Pasco County is an often overlooked region on Florida’s western coast. The abundance of parks, golf courses, and canoeing trails has earned this county the nickname of “The Nature Coast.” Add in close proximity to the beautiful Gulf Coast beaches, and you have plenty of diverse opportunities for outdoor recreation.
Most of the major attractions lie near the large suburban areas, namely New Port Richey, Wesley Chapel, and Holiday. Of course, the best thing to do is to take a drive to the gorgeous Gulf Coast beaches, which are world famous for their smooth white sand and clear waters. However, for anyone wanting to explore the less touristy, often overlooked attractions, there is still plenty to explore. Below is a list of the 10 best things to do in Pasco County.
Take a bike ride at Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Preserve
The best place for a bike ride in Pasco County is at beautiful Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park, one of the largest undeveloped natural lands in Pasco. A 7 mile long multi purpose paved trail runs through the park and connects to an even longer 42 mile long Suncoast trail. Let’s say you can get in a really nice long invigorating workout if you choose to do so.
The scenery is very serene and natural with tall pines lining the trail. If you prefer, 13 miles of hiking and equestrian trails will challenge you all the same. Hiking is really the way to go if you want to truly explore the native plant and animal life up close. To date, 177 bird species have been identified here, and thus, this park is a prime bird watching destination in Pasco. Horseshoe, volleyball courts, and picnicking facilities add even more opportunities for a nice full day out in nature.
Shop & dine at The Shops of Wiregrass
This attractive outdoor mall offers a mix of mid and upscale shopping and dining. The ambiance is very nice with palm trees, fountains, and al fresco dining. You will find a number of popular national chains like Dillard’s, Macys, and Barnes and Nobles, plus a number of locally owned boutique shops. Great dining options include 900 degrees Woodfired pizza, Le Macaron (awesome coffee & macarons), 365 Italian (delicious gelato), and Noble Crust (a Southern inspired pizza chain).
This mall also offers a number of interesting events throughout the year, most notably a Christmas show featuring synchronized music and lights plus falling snow. Recurring events include a Farmers Market on the first and third Saturday and a Shop local market the 4th Sunday of each month.
Treat yourself to an acai bowl at Raining Berries
Move over smoothies – acai bowls are all the rage today. These delicious and healthy fruit bowls are made using pureed acai fruit, fresh fruit, granola, and a variety of optional toppings (peanut butter, chocolate bits, coconut shreds, etc). Acai is reported to be loaded with antioxidants, and more importantly, it is delicious & refreshing. These bowls are the perfect cooling treat on a hot & humid Florida day.
Raining Berries is the place to go for acai – they really make the best-of-the-best in the Tampa area. They also serve a full coffee menu with all sorts of specialty drinks. No need for anything fancy here though – their regular drip is delicious enough in and of itself – smooth and flavorful enough without unnecessary added sugars and cream. The décor is modern, trendy and colorful – definitely a hip place to enjoy a modern treat.
Observe wildlife at James E. Grey Preserve
This small quiet nature preserve is the perfect place to enjoy an easy morning walk. While the trail is pretty short, the scenery is quite enjoyable and it’s relatively easy to see wildlife. In fact, I typically see at least a few gopher tortoises on each visit. Also, gators and armadillos are not a rare sight. The highlight here is a long boardwalk trail which takes you over the Pithlachascotee River. On a side note, this park is also considered to be one of the best kayaking destinations in the county. No rentals available, however, there is a launch.
The best part of all is that this park is under visited so you can soak up some quality time in nature all to yourself. Lots of birds are out happily chirping, so bird lovers will want to pack the binoculars. Most of the trail is pretty shady so you can still enjoy this one in the heat of summer. Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed. Otherwise this is a great park to enjoy nature.
Treat yourself to a fresh smoothie at Nekter Juice Bar
Nothing quenches the thirst on a hot Florida summer day quite like a fresh cooling smoothie. Nekter, the best place for a healthy antioxidant packed smoothie, is located in Trinity, a small up and coming suburb of Tampa. This smoothie shop is a great choice for anyone avoiding dairy as they use cashew milks in their drinks.
In addition to smoothies, you will find a number of healthy green juiced drinks and acai bowls on the menu. Any of these delicious fruit and/or veggie packed treats will work wonderfully well to cool you down and give you extra energy. Creative smoothie choices include immunity boosting elderberry, inflammation reducing turmeric, and antioxidant packed pitaya and acai.
Indulge in authentic Greek fare at The Hungry Greek
Despite being a Florida chain, The Hungry Greek is one of the best Greek dining choices in the Tampa region. For affordable, quickly prepared, and delicious Greek cuisine, you will not find a better choice. Hungry Greek serves tasty Greek salads, Greek bowls, pita, traditional Greek entrees like spanakopita, and delicious Greek desserts like baklava and rice pudding. Their Greek salad is amongst the best in the area. The Grilled Veggie bowl topped with falafel is a real treat – healthy and delicious!
The Wesley Chapel location features a nice patio which you can enjoy when the weather is not too atrociously humid. As a bonus, there is a great little local coffee roaster next door which serves top notch artisan coffee plus a bunch of specialty pastries which are gluten-free and vegan! Love their homemade poptarts and vegan donuts!
Get back to nature at Key Vista Nature Park
Key Vista is a quaint little nature park featuring a boardwalk, a nature trail, and an observation tower overlooking the Gulf. The trail is only a mile long, however, a great spot to enjoy local wildlife. This is a park where you can truly relax and rejuvenate in nature as foot traffic is limited to a few locals at any given time.
Featuring over 220 bird species, Key Vista is considered one of Pasco’s top birding sites. Be on the lookout for brown pelican, osprey, and bald eagle. A full species list can be found on the Great Florida Birding & Wildlife trail website.
Enjoy an expertly prepared espresso drink at Mountaineer Coffee
Mountaineer is by far the best choice in the New Port Richey area for specialty coffee. Beans are roasted daily at their flagship location in Brooksville. Along with great coffee, they also serve tasty homemade poptarts. The vibe is local with friendly baristas. It’s not rare to see repeat customers picking up their drinks each morning. It is always great to support small business.
The seating is a bit cramped, however, they do have an attractive patio which overlooks New Port Richey’s small, yet charming Main Street. Bonus – there is a nice little riverfront park right across the street. After your cup of joe, you can conveniently squeeze in your morning walk/jog.
Take a hike at Hillsborough River State Park
This beautiful large park is quite popular as it offers numerous attractive amenities. First off, there are 7 miles of hiking trails to explore. Second, it is an excellent wildlife and bird watching destination. Most importantly, the park is home to class II rapids, which are a rarity in Florida.
Enjoy a relaxing hike, picnic in beautiful natural surroundings, or challenge yourself to a kayaking trip down the river (rentals not available). No matter what type of recreational experience you are seeking, there is plenty to do here to justify the $6 entrance fee.
Visit secluded Anclote Key Preserve State Park
This small island (located 3 miles off the coast of Tarpon Springs) is accessible only via boat. If you do not have your own boat, you can still enjoy the beauty of Anclote via a ferry ride. Highlights on the island include a historic lighthouse and excellent shelling opportunities. Anclote is a prime bird watching destination (to date, 43 species have been identified).
Odyssey cruises in Tarpon Springs is your best bet for accessing the island. On this entertaining 2 hour cruise, you will get to explore this secluded Gulf beach, collect a big bag of beautiful seashells, and learn more about the history of the sponge industry of Tarpon Springs. On your way out to the island you will see lots of dolphins and possibly manatee and sea turtles. After your cruise, you will definitely want to treat yourself to some authentic Greek food at Hellas, conveniently located just across the street.