Tampa Offers Tons of Free Fun for Visitors

Photo courtesy of Skye Rodgers
Photo courtesy of Dylan Stinson/Film Tampa Bay
Photo courtesy of Skye Rodgers
By Skye Rodgers, Tampa Local Expert

Tampa offers plenty for visitors to do and see without spending a dime. Year-round sunshine and warmer temperatures make for lots of free outdoor activities, but there are also tempting indoor attractions to choose from as well. To help you make the most of your vacation dollar, 10 Best has put together a list of the top free things to do while you're in Tampa.

Tops on our list is the Tampa Riverwalk. Part scenic walkway, part history lesson, this 2.5 mile trail is studded with small parks and hugs the downtown waterfront, passing most of the city's most popular attractions including the Tampa Museum of Art and the Florida Aquarium. There are also plenty of resting spots along the way where you can enjoy a beverage or a bite to eat.  

In the winter months, the Manatee Viewing Center is a popular free activity. Attracted by the warm waters generated by the nearby power plant, manatees congregate to enjoy a respite from the cooler bay waters. An observation deck and information area allow visitors to enjoy these gentle and intriguing animals.

Whatever your interests, from history to nature, there are opportunities to enjoy yourself in Tampa for FREE!

10. J. C. Newman Cigar Company
Photo courtesy of Infrogmation

The J. C. Newman Cigar Company was founded in 1915 by Julius Ceasar Newman as a one-man operation in Ohio. The company grew and flourished and in the mid-50s, J.C. decided to relocate to Tampa to pursue his dream of producing a premium cigar line. A relative latecomer to Tampa's cigar industry, J.C. Newman took over another cigar factory, the Regensburg factory, which had been built in 1920 as one of the last and largest cigar factories built in Tampa. Known for its famous clock tower with hourly chimes, the factory was nicknamed El Reloj, Spanish for "The Clock." Today the clock has been refurbished and the factory remains as Ybor City's last operating cigar factory and features a small museum and cigar shop.

9. Tampa Firefighters Museum
Photo courtesy of Skye Rodgers

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.

8. Lettuce Lake Regional Park
Photo courtesy of naql

Lettuce Lake Regional Park is located along the Hillsborough River about half an hour north of downtown Tampa. The river at this point is in its natural state, untouched by houses and development giving visitors a chance to experience natural Florida at its best. The park features 240 acres of wooded picnic areas, a playground and a paved path for bikes and joggers complete with a fitness course. A haven for nature lover lovers and bird watchers, the park features an amazing 3,500 foot boardwalk and observation tower where visitors can view a variety of wildlife. Visit the interpretive center for exhibits on the local birds, vegetation, and animals. Saturdays and Sundays at 8:30am the park features a free guided nature walk. You can also explore the river by canoe and kayak as the features a boat launch and rentals. There is a nominal charge of $2 per car.

7. Yuengling Brewing Co
Photo courtesy of Yuengling Brewing Co

A must-visit among breweries in Tampa, FL, Yuengling Brewing Co. is the perfect afternoon excursion. This brewery's roughly hour-long tour walks patrons through the meticulous process of crafting delectable brews for America's oldest beer company. There are usually three tours a day, but check their website for specific times. Not to disappoint, all tours end with a stop at the "biergarten" where patrons can sample fresh-brewed Yuengling standards like their Black and Tan, Porter, Lord Chesterfield Ale and signature Traditional Lager. Visitors can also visit the newly built brewhouse and gift shop.

6. Ben T. Davis Beach
Photo courtesy of Dylan Stinson/Film Tampa Bay

If you're vacationing in Tampa and are looking for a beach close-by that offers powdery white sand for lounging, calm water for cooling off and shelters for picnics, then Davis Beach is for you. This is the closest beach to downtown Tampa and the locals' favorite tailgate spot. Davis offers ideal proximity to the airport for travelers who value efficiency. Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings see the beach populated by local volleyball players. This is one of the best spots in town to watch the sunset and is located adjacent to the new Courtney Campbell Trail, a four-mile biking and pedestrian bridge. Lifeguards are on duty from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

5. Manatee Viewing Center
Photo courtesy of amanderson2

Once believed to be mermaids, docile manatees are now an endangered species. In winter, when ocean temperatures drop, they flock to the heated water discharged from Tampa Bay's power plant. From the observation platform, visitors can watch the marine mammals bask in the warm water, enjoying a respite from the cool bay. An educational building, complete with mini-theater, instructs visitors on the habits and lives of manatees while outside, nature trails wind along the banks and through picnic areas. Vending machines are available on the premises, and a gift shop sells related merchandise. Excursions generally take 1.5 to 2 hours.

4. Fourth Friday
Photo courtesy of Fourth Friday

On the fourth Friday of every month from 5pm - 8pm, downtown Tampa throws open its doors and offers a huge selection of free activities and free access to top cultural and historic attractions. Gain admission to the festivities by picking up a free wristband from any of the event's participants and enjoy. Attractions and activities vary from month to month but may include free admission to the Tampa Museum of Art, Tampa Bay History Center, and Tampa Theatre, and live local music can be enjoyed at multiple locations. Food and drink specials are also offered at many downtown locales. No need to drive, visitors can stroll the Riverwalk, take advantage of the Downtowner shuttles, Pirate Water Taxi rides, or Coast Bike rentals (free for 1 hour).

3. Ybor City Visitor Center
Photo courtesy of Ybor City Visitor Center

Located in the heart of Tampa's historic district, the Ybor City Visitor Center is the perfect place to start your exploration of this charming neighborhood. Operated by the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce, the Visitor Center offers free attraction maps and expert advice on where to go and what to see. There is also an abundance of other Tampa travel-related brochures and pamphlets. Take some time to explore the small museum and video presentation to provide some background and context to the colorful history of what was once known as the "Cigar Capital of the World." This is also a good spot to shop for authentic and local souvenirs of your visit.

2. Bayshore Boulevard
Photo courtesy of Roller Coaster Philosophy

Yes, a sidewalk is one of Tampa's best attractions. Before you start with the jokes, this is a very special sidewalk. Running from just north of MacDill Air Force Base to downtown Tampa along Hillsborough Bay, 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 many people walking, jogging, biking, and rollerblading down the nearly flat pavement. With the water 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.

1. Tampa Riverwalk
Photo courtesy of Skye Rodgers

The Tampa Riverwalk is a scenic exploration of the downtown riverfront. A good place to start is the Straz Center for Performing Arts, however, you can join the walk from anywhere along the route (see their website for a map). The Riverwalk takes you past most of the popular downtown attractions including the Tampa Museum of Art, Curtis Hixon Park, the Convention Center, the Tampa Bay History Center, and the Channelside Bay Plaza, before ending at the Florida Aquarium. Along the way you will pass interpretive exhibits highlighting Tampa's history and numerous public art exhibits. The path is almost 3 miles long, but there are plenty of spots to stop for a rest and grab a drink or a quick bite along the way.