Many of its best-known attractions and activities are located downtown or in Ybor City, but there is a lot more of Tampa to explore. This itinerary is especially convenient for those who are staying in the northeastern portion of the city, near the University of South Florida area. This one-day tour includes seeing wildlife, getting on the water, experiencing hands-on exhibits and enjoying local favorite eateries.
Wildlife and water sports
Begin your day with a walk on the wild side at Tampa’s Lettuce Lake Regional Park. Located off Fletcher Avenue, this natural gem is comfortably nestled in an otherwise urban environment.
For only $2 per vehicle, you can take advantage of all the extensive park amenities. One of the most popular activities is walking the 3,500-foot boardwalk that keeps your feet dry as you explore the hardwood swamp forest.
The Lettuce Lake boardwalk lets you wander the hardwood swamp without getting your feet wet — Photo courtesy of Skye Rodgers
Watch for birds and other wildlife, including the Great Blue Heron and the American alligator. You can learn more about the indigenous wildlife at the interpretive center, which features exhibits of the local flora and fauna.
If you are itching to get out on the water, then they have canoe and kayaks available at a very reasonable price: a four-hour rental costs only $25. Take your time exploring the quiet waters of Lettuce Lake and the Hillsborough River.
Chicago-style hot dogs
After working up a hearty appetite exploring the park, head on over to Mel’s Hot Dogs. This Tampa institution is famous for their Chicago-style hot dogs and the perfect spot for a quick and casual lunch.
Mel and his wife Virginia opened the spot back in 1973. And it has been a local favorite ever since. Their dogs are all-beef with natural casings, served on poppy seed buns and topped with over a thousand different combinations of toppings.
After lunch, beat the afternoon heat with a visit to Tampa’s popular Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI). Good for adults and children alike, MOSI features over 450 hands-on exhibitions, the Saunders Planetarium and the only IMAX dome in Florida.
MOSI's futuristic IMAX dome is a familiar Tampa landmark — Photo courtesy of Tampa MOSI / Wikimedia Commons
One of the site's newest indoor exhibits is a high wire bike ride. Guests can pedal a bicycle balanced on a 1-inch steel cable, suspended 30 feet above the ground! In addition, MOSI brings in large, visiting exhibitions on a rotating basis. Always check their website to see what’s on now.
Weather permitting, you can venture outside to visit the BioWorks Butterfly Garden, a free-flying butterfly enclosure; the Historic Tree Grove, featuring trees grown from the seedlings of trees that witnessed amazing historical events; and the Backwoods Forest Preserve.
Looking for more adventure? Test your skills on the Sky Trail Ropes course that features over 35 elements up to 36-feet high. From the top, you can take a ride on their 700-foot zip line.
Finish your day of adventure with an equally adventurous dinner. Skipper's Smokehouse is a laid-back, shack-like restaurant with authentic Florida-kitsch décor. The restaurant is famous for their award-winning Blackened Grouper Reuben sandwich, featured on the Travel Channel’s "Best Sandwich in America."
Not adventurous enough? Try their slow-cooked, goo-covered gator ribs, or their rich and hearty gator stew.
If you are sans kids, then finish your day with a live music performance at their unique, outdoor concert venue, affectionately known as the "Skipperdome."
Don't let the shack-like exterior of Skipper's Smokehouse fool you: inside is full of yummy goodness — Photo courtesy of Skye Rodgers