Tampa, with its proximity to the stunning Gulf beaches and a plethora of attractions, is an ideal vacation destination for families. From captivating museums and exhilarating waterfront adventures to enriching cultural sites, there’s an abundance of activities that will keep your family busy from sunup to sundown. Even with a packed itinerary, you’ll only scratch the surface of all of the fun things to do in Tampa, Fl.
For families seeking educational and entertaining experiences, Tampa boasts an impressive array of museums. Visit the Glazer Children’s Museum, a hands-on interactive museum where kids can engage in imaginative play and explore various exhibits. The Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) is another must-visit destination, featuring interactive displays on science, technology, and innovation. At the Tampa Bay History Center, delve into the region’s fascinating past through engaging exhibits and immersive storytelling.
Waterfront adventures are a staple of a Tampa family vacation. Spend a day at the Florida Aquarium, where you can marvel at marine life from around the world and even take part in animal encounters. For an unforgettable experience, embark on a thrilling speedboat tour of the Tampa Bay, where you’ll feel the wind in your hair as you zip across the waves. Alternatively, hop aboard a pirate ship for a swashbuckling adventure that combines entertainment, sightseeing, and interactive experiences.
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Immerse your family in Tampa’s rich cultural heritage by visiting notable sites such as Ybor City. Once known as the “Cigar Capital of the World,” this historic neighborhood now offers a vibrant atmosphere filled with shops, restaurants, and live entertainment. Take a guided tour to learn about the area’s fascinating history and indulge in delicious Cuban cuisine. And don’t miss the opportunity to catch a live performance at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, where you can enjoy Broadway shows, ballet, opera, and more.
Of course, no family trip to Tampa is complete without experiencing the stunning Gulf beaches. Clearwater Beach, with its powdery white sand and crystal-clear waters, is perfect for a day of sunbathing, swimming, and building sandcastles. You can also explore Caladesi Island State Park, a pristine barrier island accessible by ferry, where you can go shelling, hiking nature trails, or simply relax in a tranquil setting.
Additionally, Tampa offers a multitude of family-friendly events throughout the year. From the Gasparilla Pirate Fest, a lively celebration featuring a colorful parade and pirate-themed activities, to the Florida State Fair, complete with thrilling rides and mouthwatering treats, there’s always something exciting happening in the city.
Tampa Bay Weather
Overall, Tampa Bay’s weather is pleasant throughout much of the year, making it a popular destination for outdoor activities such as boating, fishing, and beachgoing. However, visitors should be prepared for high humidity levels and frequent afternoon thunderstorms during the summer months.
Fun Things To Do in Tampa – Tampa Bay Riverwalk Attractions
The Riverwalk begins at the Florida Aquarium and ends 2.6 miles later at Armature Works. If you want to spend a day just tackling the entire length, you can walk or bike with plenty of options for food along the way. Download the free HOPR app to your phone for quick easy access to bike rentals through Coast Bike Share. Pay per minute or access daily ($20), monthly, or annual pass rates.
Take advantage of the TECO Line Streetcar System which gives you a FREE ride every 15 minutes with 11 stops from Downtown Tampa to YBOR City. The historic streetcar system from 1892 began operating again in 2002 to support growth with transportation alternatives in Downtonw Tampa and YBOR City.
Cruisers out of Tampa will find it easy to browse around Sparkman’s Wharf before or after their cruise as the Port Cruise Ship Terminal sits nearby. Official cruise parking at Tampa Cruise Port is $15 per night (self-parking) or $20 per night (valet). When visiting Sparkman Wharf, if you spend more than $10 at Hooters or Splitsville, you can get your parking ticket validated for $5 off. Short term parking rates are $1.00 per half hour. The Daily Max rate is $15.
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The Florida Aquarium makes it easy to explore several aquarium habitats from the Wetlands of Florida to Madagascar and Moon Bay. Dip your hands into No Bone Zone (the touch tank) to touch a Giant Green Anemone. Enjoy a 4-D experience where all of your senses tingle from real life scents, winds, water mists, and vibrating seats at the 4Ducks Theater. Don’t forget the aquatic shoes and swimsuits so kids 11 and under can play in the spray zones of the Splash Pad.
At the Tampa Bay History Center, you can explore 3 floors of history detailing Florida’s past from the Timucuan natives to the infamous pirate Jack Rackam. From their website, explore the museum from home including lesson plans for home educating parents and school teachers alike.
The Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park is home to special events throughout the year on the sloped lawn and attracts children to the playground and water splash pads. The Tampa Museum of Art and Glazer Children’s Museum also encompass the grounds providing a full day of activity in one connected space.
On the south facade of the Tampa Museum of Art, you can catch the LED light installation (Sky) as part of the night Tampa skyline. A family play day at the Glazer Children’s Museum includes art, building like an engineer, mastering money like a banker, farming, a firehouse, a pizza place, Publix shopping mart, a water journey and exploring healthcare roles at the hospital or veterinary clinic.
At Straz Center for the Performing Arts, look for Broadway tours, tributes, world renowned artists, and even free community events such as, Arts Legacy Remix: Second Annual Juneteenth Commemoration. Families can enjoy family friendly activities and a discount on Family Nights.
