Saturday, March 24, 2018
Things To Do

28 places to have fun outdoors in Tampa Bay

If anyone is pro-staying crisp in the air conditioning this time of year, it's us.

Last week, we brought you a slew of indoor activities to keep the sweat at bay, from ice skating to hanging out in hotel lobbies.

Click here for 21 places to beat the heat (or rain) and chill indoors.

But now, it's time to play devil's advocate, and that's not just a sly reference to Florida's hellacious heat.

Is it possible to go outside in August and still stay relatively sane?

Our critics and writers think you really can have it all. 




Main event: Pretty much every beach in the Tampa Bay area is a fun day for the kids, but some are easier than others with little ones in tow. Clearwater Beach has a nightly sunset festival at Pier 60 and free movies on a jumbo screen on weekends. But the winner that tops even the Travel Channel and Parents magazine's list of the most family friendly of beaches is Fort De Soto Park, the largest park in Pinellas County with 1,136 acres of five interconnected islands. Take some time to tour the fort and adjacent museum by North Beach. Climb the steep stairs to the fort overlook to see the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in the distance. The park also has 7 miles of trails for strolling or skating, as well as canoe or kayak rentals, a campground, loads of picnic shelters and playgrounds.

Keep cool tip: The East Beach, closest to the park entrance, is popular with kiteboarders because of its smooth, flat water. If you have really young kids, this one poses less of a hike from the car to the water and there's a nice shady playground. But the North Beach, with its stunning white sand beach, has a large shallow lagoon that is like a natural kiddie pool.

Go: It's $5 to enter Fort De Soto Park at 3500 Pinellas Bayway S off of Tierra Verde in St. Petersburg. At Clearwater Beach, plan to arrive early to nab a parking spot near Pier 60 at the end of the Clearwater Memorial Causeway. The city recently opened a new Pelican Walk Parking Garage where rates are $1-$2 an hour; $20 for all day.

MORE: 34 beaches and waterfront venues

Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Times staff writer





Main event: Hop in a canoe or kayak, or even climb atop a paddleboard, at one of the area's many rivers. Rainbow Springs can be a two-hour drive from Tampa Bay, but it's worth the trip. You can hop out of your watercraft into the 73-degree springwater to stay refreshed without getting too chilly. Chassahowitzka Springs in Citrus County has swimming options, with beautiful scenery and a location secluded from developed land. (Click here for more info about day tripping to the Chassahowitzka.) Or, visit Weeki Wachee River, where you can paddle above manatees and dolphins. This is a great place to bring kids, as the steady river current makes for a leisurely paddle.

Keep cool tip: Arrive early. You'll beat the crowds at most rivers if you get there when they open, while also avoiding the hottest part of the day. Sign up for Florida State Parks' text notification pilot program to receive alerts when a park reaches capacity or reopens if capacity is lifted. There are nine state parks in the program, including Weeki Wachee Springs State Park.

Go: Rainbow River Canoe and Kayak, 12121 River View, Dunnellon. (352) 489-7854. Chassahowitzka River Boat Rentals, Chassahowitzka River Campground, 8600 W Miss Maggie Drive, Chassahowitzka. (352) 382-2200. Boating in Florida at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park: 6131 Commercial Way, Spring Hill. (352) 597-8484.

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Main event: Hiking on a hot summer day might sound like a bad recipe for staying cool, but at Blue Spring State Park you can hike in the morning then take a dip in the spring run to cool off post-hike. Though the park is known for its large manatee population, the best times to see the gentle giants are during the winter and early spring months. But because the manatees move out by March, the springs reopen for swimming. During the summer most people come to Blue Spring to go in the water, so the Pine Island Trail — a 7.3 mile round trip hike, or half the distance one way — is often not busy. Tree cover also protects hikers in parts of the trail, though you should bring a hat and a generous amount of sunscreen. For a closer option, try Little Manatee River State Park, with trails of various distances and difficulties — including some that hug the river.

Keep cool tip: At Blue Spring, a swimming hole is easily accessible from the boardwalk that runs along Blue Spring Run. You can take a short hike on the boardwalk while getting into the water from many different places along the way. This is another place that fills up on weekends, so get there early to beat the crowd and the heat. Also, bring a couple bottles of water to stay hydrated during your hike.

Go: Blue Spring State Park, 2100 W French Ave., Orange City. Little Manatee River State Park, 215 Lightfoot Road, Wimauma.

