A socially distanced summer may mean no crowded beaches, but it doesn’t mean you can’t have any fun. And, if we’re being really honest, Florida is incredibly hot this time of year anyway, so now is the perfect time to gas up the car and go on a family day drive in Tampa, or even a bit further afield.
As luck would have it, there are plenty of great scenic day drives and outdoor roadside picnicking spots within a couple of hours—and a tank of gas—of Tampa. So, pack some sandwiches, grab the car keys, and hit the road to check out some of these favorite Florida drives within two hours of home.
Scenic Byways and Perfect Picnic Spots
This scenic waterfront drive offers unparalleled views of Hillsborough Bay and downtown Tampa. Winding past elaborate mansions and historic homes, Bayshore Boulevard also boasts “the longest continuous sidewalk in the world” (4.5 miles), where pedestrians can enjoy a stroll along the bay or sit and enjoy a snack.
Nestled among rolling hills and citrus groves, Bok Tower Gardens is a “must-see” Florida destination. With 50 acres of gardens designed by renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., guests are invited to wander through ferns, palms, oaks, and seasonal color explosions of blooming azaleas, camellias, and magnolias. Don’t miss the 205-foot art deco and neo-Gothic Singing Tower carillon. It’s about an eight-minute walk to the carillon, and concerts are held at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. daily.
Fans of Old Florida ambiance will find much to love about the seaside architecture and the lush green scenery along this stunning oceanfront drive. With the Gulf of Mexico on one side and Sarasota Bay on the other, take a moment to breathe in the salt-heavy ocean air and relax.
The causeway crosses nearly 10 miles of pristine blue water between Tampa and Clearwater. Roll down your windows and enjoy the breeze while you scan the water for dolphins in Tampa Bay. If you time it right, there are plenty of places to pull over and enjoy a picnic dinner and a famous Florida sunset.
The Ding Darling nature preserve on Sanibel Island is a unique way to spend a day. Open every day except Fridays, visitors can drive along the 4-mile Wildlife Drive and try to spot raccoons, alligators, marsh rabbits, otters, and bobcats. The refuge is part of the largest mangrove ecosystem in the United States and is home to 245 different species of bird. The best time to visit is low tide, and there is a fee to access Wildlife Drive.
The Palma Sola (solitary palm) scenic drive is 4 miles of breathtaking beach scenery crossing Palma Sola Bay. If you aren’t ready to say goodbye to the ocean, Palma Sola Scenic Highway connects with Bradenton Beach Scenic Highway, so keep on cruising.
Ranked one of the top three bridges in the world by the Travel Channel, the Sunshine Skyway spans Tampa Bay, connecting Pinellas and Manatee counties. Plan your drive for the evening so you catch the sunset over the water, then watch as the bridge’s lights illuminate the bay.
There is nothing better than driving through a lush, green landscape or along the sparkling waters of the ocean to clear your head, especially as we navigate these troubling times. On days when it seems like things may never go back to normal, grab your family and check out one of these day drives in Tampa and the surrounding area.
Florida doesn’t disappoint when it comes to scenic drives, so why not take advantage of these low gas prices and hit the road!