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Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Tampa

Sunshine is a near constant in Florida’s coastal city of Tampa, which offers a breadth of fun-in-the-sun activities, from big amusement parks to boat tours. As a bonus for families, many of Tampa’s offerings are kid-friendly, including Busch Gardens Tampa Bay amusement park, the Lowry Park Zoo, and Big Cat Rescue animal sanctuary. Of course, the water is a key attraction, and a kayaking tour, a stand-up paddleboard excursion, or cruising out on the Tampa Bay or through the network of inland waterways should be on your agenda. As you take to the water, be on the lookout for manatees, fish, dolphins, and birds. For a more beachy experience, take a guided day trip from Tampa to nearby Clearwater Beach, or head to St. Petersburg beach for a chance to sink your toes into white sugar-like sand. Beat the heat in the Florida Aquarium, filled with 20,000 plants and animals, and know that you can pre-book tickets to scuba dive in its coral reef gallery. Dive deeper into biology, geology, and astrology at the Museum of Science and Industry, which includes 450 hands-on activities for kids that are equally educational and entertaining, in addition to an Imax theater, ropes course, and planetarium. Plan ahead and get a pass that allows entry into multiple attractions for one low price. To learn more about downtown Tampa’s beginnings, take a Ybor City food tour of the historic neighborhood, which pays homage to the city’s Spanish and Cuban roots.
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The Florida Aquarium
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The perfect place to take the entire family for an afternoon, the Florida Aquarium offers exciting views of nature within the comfort of an air-conditioned building. Home to more than 20,000 aquatic plants and animals, the aquarium offers 200,000 square feet (23,000 square meters) worth of fun and adventure.

If walking around the expansive building and enjoying the amazing wildlife wasn’t enough, the aquarium also has additional opportunities for more in depth exploration. Some of these family friendly attractions include a Swim with the Fishes Tour, Penguins: Backstage Pass opportunity, and a Wild Dolphin Ecotour.

If you ever want to head outside, the 2-acre "Explore a Shore" water adventure zone provides opportunities for the kids to cool off with water games while parents can relax under the shade of the Tampa Tribune Cantina bar and grill.

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ZooTampa at Lowry Park
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Home to a vast array of animals ranging from native Florida species to African wildlife, the Lowry Park Zoo is a must see for all animal and nature lovers. Rated the number one zoo in the U.S. by Parent's Magazine, and the number one child friendly zoo in the U.S. by Child Magazine, the Lowry Park Zoo is an ideal place for family's with young children.

The zoo features numerous exhibits including several hands on attractions. Children and adults alike can share in the experience of petting sting rays, feeding giraffes, or riding a camel. The zoo also recently expanded to include several children's rides including a merry-go-round.

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Sunshine Skyway Bridge
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This iconic Florida bridge is a testament to humankind’s architectural prowess and mother nature’s sheer beauty. Officially known as the Bob Graham Sunshine Skyway Bridge (named after the former Florida governor), it was built in 1954 and spans Tampa Bay with a 1,500-foot cable-stayed main span. The bridge’s height, expansive views of the surrounding bay and modern design landed it the No. 3 spot on the Travel Channel’s list of top bridges in the world. Those traveling to Tampa shouldn’t miss the chance to be impressed by this architectural wonder and the amazing views of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico it provides.

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Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
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If you want to scream your lungs out on a steel roller coaster, only to get off and come face to face with a giraffe, Busch Gardens is probably the place for you. An exciting and surprising hybrid between a zoo and a theme park, Busch Gardens perfectly blends the serene beauty of the wild with the thrilling excitement of amusement park rides. Half of the Gardens offers the attractions of an African safari, where one can see over 3,000 different animals spread out over the park's 335 acre (136 hectare) grounds. Animal attractions range from a bird observatory to a tug-of-war competition with a tiger. Just as diverse as the animal selection are the ride choices, which include huge roller coasters, a white water rapids ride, and a zip line, among many other options. There are also countless other shows, restaurants, and attractions sprinkled throughout the park, making it the perfect place for the entire family to enjoy a day of fun.
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Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI)
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The ideal destination for curious people of all ages, the Museum of Science & Industry offers numerous exhibits and attractions designed to pique one's scientific interest.

With over 450 hands-on attractions, MOSI offers a unique interactive experience to its visitors. Feel free to lie down on a "bed of nails," allow a butterfly to land on your shoulder in the "Bioworks Butterfly Garden," enjoy an astronomy show in the Saunders Planetarium, or take a ride on the famous "High Wire Bike," suspended on a cable 30 feet (9 meters) above the ground. No matter how daring you are or how interested in science, the museum offers engaging opportunities designed to draw in visitors of all ages. "Kids in Charge!,"the largest children's science center in the United States, is the perfect place to bring those in the 12-and-under crowd. The attractions there emphasize the value of learning through play by bringing together science and creative thinking, and inspiring the imagination.

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Tampa Big Cat Rescue

Looking for something more exciting and adventurous than sitting by the pool all day? Get up close and personal with some of the world's fiercest felines at Tampa's Big Cat Rescue, the world's largest accredited big cat rescue sanctuary. Big Cat Rescue is a nonprofit educational sanctuary devoted to rescuing and providing a permanent home for exotic (i.e. wild, not domestic) cats who have been abused, abandoned, bred to be pets, retired from performing acts, or saved from being slaughtered for fur coats.

