Tim & Lisa Carroll and Team TLC
Tim and Lisa Carroll

You may be a life-long Tampa Bay resident. Or a relatively new transplant. Regardless we all need to escape for new surroundings sometimes.

We all know about the theme parks and beaches. But did you know there are manatees you can swim with and mermaids you can watch in your own backyard? And gardens where you can explore beautiful spring blooms without being responsible for the weeds and upkeep?

Here are 10 day-trip options from the Tampa Bay area that you may not have considered. All are possible on a tank of gas or less (less than 125 miles from Tampa). So gas up, program your GPS and head out for a day of fun, Florida style.

Bok Tower
Location: 1151 Tower Blvd, Lake Wales, FL 33853
Contact: (863) 676-1408
Web site: boktowergardens.org
Distance from Tampa: 65 miles
Admission: $14 adults, $5 children

Bok Tower Gardens offers acres of ferns, palms, oaks and pines that fashion a lush backdrop for flowering foliage and the spectacular seasonal color of azaleas, camellias and magnolias (a highlight of our spring peak bloom season). The Gardens are home to 126 different species of birds as well as the threatened gopher tortoise. The grounds of Bok Tower Gardens are a designated site on the Great Florida Birding Trail. The Gardens consist of paved primary pathways and many mulched secondary paths, some of which have an incline. The Hammock Hallow Children’s Garden features almost three acres of nature play. There is beautiful art, cooling water features, vibrant plantings, a boardwalk, performance stage, and music area. Children have things to climb on, under and through, as well as places to build, dig and create.
The centerpiece of the Gardens is the Singing Tower. The Tower houses one of the world’s finest carillons (a musical instrument consisting of at least 23 cast bronze bells that are precisely tuned and arranged in chromatic progression so that music in any key can be played). Concerts from the 60-bell carillon at Bok Tower fill the Gardens at 1pm and 3pm daily.

Babcock Ranch Eco Tours
Location: 8000 State Road 31, Punta Gorda, FL 33982
Contact: (800) 500-5583
Web site: www.babcockranch.com/babcock-wilderness-tours
Distance from Tampa: 120 miles
Admission: $24 adults, $16 kids

Babcock Ranch Eco Tours offers adventure-seeking visitors 90-minute swamp buggy tours and lots more. Discover natural Florida as a specially-built shaded buggy carry you through native piney flatwoods, oak hammocks, a freshwater marsh and a cypress swamp. An experienced tour guide explains all about the wildlife in the area as well as ranch activities and history. The ranch is home to alligators, white tailed deer, wild turkeys, and hundreds of birds including American eagles and red shouldered hawks. Tours take approximately 2 1/2 hours. All tours are by reservation only so it’s best to call before going.

Ringling Museum
5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota, FL 34243
Contact: (941) 359-5700
Web site: www.ringling.org
Distance from Tampa: 60 miles
Admission: $25 for adults, $5 for children ages six to 17. Tours led by knowledgeable docents are available at the various venues. Some require an extra $5 charge. Self-guided tours are free.

Founded by circus magnate John Ringling and his wife Mable to house their collection of Old Master paintings, the 66-acre property is home to a Museum of Art, the historic Ca’ d’Zan Mansion, Bayfront Gardens, an Art Library, the Circus Museums and the Historic Asolo Theater.
The Museum of Art includes works from El Greco, Reubens and Veronese as well as rotating special exhibitions and classical sculptures that fill the grand courtyard. The Circus Museum celebrates the circus industry that has entertained generations of Americans. The displays include parade wagons, posters, glittering costumes and the cannon that shot daring performers through the air. Ca’d’Zan is a Venetian Gothic-style mansion that perfectly captures the splendor and romance of Italy the Ringlings so loved. Surrounding the estate is the Bayfront Gardens including majestic Banyan trees, rose gardens, a whimsical Dwarf Garden and more.

South Florida Museum
Bishop Planetarium & Parker Manatee Aquarium
201 10th St. W., Bradenton, FL 34205
Contact: (941) 746-4131
Web site: www.southfloridamuseum.org
Distance from Tampa: 45 miles
Admission: $19 adults, $14 (ages 4-12)

South Florida Museum is the Gulf Coast’s largest natural and cultural museum. The museum is actually three attractions in one.
The Bishop Planetarium is the region’s premier astronomy education facility, as well as a multimedia theater for films, lectures, live music and digital art performances. The all-digital planetarium allows for exploration of Earth through the use of 200 continually updated satellite feeds of our planet’s land, ocean, atmosphere and climate. The South Florida Museum also features exhibits with fossils of Florida’s earliest marine and mammal inhabitants as well as artifacts that reflect on the history of the Gulf Coast of Florida.

