First settled in 1888, the city of Zephyrhills got its unusual name in the early 20th century. It’s what you get when you blend the area’s rolling hills with its warm zephyr breezes.
Founded by Union veterans, for decades Zephyrhills was known mainly as a retirement community. But things had really gone into overdrive in the years before I wrote this list.
As an outer Tampa Bay suburb, the population has swollen to 20,000+. In turn, the downtown area has become the venue for all kinds of fun events.
Since 1990 the airfield has been the base for one of Florida’s top skydiving schools, and if you check the sky on any given day you’re sure to see a parachute.
1. Skydive City
Zephyrhills is a regional skydiving destination, attracting skydivers from all 50 states and more than 80 countries around the world.
For this you can thank Skydive City, established in 1990 and recently declared Florida’s Best Skydiving school when I wrote this article.
Look no further if you want to learn to skydive solo, or are a licensed skydiver searching for a drop zone. For everyone else there’s tandem skydiving, in which first-time jumpers are strapped in with an experienced instructor.
Thousands of people make their first freefalls with Skydive City every year. Since you don’t have much to do but enjoy a bird’s eye view of the Tampa Bay area, the process is streamlined.
Since the whole experience can flash by in an exhilarating blur, it’s a good idea to opt for a video package.
2. Zephyr Park
Just next to the downtown area, this public park is a delight. Much of the space is taken up by a large lake, with a ⅝-mile paved trail on its shores.
Enhanced by benches, picnic areas and grassy spaces, this trail also has exercise stations at regular intervals, all with views of the water.
I adore the live oaks at Zephyr Park, and discovered that the larger specimens date to the Civil War era.
Also here are a tennis court, a playground, handball, horseshoe pits, and a splash pad, which I’ll come to later.
3. Founders’ Day & Heritage Festival
Zephyrhills celebrates its birthday with a vibrant one-day festival. With a different theme each time, the Founders’ Day & Heritage Festival takes place in the beginning of March
This is when the Central Florida weather is at the peak of perfection, and it’s something that the entire city looks forward to every year.
Food, parades, and live entertainment abound, and it all takes place in downtown Zephyrhills. There’s also a kids’ zone, and fun themed tours, while the whole thing wraps with a wonderful fireworks show.
4. Zephyr Hills Military Museum
Zephyrhills Municipal Airport (ZPH) was born in 1942 as a military facility. For around two years it was used by the Army Air Forces School of Applied Tactics (AAFSAT).
During that time hundreds of fighter pilots came to Zephyrhills to develop their skills before being deployed.
Now there’s a museum in the base’s former infirmary, the only surviving building from that period. Initially the exhibits were mainly devoted to WWII, but the collection has since grown to encompass the Civil War, Korea, Vietnam, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Among the interesting things I saw here were archive photos of the 10th Fighter Squadron, ration coupons, original jerry cans, and a 48-star flag.
5. Waterplay at Zephyr Park
For a low-cost children’s activity on a hot day, I don’t think you can do much better than a splash pad.
Open mid-March through mid-December, this is an awesome amenity, with benches under canopies for parents and caregivers. There’s a cluster of sprinklers, jets and fountains, sure to keep kids entertained for an hour or two.
You’ll find restrooms close by, as well as a spectacular grove of live oaks, and a pair of large picnic shelters. The water park sits by the 4th St parking lot in the northeast corner of the park.
6. Zephyrhills Brewing Company
When this spot opened in 2014 it became East Pasco County’s first microbrewery. Zephyrhills Brewing Company is held as an anchor for Zephyrhills’ improving downtown area.
The setting is a renovated bank building, with a range of beers and hard ciders on draft when I stopped by.
In fact there were close to 30, with a wide variety of styles, from IPAs to Blonde Ales, Golden Ales, Lagers, and a couple of Porters, to name just a handful.
The brewery gets creative with ciders, infusing them with pineapple, passion fruit, cherries, berries, orange and guava. There’s almost always a food truck in the parking lot, for the likes of mac and cheese bowls or Korean street food.
7. Hillsborough River State Park
Less than ten minutes south of Zephyrhills on US 301 there’s almost 3,500 of lush live oak hammocks along the Hillsborough River.
Pretty unusual for Florida, the river here is fast-flowing in places, with a series of rapids. These are picturesque from the banks, but, in my view, need to be experienced on the water in a kayak or canoe.
Vessels can be rented near the bank via FloVibez Adventure Tours, and you’ll see gators, turtles, and a lot of towering cypresses on the banks.
