remember the red room there. Can you direct me to someone with history. I have questions, please!

    1. Hi Barbie — thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, I don’t know anyone personally at the Kapok Tree, but you might try the St. Petersburg Historical Society. I’m sure they could put you in touch with someone.

      Cheers, Kelly

  11. I am 55 and first dined at the Kapok Tree when I was 7 years old. As a you adult, in the late 80s, I returned to refresh my memories of its elegance. I bought a seascape original oil painting from the artist and had it shipped home to WI. Back then having something like that shipped was a big deal. I wish I had information about the artist.

  12. I’m from Massachusetts and I remember visiting my Mom in 1975 and 76, as she lived in Clearwater. She took me and my husband to the Kapok Tree for dinner, but it was much more than that! I was 20 years old at the time, a new bride and visiting Mom for our honeymoon. I could not believe how beautiful this place was…I can still close my eyes and see everything like it was yesterday!
    I have a beautiful tall sculpted glass with the plastic flower straw from my fancy drink during that visit. I have it in a memory box with my wedding memorabilia. Thank you for your photos…what a wonderful trip down memory lane!! ☺

  13. Anyone remember the fancy drinking glasses that you got to take home? I think there was a new and different style every year?

  14. Hello, my memory is forever etched in this place as a 10 yr old boy seeing this in 1971. We arrived, along with our company at night. It was simply magical entering this glittering greco/roman palace, with all the statuaries, fountains and greenery. I feel very fortunate to have lived my youth in the decadent 1970’s. I loved everthing about it, the hollywood regency interiors, disco, and Americas last great, full size landyachts known as Cacillac and Lincoln Continental. Thanks for the nostalgia.

  15. I lived in Tampa in the early 70s as a little girl. Whenever we would have out of town visitors, a visit to Kapok Tree was sure to happen. I moved up to MA where I lived for 30+ years. When my Tampa family shared that it closed, it felt like a death in the family. I moved back in 2004 and shortly after I went to see its…remains (Sam Ash). I was truly heartbroken to see what it had become. My son is a wedding photographer/videographer and recently did an event there. He told me how beautiful the venue portion still is. I was glad to hear they had salvaged some of its beauty. Thank you for sharing your memories of a one-of-a-kind place that still lives in the hearts of many. The closest thing we have now is the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor. Richard Gonzmart is probably the only restaurateur who could probably pull off a grand scale Kapok reopening. Oh…to dream :).

  16. Oh my, I think it was Hurricane Ian that found me here, checking out Florida. My son and I would visit my parents near the Kapok Tree, it was my 1st visit “anywhere” I love the place went every day and walked the gardens, pretended we were in “My Secret Garden” It was a magical place for us. Thank you for the pics. It’s been 30 years since than.

  17. I also have wonderful memories of family and going to the Kapok Tree on several occasions. I do remember the special glasses that you were able to bring home. It certainly was a special place to visit. Thank you so much for this article and bringing back memories.

  18. I can still see myself and the beautiful blonde I met at University of Tampa in 1975 sitting in all these rooms. Sipping a tropical drink from the goblets you took home…….I will always remember her and this place. I’m married now to someone I love dearly….I’m blessed to have been in love that much twice.I will never forget those times and the Kapok Tree.

  19. I remember visiting this restaurant at 6 years old in the early 1970’s with my grandmother. I have tried for years to find it. I still think it was one of the most beautiful enchanting places I have ever visited.

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