If you’re looking for a versatile family vacation—that won’t break your budget—Pasco County, Florida, is a must-visit destination. Thanks to its location on the west coast of Florida and its unique history, the area offers plenty of free opportunities to experience the historic sites, the arts and the outdoors.
Touring the Zephyrhills Depot Museum is a great way to start your Pasco County adventure. This unique museum is inside a 2,700-sq.-ft. restored railroad depot from 1927: the Atlantic Coast Railroad Depot. You’ll discover a model train display and four wings full of artifacts from the original depot.
Continue your history tour at Pioneer Florida Museum and Village, which has free admission for active-duty military and children under the age of five. The 16-acre grounds display the tools and methods of the “Florida Pioneer Man,” where you’ll feel as if you transported to another time. The Village includes a restored home from 1864 and a one-room schoolhouse that is more than 100 years old.
Learn about World War II at Zephyrhills Museum of Military History, also called the World War II Barracks Museum. There, you’ll find memorabilia and photographs from the World War II fighter pilots who trained in Zephyrhills. The volunteers who run this museum often dress in period clothing, so all visitors can enjoy an authentic experience.
Immerse the whole family in another time period by visiting one of Pasco’s three historic districts on a walking tour. Church Street features 35 historic buildings; Zephyrhills Downtown is home to 126 historic buildings, including the former house of Zephyrhills founder Captain Harold B. Jeffries; and St. Leo Abbey area is where the Church of the Holy Cross is located. All three districts are on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and make for memorable visits.
The Arts Scene
Another free activity? Enjoying local art! Downtown Dade City hosts an Antique Faire and Sidewalk Market on the third Saturday of every month from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. You can peruse artisanal items, including garden decorations and jewelry. The Shops at Wiregrass in Wesley Chapel has a fresh market where you can find crafts and art to bring home after your visit. You can check out the market the first and third Saturdays of the month February through October and on the first Saturday of the month November through January.
Stop by the West Pasco Art Guild and Gallery in New Port Richey to see more art from local artists. The Downtown New Port Richey Art Gallery also displays work by community artists this season. Along with its featured artwork, the gallery hosts readings by authors, poetry readings and craft classes throughout the year. Take a look at its online calendar before your visit and see what events are happening during your stay.
If your family loves music, plan your trip to coincide with the third weekend of October, just in time for the Rattlesnake Music Festival. This traditional event has been held annually for more than 50 years. You’ll receive free parking and admission at the Pasco County Fairgrounds, and you’ll spend the weekend hearing great concerts, seeing handcrafted arts and crafts, interacting with wildlife and tasting local foods.
Another popular way to experience Pasco County is through a brewery tour, and some of its breweries offer free tours and live music. In the Loop Brewing Company is known for its family-and pet-friendly atmosphere and sometimes hosts free concerts. You can also visit Escape Brewing Company—another local favorite. Founded by two friends who wanted to “escape” their corporate careers, its motto is “Drink. Enjoy. Escape.”
One of the most well-known breweries in the area is Big Storm Brewing Co. It was founded in 2012 and has created award-winning, storm-themed brews. The beer on tap features local ingredients and weather-related names, such as the Belgian Category 5 and the Wavemaker Amber Ale. Make sure you put your game face on while you’re there; Big Storm hosts free trivia nights every Thursday at 8 p.m.
No visit to Pasco County is complete without plenty of time in the beautiful Florida sunshine. Even in the fall, you can enjoy your favorite outdoor activities here, including fishing, swimming, kayaking, paddleboarding, hiking, and bird-watching. Bring along your picnic to enjoy an afternoon lunch outdoors or a sunset meal on the beach.
To truly embrace the area, visit one of its many parks. Key Vista Nature Park is a peaceful place and a local favorite. Spend the day strolling the shaded trails with your family and even climb an observation tower for a fantastic view of the Gulf of Mexico. The park is a great spot to see bald eagles, and its 101 acres of land feature pristine picnic spots.
For a more active experience, visit Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park, which has great bird-watching, a trail for horseback riding, playgrounds, horseshoe pits and volleyball courts.
The Withlacoochee River runs through the 406-acre Withlacoochee River Park, making it an ideal place to spot wildlife on your adventure. On a hiking or biking excursion, you may see red and gray foxes, river otters, gopher tortoises, bald eagles, hawks, alligators and maybe even the elusive Florida panther. The on-site observation tower gives you a birds-eye view of the surrounding park.
At the end of your active adventure, your family will be ready to cool off in the crystal-clear waters. Eagle Point Park has canoe and kayak access to the Gulf, along with the option to fish from three different docks. With picnic benches and charcoal grills, it’s also a great spot for a family barbecue. If you need to rent your equipment, Gill Dawg Marina offers kayaks, paddleboards, pontoons, johnboats and more. Anclote River Park has a swimming area so you can jump right into the water, and it also has boat ramps and fishing areas. Head there to get a close view of marine life, including dolphins, crabs and sea turtles.
It’s easy to have a memorable fall vacation without spending a lot of money when you visit Pasco County.