To enjoy more nature when visiting Tampa, head to the Hillsborough River State Park where you can even try glamping for the night in a Bell tent or a safari tent starting at $154/nt + taxes and fees. Glamping means you get the comforts of a proper bed, beautiful decor, a Keurig coffee maker, heaters in winter, and AC in summer. The state park has 7 miles of nature trails, a suspension bridge, and horseback riding & equestrian trail for a $6 entry fee per car load.
A leisure lawn and dining garden, biergarten, and waterfront views are available at Sparkman Wharf. There’s craft beers, asian street food, barbeque, chicken many ways, a taqueria, and a host of desserts and craft cocktails to be savored. If you want locally sourced food from farms and seasonal ingredients, try the Naked Farmer.
The Columbia Restaurant is a must on your experience list and there’s plenty in the area to choose from. If you’re in the Tampa Bay History Center, that’s a great time to stop by the Columbia Cafe with its waterfront patio overlooking the Tampa Riverwalk. Named by USA Today as one of America’s most historic restaurants, you can try the Tampa Treasure – a Cuban sandwich but I also really recommend the Original 1905 salad.
More Patio Dining with River Views:
- The Sail Plaza provides craft cocktails and “Tampa Bay’s Best Mojitos”.
- River’s Edge in Sheraton Tampa
- WXYZ Bar in Aloft Tampa
- Mailo’s – American Steakhouse
- Anchor and Brine
- Ulele – one of our family favorites featuring Native-Inspired Foods and Spirits.
Enjoy Waterfront Adventures
Book a sunset boat tour or for an eco-friendly boating experience with no license required, try Eboats Tampa. Bring food and drinks for your party of up to 12 people for a scenic trip along the Hillsborough River and downtown channels. A standard Eboat starts at $89 per hour.
If you’re ready for a different boating experience, try a Tiki Cruise. From under $50 per person, bring your own drinks and float on a tiki bar down the Hillsborough River for 90 minutes.
Sharkey’s Watersports has paddle boards, kayaks, Ebikes, floating fun mats that hold up to 6, and more for your fun beach day in shallow safe waters.
The Pirate Water Taxi makes it easy to visit attractions, restaurants, hotels, and parks with hop on/hop off access along the river. A one way pass starts at $15 for adults or ride all day for $25.
Tampa Beaches & Best Waterview Sunsets
Tampa has its own beaches too so you don’t always have to go over to the Gulf Coast beaches. Along the Courtney Campbell Causeway, you’ll find Ben T. Davis Beach which is great for picnics and sunset views. There’s a hidden gem known as Cypress Point Park which features hiking trails, dunes, and picnic shelters – the perfect spot for sunsets (bring bug repellant or the No-See-Ums will feast on you.) Davis Islands Beach in the center of Hillsborough Bay also has a dog park. Picnic Island Park is another hidden gem by the Port of Tampa.
10 Absolutely Unique Things to do in Tampa
You can visit Wat Mongkolratanaram Thai Temple daily for free and enjoy the grounds but on Sundays, the drive through market offers beef, pork, or vegetable noodle soup, thai rolls, tea, and coffee to enjoy on site or take home.
Oxford Exchange has so many good choices from a Sunday afternoon tea to the Champagne Bar as well as, shopping the home collection or the bookstore.
Armature Works is the ultimate food hall with craft cocktails, craft ice cream, Mediterranean, Asian, Sushi, Cuban, a plant based southern kitchen, and full service dining options.
Take the Balcony to Backstage Tour of the Tampa Theatre to discover its secrets and stories including its historic restoration. $10 for adults / $8 for kids ages 2-12 – General Admission
Every 4th Friday at Henry B. Plant Museum, you can enjoy free admission and entertainment on the Veranda from 5 PM to 7 PM from January to October.
If you stop at Ulele for their amazing food, be sure to visit Humpty Dumpty, The Three Little Pigs and more Fairyland characters that live by the Ulele Spring. These restored characters once lived in Lowry Park Zoo during the 1950’s and 60’s.
Go to Cuba – well, walk on Cuban property for a moment when you visit Parque Amigos de Jose Marti which was donated to Cuba in 1956 and remains in the hands of the Tampa Cuban-American community. The park is only open for a few hours each day but you can see all of it from the entrance.
Have a uniquely fun experience at the Cake Drip where you can also make your own custom chocolate bar with a chocolate flight tasting, do some DIY cake decorating, or enjoy afternoon tea service with brunch and champagne.
Stay in a historic courthouse with its marble hallways and original oak doors from 1905 when you book Le Meridien Tampa. Explore a bit of history throughout the building from the replica of the original blueprints of the building’s light structures as wallpaper to the preserved bright gold elevator doors on the first floor. On the second floor, you’ll discover a hostess stand in the Bizou Brasserie that was the original witness stand. The fourth floor displays hand-painted ceilings and original leather doors leading to the ballroom.
Take a birding walk with Tampa Audubon Society at Lettuce Lake Conservation Park and don’t forget to climb the 3-story observation tower overlooking the hardwood swamp and the HIllsborough river.
Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten about some of the well-known and fantastic attractions in Tampa, such as Busch Gardens and the Lowry Park Zoo. While those are undoubtedly popular choices, we wanted to offer you some unique and exciting alternatives to add variety to your itinerary. However, if you have extra time or if your family has a particular interest in theme parks and zoos, we highly recommend including these attractions in your Tampa adventure. Here’s a brief overview of what you can expect:
- Experience the thrill of world-class roller coasters and immerse yourself in the African-themed atmosphere at Busch Gardens.
- Encounter incredible wildlife up close, from majestic lions and tigers to gentle giraffes and zebras.
- Enjoy live shows, interactive exhibits, and a wide range of family-friendly attractions that cater to all ages.
Lowry Park Zoo (now known as ZooTampa at Lowry Park):
- Explore a diverse collection of animals from around the globe at the renowned Lowry Park Zoo.
- Witness captivating wildlife presentations, get up close with exotic species, and learn about important conservation efforts.
- The zoo offers interactive experiences, such as feeding giraffes or getting a behind-the-scenes glimpse into animal care.
Including these popular attractions alongside the alternative options mentioned earlier will provide a well-rounded Tampa experience for your family. Whether you choose to explore the city’s rich history, enjoy nature walks, indulge in delicious dining, or immerse yourselves in the thrills of theme parks and zoos, Tampa offers an abundance of memorable experiences that cater to everyone’s interests.
Easy Weekend Trip to Tampa
Day 1: Museum Day
Morning – Tampa Bay History Center:
- Start your day by immersing yourself in the rich history of Tampa Bay at the Tampa Bay History Center.
- Explore the interactive exhibits that showcase the region’s cultural heritage, maritime history, and captivating stories.
- Learn about the early settlers, the cigar industry, and the significance of Tampa Bay in shaping Florida’s history.
Lunch – Columbia Cafe:
- Head to the Columbia Cafe for a delightful lunch experience.
- Indulge in authentic Spanish and Cuban cuisine, including mouthwatering dishes like the famous “1905” Salad and Cuban sandwiches.
- Enjoy the charming ambiance and warm hospitality that the Columbia Restaurant Group is known for.
Afternoon – Tampa Bay Aquarium and Splash Zone:
- Spend the afternoon at the Tampa Bay Aquarium, an enchanting destination for families.
- Discover a diverse array of marine life, from playful otters to majestic sharks, through captivating exhibits and interactive displays.
- End your visit with a splash in the aquarium’s splash zone, where kids can cool off and have a memorable time.
Bonus – TECO Line Streetcar:
- Take advantage of the TECO Line Streetcar and enjoy a leisurely ride from the aquarium.
- Experience the nostalgic charm of the historic streetcar system as it takes you on a journey through Downtown Tampa and Ybor City.
- Sit back, relax, and soak in the sights and sounds of the city as you complete the full circle on the streetcar.
Dinner – Sparkman Wharf:
- Head to Sparkman Wharf for a delightful dining experience that offers something for everyone.
- Explore the vibrant food hall, featuring a variety of culinary options ranging from gourmet burgers to fresh seafood and international delights.
- Grab a table overlooking the waterfront, savor your meal, and enjoy the lively atmosphere of this unique dining destination.
Day 2: Nature & Beach Day
Morning – Nature Walk at Lettuce Lake Park:
- Start your day surrounded by the beauty of nature at Lettuce Lake Park.
- Take a leisurely nature walk along the boardwalk, winding through lush greenery and providing opportunities for birdwatching and wildlife spotting.
- Enjoy the serene atmosphere and the chance to connect with nature as a family.
Lunch – Armature Works:
- Head to Armature Works, a vibrant food hall located in the historic Tampa Heights neighborhood.
- Choose from a wide array of culinary offerings, ranging from gourmet sandwiches to artisanal pizzas and international cuisines.
- After lunch, take advantage of the nearby splash pad, where kids can have some fun and cool off.
Afternoon – Unwind at Cypress Point Park:
- Unwind and soak up the sun at Cypress Point Park, a scenic waterfront park.
- Rent chairs and umbrellas from Sharkey’s Watersports and settle down for a relaxing afternoon by the water.
- Let the kids build sandcastles, take a refreshing swim, or simply enjoy the breathtaking views of Tampa Bay.
Day 3: Wild Card Day
- On the final day of your trip, leave it open for a special experience tailored to your family’s preferences and desires.
- Choose an activity or attraction that you missed during the previous days or something that you’ve been eager to try.
- It could be a visit to the Glazer Children’s Museum for hands-on educational fun, afternoon tea at a charming tea room, or any other unique experience that sparks your interest.
- Make this day your last hurrah, creating cherished memories before bidding farewell to Tampa.
- This easy 3-day itinerary offers a well-rounded experience for families visiting Tampa, combining cultural exploration, outdoor adventures, and flexibility for personalized experiences.
- Explore the city’s museums, savor delicious meals at local eateries, immerse yourselves in nature, and enjoy the coastal beauty of Tampa Bay.
- Customize the itinerary to fit your family’s preferences and make the most of your time in this vibrant Florida destination.