Family Day Trips Around Tampa Bay
By Andrea Martinez
The best family day trips in Tampa Bay may not even require a tank of gas — there are so many affordable, fun things to do with your little ones right here in our region.
Check out these free or low-cost family day trips around Tampa Bay:
1. Make a Day of it at State and City Parks
Let your kids jump between and in the water jets at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park in downtown Tampa. The park covers 8 acres with a dog run, pavilion, interactive fountains, and a lot of green space.
Or make a day of it visiting a handful of the prettiest parks in the Tampa Bay area. Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy the fresh air.
Get started early and watch the sunrise on the 600-foot pier over Hillsborough Bay at Ballast Point Park. Take along some coffee and croissants, sit at a picnic table and enjoy the air and colorful views of the Tampa skyline with the rising sun. It doesn’t cost a dime to drink in the sunshine!
Next, consider stopping at any of these parks (based on your family’s and children’s interests):
Caladesi Island State Park: On a white sandy beach, this park just west of Dunedin offers boating, fishing, hiking trails, and swimming in designated areas. You can drive your car onto the ferry, and get into the park for only $8 a carload, or kayak to the island. The entrance fee is $2 for every kayaker.
- Alafia River State Park: You’ll find 6,260 acres of forests, hiking and cycling trails, and a few for horseback riding, at this park in Lithia.
- Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail offers hiking, bicycle riding, and walking or running on one of the many trails. This linear trail spans from St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs. Maybe watch the sunset on the Gulf of Mexico somewhere along the trail. Maybe introduce your kiddos to Greek food at one of the Tarpon Springs restaurants to cap your day spent at area parks.
Note: Before heading to any of Florida’s state parks, be sure to check online for the latest safety updates (COVID and alligators).
2. Take a Walking Tour Together
What could be better than free? Self-guided walking tours with your family around Tampa Bay let you see the sights at your own pace. Among the interesting architectural sites in Tampa are the Tampa Theatre, the University of Tampa’s minarets, the giant ships docked in the Port of Tampa, and the cigar factories and shotgun homes in Ybor City.
Free walking tours with Tampa Downtown Partnerships on select Fridays from October through May, are for those who want a little guidance along the way.
Or give your kiddos a sense of the color and history of Tampa with the Tampa Riverwalk Public Art tour. The tour includes 16 stops to look at murals, sculptures, mosaics, and plaques. Pro Tip: You might want to bring along an easy-to-pull wagon (and some snacks) for when your youngsters get tired.
When Tampa Bay area temperatures heat up, it’s time to cool off in a naturally chill spring. Here are some very affordable family day trip options both a drive away and closer to home:
- Alexander Springs Rec Area: Grab the swimsuit, canoe or kayak and head two hours northeast to Alexander Springs. The surrounding forest offers camping, hiking and wildlife viewing, but the natural springs are the big draw for the kids. The water is a constant 72 degrees year-round with a clear, sandy bottom. Admission is $10 per person. Be on the lookout for black bears, birds, and yes, alligators (although the cool temperature of the water deters the gators).
- Ichetucknee Springs: About 2.5 hours north of Tampa Bay, Ichetucknee Springs is the perfect place to swim, canoe or tube. These springs also maintain a constant temperature of 72 degrees, much too cold for the alligators. The cost to get in is $6 a carload.
- Looking for something closer to home? Rainbow Springs State Park is only an hour and a half from Tampa. Two dollars will get you into the park, and tube rental is available for only $20. Pack a picnic lunch and grab a kayak, canoe, or snorkel. But be sure to leave early. The park closes when it reaches capacity.
4. Learn at Area Museums
Tampa Bay has many museums that will keep you and your family busy for a few hours or the whole day.
- The American Victory Ship Mariners Museum, on Channelside in Tampa, houses one of the United States’ four operational World War II ships. Educational tours, semi-annual cruises, and event hosting are available.
- The Great Explorations Children’s Museum in St. Petersburg welcomes kids ages 10 and under. Children get to be creative, make a mess, discover new things … they get to be kids (and you don’t have to clean up after them).
- Baseball lovers will enjoy a trip to the Tampa Baseball Museum at the Al Lopez House. Celebrating the game from Little League to Major League, the Tampa museum brings more than 125 years of baseball heritage together.
5. See the Manatees
See Florida’s state marine mammal in all their watery glory at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park in Homosassa in Citrus County. The wildlife walk and above deck area of the underwater observatory are open, so you can see manatees swimming plus red wolves, whooping cranes, black bears, bobcats, and, of course, alligators. Admission purchased online is $12.26 for adults and $4.71 for children.
Want to introduce your little ones to manatees before your visit? Check out the park’s webcam of manatees in the water.
6. Even more options? Get a City Pass
There are loads of day trips with your family around Tampa Bay. We highlighted some of the most affordable options. If you have more to spend, check out City Pass. It’s a great way to enjoy area family attractions (Busch Gardens, Museum of Science and Industry, etc.) for a lot less than full price at each place.