10 Best Day Trips In Tampa

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Tampa, Florida’s sparkling gem on the Gulf Coast, holds a special allure for travellers. A harmonious blend of historic charm, modern urbanity, and natural beauty, Tampa is a destination where every visitor finds something to love.

Starting in the city’s heart, downtown Tampa boasts a cosmopolitan flair. The gleaming skyscrapers reflect the waters of the Hillsborough River, and the vibrant Riverwalk offers an eclectic mix of eateries, boutiques, and parks. It’s a haven for foodies, art enthusiasts, and those looking for a picturesque stroll.

Yet, Tampa’s history is never far away. Ybor City, the city’s historic Latin Quarter, transports visitors to a time when Cuban cigar factories were the heart and soul of the community. The vintage streetcars, brick-lined streets, and flamenco beats echoing from lively clubs offer an authentic experience of Tampa’s rich cultural mosaic.

For families, the renowned Busch Gardens promises adrenaline-pumping roller coasters and exotic animal encounters, while The Florida Aquarium offers a deep dive into marine life. ZooTampa at Lowry Park is another must-visit, allowing close-up interactions with wildlife from various continents.

Stretching beyond Tampa, the surrounding areas have their own enchantments. Clearwater Beach, with its sugary sands and crystal-clear waters, is a paradise for sun-seekers. Nearby, St. Petersburg invites art lovers with the Salvador Dali Museum and a burgeoning mural scene.

Nature lovers can explore the many preserves and parks, such as Lettuce Lake Park, where Floridian flora and fauna, from alligators to roseate spoonbills, thrive in their natural habitat.

Gastronomy in Tampa is as varied as its attractions. Fresh seafood from the Gulf, Cuban sandwiches, and fusion delicacies ensure that every palate is tantalised.

In essence, Tampa and its surrounding areas offer a symphony of experiences, ensuring memories that last a lifetime.

So lets get started exploring the top 10 day trips from Tampa.

1. Clearwater Beach

Total Time – 8 – 10 Hours

Sugary white sands and sparkling waters.

Clearwater beach
Clearwater Beach, Clearwater, FL, USA

Setting out from Tampa’s urban sprawl, a quick drive westwards reveals a mesmerising shift from cityscape to seascape. The journey to Clearwater Beach is itself a visual treat, with the Courtney Campbell Causeway offering panoramic views of Tampa Bay.

Clearwater Beach welcomes visitors with its sugary white sands and sparkling waters that have earned it accolades as one of the USA’s best beaches. As you set foot on the beach, the powdery sand filters through your toes, an unmistakable reminder of why this shoreline is renowned. The beach is expansive, ensuring that even on crowded days, one can find a tranquil spot to lay down a towel and bask under the Floridian sun.

For those who crave a little action, Pier 60 is the hub. By day, it’s an excellent spot for fishing and offers breathtaking views of the Gulf of Mexico. As evening approaches, it morphs into a lively hub, with the Sunset Festival showcasing a variety of street performers, artisans, and craftsmen.

A short walk from the beach, Mandalay Avenue offers an array of local boutiques, restaurants, and ice cream shops. Seafood, unsurprisingly, is a local speciality. A meal here, with the backdrop of a setting sun, captures the quintessence of a seaside escape.

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium, home to Winter the Dolphin of “Dolphin Tale” fame, is worth a visit. Not just a tourist spot, it’s a marine rescue centre dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of injured marine animals.

Wrapping up the day, nothing beats the spectacle of the sun setting over the Gulf, painting the sky in hues of pink, orange, and purple.

All in all, a day trip from Tampa to Clearwater Beach is a soul-refreshing retreat. The juxtaposition of relaxation and adventure makes it an irresistible escapade.

2. St Petersburg

Total Time – 8 – 10 Hours

A melting pot of nature, culture, and history.