5 Local Hikes: Five great places to go on a hike in Tampa Bay

MORE: 16 biking trails

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Small venues

Main event: Get your jam on by jamming into a small club, where you'll find some of the best local open mics and jam sessions. The Ale and the Witch in St. Petersburg features live music in its courtyard nearly every night it's open, including bluegrass on Wednesdays. Woodwright Brewing in Dunedin also hosts bluegrass nights in its rustic courtyard on the third Thursday of each month. And celebrating its 40th anniversary this year is Gulfport's Blueberry Patch, which draws a regular slate of jam-band fans, singer-songwriters and young families.

Keep cool tips: You're at a club, right? So drink! Woodwright Brewing is — wait for it — a brewery; their European styles are well regarded. The Ale and the Witch is a top-notch craft beer bar with more than 30 brews on tap, and plenty of seats in the courtyard. And at the Blueberry Patch, the menu is BYO, both for food and drinks. Go hog wild and bring ice cream cones.

Go: Woodwright Brewing, 985 Douglas Ave., Dunedin. (727) 238-8717. The Ale and the Witch, 111 Second Ave. N, St. Petersburg. (727) 821-2533. Blueberry Patch, 4923 20th Ave. N, Gulfport. (727) 914-0226.

Medium venues

Main event: Two of Tampa Bay's best and most unique concert venues are both open-air. There's Skipper's Smokehouse, a mecca of smoked mullet with a sandy stage beneath an enormous live oak canopy, that hosts weekly blues, Americana and jam bands, including local favorite Uncle John's Band. And there's Jannus Live, which has been bringing before-they-were-big superstars to its own tree-topped courtyard for decades. Shephard's Beach Resort on Clearwater Beach features live bands in the evening most nights, and DJs (including some international names) on weekends. And for a poppin' weekly party, turn to Ybor's Crowbar, whose Ol' Dirty Sundays features DJs spinning old-school hip-hop, soul and reggae every week.

Keep cool tips: Skipper's and Jannus are general admission venues, so it pays to get there early. That way, you can stake out a seat and table at Skipper's (maybe even one near a fan), or a nice fence to lean on at Jannus. At Crowbar, all the action on the patio means you can pop inside to cool down.

Go: Skipper's Smokehouse, 910 Skipper Road, Tampa. (813) 971-0666. Jannus Live, 200 First Ave. N, St. Petersburg. (727) 565-0550. Shephard's Beach Resort, 619 S Gulfview Blvd., Clearwater Beach. (727) 442-5107. Crowbar, 1812 N 17th St., Ybor City. (813) 241-8600.

Large venues

Main event: It doesn't get much bigger or more outdoors than the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre, where tailgating and blankets on the lawn are a way of life, especially at country concerts. Blankets and lawn chairs are also welcome at Rock the Park, a free, family-friendly live music series on the first Thursday of every month at Curtis Hixon Park in Tampa.

Keep cool tips: If you plan on tailgating at the Amp, bring a tent, not just for the shade but to help you avoid afternoon rainshowers. And if you're sitting in the lawn, bring your sunglasses and sunscreen, since you'll get a full, panoramic view of the setting sun behind the stage. At Rock the Park, bring your swimsuit — Curtis Hixon's splash pad runs until 10 p.m.

Go: MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre has Future (Aug. 14), Matchbox Twenty and Counting Crows (Aug. 15). 4802 U.S. 301 N, Tampa. (813) 740-2446. Rock the Park has Band of Sorros, Venus Bleu and Kerry Courtney (6:30 p.m. Aug. 3) and Small Reactions, Shua Harrell (6:30 p.m. Sept. 7). 600 N Ashley Drive.

Jay Cridlin, Times pop music/culture critic



Rick's on the River

Main event: Some come by boat, others by kayak or inner-tube. And what they come for are the views of the Hillsborough River and the downtown skyline, the raucous roadhouse feel, and the kind of loud live bands on the weekend that make lip reading a handy skill. The outdoor patio at Rick's has been a boaters' weekend hang for the past 20-plus years on the basis of its grouper sandwich (now just fish sandwich) and the oysters Rick-afellar and fish spread. By car it can be a bit dicey to find, but boaters find easy mooring along several floating docks that can accommodate up to 70 boats, free to diners.

Keep cool tip: There are three bars plus an oyster bar, also a big overhang on the party pavilion. The outside bar is the one with the live music daily, so in the event that you sweat through your attire busting a move, you can always buy a Rick's T-shirt to freshen up.

Go: 2305 N Willow Ave., Tampa. (By boat, west side of Hillsborough River.) 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday to Thursday, until 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday. $6-$10. (813) 251-0369.

