Best Things to Do in December in Tampa

Enjoy the Sunshine and the Season this December in Tampa

While our neighbors to the north are huddled in bulky winter clothes scraping their car windows, everyone in Tampa is enjoying warm temperatures and lots of sunshine without the sticky heat of summer. You may not find snow skis or toboggans, but there are plenty of fun and novel ways to celebrate the season. Check out this list of the 10 best things to do this December in Tampa and find the activities perfect for you.

Tampa is a beautiful city all year long, but in December she dons her holiday finery! To get the best view, try an evening stroll along the Riverwalk. From Armatureworks in the north, to Sparkman Wharf in the south, and Curtis Hixon Park in the middle, there are inspiring displays of festive lights and decorations.

Busch Gardens Tampa provides families a festive way to rekindle that holiday feeling with their top-rated annual Christmas Town event. As the sun goes down, the lights go on, and you're immersed in a holiday wonderland full of the sights, sounds and smells of Christmas. Even better, Christmas Town is included in the price of admission.


TPC of Tampa Bay
Photo courtesy of Skye Rodgers

If you took a poll of golfers in Tampa, chances are they will name TPC of Tampa Bay as the toughest public access golf course in the region. This award-winning course is part of the PGA Tour's Tournament Players Club network and was designed by Bobby Weed with PGA professional, Chi Chi Rodriguez. The 6,800 yards from the TPC tees doesn't quite tell the tale of a course that weaves in and out of wetlands, woodlands, and lakes. Although a relatively flat course, many of the greens have considerable drop-offs so a missed shot will have you chipping back on. Bring your "A" game if you want to tee it up like the pros.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: A round of golf at the award-wining TPC of Tampa Bay is the perfect way for golfers to celebrate December's mild temperatures.

Skye's expert tip: Because of its pedigree, a round of golf here is on the expensive side, especially during the winter months.

Read more about TPC of Tampa Bay →

The largest of all Tampa area flea markets, the Big Top is a colorful, festival-like market with over 500 vendors and more than 1,200 booths. The market is organized around a central hub with a food court that offers a variety of carnival-style concessions. Off the main hub is building after building of vendor stalls. Some of the market is inside, some is outside, so this is a good winter activity. You can find almost anything your heart desires including plants, sun glasses, toys, artwork, rugs, kitchen utensils, jewelry, clothing, fresh produce, collectibles, and even pets. Make an offer and make out like a bandit!

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Tampa's mild December temperatures make it a pleasure to spend the day holiday shopping and hunting for bargains at the Big Top flea market.

Skye's expert tip: The market covers 36 acres so make sure to bring your walking shoes and and take note of where you parked.

Read more about Big Top Flea Market →

Tampa's Pirate Water Taxi travels the city's downtown waterways and offers visitors and residents an easy and convenient way to visit downtown parks, museums, restaurants, and other attractions. The large, comfortable vessels offer seating for up to 46 and have restroom facilities. There is also a limited beverage menu available on board including beer and wine. There are currently 17 stops and guests are able to hop on and hop off all day for one low price. Time to navigate between the farthest stops beginning at Rick's on the River and ending at the Columbia Cafe on Garrison Channel is approximately 45 minutes to an hour. Check their website for maps of the stops and a handy guide to the nearby attractions. Tickets can be bought at any stop, just look for their distinctive yellow and black sign on the docks along the route.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: A fun and flexible way to explore the sights and attractions of downtown Tampa is by hopping on and off the Pirate Water Taxi.

Skye's expert tip: During December, book an after-dark River of Lights Holiday Cruise. A 45-minute trip complete with Dickens Carolers and holiday treats.

Read more about Pirate Water Taxi →

Outside the city
Clearwater Beach
Photo courtesy of Valeria Hernandez

Clearwater Beach is a very popular and busy beach that has been voted the "Best Beach Town in Florida" by USA Today readers. In addition to meticulously groomed beaches and tons of beach amenities, Clearwater Beach offers many additional attractions. Fishing, dolphin-watching and leisure charters are available close-by. You can also visit the famous dolphin, Winter, who lives at the nearby Clearwater Aquarium. Some of the best seafood restaurants in the Tampa Bay area are found here including perennial favorite, Frenchy's. There are also a wide variety of clubs and nightlife including two-story dance club, The Wave, at Shepherd's Beach Resort. There are always events going on and every evening people gather at The Pier to take part in the sunset celebration that includes entertainment and a craft market.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: A visit to Tampa in December would not be complete without going to the beach at least once and Clearwater Beach is a popular choice.

Skye's expert tip: Parking can get tight - it's a good idea to get there early and be prepared to walk with your stuff.