St. Pete Beach
St. Pete Beach, FL, USA

Stepping out of Tampa’s buzzing streets and embarking on a journey southwest, the landscape subtly morphs from urban cityscape to a relaxed coastal milieu as one approaches St. Petersburg. Often referred to as “St. Pete” by the locals, this vibrant city offers a captivating blend of cultural richness, historic landmarks, and sun-kissed beaches.

Crossing the iconic Sunshine Skyway Bridge is the perfect introduction to St. Pete. This remarkable feat of engineering stretches majestically across Tampa Bay and offers unparalleled views of the shimmering waters below, a sight that remains etched in memory.

The heart of St. Pete is undoubtedly its bustling downtown. Central Avenue, with its eclectic mix of galleries, boutiques, and eateries, thrums with life. For art aficionados, the Salvador Dalí Museum is an unmissable destination, housing an extensive collection of the surrealist master’s works.

Equally appealing is the historic Sunken Gardens, a century-old living museum that boasts some of Florida’s oldest tropical plants. Winding pathways meander through cascading waterfalls, vibrant floral displays, and shady nooks, offering moments of tranquillity amidst nature’s embrace.

But no trip to St. Pete is complete without a visit to its beaches. St. Pete Beach and Pass-a-Grille offer stretches of pristine white sand, inviting one to lounge, play, or simply soak up the Floridian sun.

The EDGE District, pulsating with energy, offers a contrasting vibe. Here, mural-adorned buildings tell tales of local culture, while chic cafes, craft beer pubs, and indie shops reflect the city’s contemporary spirit.

As the sun dips below the horizon, casting a golden hue over the waters, one realizes that St. Petersburg is more than just a coastal town; it’s an experience, a melting pot of nature, culture, and history.

3. Tarpon Springs

Total Time – 6 – 8 Hours

Traditional Greek tavernas serve up delicacies like moussaka, souvlaki, and baklava.

Tarpon Springs
Tarpon Springs, FL, USA

Leaving behind Tampa’s metropolitan pulse, a mere 45-minute drive northwest transports you to a world reminiscent of the Mediterranean coasts – Tarpon Springs. Best known for its rich Greek heritage and natural sponge docks, this delightful town offers a sensory escapade unlike any other in Florida.

The very heart of Tarpon Springs lies in its historic Sponge Docks. Here, you’re transported to a coastal village in Greece. Walk alongside the Anclote River and watch as fishermen haul in their sponge catches, just as their ancestors did decades ago. The aroma of fresh seafood, mingled with the distinct scent of sea sponges, fills the air, giving the docks an authentically maritime feel.

Venture to the local shops that line Dodecanese Boulevard and you’ll find natural sponges of all shapes and sizes. Yet, it’s not just sponges that are on display. From Greek pastries, olive oils to handcrafted jewellery, there’s a treasure trove awaiting discovery.

No trip to Tarpon Springs would be complete without indulging in its culinary offerings. Traditional Greek tavernas serve up delicacies like moussaka, souvlaki, and baklava. Couple that with a glass of ouzo, and you’re in for a Grecian gastronomic delight.

Beyond the docks, the town’s streets are adorned with art galleries, antique stores, and boutiques. For nature enthusiasts, a visit to Fred Howard Park is a must. With its white sandy beaches and tranquil blue waters, it’s a serene retreat from the hustle and bustle.

Wrapping up the day, the setting sun casts a golden glow over the docks, the shimmering waters reflecting the town’s unique blend of Floridian and Greek vibes.

4. Weeki Wachee Springs

Total Time – 6 – 8 Hours

Legendary mermaid shows are inescapable.

Weeki Wachee Spring
Weeki Wachee Spring, Florida, USA

Embarking on a journey from Tampa’s urban sprawl, a short 50-minute drive north leads to the enchanting realms of Weeki Wachee Springs. This renowned Florida attraction, set against a backdrop of crystal-clear waters and lush surroundings, offers visitors a glimpse into a world where nature’s beauty and old Florida charm intertwine.

Upon arriving, the allure of Weeki Wachee’s legendary mermaid shows is inescapable. Set in an underwater theatre, these graceful aquatic performers glide through the clear spring waters, creating tales of magic and wonder. Witnessing these mermaids in their ethereal routines, it’s easy to be transported to a time when tales of sirens and sea creatures dominated maritime folklore.

