sponge docks

Four Day Trips from Westchase

Summer is a great time for travel to new and exciting destinations. If you’re staying put this summer, however,  there is still plenty of exploring to be had.  In Florida, adventure is always just a short drive away.

Here are a few of our favorite day trip destinations.

Tarpon Springs 

Just a 30-minute drive up the road, Tarpon Springs feels like a world away.

Located on the Anclote River less than a mile from the Gulf of Mexico, Tarpon Springs is home to one of the highest percentages of Greek Americans living in a U.S. city. The town was once the sponge dock capital of the world. The small town’s combination of history and Greek heritage is what makes Tarpon Springs so special. Start by taking a stroll along Dodecanese Boulevard, browse the numerous shops and take in the sights of the town’s historic sponge docks. At the Spongeorama Sponge Factory you can learn about the rich history of Tarpon Springs, the docks and the sponge industry. There are several tour companies offering boat rides that range from a sponge-diving exhibition to a trip down the Anclote River to collect shells on a remote island. Of course, a trip to Tarpon Springs wouldn’t be complete without dining on traditional Greek fare at one of the many restaurants that line Dodecanese Boulevard. Before you head home, be sure to grab some authentic Greek pastries from Hellas.

Round out your day trip by stopping at Fred Howard Park, a 10-minute drive away. There you’ll find a spectacular view of the Gulf of Mexico and a gorgeous location to watch the sun set. Plan your day at exploretarponsprings.com. 

Bok Tower Gardens

If you are looking for a peaceful getaway, Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales is the place to go. With more than 200 acres of gorgeous gardens and hiking trails, this is the perfect place to spend a spring day. Bok Tower sits on the crest of Iron Mountain, the highest point in peninsular Florida. It’s a great place to set up a picnic and take in the nearby citrus groves. Kids will enjoy exploring Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden. The highlight of the gardens is the Bok Tower Carillon, a 205-foot-tall structure that houses an instrument comprised of tuned bells in chromatic series. Concerts are held at 1 and 3 p.m. daily and can be enjoyed from throughout the grounds. Tours of the historic Pinewood mansion are also available Tuesday-Sunday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Plan your trip at boktowergardens.org.

Before heading home, be sure to take a drive to Spook Hill, the only magnetic hill or “gravity hill” in Florida. On a magnetic hill, cars appear to roll up hill when placed in neutral. It’s definitely a phenomenon you have to experience to believe. Learn more at visitcentralflorida.org/featured/spook-hill.

Hillsborough River State Park 

This park in Thonotosassa offers a unique landscape and is packed with history. The river was named in the late 1700s for Wills Hill, the British Colonial Secretary and Lord Earl of Hillsborough. In the 1930s, this park was one of nine state parks established as part of FDR’s Depression-era New Deal. Today, many of the park’s structures and the suspension bridge are examples of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) style of rustic architecture, in harmony with the natural environment.

Visitors can enjoy seven miles of nature trails, a reconstructed fort and a rarity in Florida: class II river rapids perfect for canoeing or kayaking (note: paddlers must bring their own canoe/kayak). Cyclists can enjoy the 1.6-mile Wetlands Restoration Nature Trail as well as the 2.2-mile Park Loop. Four hiking trails meander along the Hillsborough River through a dense, hydric hammock forest complete with interpretive displays, changing elevations and numerous opportunities to view and photograph nature.

Dogs are welcome and plentiful. This is also a great spot to enjoy a picnic under one of the pavilions built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, or at one of the many picnic benches available throughout the park. Learn more at floridastateparks.org.


Ocala National Forest

At 607 square miles, Ocala National Forest is the second largest nationally protected forest and also the southern most national forest in the continental U.S. Recreation ranges from swimming and hiking to boating and horseback riding. The cool, crystal clear waters of Juniper Springs, Alexander Springs, Salt Springs and Silver Glen Springs are perfect for swimming and snorkeling. This is also a great place to view a variety of wildlife – just be sure to follow bear safety guidelines as the national forest is home to the state’s largest black bear population. Day-trippers who prefer to remain in the car can stick to the park’s scenic drives. There are hundreds of miles of beautiful forest roads, including nearly 100 miles of paved roads, slicing through dense forests. The park is also home to the Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway, a National Scenic Highway that showcases the heart of the Big Scrub. Discover all the park has to offer at fs.usda.gov/main/florida/home.

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