Filled to the brim with beaches, amusement parks, and long sunny days, Florida is one of America’s most fabulous playgrounds—and the Tampa Bay area is no exception. Headed to Tampa with kids? There’s no shortage of places for the little ones to learn and play, from the Florida Aquarium to the inviting beaches of the Gulf Coast.
Tampa with Kids: The Best Family Activities
Below are 10 fun activities to try in Tampa with kids.
Start in downtown Tampa at the Florida Aquarium, located next to the cruise terminal. Kids will be entranced by sea creatures of all kinds, from baby alligators and playful otters to scary sharks. There are several touch tanks for children who love to get up close and personal—but if anyone really wants to get their feet wet, check out the “Swim with the Fishes” program. Kids 6 and older can go snorkeling in the aquarium’s coral reef exhibit, getting a fish’s-eye view of hundreds of angelfish, parrotfish, moray eels, and other sea life.
Busch Gardens is the biggest Tampa attraction for families, brimming with adventure and activity for all ages. The African-themed park boasts a Serengeti Safari, a Congo River Rapids ride, and a Tiger Insider tour that lets you meet the animals and their keepers. There are plenty of roller coasters, too, such as SheiKra, which features two stomach-churning, 90-degree drops of over 100 feet. But the rides are only part of the story; the park’s large collection of African animals includes hippos, lions, zebras, elephants, and giraffes, among others. If anyone needs a break, take in a show at one of the park’s several theaters.
Museum of Science and Industry
A visit to the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) is one of the most educational family activities in Tampa, but don’t tell the kids—they’ll be too busy testing their bravery in a roller coaster simulator, gazing up at the sky in the planetarium, and discovering what it feels like to be buffeted by hurricane-force winds. You can also take in a show in the IMAX theater.
It’s worth the drive to check out Dinosaur World in Plant City, Florida. At this outdoor museum kids can go on a fossil dig, test their knowledge of dinosaur trivia at a game show, and check out life-size dinosaur skeletons.
Don’t feel like you’ve “done” Florida without seeing some sun and sand? If so, head for Clearwater Beach, about a 40-minute drive from Tampa on the Gulf Coast. This wide, white beach boasts some of the softest sand in the country, but there’s way more to do than just build sandcastles (though that’s fun, too!). During the day, set sail from Clearwater Marina with a rowdy crew of buccaneers and wenches aboard Captain Memo’s pirate ship. Kids can practice their “aarrrrr!” and “ahoy matey!” to their hearts’ content as they keep an eye out for dolphins. In the evening, don’t miss Sunsets at Pier 60, a festival that celebrates the Gulf Coast’s gorgeous sunsets every night with live music, street performers, and other family fun.
Other Tampa Beaches
Beyond Clearwater, the Tampa area has numerous other white sand beaches where kids can play. Indian Rocks Beach, along Gulf Boulevard, is conveniently accessible from the city (and there are plenty of restaurants nearby). At St. Pete Beach you can rent a Jet Ski, or go SCUBA diving, parasailing, or fishing. If you’re seeking solitude, head to the quiet sands of Caladesi Island State Park, on one of Florida’s last undeveloped barrier islands (it’s accessible by ferry from Honeymoon Island).
If you’re visiting Tampa with kids who love animals, you have a number of fun options, including the Lowry Park Zoo, the Manatee Viewing Center at Tampa Electric (open part of the year only), and the Big Cat Rescue Center, which saves lions, tigers, bobcats, and more from situations such as performing acts or misguided pet owners. You’ll melt when you see some of the rescued marine animals, such as Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, sea turtles, and otters, at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. The most popular critter is Winter the dolphin, who starred in the movie “Dolphin Tale.”
See who’s up at bat during spring training—since several Major League teams call this part of the world home in February and March. The Phillies are based in Clearwater, the Blue Jays play in Dunedin, and the Yankees have set up shop in Tampa. It’s a fun outing for travelers visiting Tampa with kids who love sports.
Stroll through St. Petersburg’s bloom-filled Sunken Gardens to see an exotic collection of more than 50,000 tropical flowers and plants. Don’t miss the butterfly garden.
For all things nature just 25 minutes from Tampa and close to Busch Gardens, take the two-hour or full-day Canoe Escape down the Hillsborough River through a 16,000-acre wildlife preserve. You’ll paddle down “alligator alley,” where dozens of gators, including some 11-footers, sunbathe on logs and dive into the river from the river’s banks. Tour guides also point out snakes, turtles, river otters, fish, and birds of prey as they relax in their natural habitat. Hourly rentals also are available.
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