But Weeki Wachee is not just about the mermaids. The spring itself is a gateway to a mesmerising underwater world. Kayaking or paddleboarding down the Weeki Wachee River offers an unparalleled experience. As you traverse this gentle river, watch manatees graze lazily, fish dart beneath the water’s surface, and birds take flight from the overhanging trees.

Buccaneer Bay, Florida’s only spring-fed water park, provides a fun-filled escape. With water slides diving into the springs, a lazy river, and a white sandy beach area, it’s a summertime haven for both kids and adults.

Nature trails meander through the park, letting visitors experience Florida’s unique ecology. Turtles, otters, and a myriad of bird species make appearances, enriching the experience.

As the day nears its end, the setting sun casts a golden hue over the spring, and the sounds of nature grow more pronounced. The allure of Weeki Wachee remains in the heart long after one leaves, a testament to its timeless charm.

5. Crystal River

Total Time – 7 – 9 Hours

Playful dolphins or a lazy alligator sunning on the banks might make an appearance.

Crystal River
Crystal River, FL, USA

A day trip from the bustling city of Tampa to the serene realms of Crystal River offers a rejuvenating escape. Just an hour and a half away by car, the Crystal River beckons with its shimmering blue waters, abundant wildlife, and the promise of unique adventures.

As you enter this oasis, the possibility of coming face-to-face with the gentle West Indian manatees is palpable. Known as the “Manatee Capital of the World”, the river provides an unparalleled opportunity to swim with these majestic sea cows in their natural habitat. Don a snorkel and immerse yourself in the clear spring-fed waters, and experience the tranquillity that comes with floating alongside these gentle giants.

For those more inclined to stay dry, boat tours provide a relaxing way to navigate the river and its surrounding springs. Guides deftly recount tales of the region’s history, flora, and fauna. With a bit of luck, playful dolphins or a lazy alligator sunning on the banks might make an appearance, much to the delight of onlookers.

Beyond its aquatic wonders, the area offers a plethora of activities. Explore the Crystal River Archaeological State Park, a prehistoric ceremonial site, giving a glimpse into Florida’s ancient Native American history. Alternatively, stroll through the quaint downtown, where local shops and eateries provide a taste of the town’s culture.

For the avid fisherman, the saltwater estuaries nearby teem with redfish, tarpon, and snook, offering a fantastic angling experience. And if relaxation is the goal, the tranquil shores of Fort Island Gulf Beach provide the perfect backdrop for a leisurely afternoon.

Returning to Tampa as the sun sets, the memories of Crystal River’s pristine waters and abundant wildlife linger, a reminder of nature’s beauty just a short drive away.

6. Bok Tower Gardens

Total Time – 6 – 8 Hours

The iconic Singing Tower.

Bok Tower Gardens
Bok Tower Gardens, Tower Boulevard, Lake Wales, FL, USA

From the urban excitement of Tampa, a scenic drive less than two hours away transports you to the haven of beauty and tranquillity known as Bok Tower Gardens. Nestled in Lake Wales, amidst the rolling hills of Central Florida, this lush retreat offers a magical blend of nature, history, and architecture.

Upon entering the gardens, you’re greeted by flourishing plant life in myriad shades of green. Footpaths wind through meticulously manicured landscapes, leading to various themed gardens. The Camellia Collection, the Palmetto Collection, and the Endangered Plant Garden are just a few that showcase the diverse botanical treasures here.

Central to the gardens is the iconic Singing Tower. This 205-foot neo-Gothic and art deco carillon tower is an architectural marvel. But it’s not just a sight to behold – it’s a delight for the ears too. As the name suggests, the tower sings, with daily carillon concerts emanating from its 60 bells, filling the gardens with enchanting melodies.

Adjacent to the tower is the Pinewood Estate, a testament to 1930s Mediterranean-style architecture. A guided tour of this 20-room mansion reveals period-appropriate décor and tales of its intriguing past residents.

