To experience Florida nature without having to drive very far out of town, Hillsborough River State Park is your best bet. Located upriver from downtown Tampa in northeastern Hillsborough County, this is one of Florida's oldest and most popular state parks. The list of things to do here is expansive, starting with both full-facility and primitive camping. Canoes and kayaks can be rented to go down the river. There are also numerous picnic areas, a public pool, bike rentals and numerous hiking trails. If you're lucky, you will be able to spot some native Florida wildlife from Great Blue Herons to alligators.
Yes, a sidewalk is one of Tampa's best attractions. However, this is a very special sidewalk. Running from MacDill Air Force Base to downtown Tampa, the sidewalk that runs along Bayshore Boulevard is the longest continuous sidewalk in the US. It is also south Tampa's unofficial gym, where at all hours of the day you can find people walking, jogging, biking, and rollerblading down the nearly flat pavement. With water and skyline views on one side and some of Tampa's most expensive real estate on the other, the scenery can't be beat. It's also the location of our most important celebration, the annual Gasparilla parade in late January.
The Tampa Museum of Art is a boldly designed riverfront museum housing six temporary exhibits and an extensive permanent collection of Greek and Roman antiquities and 20th-century sculpture. After browsing the galleries, visitors can wander through the serene riverfront sculpture garden before indulging in cool, creamy gelato at Sono Cafe. Check out their beautiful museum shop where you can find unique gifts and souvenirs of your visit. The museum is very much a part of the community and offers an extensive program of events from art classes to Buddhist meditation. Every Friday from 4 pm - 10 pm, the Tampa Museum of Art hosts Art on the House featuring pay-as-you-will admission.
Built in 1891 by railroad magnate Henry B. Plant, this history museum is located in what was originally the Tampa Bay Hotel, an extravagant resort that drew such guests as Teddy Roosevelt and Babe Ruth. Now home to the University of Tampa, Plant's accomplishment is made all the more amazing when you realize that when it was built, the hotel was surrounded only by swampland. Now exquisitely restored, the hotel's striking architecture, lavish furnishings and vibrant gardens provide a rare glimpse into the early years of Florida tourism. Sure, it makes returning to a modern-day hotel room a bit sad, but this Moorish beauty is a definite must-see.
ZooTampa at Lowry Park is beloved by locals and visitors alike featuring 1,300 animals with an emphasis on regional endangered species and those in similar climates. This 56-acre nonprofit zoo has been voted the #1 Family Friendly Zoo in the country by Parents Magazine and is a five-time winner of the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence. All of your favorites are here, including African species like giraffes, rhinos, and hippos, Asian animals like lions and tigers, as well as animals native to Florida, such as various species of alligator and crocodile. Once they've made their way around to all of the animals, the kids can play in the Australian-themed children's area that includes rides and other games.
Built to preserve and celebrate Ybor City's colorful history, this museum is a highlight of any visit to Tampa's national historic district. Once known as the "Cigar Capital of the World," cigars were big business and had an incredible economic impact on the area. Housed in the renovated historic Ferlita Bakery, the museum boasts both temporary and permanent exhibits that illustrate how the immigrant cigar workers and their families lived and worked, creating a unique social life and community institutions. Outside you can explore the peaceful 19th-century-style garden and tour a "casita," representative of a typical cigar worker's home.
The Tampa Bay History Center, a 60,000-square-foot waterfront museum, presents 12,000 years of Tampa Bay history through innovative, interactive exhibits that engage visitors of all ages. Visitors can explore a vast array of Seminole artifacts, learn about the Spanish conquistadors, browse a 1920s-era cigar store, and view over 1,000 ojbects related to Tampa's history as the cigar capital of the world. There is a wonderful museum gift store where you can find unique Tampa souvenirs and if you're hungry, try the onsite Columbia Cafe. Sister to the famous Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City, this version serves many of the same Spanish delicacies.
One of the best aquariums in the southeast, this 250,000 square foot attraction explores aquatic environments around the world featuring more than 20,000 plants and animals in both fresh and saltwater environments. Exhibits document the movement of water from wetlands to ocean and include a million-gallon coral reef display that houses over 200 species of fish. Other areas of the aquarium showcase river otters, alligators, deep sea fish. Kids will love the "touch" experiences where they can get up close with stingrays, horseshoe crabs, urchins, and starfish. Also popular are the twice daily Penguin Meet & Greets featuring African black-footed penguins. A gift shop and restaurant are on the premises. Check their website for admission prices as they offer Plan-Ahead Pricing.
Wild animals and wilder rides await visitors at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. The 335-acre Africa-inspired theme park's six infamous roller coasters, 2,000-plus animals and entertaining live shows provide truly unforgettable thrills. There is something for kids of all age at this world-class park. Adventure lovers can brave SheiKra, a floorless dive coaster with a 200-foot, 90-degree plunge while animal enthusiasts might enjoy hand-feeding kangaroos and wallabies at Walkabout Way or enjoying majestic views of free-roaming giraffes, zebras and white rhinos on the Serengeti Railway. Be prepared to walk in order to explore all areas of the park. There are several restaurants and numerous vendors throughout the park to keep you fueled on your journey.
The Tampa Riverwalk is a scenic exploration of the downtown riverfront. A good place to start is the Tampa Bay History Center, however, you can join the walk from anywhere along the route (see their website for a map). The Riverwalk takes you past many popular downtown attractions including the Straz Center for Performing Arts, Tampa Museum of Art, Curtis Hixon Park, and the Convention Center among others. Along the way you will pass interpretive exhibits highlighting Tampa's history and numerous public art exhibits. The path is almost 2.5 miles long, but there are plenty of spots to stop for a rest and grab a drink or a quick bite along the way.