Read more about Clearwater Beach →

Beloved by locals and visitors alike, ZooTampa at Lowry Park 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. The 56-acre nonprofit zoo is home to 1,300 animals and emphasizes regionally endangered species and those in similar climates. 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. Going in the morning is a good idea, especially in the summer. Not only do you avoid the heat, but the animals also tend to be more lively.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Cooler temps during the day make December a great time to visit ZooTampa or come in the evening for their Christmas in the Wild event.

Skye's expert tip: After 4 pm on select nights in December, visitors can enjoy the holiday-themed Christmas in the Wild with sparkling lights, special treats, and of course, Santa!

Read more about ZooTampa at Lowry Park →

David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts
Photo courtesy of Skye Rodgers

The Straz Center is Tampa's world-class center for the performing arts that hosts most of the area's major cultural performances. Here you can enjoy performances from the Florida Orchestra and Opera Tampa as well as popular music greats such as Lena Horn and the Isley Brothers. The Straz also hosts a full calendar of Broadway musicals. The facility is modern and beautiful with a variety of venues. The largest and most impressive is the 2,610 seat Carol Morsani Hall that features state-of-the-art acoustics and a 120 foot stage. In addition to another, smaller concert hall, the 268 seat Jaeb Theater can be set up cabaret style for more intimate performances.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Nothing says the holidays like a night at the theater and Tampa's Straz Center always has a full schedule of world-class holiday performances during December.

Skye's expert tip: This year the big Broadway draw is Disney's Aladdin, and there are also holiday-themed performances by the local Florida Orchestra and Patel Conservatory.

Read more about David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts →

Henry B. Plant Museum
Photo courtesy of Skye Rodgers

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.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: From December 1 - 23, the Henry B. Plant Museum hosts a charming and festive Victorian Christmas Stroll that takes visitors on a nostalgic journey through holidays past.

Skye's expert tip: During their Victorian Christmas Stroll, the Museum Store is a treasure trove of old-fashioned Christmas decor and gifts.

Read more about Henry B. Plant Museum →

Tampa Riverwalk
Photo courtesy of Skye Rodgers

The Tampa Riverwalk is a scenic exploration of the downtown waterfront and connects many of the city's most popular attractions, parks, and restaurants. The broad paved path follows the banks of the Hillsborough River and Garrison Channel and is easily accessible to everyone including the disabled, kids, and furry friends. There are also many ways to navigate the Riverwalk which accommodates walkers, joggers, and bikers. A few of the landmarks you will pass include the Heights Public Market, Waterworks Park, Tampa Museum of Art, Curtis Hixon Park, the Convention Center, and the Tampa Bay History Center. Along the way, you can discover numerous interpretive exhibits highlighting Tampa's history and 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.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Exploring Tampa's Riverwalk, a popular walkway that links the city's top attractions, is an especially pleasant way to enjoy the cooler December temperatures.

Skye's expert tip: Visit after dark to enjoy all the festive holiday lights located both on the walkway and at attractions along the way!

Read more about Tampa Riverwalk →

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
Photo courtesy of Skye Rodgers

Wild animals and wilder rides await visitors to 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 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.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: In December at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay you can ride roller coasters during the day and enjoy festive Christmas Town after dark.

Skye's expert tip: Christmas Town, the park's after-dark holiday extravaganza, is included in the price of regular park admission

Read more about Busch Gardens Tampa Bay →

Tampa's great weather can sometimes make it difficult to get into the holiday spirit for those used to the snow and cold. Inject a cheerful chill into your holiday celebrations at Winter Village located downtown along the beautiful riverfront. Consisting of an outdoor ice rink, cafe, and pop-up market, this event brings the sights, sounds, and tastes of the season. Enjoy some family ice time with a 90 minute skate costing $14 and includes skate rentals. The Cafe offers seasonal snacks and kid-friendly beverages to enjoy, and the pop-up market features local vendors and artisans with gift ideas including decorations, apparel, handmade toys, jewelry, dog accessories, and more! This event takes place from November 16 through January 5.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: The Winter Village at Curtis Hixon Park is the location of Tampa's Christmas tree and many festive events and activities during December.

Skye's expert tip: Make sure to take a holiday-themed TECO Streetcar ride from downtown to Ybor City - it's fun AND free!

Read more about Winter Village at Curtis Hixon Park →


Meet Skye Rodgers

Skye is a freelance writer that adopted Tampa as her hometown over a decade ago and never looked back. As a native of Canada, Skye has happily embraced the no snow climate, and in her spare time...  More About Skye