Many visitors to Tampa are on their way to our world-famous Gulf beaches. But for those who might want to take a day and explore the scenic countryside inland, there are plenty of great views and quirky road-side attractions just slightly off the beaten path. One great drive is a scenic loop that begins by heading east from Tampa on I4 until you reach Highway 27. From there, head north and let the adventure begin.
Showcase of Citrus is a great example of a Florida citrus stand — Photo courtesy of Showcase of Citrus
Watch for a large, colorful sign proclaiming “Showcase of Citrus” (5010 US Highway 27). Citrus stands selling fresh produce and local food products are a common site along Florida roadways. Although they can be touristy, they're always worth a stop, and Showcase of Citrus is a wonderful example. The weathered, shack-like store is crowded with oranges, grapefruits, tangerines, alongside coolers packed with fresh ‘gator meat and locally produced jars of jam and sauces.
From here, continue north on Highway 27. You will notice that the flat terrain gives way to gentle rolling hills and citrus groves. When you reach the turnoff for the town of Clermont, follow the signs to the downtown historic district.
Clermont is a historic gem of a town nestled amongst rolling hills and friendly lakes. With an authentically quaint downtown area filled with an eclectic mix of shops and eateries, downtown Clermont is an ideal place for lunch and a stroll. Sunday visitors will discover a fun and lively farmers market that runs 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. every week on Montrose Street.
Historic Clermont's charming City Hall — Photo courtesy of City of Clermont
Enjoy lunch at Kelly’s Brickhouse Pub (794 W. Minneola Avenue), which proudly claims establishment in 1924. Located one block off Montrose at the corner of Minneola and 8th Street, Kelly’s is a family-owned business featuring pretty decent pub-grub and tons of old-world charm.
As you head back to Highway 27 and continue north, on the right you will see the Florida Citrus Tower (141 North Hwy 27). Easily identifiable, the tower is by far the tallest building for miles, rising 226 feet over the surrounding countryside.
Built in 1956, this regional landmark with echoes of Art Deco was one of the original tourist attractions designed to show visitors the beauty of the surrounding orange groves. While many of the groves are gone, you can still take the elevator to the top and get a better idea of why this part of Florida is called lake country.
While you’re here, you might want to take a peek at the President’s Hall of Fame just next door. The building looks like a miniature White House, with a 1950s vintage Secret Service car out front. This quirky attraction boasts a famous miniature reproduction White House, wax figures and displays of presidential memorabilia.
Cap off your day with a glass of wine at Lakeridge Winery — Photo courtesy of Lakeridge Winery and Vineyards
The final stop is Florida's largest premium winery - Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards (19239 US Highway 27) - just a few miles further north. Free tours are offered all day and end with a wine tasting.
Because of the heat, the bugs and the lack of water during the dry season, there are not many grape varieties that will grow in Florida, so Lakeridge specializes in the muscadine grape. This grape is native to the Southeastern United States and flourishes in Florida’s harsh climate. Even better, researchers have found that these grapes are richer in chemicals called anthocyanins, which have tons of antioxidants!
Finish off the day by heading back to Tampa on Highway 50. This scenic byway will take you through quaint towns and the Withlacoochee State Forest before you reach I75. From here, head south to return to Tampa. This is approximately a three-hour itinerary without stops.