Best known for its blue skies and beautiful beaches, Tampa is a popular Gulf Coast destination for snowbirds and spring breakers alike.
But if you’re on vacation and want to escape Tampa’s most popular areas, these weekend road trips from Tampa will definitely expand your travel horizons.
Hit the road to see more of what the Sunshine State has to offer, including white sand beaches to crystal clear waters. Don’t forget to pack your swim trunks and a beach towel.
1. Crystal River
Located just over an hour north of Tampa on the Gulf Coast, the town of Crystal River is a scenic getaway if you’re looking for a nature-infused outing — and wanting to see some manatees. In fact, when you’re visiting the Manatee Capital of the World, you can even take a dip in the clear water to swim alongside these gentle sea cows.
The area is also home to some incredible natural springs. Rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard to launch onto the waters at Hunter’s Springs Park. This small city park features a sandy beach for swimmers, a kayak launch, and a boardwalk for viewing manatees.
Paddle out into the bay in search of manatees (and other wildlife). From April 1 to November 14, you can paddle your way right to Three Sisters Springs, and enjoy a dip or snorkel in the incredibly clear waters.
Finish out your trip with a stop at Kings Bay Park for a meal at one of the three waterfront restaurants specializing in seafood, often fresh off the boat. And take a walk through Crystal River. The cute historic downtown features various beachy shops, and more local restaurants.
- Distance: 80 miles
- Drive time without stops: 1 hour 13 minutes
2. Kennedy Space Center
Whether you’re an aviation buff, an Apollo 13 fan, or just enjoy learning about history, science, technology or outer space, a trip to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is a worthwhile weekend excursion. It’s also a great outing for kids and kids at heart.
Located on Merritt Island at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, the public complex offers visitors a glimpse into the world of space and technology. You’ll get to view historic spacecraft and other interesting artifacts. Swing by one of the two IMAX theaters for an immersive showing or book a bus tour of the spaceport.
From the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame to the Rocket Garden, you can easily spend an entire day or two touring the exhibits. The visitor center also has shops and several dining options. For an even more memorable outing, time your weekend trip to the next rocket launch. You can purchase a ticket to enjoy a prime viewing location a few miles from the launch pad.
- Distance: 126 miles
- Drive time without stops: 2 hours, 3 minutes
Related read: 10 Best Cabin Rentals in Florida for a Relaxing Vacay
3. Caladesi Island State Park
Caladesi Island State Park is a beautiful Gulf Coast barrier island, located just a hop, skip, and a short ferry ride away from the Tampa metro area. You can reach the island by private boat or by taking the Caladesi Connection Ferry service. This ferry also takes you to Honeymoon Island State Park, another fabulous beach worth visiting if you have the time.
Once on Caladesi, take a stroll along the white sand beach or walk the nature trail around the historic Scharrer Homestead. If you love looking for seashells, keep an eye open for washed-up treasures. The undeveloped island is also home to shorebirds, and you might spot fish in the shallows or dolphins further offshore.
If you’re looking for more time on the water, plan a kayak trip through the bayside mangrove forest. The park’s dedicated paddling trail starts and ends at the marina and café. On the water, you’ll get an up-close tour of the mangroves and seagrass flats.
- Distance: 27 miles
- Drive time without stops: 40 minutes
4. Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
Best known for being the only spot where you can watch a live mermaid performance (yes, you read that correctly), Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is home to an enchanting spring with all sorts of activities, You can have a splashin’ good time at Buccaneer Bay Water Park, learn about local Florida wildlife, take a river boat cruise — and see those real-life mermaids.
One of Florida’s most unique destinations, this family-friendly spot draws visitors for a variety of reasons. While the classic mermaid show and water park are the crowd-pleasers for the little tykes, the park is also home to the deepest freshwater cave system in the country.
Bring your kayak or SUP for a paddle on the Weeki Wachee River. The clear blue water rises from a deep spring that pumps out more than 117 million gallons of water each day. The park is also home to local birds and other animals, if doing a little wildlife watching is on your weekend agenda.
- Distance: 56 miles
- Drive time without stops: 53 minutes
Related read: 9 Gorgeous Beachfront Airbnbs in Florida
5. Tarpon Springs
Whether you’re looking for history, art, good food, cute shops, or outdoor recreation, the city of Tarpon Springs has a little bit of all of the above. Also known as the “Sponge Capital of the World,” Tarpon Springs is located on the shore of the Gulf of Mexico and boasts 51 miles of waterfront.
The historic downtown features charming storefronts, cute boutiques, art galleries, antique stores, and specialty shops. In addition to the town’s sponge diving history, the area is also known for its Greek culture and delicious Greek cuisine — don’t miss a stop-off at one (or two) of the area’s bakeries.
If you’d rather get outside or spend some time on the water, you have your choice of beaches and waterfront parks for walking, biking, fishing, boating, kayaking, shell hunting, or sunbathing. Catch a sunset over the Gulf for the perfect end to your weekend outing.
- Distance: 28 miles
- Drive time without stops: 38 minutes
6. Silver Springs State Park
Pack your tent (or RV) and head to Silver Springs State Park for a night out under the stars at one of Florida’s best-loved state parks. Located just east of the town of Ocala, the park is best known for its namesake spring and river, but it also has plenty of other activities to fill your weekend.
Take a glass bottom boat tour to get a first-hand glimpse of the underwater world of Silver Spring. Then stop by the Silver River Museum and Environmental Education Center to check out the exhibits and historic buildings and learn more about the natural history of the area.
In addition to awesome opportunities for paddling, the park also has miles of trails for hiking or biking. As far as accommodations, the park’s two campgrounds have a total of 59 sites. Each site has water, electric hookups, a fire ring, a barbecue grill, and a picnic table, so you can comfortably set up your home-away-from-home for the weekend.
- Distance: 103 miles
- Drive time without stops: 1 hour 35 minutes
Related read: 7 Treehouses in Florida For a Unique Stay in the Trees
7. Fort Myers
Known for its top-notch beaches, fishing, and shopping, Fort Myers is another popular Gulf Coast destination. Whether you’re looking for family-friendly adventures, outdoor recreation, downtown dining, or a strip of white sand beach to get a tan, Fort Myers has a little bit of everything.
Popular beaches include Sanibel Island and Captiva Island, which are both well-known for fabulous seashell hunting and dolphin sightings. Nearby Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge and the Calusa Blueway offer great options to get out paddling.
And should you want to plan an overnight stay, you’ll have your choice of luxury hotels, resorts, and rentals. Head downtown for a historic walking tour or book a sunset cruise for a little extra something special.
- Distance: 127 miles
- Drive time without stops: 1 hour 56 minutes
8. Cocoa Beach
If you want to see waves and feel the ocean breeze, head east from Tampa for a weekend at Cocoa Beach where you can trade the Gulf for the Atlantic. Head out body surfing (or actual surfing) or simply stake out your spot on the shore to enjoy the sound of the crashing waves.
When you walk the beach, be sure to check out the historic Cocoa Beach Pier. The 800-foot pier is home to restaurants, bars, gift shops, and live music. You’ll have your choice of casual, open-air dining, perfect if you’re hankering for some fresh seafood.
Other options for your ocean-side weekend include taking a kayak tour, booking a fishing charter, or taking a surfing lesson. Though the beach does get busy during peak season, Cocoa Beach has a more laid-back feel than some of Florida’s other high-profile ocean-side locales, making it a great weekend trip from Tampa if you’re looking to escape to the ocean.
- Distance: 133 miles
- Drive time without stops: 2 hours 8 minutes
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