For those with an inclination towards nature’s smaller wonders, the gardens boast a butterfly conservatory where these colourful insects flutter freely, capturing the imagination of both young and old. Bird enthusiasts can also revel in the array of native species that call this sanctuary home.

The Blue Palmetto Café provides a delightful spot for a mid-day refresher, offering dishes made from local ingredients, with views of the gardens as your backdrop.

Heading back to Tampa, the ethereal chimes of Bok Tower linger in your ears, a mellifluous reminder of a day well spent amidst nature and history.

7. Anna Maria Island

Total Time – 7 – 9 Hours

Quaint beach cottages and swaying palm trees.

Anna Maria Island
Anna Maria Island, Florida, USA

Escaping the hustle of Tampa, an hour’s drive takes you to the paradise of Anna Maria Island. Stretching just seven miles along Florida’s Gulf Coast, this slender island is a pristine gem surrounded by turquoise waters and sugar-white sands.

Your journey starts with a scenic drive over the Manatee River, offering anticipatory views of the expansive Gulf of Mexico. Once on the island, time seems to slow. High-rises are conspicuously absent, replaced by quaint beach cottages and swaying palm trees, a testament to the island’s commitment to preserving its charm.

Begin your visit at Manatee Beach, the perfect spot to catch the sunrise or simply lay out on its welcoming sands. For the adventurous at heart, the gentle waves provide a splendid opportunity for kayaking, paddleboarding, or even trying your hand at fishing.

Later, head over to Pine Avenue, often referred to as the “Greenest Little Main Street in America”. Here, boutique shops, art galleries, and local eateries await. Don’t miss the Anna Maria Island Historical Society Museum, offering intriguing insights into the island’s past.

By midday, it might be time for a waterside lunch. The island’s dining scene is as diverse as it is delightful, ranging from gourmet seafood restaurants to relaxed taco stands.

Post lunch, venture to Bean Point, a secluded beach offering unparalleled views, especially as the sun dips and bathes the sky in a medley of orange and purple hues. Before departing, take a moment to stroll on the historic City Pier, enjoying the breeze and maybe spotting a dolphin or manatee.

The tranquillity of Anna Maria Island, with its blend of natural beauty and old Florida charm, makes for an enchanting day trip from the vibrant heart of Tampa.

8. Ocala National Forest

Total Time – 1 Day

Paddlers can witness turtles, otters, and even the occasional alligator.

Ocala National Forest
Ocala National Forest, Florida, USA

Just a couple of hours north of Tampa lies a world of natural wonder, the Ocala National Forest. Covering over 600 square miles, it’s a breathtaking realm of ancient trees, pristine springs, and a diverse array of wildlife. A day trip to this forested sanctuary promises rejuvenation and a chance to reconnect with nature.

Departing from Tampa, the urban backdrop gradually transforms into the lush landscapes of Central Florida. The drive itself becomes a prelude to the natural beauty that lies ahead. Upon entering the forest, the dense canopy of longleaf and slash pines, interspersed with shimmering clear springs, is a sight to behold.

Your first stop must be the Juniper Springs Recreation Area. A swim in its crystalline waters, surrounded by verdant ferns and palms, is both refreshing and invigorating. The spring also offers canoeing opportunities, where paddlers can witness turtles, otters, and even the occasional alligator in their natural habitat.

From there, take a trek along the Florida National Scenic Trail. Spanning a segment of the forest, this trail showcases the region’s varied ecosystems, from hardwood hammocks to sand pine scrubs.

For those interested in wildlife, the forest doesn’t disappoint. It’s home to the Florida black bear, white-tailed deer, and a myriad of bird species. The singing of songbirds combined with the gentle rustling of leaves creates a melodious forest symphony.

Lunch can be a delightful picnic amidst this serene backdrop, with the forest providing both the ambiance and the shade.

Before heading back to Tampa, a visit to Silver Glen Springs is a must. Its azure waters are enticing, and the surrounding sandy bottom is dotted with fascinating marine life.

