Wednesday, June 8, 2011

See Tampa Bay's Best by RV

Summer vacations come in all shapes and sizes, from warm sun soak-ups to cool coaster riding, and Tampa Bay (comprised of Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater) offers something for just about every traveler. And with its west central Florida location, warm tropical climate, and diverse destinations all within easy road reach, this hot spot makes a perfect hub for RV campers. So what sort of trip gets your wheels turning: basking in the sand and surf, wandering natural wonders, going crazy with the kids, stepping back in time, catching up on culture? Here are three unique itineraries to help you get on the road to a great summer getaway.

Back to Nature
Ten miles north of Tampa, Hillsborough River State Park, one of Florida's original state parks, is teeming with wildlife and, well, life in the wild. Set up camp at one of the park's numerous RV sites (complete with full hookups, plus a pool and concessions on site), then plunge into fishing, canoeing, and kayaking on the swiftly flowing river (boat rentals are available) or hiking and biking along seven miles of trails. Be sure to take a short walk along the mile-long River Rapids Trail for a breathtaking view of the river's class II rapids.
Another overnight option is the Bay Bayou RV Resort 16 miles northwest of downtown. Perched on the shores of Double Branch Creek near the 8,500-acre Brooker Creek Wildlife Preserve, this beautiful resort also offers canoe and kayak rentals, fishing docks, and swimming. Head over to the wetland forest to check out the award-winning Brooker Creek Preserve Environmental Education Center's interpretive programs and exhibits, then hike along almost five miles of boardwalk and upland trails nestled into oak hammocks and pine flatwoods.
In addition to the sunny Gulf beaches, outdoor lovers will find numerous natural adventures worth exploring: bird-watching along the Great Florida Birding Trail; safari buggy eco-tours at Anclote River Ranch; and snorkeling in Tampa Bay, Florida's largest open-water estuary. You may also want to add to your to-do list the Florida Aquarium, one of the top 10 in the country, and the University of South Florida Botanical Gardens, which boasts 10 acres of landscape displays and collections.

Family Fun
Set up camp at the entrance to Tampa Bay just outside of St. Petersburg in the family-friendly Fort De Soto Park, which offers picnic spots, swimming and play areas, waterfront recreation (think fishing piers and a canoe trail), and a camp store to keep everyone satisfied. The park, made up of five interconnected islands, is also home to an historic fort, a dog park (for your four-legged family members), plenty of nature trails, and ferry service to Egmont Key State Park National Wildlife Refuge. You'll also get great views of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, a cable-stayed span that the Travel Channel rated third on its list of Top 10 Bridges in the world.
Tampa, an easy 40-minute drive from the park, provides several opportunities for learning and fun with destinations such as the interactive Glazer Children's Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry (essentially a huge, hands-on science playground that includes an IMAX theater), and the Parents Magazine top-rated Lowry Park Zoo. Then, of course, you can always blow off some steam at nearby Busch Gardens and Adventure Island Waterpark or at one of the area's numerous major league sports venues.

Cultural Affairs
Motor home adventurers have plenty of choices for RV resorts in the area, so pick your favorite and then park it in prime location for exploring this mega metropolis's many cultural offerings. For the history buff, there's the Armed Forces Military Museum, the Florida Holocaust Museum, and the St. Petersburg Museum of History. For the art aficionado, there's the Tampa Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, and the Salvador Dali Museum. And for the worldly traveler, there's an abundance of festive marketplaces and ethnic restaurants and shops.
Be sure to follow the morning scent of Cuban coffee to Ybor City, Tampa's historic Latin Quarter, for a stroll down La Setima, the main street of the Historic District. You'll find hand-rolled cigars (at one time, Ybor City was dubbed the "cigar capital of the world"), exotic cuisine, and excellent shopping. And at night, this Havana hot spot pulses with late-night jazz, blues, and salsa at an array of pubs and clubs.

About the Author
Joe Laing is the Marketing Director for El Monte RV Rentals. See Monty's Musings RV Camping Blog for other great RV camping vacation ideas.

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