TAMPA BAY, Fla. — The Bay area was treated to some chilly weather this past weekend, and many are assuming it will be the last of that before our traditionally brief spring shoots by and we settle into another convection-oven summer. And with COVID vaccines rolling out and the Sunshine State reopening, you may be itching to put a year of stir-crazy isolation behind and get out into the open air before the heat forces you back inside.
What You Need To Know
- The Bay area boasts plenty of outdoor activities besides the beaches
- Here are 10 options for local day trips to take before summer hits
There are plenty of things to do outside around here, but if you’re looking for something more than walking up to the local park—and, gas prices being what they are, you still don’t want to have to go too far—we’ve compiled a list of nearby destinations that offer beauty, tranquility, information, recreation, or some combination thereof. Check them out before the mercury really starts to climb, and be sure to observe all COVID prevention protocols.
(NOTE: We left springs, beaches and other water-related activities off the list because, let’s face it, we’re still gonna be doing that stuff all summer long no matter how hot it gets.)
The historic Pinewood Estate is currently closed due to COVID precautions, but you can still get Zen while wandering this 250-acre garden and bird sanctuary that’s been a destination for contemplation since 1929. We’re also smack-dab in the middle of Spring Bloom, the gardens’ annual slate of events celebrating its most colorful time of the year that includes concerts, nutrition classes, children’s learning experiences and even an Easter Sunday Sunrise Service. Be sure to bring your mask, as they’re required at the entrance and in all interior spaces. Spring Bloom runs through April 30. 1151 Tower Blvd., Lake Wales. 863-676-1408
Just a few miles from downtown Tampa, this is a marvelous place to spend a day outdoors before the blazing heat sets in for the summer. Hillsborough River State Park offers more than camping; in addition to the historic Fort Foster site (which is currently closed), the park features great cycling, hiking and fishing, and the river has some of the only Class II rapids in the state. 15402 US-301 N, Thonotosassa. 813-987-6771
In addition to the famous John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art (and its very famous Rubenses), Circus Museum and other attractions, this property also boasts the gorgeous and unique 66-acre Bayfront Gardens, where the sea breeze will keep you cool while you explore the Dwarf Garden, the Secret Garden and other whimsical combinations of nature and statuary. Book a walking tour, or just wander. 5401 Bay Shore Rd., Sarasota. 941-359-5700
Another pair of beautiful bayside gardens in the Sarasota area, the Selby Gardens take the form of the 15-acre downtown “tropical urban oasis” and the 30-acre Historic Spanish Point location. Local nature, history and environmental awareness come together in both spaces, and the Historic Spanish Point garden showcases 5,000 years of native fauna history. 1534 Mound St., Sarasota/337 North Tamiami Trail, Osprey. 941-366-5731
Who doesn’t love a day at the zoo when the weather is nice and the animals are frisky? Formerly the Lowry Park Zoo, ZooTampa is small enough to do in less than a day, and big enough to widen your eyes and your perspective on the natural world. From African mammals to local sea life, there’s a little bit of everything to see, along with plenty of regularly scheduled shows and exhibits that are both entertaining and informative. Support your local zoo by becoming a member, and enjoy a Tampa Bay institution year ‘round. 1101 W Sligh Ave., Tampa. 813-935-8552
Whether your kids are sick of shredding the same local spots or you’re an old-schooler looking for a new place to carve, the Bradenton Riverwalk Skatepark is definitely worth a half-hour or so in the car. Not only is the park (designed by famed firm Team Pain) a killer place to skate for free, it’s located right on the Manatee River along Bradenton’s Riverwalk, boasting beautiful views and 1.5 miles of marvelous green space. There are playgrounds for the younger kids and an amphitheatre that hosts regular events, too. 101 Waterfront Dr., Bradenton.
It’s amazing how many locals have never visited this peaceful, storied 4-acre space just north of downtown St. Pete; it’s one of the oldest of “Old Florida” roadside attractions, and is a perfect place to, well, just chill, really. More than 50,000 tropical plants grow around burbling waterfalls, and of course, you’ve gotta see the famous flamingos. Bring a book and soak up the serenity just a few blocks from the energy and bustle of the ‘Burg. 1825 4th St. N., St. Petersburg. 727-551-3102
It’s a bit touristy, but it can also be fun and educational for folks of all ages. The marine sponge industry built Tarpon Springs’ Greek community, and there’s plenty to learn—and plenty to see, do and, perhaps most importantly, eat. Browse the shops and walk the waterfront in between a tasting tour of seriously good food before it gets so hot that you have to hydrate every time you step into somebody’s business. 735 Dodecanese Blvd., Tarpon Springs.
Sure, Pinellas County’s largest park has clean, white beaches that the hordes of Spring Breakers never seem to find, but there’s more to this 1,136-acre space spread across several islands than its awesome shoreline. You can walk for hours in the sun, soaking up the natural beauty, or get schooled in local history at the fort and the Quartermaster Museum. There’s a dog beach, and it’s also a birder’s paradise, with more than 300 species that visit at various times of the year. Canoeing, kayaking and fishing are also top-notch here, in addition to the wildly popular campground that often fills up during even the hottest summer months. 3500 Pinellas Bayway S., Tierra Verde. 727-582-2100
And finally, here’s another “local secret” that everybody probably visited as an elementary school kid, then forgot about—a look into the area’s agrarian history and an 182-acre botanical garden, right around the corner from the land of strip malls and Starbucks. Heritage Village Park’s indoor spaces are closed due to the pandemic, but don’t let that stop you from strolling the breathtaking sights of the Florida Botanical Gardens. Much of Florida’s rapidly disappearing natural splendor is widely represented, and gardeners of all skill levels can pick up new tips during demonstrations. You can even bring the pooch, who is probably sick to death of lying around inside and watching you watch your computer screen. 12520 Ulmerton Rd., Largo. 727-582-2100