On the winding lower reaches of Pithlachascotee River, this city was developed at breakneck speed during the Florida land boom of the 1920s.
That was a time of great optimism, and New Port Richey was marketed as a winter escape for Hollywood stars. Several stars, including actor Thomas Meighan spent time in the city in those days. When I was in town, New Port Richey was ready for its closeup once more.
The downtown is flush with dining and entertainment options, and is enhanced by the picture-perfect Sims Park.The time to come is surely in March for the Chasco Fiesta, a nine-day celebration first held in 1922.
Finally, the profuse creeks and bayous along the shore make New Port Richey a kayaking destination with few rivals. You can even launch from downtown.
1. Werner Boyce Salt Springs State Park
On the shore not far north of New Port Richey, there’s a large expanse of salt marsh, tidal creeks and mangroves ready to be discovered.
From the land, you can make your way through oak hammocks and pine flatwoods along the Springs Trail. This leads to small artesian springs and sinks, as well as a beautiful tidal waterfall when the tide is out.
Of course, a lot of this watery landscape is impassable from the land. I’d head for Salty Dog Kayak Rentals, and then spend a day paddling the park’s remote inlets and bayous among rich wildlife.
2. Robert K. Rees Memorial Park
New Port Richey’s only public beach is a 45-acre park on Green Key island. This spectacular property is open every day of the week from sunrise to sunset. Naturally, my tip is to stay until late in the day when the skies are amazing.
It’s a scenic destination for swimmers, sunbathers, but also those out for an idyllic stroll. A real asset is the 650-foot boardwalk taking you through mangroves and wetlands to an observation tower in the canopy.
From here you can look out for shorebirds, wading birds, and you may see a few dolphins in the shallow waters.
3. Sims Park
The city’s founder, George R. Sims (1876-1954) donated the land for this near-perfect urban park. On the Cotee River and enmeshed with downtown, Sims Park is an absolute joy.
With an amphitheater and a stretch of riverfront, this is the main setting for the city’s ionic Chasco Fiesta in March.
On the east side is the sublime Orange Lake, with palms and flowering trees around its shores, together with a cute pier and flocks of wading birds like ibises.
There’s a splash pad close to the lake, and it’s a must if you’re in town with younger children on a hot day. We’ll see that New Port Richey is a kayaker’s dream, and if you have your own vessel there’s an ADA-accessible launch right on the river here.
Lastly, if you happen to catch a rare day when there’s nothing going on, I can think of no better place to come for a picnic.
4. Downtown New Port Richey
It’s hard to believe, but at the turn of the 21st century New Port Richey was something of a ghost town. Now, no more than 20 years later, nobody would say that about the downtown area.
When I was here last, there was an obvious upward trajectory. There’s a new streetscape with newly planted palms, and not a vacant storefront to be seen.
Any tour needs to take in the sumptuous, 1927 Hacienda Hotel. A reminder of the days when early Hollywood stars walked these streets, this establishment has recently reopened.
Within a few minutes on foot are plentiful food and drink options, antiques stores, and entertainment spots like the Richey Suncoast Theater. Among the quirky recurring events are Cars & Coffee, a morning car show on the first Sunday of the month.
There’s hardly an entry in this list in which I don’t talk about kayaking. It’s just a fact that New Port Richey is a paddling paradise.
This is down to the bayous and creeks that meander through this city and into the Gulf of Mexico. Many of these watercourses flow through preserves, with lush mangrove tunnels, wetlands, and hammocks on their banks.
Manatees are no strangers to these waters, especially in the winter months when they seek out warmer conditions.
You can even begin your trip downtown on the broad and gentle stretch of the Pithlachascotee River here. If you don’t have your own vessel, there are a few rental businesses.
A couple close at hand are Salty Dog Kayak Rentals in Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park, and Windsong Charters & Boat Rentals, at 4927 U.S. Highway 19.\
6. Chasco Fiesta
With nine days of entertainment, food and family fun, Chasco Fiesta is one of the region’s most acclaimed events.
The first festival took place in 1922, and has been an annual tradition every March since 1947. For me, there’s no better time to be in New Port Richey.
Partly inspired by local Native American culture, you’ve got Florida’s second-longest boat parade, and the third-longest street parade in the state.
Added to that is a carnival, a lot of live music, a vehicle show, great local food, golf tournament, 5k run, and much more.
Kicking off the celebrations every year is the Coronation of King Pithla and Queen Chasco on the first night, at a ball benefiting local worthy causes.
7. Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park
Away from the coast, you can head inland to this 8,500-acre regional park on a former cattle ranch.
Part managed by Pasco County, the Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park is composed of pine flatwoods, freshwater marshes, cypress domes, and more.
If you’re here on two wheels you can make your way through the pine woods along the Starkey Trail. Almost seven miles long, this trail connects with the Suncoast Trail, next to the Suncoast Parkway on the park’s east side.
There are also unpaved trails through the wilderness, including 13 miles of hiking trails, and an eight-mile mountain biking trail.