MORE: 431 restaurants with outdoor seating


Main event: It opened as Hula Bay Club during Super Bowl weekend in 2009, hosting a NASCAR fundraiser, a Playboy Playmate bikini contest and a party with rocker Dave Navarro. Whew, that's a heavy-duty opening weekend. It's calmed down since then, but it's still pretty nuts. Hula Bay has docking facilities at the Bayside Marina for a couple dozen boats, a gorgeous swimming pool with cabanas and about 14,000 square feet of dining and drinking space.

Keep cool tip: On weekends there's a rotating cast of DJs and bands out by the pool while sports-watching takes place in earnest in the attached Duke's Retired Surfers Bar (named for surfing legend Duke Kahanamoku). This beachy-islandy-good times bar and restaurant is served by a menu that is suitably casual, seafood oriented and tropical. Service is correspondingly relaxed and sunny — in fact, the most stressful thing about Hula Bay may be finding it the first time (when you see the huge, yellow, boxy building, turn left; it's at the end of the parking lot).

Go: 5200 W Tyson Ave., Tampa. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday and Tuesday through Thursday, until midnight Friday and Saturday. Entrees $15 to $32. (813) 837-4852.


Main event: This will not come as a surprise for locals, but, celebrating its 40th birthday in 2017, this is where to go for brunch when you're a good multitasker. You can get busy with a monster pile of warm Alaskan snow crab legs, peel-and-eat shrimp and oysters, carved prime rib and biscuits and gravy at the same time as you ogle: There's the 11,000-square-foot Shephard's Backyard Tiki Bar and beach, with DJs whipping the bikini-clad revelers into a frenzy. Also a pool and 7,000-square-foot pool deck, SOAK bar and VIP cabanas. And there SALT, a tequila and tap room, plus a Gulf-front indoor/outdoor two-level night club called WAVE (they like caps lock). A fairly recent renovation has made the overall effect bustling and loud but very modern and clean.

Keep cool tip: On Sundays it is thronged with locals. If you aim to get a seat indoors or in the shade, head over early. Have eyes on those VIP cabanas? You can book them on or by calling (727) 441-6875.

Go: 601-619 S Gulfview Blvd., Clearwater Beach. Hours vary by venue. Brunch $34.95, valet parking $20. (727) 441-6875.

Laura Reiley, Times food critic





Main event: The Tampa Bay area has a number of splash pads in public parks. The best part about cooling off with the kids as you play with water cannons? They are free. The choices are many: Kiwanis Sprayground next to the Highlander Pool in Dunedin; the terrific Dell Holmes Park Splash Pad tucked away in the neighborhood north of Lake Maggiore in St. Petersburg; Kate Jackson Park, nestled in the heart of Tampa's historic Hyde Park; Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park's interactive fountains; and the fairly new Water Works Park on the Hillsborough River with its huge yellow water bucket soaking kids below.

Keep cool tip: Bring extra water, sunscreen and your own sunshade if you have one.

Go: Open year-round: Highlander Park, 1920 Pinehurst Road, Dunedin; Kate Jackson Park, 821 S Rome Ave., Tampa; Curtis Hixon Park, 600 N Ashley Drive, Tampa; Water Works Park, 1710 N Highland Ave., Tampa. Dell Holmes Splash Pad, 2741 22nd St. S., St. Petersburg, is open May 1-Oct. 31.

MORE: 21 spraygrounds

Main event: People heading to Busch Gardens, the Florida Aquarium or the Lowry Park Zoo often forget to pack water shoes for the kids. But once you're trudging through the attraction in the searing heat, those fountain play areas look awfully inviting. Busch Gardens has an elaborate water play area in the Sesame Street Safari of Fun section. The zoo has a Manatee Fountain sprayground near the main entrance with plenty of benches nearby for parents to relax, and there's another water zone in Wallaroo Station. The Florida Aquarium in Tampa's Channel District recently finished a major renovation of its outdoor plaza, including a new rainforest-themed water play area for kids. Parents relax under the shade of the Cantina bar and grill.

Keep cool tip: Water shoes aren't required but they are recommended to prevent slipping. If you don't feel like lugging a change of clothes around, dress in moisture-wicking clothes that will dry quickly.

Go: All three water play areas at the attractions are open daily, weather permitting. Admission to Lowry Park Zoo, 1101 W Sligh Ave., is $32.95, $24.95 ages 3-11, 2 and younger free. Florida Aquarium, 701 Channelside Drive, Tampa, is $24.95, $22.95 seniors, $19.95 ages 3-12, 2 and younger free. Tickets are generally $2 cheaper if you buy them online at Busch Gardens, 10165 N McKinley Drive, Tampa, is $99, $79 ages 3-9, 2 and younger free. Price breaks can be found at



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