Located on a large bay of Florida’s Gulf Coast, Tampa is known for many things, amusement parks and football teams chief among them. But is there any good stargazing to be had in “The Big Guava?” (Also, coolest city nickname ever!)
It turns out, there are some good spots for stargazing in Tampa – sort of. Tampa itself is not ideal, but the surrounding waterway and coast (much like the San Francisco Bay Area) does create some decent opportunities for seeing the night sky. If you’re willing to hop in the car and drive a bit further, your options expand – especially inland Florida.
So if you’re hoping to go stargazing in Tampa, these are the best places to do it. In the event that clouds obscure your view or humidity makes the night sky hazy, don’t forget that you’re only a few hours drive from Florida’s Space Coast and night launches happen over there sometimes to give you something else to look at.
Featured photo credit: Jiuguang Wang via Flickr
Stargazing Spots within Tampa
While the header is plural, there’s just one spot to go stargazing in Tampa. There’s too much light pollution obfuscating the stars to appreciate the stars. Don’t lose your hopes, though. Here’s one place with dark-pitch skies that won’t disappoint.
East Tampa Beach
Do ocean views with the backdrop of a starry sky sound appealing? Then, head out to East Beach. Located 40 minutes from Tampa, East Beach is the farthest point along the bay, managing to escape the pesky city lights. Find a cozy spot along the white sand beach to lie down and bring out your telescope to enjoy the celestial bodies across the sky. The beach has a parking lot right off of Anderson Blvd, and it has access to the shoreline.
Stargazing Spots within 1 Hour of Tampa
As usual, those willing to drive to more secluded areas will find better stargazing opportunities. Here are five stunning spots for stargazing near Tampa.
Alafia River State Park
Formerly a phosphate mine, Alafia River State Park is famous for its scenic and challenging landscape. The park sits roughly 27 miles southeast of downtown Tampa, and its combination of hilly forests and flat woods have made it a hotspot for mountain bikers. People also flock to the park to make the most of the stunning hiking and equestrian trails.
At nighttime, the park is equally entertaining. Thousands of stars come out in full force and flood the sky. So much so that St. Petersburg Astronomy Club considers the park an excellent spot for stargazing in Tampa and hosts their astronomy nights there.
Fort DeSoto County Park
Fort DeSoto County Park is for you if you love beaches, water, and camping. The park is the largest within the Pinellas County Park System and is rife with natural beauty. It sprawls over 1136 acres, which comprise miles of sandy shoreline and five stunning islands.
Most visitors come to enjoy the park’s turquoise waters, but Fort DeSoto County Park is more than just sandy beaches. You can enjoy sweeping views of the night sky from there, too. Rumor has it that beyond the Gulf Pier parking lot, you’ll find the best stargazing.
Linda Pedersen Park
Linda Pedersen Park is a bit of a drive, sitting 54.8 miles from Tampa. The park has many activities and attractions, among which is stargazing. You will want to find the Dawn Observation Tower, a forty-foot-high wooden tower lookout offering unobstructed views of the Gulf of Mexico with a bright starry sky above.
As a heads up, Linda Pedersen Park closes at 8 pm, so if you want to explore the park at night or climb the observation tower, you’re better off parking your car across the street.
Madeira Beach is a city just west of St. Petersburg. A beautiful place to visit, Madeira Beach just hits the right balance of touristy-small town appeal. It’s mainly popular among families looking for beach fun, with attractions like the sea-themed John’s Pass Village and Boardwalk.
Madeira Beach will appeal to stargazers for its low light pollution. It has a small population of 3,895, and the area is primarily residential, with little or no industrial service businesses. You’ll find stargazing opportunities along the 2.5-mile beach of white sand.
Withlacoochee River Park
Withlacoochee River Park has pretty much anything you need to spend a lovely day (and night) in nature. Forested parks, whispering rivers, winding trails, and pitch-dark skies. Over the years, the park has earned a reputation as one of the prime Tampa stargazing spots, thanks to its observation tower.
The lookout is just above the treeline, so the foliage blocks most of the glare from inside the park’s camping sites. The St. Petersburg Astronomy Club hosts New Moon viewing sessions and dark sky events to glance at the galaxies and star clusters.
Stargazing Spots within 2 Hours of Tampa
You’ll find some of Florida’s darkest skies only two hours away from Tampa. These alluring spots conjugate world-class nature with visible astronomical wonders, delighting everyone with their scenic beauty.
Ocala National Forest
Ocala National Forest is Florida’s second-largest national forest and is a top destination for water sports lovers. Its diverse landscape is home to beautiful sand pine scrub forests, lakes, ponds, and natural springs (more than 600!).
While its nature is stunning, Ocala National Forest also stands out for its black-velvet skies. Their campgrounds, primarily Hopkins Prairie campground, enjoy low-light pollution, which has made them a favorite spot for stargazing in Tampa.
Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area
Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area has long been a favorite destination for birders, housing more than 180 species. It is the largest remaining expanse of dry prairie in the United States, and the landscape’s vastness has ensured it remains protected from the city’s skyglow and glare.
You’ll love the serenity and solitude of this place. You can go for the day and climb their observation deck to take in killer views of the night sky or make it a weekend getaway and camp out at the park.
Best Times of Year to Go Stargazing in Tampa
The humidity in Florida can make it difficult to see the stars during the summer. For this reason, it’s best to wait until a cool, crisp night, preferably in the winter months. The best months for stargazing in Tampa are December through February, after hurricane season ends and before the humidity of the warm months returns.
It’s also best to wait until a new moon if you can. The light of the moon can obscure your vision of the stars, especially when it’s full.
Can You See the Milky Way in Tampa?
Unfortunately, like most major cities, it’s not really possible to see the Milky Way in Tampa due to the light pollution produced by the urban area.
In fact, you’ll probably need to head at least one hour out of town to escape it enough to see the Milky Way – if not more like two hours. (That is, if your goal is to see the galactic core, look at the section about stargazing spots within two hours of Tampa.) If you are willing to make that journey, the best time of year to head that far out of town to see the Milky Way is in is in July when the planet’s position is the most ideally pointed toward the core of our galaxy.
Do you have other questions about stargazing in Tampa? Let me know in the comments.