Birding is a big deal at the park, with close to 180 different species recorded in these habitats. The birding trail by Grassy Lake brings you to a bird blind, installed by Pasco Audubon.
8. West Pasco Historical Society
In the afternoons, Friday through Sunday, you can dip into the area’s history at this museum on the north side of Sims Park.
The building has its own story, as the Seven Springs schoolhouse, built around 1915 and in use for ten years.
There are lots of different strands to explore. I was especially engrossed by the Native American exhibit, with a Deptford vessel, pottery and arrowheads from the Timucuan and Tocobaga peoples.
There’s also background on the early 20th-century citrus industry, pioneer life, ranching, sponge diving, shipbuilding, and the many movie stars who showed up here in the 1920s.
9. Brasher Park
Five minutes away, Port Richey’s Brasher Park is small and secluded, and therefore gets a lot less traffic. This is a spot that many outdoorsy locals would prefer to keep to themselves.
Brasher Park is a popular launch point for kayakers and paddle-boarders looking to explore the area’s creeks and bayous. If you launch at low tide you can paddle to Salt Springs, a little way north.
For amenities, there are restrooms and picnic tables, as well as a playground for kids. Personally, I could linger here for a couple of hours watching the sun go down and spotting dolphins.
10. James E. Grey Preserve
Just upstream from downtown New Port Richey, the Pithlachascotee River has a much wilder feel.
Unexpectedly, in the middle of residential developments you’ll be in a wilderness of swamps and upland hammocks.
What I love most about the James E. Grey Preserve is the boardwalk which follows the wriggling course of the river for more than a mile.
November through April this is a handy vantage point for spotting manatees. At the far end is a fishing pier, which has a clear view of a large bend in the river.
No surprise that there’s great paddling to be done in the preserve, while you can make use of a range of amenities near the parking area. Among them picnic shelters, restrooms, and a playground.
11. Anclote Key
This uninhabited island is just a few miles off the Gulf Coast. Accessible by boat, Anclote Key is a dreamlike escape, especially if you’re done with the area’s more crowded and commercialized attractions.
The beach is my favorite park, and is a hotspot for shelling. It’s possible to find a variety of exotic and pristine shells and sponges that aren’t often found elsewhere.
There’s also dolphins, an historic lighthouse (1887), and abundant birdlife, especially nesting shorebirds like piping plovers.
If you don’t have your own boat, you can catch a ferry from New Port Richey via Island Paradise Charters or Windsong Charters.
12. Richey Suncoast Theatre
Since the mid-‘20s, the Richey Suncoast Theatre has been a local entertainment icon. This restored Mediterranean Revival building offers a variety of live entertainment, including dramatic theater, comedy, and Broadway-style musicals.
I adore the old-time glamor of this venue, with its solomonic columns and Art Deco chandeliers and wall lights.
As well as the theatrical season and comedy season, there’s a ton of one-off concerts and special events like singalong screenings of cult classics like the Rocky Horror Picture Show.
You’ve also got a Vintage Movie Series throughout the year, and educational programs including workshops and masterclasses.
13. Gill Dawg Tiki Bar & Grill
There’s a lot going for this spot, right on the banks of the Cotee River. In fact, I could use a whole article to talk about Gill Dawg Tiki Bar & Grill.
I’ll start with the riverfront setting, in a stand of gorgeous live oaks. The views from the deck at sunset are as romantic as you can get.
On the menu are signature cocktails with a tropical twist, as well as seafood (check the grouper sandwich or mahi-mahi fish tacos), bar bites, and burgers.
Every weekend this place doubles as a live music venue, with a steady stream of tribute acts on a purpose-built outdoor stage.
Finally, during the day this is yet another place where you can rent kayaks, as well as pontoon boats.
14. Eagle Point Park
New Port Richey’s highly indented shoreline is sprinkled with beautiful little parks. One within shouting distance of downtown is Eagle Point Park, just south of the mouth of Trouble Creek.
These 15 acres are wrapped in mangroves, on the site of a residential development that was never realized. A vestige from these plans can be seen in the form of two parallel canals cutting through the park.
There’s a couple of small piers where you can look out over Trouble Creek. The sheltered waters and natural abundance also make this yet one of many fantastic places to launch a kayak or canoe.
Away from the water, Eagle Point Park has exercise equipment for grownups, and a playground that had just been fixed up when I was here.
15. Cotee River Brewing Company
On the scene since 2018, this craft brewery has become a beloved haunt in downtown New Port Richey.
Although this spot is pretty new, I love how the taproom has a sense of place, with rustic decor and photos of New Port Richey from bygone days. Whenever you come there will be up to ten beers on tap.
These are mostly brewed on site, and accompanied by guest beers from regional brewers. If you try only one, I’d make it the Market Fresh Wheat Beer, which is infused with an herbal tea. As a fan of darker ale, the Smoked Porter was the beer that won me over.
Also out of the ordinary are the sangrias, made with wine from the Aspirations Winery in Clearwater.