Best Cheap Holiday Escapes Near Tampa Bay

December 12, 2013 7:00 AM

(credit: Thinkstock)

People from all over the world flock to the Tampa Bay area to celebrate the holidays in warmth and sunshine. However, holiday rates at our most famous resorts can be a real issue for locals who need a quick getaway but have a tight budget because of the usual holiday expenses. In an effort to help our readers get a quick getaway without breaking their budget, we’ve put together a list of some places where Tampa Bay residents can find peace and quiet on a budget.

Hillsborough River State Park
15402 U.S. 301 N.
Thonotosassa, FL 33592
(813) 987-6771

During the summer months, the Hillsborough River State Park is a haven for Tampa Bay residents looking for an escape from the sweltering heat and humidity. But during the winter months, it still offers camping opportunities ranging from full service with water and electric at $24 per night. For those who are more interested in getting back to nature, primitive camping starts at $5 per night. Dating back to 1938, the HIllsborough River State Park was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps and it’s been serving the public year-round ever since. Just 9 miles north of Tampa off U.S. 301, Hillsborough River State Park is a great place to get away from it all.

Ft. DeSoto Park
3500 Pinellas Bayway S.
St. Petersburg, FL 33715
(727) 552-1862

Fort DeSoto Park is the crown jewel of Pinellas County’s park system. Covering more than 1,100 acres, Fort DeSoto Park offers a diverse ecosystem ranging from pristine beaches to wetlands and palm hammocks and an incredibly diverse assortment of wildlife. If just a few hours of solitude aren’t enough, campsites are available for tents and RVs. Campsites can be reserved, but a limited amount of spots are reserved for “walk-up” traffic giving hope to those who need to take an unscheduled break. Admission is $5 and campsites start at $30. It’s a slice a paradise just a few miles off of I-275 in some of Florida’s most intensely developed land.

Honeymoon Island
1 Causeway Blvd.
Dunedin, FL 34698
(727) 469-5942

Honeymoon Island got its name in 1939 when an ambitious developer built several dozen thatched-roof bungalows for well-to-do honeymooners. Picnic areas are available, along with showers and concessions. Swimming may not be on the agenda, but kayaking and canoeing might be exactly what’s needed to disconnect from the holiday excitement. Guided tours led by park rangers are available as well. The abundant wildlife and verdant wetlands scenery make Honeymoon Island one of Tampa Bay’s jewels just off the Dunedin Causeway and only a few miles away from the concrete jungles of Pinellas County.

Related: Best Hiking Trails In Tampa Bay

Plantation Inn
9301 Fort Island Trail
Crystal River, FL 34429
(352) 795-421

Located near Crystal River, Plantation Inn has made a name for itself with summer-related activities such as tubing down the cool waters of the tree-shaded Crystal River and manatee watching tours and fishing expeditions from nearby King’s Bay. But it still has plenty to offer during the winter. The centerpiece is 27 holes of championship golf with a friendly staff of pros who can help anyone with a slice or smother hook. Despite its relatively remote location about an hour and a half north of Tampa, you don’t have to be completely disconnected with the world. Wifi is available along with cable TV. Excellent dining is available in-house with plenty of local eateries just a few miles away in Crystal River.

Withlacoochee State Forest
15003 Broad St.
Brooksville, FL 34601
(850) 488-4274

Located in Hernando County just outside of Brooksville, the Withlacoochee State Forest is Florida’s third-largest forest and one of its most centrally located, making it attractive to visitors from all over central and northern Florida. Withlacoochee offers a wide variety of horseback, foot-driven or off-road vehicle trails that can give visitors a unique look at Florida’s rough-and-ready interior flora and fauna. The Withlacoochee is open year-round and entrance fees start at $2. For those who feel like roughing it, campsites are available with or without running water and electricity starting at $10.

Related: Best Weekend Getaways In The Tampa Bay Area

Mike Hennessy is a veteran news man who has won Florida AP awards for feature reporting and covered almost every kind of story imaginable from on-the-scene coverage of Hurricane Andrew, to some of the highest profile murder and corruption trials in Florida history. Mike is versatile and has the curiosity it takes to get to the bottom line of any story. His work can be found at