Hillsborough River State Park was developed in the 1930s, and has plenty of Depression-era parkitecture, constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Most noteworthy is the suspension bridge leading through the canopy and over the river.
8. Upper Hillsborough Wildlife Management Area
There’s more unfettered nature within minutes of Zephyrhills. On both banks of the Hillsborough just east of the city is more than 5,000 acres of publicly accessible land.
By the water the Upper Hillsborough Wildlife Management Area is mostly swampy, while on higher ground there’s a mix of longleaf and slash pine, with gallberry and palmetto in the understory.
I love how you can be on the main trail within a couple of minutes from Zephyrhills. This begins next to CR 54, starting out in pine flatwoods, but changing as you make your way south and east.
Armadillos, white-tailed deer, feral hogs, and northern bobwhites are a few of the animals that may make an appearance.
9. Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce Visitor Information Center
Visitor information centers and local chambers of commerce are perfect first-stops for travelers that are new to an area and unsure what to see and do.
With the internet, it’s pretty easy to do research in advance of your trip. Still, in my view it’s hard to beat an actual brick-and-mortar building staffed by knowledgeable locals to get things headed in the right direction.
The center is full of travel brochures, area maps, and business guides. They’re all free for the taking, so don’t be shy about helping yourself, and asking the staff for their suggestions.
10. Pin Chasers
If you’re wondering what to do on an evening in Zephyrhills there’s a fabulous bowling alley next to the Zephyrhills Cinema 10.
Part of a small chain in the Tampa area, Pin Chaser has 32 lanes. These have state-of-the-art ball return, large flatscreen displays, and were in fine condition when I had a game here.
There’s something different happening every day of the week. This includes unlimited pizza and bowling for just $12.99 on Tuesdays, at the time of writing.
Things get a bit more intense on weekend evenings when there’s Cyber Bowling, with uptempo music and nightclub lighting.
11. Zephyrhills Cinema 10
Zephyrhills may be a small-ish city, but you won’t need to travel to watch a new release. This can be found just off US 301 in the north of town.
The Zephyrhills Cinema 10 opened in the early 2000s and was expanded to ten screens. On arrival, I felt the entrance and lobby look like they’ve been around for 20 years.
But that gives no clue about the actual auditoriums, which had just been totally renovated when I was here. This includes the kind of luxurious leather recliners you get at big cinema chains. Paired with the stadium seating, it’s a fantastic viewing experience.
12. Krusen Park
By the airport on the southeast side of the city is a 30+ acre park intended mainly for sports. Krusen Park features a baseball/softball island, basketball court, football field, inline hockey rink, and a soccer field. Beyond that, there’s a concession here, open during sports events.
Close by you’ve also got the city’s municipal golf course, and the Zephyrhills Skatepark. To me, Krusen Park is another place for families to hang out on a sunny afternoon.
There’s an attractive stand of pines here, as well as several picnic shelters, a playground, and a barbecue grill.
13. Festival of Lights
Every December Zephyrhills gets into a festive mood with the heartwarming Festival of Lights. Zephyrhills might not be the most traditional Christmas environment for out of state visitors, but this event is always adorable.
There’s live entertainment, tasty food, and a variety of vendors selling arts and crafts, prepared food items, clothes, and other locally made odds-and-ends.
The highlight of the Festival of Lights is the annual parade, taking place along Main Street around 7:00 pm. Along with the remainder of the celebration, the parade has a different theme every year.
14. Halloween Howl
Zephyrhills’ annual Halloween festival takes place at Zephyr Park and includes a spine tingling array of family and kid-centered activities.
A free event, Halloween Howl features a spooky haunted house, a haunted forest, hayrides, and a safe, well-lit trick-or-treating area.
There are costume parades and contests where every child who enters wins a prize, as well as a number of carnival-style rides and games that add to the already festive atmosphere.
A number of local food vendors will be on-site offering tasty and hearty fare like burgers, hot dogs, and boardwalk fries. When I was in town there was also a warm-up event downtown, with a scavenger hunt, vendors and raffles.
15. Annual Music & Motorcycles
For some 20 years, the city of Zephyrhills hosted an annual event based around live music and motorcycles. Though it’s younger than many of the city’s yearly events, Annual Music & Motorcycles is biker heaven.
Taking place in mid-April on Main Street, Annual Music & Motorcycles brings high-octane live bands, tempting street food, abundant adult beverages, and a number of motorcycle contests.
These come in a range of categories from choppers to customs, imports, baggers, old school, best paint, everyday rider, and street cruiser.