The Ocala National Forest, with its pristine beauty and tranquil springs, offers a refreshing contrast to Tampa’s urban bustle, making it a worthy day trip.

9. Fort De Soto Park

Total Time – 7 – 9 Hours

Kayaking through the mangrove tunnels offers an intimate encounter with the park’s marine ecosystem.

Fort De Soto Park Beach
Fort De Soto Park, Florida, USA

Just southwest of the bustling city of Tampa, Fort De Soto Park emerges as a coastal oasis. Encompassing over 1,100 acres across five interconnected islands, this gem is a true embodiment of Florida’s coastal splendour. Merging historical intrigue with natural allure, a day trip to Fort De Soto provides both relaxation and education.

The drive from Tampa is scenic, as the urban landscape recedes, replaced by shimmering waters and lush greenery. Upon arrival, the park’s diverse ecosystems, ranging from mangroves to white sandy beaches, immediately captivate the senses.

One cannot visit without exploring the historic fort for which the park is named. Walking through the ancient corridors of Fort De Soto, you’ll be transported to the time of the Spanish-American War, with the old mortar batteries and the Quartermaster Storehouse Museum offering a deep dive into the past.

But the park’s beaches are its crown jewel. Awarded as some of the best in the nation, the soft white sands and gentle Gulf waves are perfect for sunbathing, swimming, or simply taking a serene beach walk. The North Beach is particularly notable, with its undisturbed sands forming a paradise for both visitors and the myriad of shorebirds that call it home.

For the more adventurous, kayaking through the mangrove tunnels offers an intimate encounter with the park’s marine ecosystem. The waters teem with life – from playful dolphins to graceful rays.

Fishing enthusiasts will be drawn to the park’s two fishing piers, where the catch of the day is always uncertain but the sunsets are predictably breathtaking.

Concluding your visit, the park’s nature trails offer a quiet retreat, winding through the island’s interior and providing glimpses of local wildlife, such as tortoises and ospreys.

A day at Fort De Soto Park is a rejuvenating escape from Tampa’s urban life, where history and nature intertwine gracefully.

10. Bradenton

Total Time – 6 – 8 Hours

Laid-back vibes and crystal-clear waters.

Bradenton, FL, USA

Bradenton, sitting pretty on the southern bank of the Manatee River, offers a delightful day trip destination from Tampa. An easy drive south, less than an hour away, transports you to a realm where history, art, and nature find a harmonious confluence.

Upon arrival, the charm of Bradenton’s downtown district is palpable. Quaint boutiques, aromatic cafes, and a line-up of artisan shops paint a vibrant urban tapestry, reminiscent of old Florida with a modern twist. The Riverwalk, a 1.5-mile park along the water, is a focal point. Lined with sculptures and dotted with gazebos, it offers serene vistas of the river and serves as an avenue for morning joggers and evening strollers alike.

History buffs would revel in the Village of the Arts. This renovated neighbourhood, adorned with early 20th-century bungalows, is now a thriving artists’ community. Wander its colourful streets, and you’ll encounter galleries, studios, and murals that echo Bradenton’s rich cultural tapestry.

Nature lovers shouldn’t miss the Robinson Preserve. This expansive natural area offers salt marshes, mangrove habitats, and tidal creeks. Kayaking, bird watching, or just walking the trails, every activity here is a toast to Florida’s pristine environment.

Bradenton is also the gateway to Anna Maria Island, a white-sand sanctuary known for its laid-back vibes and crystal-clear waters. While slightly beyond Bradenton itself, it’s worth the detour if beach relaxation is on the day’s agenda.

A trip to Bradenton would be incomplete without a nod to its citrus history. Pop into one of the local markets for freshly squeezed orange juice or a tangy citrus pie, a sweet culmination to your journey.

As the day winds down and the hues of the sunset drape the city, Bradenton leaves an indelible mark on its visitors, promising memories of a day well spent.

Continent: North America

America, Florida, North America, Tampa