By Kevin Mims
Say you're on vacation in Tampa. That's great. There's much to do there, and you'll love it. But if you'd like to stretch your wings a bit, and add to your Florida experiences, take a day trip from Tampa.
Tampa, as your base, gives you lots of day trip options. You can take in some fine art, sprawling gardens, Florida history, a white-sand beach, a freshwater spring, and more — all within easy driving distance.
Here are 10 great day trips you can take from Tampa to expand your vacation.
Dali Museum, 24 miles
The works of one of the most famous artists are just a 30-minute drive from Tampa. The Salvador Dali Museum in downtown St. Petersburg has a collection of more than 2,400 works by the Spanish surrealist. The building that houses the museum is an attraction in itself, featuring the “Enigma,” a 75-foot geodesic glass bubble. Be sure to explore the gardens, check out the museum’s library, and stop for a bite at the Spanish-themed Cafe Gala, named after Salvador Dali’s wife and muse. A great trip for a group or just on your own.
Tarpon Springs, 28 miles
Fans of Greek cuisine, Florida history, and walkable downtowns will love Tarpon Springs north of Clearwater. Sponge fishing is what drew Greek divers to the area in the early 1900s, and today it’s that heritage — and a bustling historic downtown full of shops selling everything from antiques to olive oils and wine — that draws visitors here. Tarpon (the local shorthand pronunciation) is situated along the Anclote River and is best-known for the stellar Greek food dished up by restaurants like The Original Mama Maria’s Greek Cuisine, Mykonos, and Hellas Bakery and Restaurant.
Harry P. Leu Gardens, 88 miles
The lush, colorful surroundings at Harry P. Leu Gardens in Orlando are a welcome break for anyone looking for a family-friendly day trip into nature and are just about an hour and a half northeast of Tampa on route 4. The gardens are home to more than 15,000 plants, both native and non-native, as well as many bird and butterfly species. Start your visit at the Garden House Welcome Center and navigate from an arid garden for drought-tolerant plants to a native wetland environment. Pack a picnic to enjoy at the welcome center or head out to a nearby restaurant — Dandelion Community Cafe, Ten 10 Brewing Company, and The Sanctum Cafe are all within a few miles.
Weeki Wachee Springs, 56 miles
Known for decades for its mermaid shows and underwater theater, Weeki Wachee Springs State Park draws 250,000 annual visitors. There is plenty to do in the area for the whole family so this is a great destination for a full day trip. Within the state park and adjacent to the underwater theater is the family-friendly water park Buccaneer Bay, where the young and young at heart can glide down water slides into the 72-degree natural spring waters. Rent an inner tube for a lazy river ride around the swimming area or launch a canoe, kayak, or paddleboard and head out on a six-mile adventure on the clear Weeki Wachee River.
Anna Maria Island, 55 miles
Whether you go for the fresh seafood, fishing, or white-sand beaches, a road trip to Anna Maria Island is a must. Twenty minutes from Bradenton, Anna Maria possesses a laid-back atmosphere where visitors can go to relax and unwind. Go shelling, fish from three piers, rent a bike to explore the island on two wheels, and grab a meal at one of Anna Maria Island’s many waterfront restaurants. Get a feel for the island’s history by visiting the Anna Maria Historical Society Museum, the Anna Maria Historic Green Village, and the Historic Bridge Street Pier. An easy trip of just about an hour south on route 75. Anna Maria Island is a great one day romantic getaway for a couple to take advantage of.
Hillsborough River State Park, 28 miles
Hillsborough River State Park in Thonotosassa has a packed menu of sights and activities: river rapids, rent bikes or paddle craft, hike the seven miles of nature trails, go geo-seeking, swim in the park’s half-acre swimming pool, and picnic at a Civilian Conservation Corps-built pavilion.
The park is also where you’ll find the Fort Foster State Historic Site, a reproduction of the fort by the same name from the Second Seminole War. Visitors can walk through the interpretive center and see more than 100 artifacts.
Bok Tower Gardens, 66 miles
Just over an hour from Tampa is Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales and is unlike anywhere else in Florida: gardens full of greenery and blooms provide habitat for 126 bird species; and a 205-foot, neo-Gothic and Art Deco-style singing tower with a 60-bell carrilon.
This is the peaceful setting that Edward Bok envisioned nearly 100 years ago. A soundtrack accompanies visitors while they explore the lush gardens. For children, there are plenty of places to play at Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden, which has art stations and climbing features. Stop for lunch or dinner at Blue Palmetto Cafe.
John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, 60 miles
Fine art, nature, and coastal beauty converge at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, where visitors are as wowed by 16th- to 20th-century masterworks as they are by the grand waterfront mansion and sprawling gardens. Once the home of Mabel and John Ringling, of Ringling Bros. Circus fame, the property is now the official art museum of the state of Florida and governed by Florida State University. Explore on your own or take guided tours of the museum and gardens.
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