Tampa is such a great vacation destination for families because of its proximity to the Gulf beaches and all of the attractions that you can enjoy from museums to waterfront adventures, and cultural sites. You can easily keep the family busy from sunup to sundown and still only see bits and pieces of the Greater Tampa Bay area.
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Tampa Bay Weather
Tampa Bay has hot, wet summers with daily short showers and cool short winters. Spring and fall are the most comfortable times of year with moderate temperatures and lots of sunshine.
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 Timicuan 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.
Tampa Bay On the Water Activities
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, I didn’t forget about all of the other well known and exceptionally cool places to visit like Busch Gardens and the Lowry Park Zoo, just giving you some fun alternatives.
Easy 3 Day Itinerary for Families Visiting Tampa
Day 1: Museum Day
Morning – Tampa Bay History Center
Lunch – Columbia Cafe
Afternoon – Tampa Bay Aquarium end in the splash zone
Bonus – take the TECO Line Streetcar full circle
Dinner – Sparkman’s Wharf (something for everyone)
Day 2: Nature & Beach Day
Morning – Nature Walk at Lettuce Lake Park
Lunch – Armature Works (possible splash time in the nearby splash pad after lunch)
Afternoon – Unwind at Cypress Point Park (rent chairs+ from Sharkey’s Watersports)
Day 3: Wild Card Day
Pick something special! Whether you want to unwind or have a last hurrah, that’s what should drive your final day. I like to leave that open for the things we missed or wanted to go back to. Sometimes it’s a good time to do that one really special thing like Afternoon Tea or take the kids to the children’s museum.