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Home to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, an up-and-coming food and drink scene and many outdoor activities, Tampa, Florida, is a great place to take a vacation. Even though there is plenty to do in Tampa, you don’t have to limit yourself to staying within the city’s limits. Here are some unforgettable day trips you can take from Tampa.
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Wide, white sand beaches make Clearwater Beach a popular day trip destination. With rentable cabanas and umbrellas, beach shops, watersports, restaurants and volleyball nets, Clearwater Beach is a great place to spend a relaxing day in the sun. While you’re there, don’t miss the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Home to Winter and Hope, stars of the movies Dolphin Tale and Dolphin Tale 2, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium is also a rehab facility for injured animals. It lets visitors learn more about dolphins, pelicans, stingrays and other local ocean animals. They also offer boat tours so you can learn more about the eco-system in the Clearwater Beach area.
Downtown St. Petersburg has become a haven for artists, and there are plenty of museums, murals and art centers to explore. Visit the new St. Pete Pier. There has been some form of a pier in the downtown area since the late 1800s. The newest version opened in 2020 and offers restaurants, a kid’s play area and splash pad, a discovery center, fishing area and beach located right on Tampa Bay. Pop into Sunken Gardens, which is a 100-year-old botanical garden within a non-active sinkhole. A classic former roadside attraction, Sunken Gardens has flamingos, over 500 species of plants and shaded, relaxing spaces within its 4 acres.
Looking for a full-on beach day? Head to St. Pete Beach or Fort De Soto Park. Due west of St. Petersburg, St. Pete Beach is on a barrier island that juts into the Gulf of Mexico. After lying on the beach to enjoy the sun and enjoying a colorful drink, take a stroll to see the historic pink Don CeSar Hotel or go looking for shells. Fort De Soto Park is at the south end of St. Petersburg and also has beaches directly on the Gulf. A county park, Fort De Soto has sandy beaches, mangroves and is home to more than 328 species of birds.
The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature has made its home in Bradenton since 1947. Home to a variety of permanent exhibits highlighting archaeological Florida artifacts and environmental awareness, a manatee rehabilitation area and a planetarium, The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature is for visitors of all ages. After visiting the museum, head to Anna Maria Island. A barrier island off of Bradenton, Anna Maria is home to high-end shops, art galleries, restaurants and unforgettable sunsets.
Located just south of Bradenton is Sarasota, which is home to many things to do and could quickly turn into an overnight stay.
The Mote Laboratory & Aquarium is a research lab and learning facility dedicated to ocean preservation. Public areas have exhibits that allow visitors to learn more about and observe otters, sharks, manatees, turtles and alligators. They even have a pre-historic Megalodon jaw fossil are where you can sift for fossils. Sarasota Jungle Gardens is 10 acres of bird exhibits and botanical gardens. There are flamingo feedings, animal shows and trails to explore; all focused on educating visitors on its inhabitants. Plant lovers should visit Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. Located directly on Sarasota Bay, their downtown location has over 20,000 plants on-site, art exhibits, and various gardens.
The largest museum in the Sarasota area is The Ringling. Originally the home of one of The Ringling Bros. Circus owners, the 66-acre museum grounds are located on Sarasota Bay. Areas that visitors have access to see are the original 36,000 square foot house, Ca d’Zan, a 21 gallery museum of art containing the Ringling’s vast collection and the circus museum, which houses historic circus memorabilia. There are also gardens to visit through the estate.
Located in Lake Wales, Bok Tower Gardens was created by Edward Bok, who fell in love with the area for its views during his winter vacations. He hired famous architectural landscaper Frederick Law Olmstead, Jr. to create a botanical wonderland to attract wildlife and birds. Bok also added a tower that contains a 60-bell carillon that rings every half hour. There is also a bell concert twice a day. Visitors can tour the grounds, explore some of the buildings on-site and attend concerts and dinner events throughout the year.
Named the manatee capital of the world, Crystal River is a great day trip from Tampa. Crystal River is the only place in the United States where it is legal to swim with manatees. You’re required to take a tour to swim with them, and the rules are very strict about not engaging with the manatees. It is against the law to touch a manatee, but they are curious animals, and if they come up to bump your face, that’s permitted. Not ready to swim in the chilly spring waters to meet the manatees face to face? Three Sisters Springs is the perfect place to view manatees outside the water. And don’t worry if you’re visiting outside of manatee season. Scallop season in Crystal River is from July 1 to September 24, letting you snorkel to catch fresh bay scallops. And there are plenty of opportunities to go kayaking or paddle boarding on the clear waters.
The southernmost forest in the continental US and the first designated national forest east of the Mississippi River, the 387,000-acre Ocala National Forest protects the scrub forest in the area that covers various plants and animals, including the gopher tortoise. The world’s largest sand pine forest, the Ocala National Forest, also has more than 600 lakes, rivers and springs. Activities allowed on-site include biking, fishing, swimming and diving in select springs and hiking. Don’t forget to bring your binoculars. You might be able to catch a glimpse of flying squirrels, deer, opossum, river otters and birds such as the Florida Scrub-Jay.