Locals will tell you Tampa is often overshadowed by its flashy neighbors Orlando and Miami. But make no mistake, there are plenty of sights to see in the Tampa Bay area. Take your pick of beaches, parks, and exotic ice cream flavors. And if you thought Southeast Asia was the only place to see authentic Buddhist temples — think again. If you are looking for hidden gems in Florida, these day trips from Tampa should be at the top of your list.
ALDERMAN’S FORD CONSERVATION PARK
Settled on the bank of the Alafia River, located 40 minutes east of Tampa, Alderman’s Ford Conservation Park is a Florida native’s wilderness paradise. This lesser known park is not overrun by tourists, making it the ideal place for a day hike. There is a two-mile loop following the river with canoe launches available at every turn. Primitive campsites, bicycle paths, and pet friendly policies can help you turn this day-trip into a weekend getaway.
WHEN: Sunrise- sunset
COST: $2/ vehicle
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: Two words — Bug. Spray.
Wat Mongkolratanaram was founded in 1981 as a Buddhist temple. Also known as the Thai Temple of Tampa, Wat Mongkolratanaram sits on the bank of Palm River, just outside the heart of Tampa. Wat Mongkolratanaram has all the elegant trappings of any Buddhist temple you would find in Bangkok, located conveniently in Central Florida. The cherry-red wood lines the ornate, gold roof. On the cool marble floor, worshippers crouch on bare feet, delivering offering after offering to shrines honoring Buddha. While Florida is not exactly known for its booming Thai population, you can find just about every Thai family in a 100- mile radius at Wat Mongkolratanaram on Sunday mornings for the weekly market. Vendors sell trinkets and makeshift food stalls serve lines of hungry temple visitors dishes like pad Thai and curry.
WHEN: Sundays 8:30am- 1pm
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: Religious services are conducted every Sunday from 1pm-2pm. Visitors are welcome, but please be aware of temple etiquette before you arrive. A full list of proper protocol can be found here.
THE HINDU TEMPLE OF FLORIDA
A mere 20 minutes outside downtown Tampa, the Hindu Temple of Florida is tucked away on a quiet, residential street in Carolwood. This is a stunning sight to behold up close — one you would never expect to sit just off the main road. The temple serves as a prayer and meditation center, as well as an Indian cultural complex. The 70-foot tower is covered in elaborate statues of sacred deities; shrines line each side of the sloping staircase. Festivities are held year-round, as well as language, music, art, yoga, and dance classes.
WHEN: Monday- Friday 8am- 9am
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: Guests who are not worshipping are encouraged to visit during non-prayer hours.
REVOLUTION ICE CREAM
The only thing Floridians love more than the weather is finding creative ways to beat the heat. Take combining goat cheese, habanero pepper, and ice cream: sounds questionable at first, but at Revolution Ice Cream this quirky combo is known as “The One That Started It All.” Spicy ice cream is what gave this locally-owned ice cream shop its claim to fame.
And although the other flavors are not quite as risqué, they are equally delicious. From caramel vanilla pralines to bacon brittle and all the chardonnay brownie bits in between, this ice cream shop is certainly a revolution.
WHEN: Mon – Sat, 12pm – 10pm; Sun, 1pm – 9pm
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: Ice cream aside, one of the best things about Revolution is their support of local artists. In the bohemian-style shop interior, from ceiling to floor, you can find paintings, drawings, screen-prints — pretty much every form of visual art you can think of — all made by local artists in Tampa Bay.
WASHINGTON OAKS BEACH
Imagine if the moon had a beach where you could watch the sun rise and set and the tide roll in and out each day. This is what it’s like to be at Washington Oaks beach. Coquina rock lines the coast, creating the perfect environment for small marine life such as snails and anemones. The peculiar rock formations give off an otherworldly feeling, especially at dawn and dusk when the soft, pastel sky and low light make you feel like you’re on set of The Martian. Opposite the beach, just across the famous Atlantic Coast Road is Washington Oaks Gardens State Park. Here, massive oak trees and wildflowers bloom in a neatly trimmed botanical garden. What could be more Floridian than a stroll amongst the greenery before watching the sunset on the beach?
WHEN: 8am- sunset
COST: Free or beach goers; $5/ vehicle for the garden
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: Don’t forget your camera. Washington Oaks is crawling with photographers trying to get their dream photo during peak hours.
BLUE SPRING STATE PARK
Florida has often been referred to as the “Australia of the United States,” citing its rampant wildlife, tropical weather, and Instagram-worthy landscapes. Having all three, Blue Spring is just iconic Florida. The spring itself is a chilly 72° year round, with manatees making frequent appearances in the winter.. Besides sea cows, Blue Spring is also a popular watering hole for gar, eagles, snakes, wild pigs, and of course, alligators. If you’re willing to take your chances with the native wildlife, rent a canoe or kayak and spend the day paddling the St. Johns River until sundown.
WHEN: 8am- sunset
COST: $6/ vehicle
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: Due to their previously endangered status, it is illegal to touch or harass manatees. (Note that the county jail is not on this list of hidden gems)
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