Weeki Wachee Springs and Buccaneer Bay
6131 Commercial Way, Spring Hill, FL 34606
Contact: (352) 592-5656
Web site: www.weekiwachee.com
Distance from Tampa: 60 miles
Admission: $13 adults, $8 (ages 6-12)
Did you know there are mermaids practically living in your backyard? The mermaids at Weeki Wachee Springs have delighted visitors since 1947. Sitting in the 400-seat submerged Mermaid Theater, you’ll feel like you’re inside the crystal clear spring itself, transported back to simpler times before super theme parks and super highways.
Buccaneer Bay is Florida’s only spring-fed waterpark, with a sandy white beach, swimming area and 4 waterslides for thrill seekers of all ages. Additional cost for tube rentals in the waterpark.
Included in park admission is a relaxing 25-minute riverboat cruise. Hop on board and experience the natural splendor of Florida’s wildlife, flora and fauna. Or rent a kayak or canoe (additional charge) and set off on your own adventure.

14501 S Orange Blossom Trail, Orlando, FL 32837
Contact: (800) 393-5297
Web site: www.gatorland.com
Distance from Tampa: 77 miles
Admission: $26.99 adults, $18.99 (ages 3-12)
Gatorland is a 110-acre wildlife preserve outside Orlando. Billed as the “Alligator Capital of the World,” Gatorland features thousands of alligators and crocodiles, a breeding marsh with boardwalk and observation tower, reptile shows, free-flight aviary, petting zoo, swamp wal, and educational programs. The park is known for buying and rescuing nuisance alligators from trappers that would otherwise be killed for their meat and skin. There is also a Screamin’ Gator Zip Line (additional charge).
Note: Florida resident special through the end of March 2017. Florida residents enjoy half-price admission and other discounts throughout the park.

Florida Museum of Natural History including Butterfly Rainforest
3215 Hull Road, Gainesville, FL 32611
Contact: (352) 846-2000
Web site: www.flmnh.ufl.edu
Distance from Tampa: 125 miles
Admission: Permanent exhibits are free although donations are requested. Butterfly Rainforest is $13 adults, $6 (ages 3-17). Students who provide most recent report card with an “A” or “E” in science receive free admission to Butterfly Rainforest with paid adult admission.

Permanent exhibits focus on the flora, fauna, fossils and historic peoples of the state. Florida Fossils: Evolution of Life & Land describes the history of Florida through five geologic periods. More than 90 percent of the exhibit’s 500 fossils are real, and many were found within 100 miles of Gainesville. There are also several recreation galleries including mangroves, underwater walk-through, fishing and Indian villages and more.
The Butterfly Rainforest is a display of live butterflies in a large, outdoor enclosed space attached to the museum. At any given time, the exhibit contains 60 to 80 butterfly and moth species, totaling some 1,000 individuals. The butterflies are brought from around the world as chrysalises and released into the exhibit after emerging as adults.

Crystal River – Swim with manatees
Contact: Various companies provide boat tours including River Ventures, Crystal River Manatees and Captain Mike’s Swimming with Manatees
Distance from Tampa: 70 miles
Admission: Approximately $65 per person
The Crystal River coastal waters are home to the These gentle giants seek the warm-water springs, rivers and other waterways for sanctuary from the colder Gulf of Mexico waters.
Because manatees are an endangered species, it is illegal to touch or harass them in any way. However in Crystal Springs, north of Tampa, you can enjoy a scenic boat ride to view manatees in their natural habitat.
And unlike other areas of Florida, the federal government allows for “passive observation” between manatees and people in Kings Bay and surrounding areas. This allows face-to-face interaction with manatees, providing the manatee approaches you.

Airboat tour Lake Panasoffekee
Contact: Various outfitters including Swamp Fever, Tom & Jerry’s Airboat Rides, BJ Airboat Adventures and more
Distance from Tampa: 65 miles
Admission: Approximately $35 adults, $22 kids

Explore natural Florida with a unique airboat tour through swamps, marshes and backwoods into a natural spring that forms Lake Panasoffkee. During the airboat ride you will see all kinds of wildlife including alligators, turtles, snakes, ducks and a variety of birds.

Myakka River State Park
13208 State Road 72, Sarasota, FL 34241
Contact: (941) 361-6511
Web site: www.floridastateparks.org/park/myakka-river
Distance from Tampa: 70 miles
Admission: $6 entrance (per vehicle). Boat tour: $14 adults, $7 kids (ages 6-12). Bike and canoe rentals at additional charge.

Myakka River State Park is one of the oldest and largest of Florida’s state parks. The namesake river flows through 58 square miles of wetlands, prairies, hammocks and pinelands. Visitors can enjoy wildlife viewing from hiking trails, boardwalks and even a treetop canopy stroll. The park’s river and two lakes provide opportunities for boating, freshwater fishing, canoeing and kayaking. A boat ramp is available. Camping (full-facility, primitive and 5 cabins) available for an additional charge.

Posted on December 11, 2017 at 1:13 pm by Tim and Lisa Carroll

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