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 minarets 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.
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.
A charming historic haven set in modern-day Tampa, this living history museum, located on the Florida State Fairgrounds, recreates life in a rural 1890s Floridian town. Named after the Florida "Crackers" who were 19th century, cow-herding pioneers, the museum features 13 authentic buildings dating from 1870 to 1912. The buildings were moved from their original locations and restored on-site. As visitors explore, interpreters demonstrate trades such as blacksmithing, spinning, storytelling and soap making. On select Saturdays, the "Discover the Past" program offers seasonal hands-on activities like butter churning, rope making and crop planting, so come prepared to party, 19th-century style.
The Tampa Firefighters Museum is located in downtown Tampa next to Tampa Fire Rescue Station One. Built in 1911, the beautifully restored building served as the Fire Department Headquarters until 1974. A tribute to all those who have served and continue to serve the city of Tampa, the 18,000 square foot facility is designed to preserve the history of the fire department and to promote fire safety and prevention throughout the community. Included among the historical exhibits and interactive educational displays is an early fire wagon looking as bright and shiny as the day it was made, and a piece of metal recovered from the World Trade Towers on 9/11.
This much-loved theme park/dinosaur museum located just outside Tampa in nearby Plant City is home to over 150 life-size dinosaurs include an animatronic scene featuring a Brachiosaurus, Triceratops and Pterodactyl among others. Ideal for both little dino enthusiasts and "big kids" still fascinated by the prehistoric giants. After coming face-to-teeth with the magnificent model dinosaurs, realistically set amidst lush native vegetation, you can become paleontologists and sift through a dig in search of fossils to take home. There is also a mining/excavation experience for the gem hunters among you. Guests are also invited to bring lunch or order pizza to munch on in the subterranean picnic area.
Conveniently located close to downtown and adjacent to the Florida Aquarium, the American Victory Ship is one of Tampa's hidden gems. One of only four WWII ships that are fully-functioning, the Ship is a memorial to the dedicated men and women of the American Merchant Fleet. Almost all areas of the Ship are open to investigation, including the bridge, weaponry, galley and mess halls, crew cabins and Captain's quarters, radio and gyro rooms, and much more. Visitors are given the unique opportunity to experience the living and working conditions of the sailors. Interpretive exhibits fill in the blanks through the display of artifacts, photos, uniforms and medals.
Fantasy of Flight is slightly off the beaten path, but an absolute must-see for anyone who is at all interested in flying. Here you can view the world's largest privately-owned collection of vintage aircraft. The lovingly restored planes are housed in three huge hangers alongside permanent displays and interactive exhibits about aviation history. Waldo Wrights Flying Service will also offer bi-plane rides for an additional fee. Owned by aerobatics competitor and aircraft designer, Kevin Weeks whose mission is to inspire a love of aviation in us all. Currently the museum is housed in a temporary facility while the attraction is expanded.
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 Tampa cigar industry-related objects. 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.
Kids have so much fun here that the adults end up accidentally having some as well. If you've never been to a children's museum, it's not like an adult museum. It's loud, rambunctious, and exciting for all kids. There are many hands-on exhibits designed for exploration, such as a kid-sized grocery store, airplane, and cruise ship. In other words, it's the best game of pretend they will ever experience. The best strategy is to let them guide you around the facility. You won't believe what your child will show interest in while they're here! Fun for the whole family, but kids under 11 or so will enjoy it the most.
MOSI is Tampa's popular science and industry museum packed with fun activities and interactive learning experiences. The facility houses a collection permanent exhibits that cover all disciplines of science including biology, anatomy, physics, and meteorology. There is also a large space to host major touring exhibits. Outside is a ropes course and zip line adventure along with a playground and nature trail that highlights Florida flora and fauna. The entrance fee covers the permanent exhibits, but you can add entrance into the touring exhibit, a stargazing show in the Saunders Planetarium, or access to the ropes course for additional charges.