The sanctuary is home to more than 100 big cat residents (over 14 different species), giving it the most diverse population of exotic cats in the world. Current residents include familiar species such as lions, tigers, bobcats, leopards, cougars, bobcats, and lynx, as well as more obscure ones such as ocelots, servals, caracals, and even a liger (a lion and tiger crossbreed).

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More Things to Do in Tampa

Clearwater Marine Aquarium

Clearwater Marine Aquarium

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Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA) was opened in 1972 as a marine biology learning center in Clearwater, Florida, about 40 minutes from both Tampa and St. Petersburg. Over the years, it has grown and expanded into a center for public education and animal care (their motto is "rescue, rehab, release") while retaining its focus on marine research.

CMA is perhaps most famous for one of its residents, a dolphin named Winter who, at three months old, got tangled in a crab trap line and was unable to escape. She was rescued and brought to CMA for rehabilitation, but her injuries were so serious that her tail had to be amputated, along with two vertebrae. The story has a happy ending, though. Through collaboration with a human prosthetics company, a marine veterinarian and the folks at CMA, Winter now has a prosthetic tail and she’s doing well. The film Dolphin Tale (2011) was based on Winter’s story; she still lives at CMA and can be visited at Winter's Dolphin Tale Adventure.

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Caladesi Island

Caladesi Island

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Honeymoon Island

Honeymoon Island

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Downtown Tampa

Downtown Tampa

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The central business district of this popular Florida destination is known by both travelers and locals as Downtown Tampa. This part of the city is ripe with a diverse arts and culture scene, as well as lively night life, dozens of museums and a handful of historic performances spaces.  Visitors can spend the afternoon exploring the impressive Florida Aquarium or the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts. The Glazer Children’s Museum, next to the Tampa Museum of Art, offers up plenty of interactive fun for the family set, and a stroll along the scenic river walk showcases striking views of the Tampa city skyline. Travelers who prefer an evening out on the town will find what they’re after in the Uptown District, where some of the city’s best restaurants and bars are located, while those in search of an urban escape can enjoy the outdoors in Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.

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Sunken Gardens

Sunken Gardens

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Sunken Gardens is a four-acre botanical garden located in the heart of St. Petersburg, Florida. At more than 100 years old, it’s recognized as St. Petersburg’s oldest living museum and is home to over 50,000 tropical plants, representing more than 500 species, along with flamingos and other exotic birds.

Look for various areas like a Japanese garden, cactus garden, butterfly garden, and the Chilean flamingo garden. Stop at scenic points like the Wishing Well, Photo Ring, waterfall, and the Wedding Lawn. Don’t miss the Growing Stone, a fossilized limestone rock has a sign that says: “Legend has it that ‘he who sits upon the ancient stone shall be granted tranquility, inner harmony and the talent to make things grow.’” Sadly, the flamingo population at Sunken Gardens has dwindled. There is a non-profit fundraising campaign currently underway to raise money in order to bring 20 more flamingos to Sunken Gardens.

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Alafia River State Park

Alafia River State Park

Mountain bikers rejoice! Alafia State Park is the perfect destination for off-road bikers, with unique topography that contributes to some of Florida’s most extreme elevation changes. Located on what was once a phosphate mining site, Alafia State Park is home to 17 miles of bike trails, with difficulty ranging from beginner to advanced levels. Other activities to enjoy at Alafia River State Park include kayaking and canoeing, hiking and geo caching.

Alafia River State Park is also a unique spot to share with your four legged buddies. No, not your dog: your horse. With 20 miles of equestrian trails to explore (hikers can also enjoy these trails), you and Black Beauty can traverse over hills, through the woods and around lakes. At the end of the day, you can even camp with your equine friend. Twelve of the campsites in the campground are equipped for equestrian campers. Available on a first-come, first-served basis, there is no additional fee to stall your horse.

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Little Manatee River State Park

Little Manatee River State Park

Little Manatee River State Park is located near Sun City, Florida, and is a popular spot for camping and a wide range of outdoor activities. It’s nearly 40 miles long and is part of the Cockroach Bay Aquatic Preserve. Little Manatee River State Park sits along of the banks of its namesake river, which has been designated an “Outstanding Florida Water.”

Wildlife visible in the area includes warblers, Florida scrub jays, whitetail deer, bobcats, American alligators, turtles, nine-banded armadillos, manatees, North American river otters and more. No matter whether you’re visiting Little Manatee River State Park for the day or looking at camping overnight, there is no shortage of activities to keep you busy during your stay. Fishing, kayaking, and canoeing are certainly popular pastimes at the park. Typical fish in Little Manatee River include bass, bream, and catfish.

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Port Tampa Bay

Port Tampa Bay

The attractive city of Tampa is wrapped around a gleaming waterfront that just happens to be Florida's most important port. Fine dining, sunny weather, outstanding nightlife, and attractions aplenty make this one of the USA's most enjoyable cities. Whether you're in Tampa for a day or much longer, you'll feel like you're on vacation even before you embark on one of the many cruises through the Western Caribbean, offering all sorts of cruises along the stunning Mexican Coast.

Two of the most popular attractions are right across from the Port of Tampa's Terminal 2 (Carnival Cruise Terminal), The Florida Aquarium and Channelside Bay Plaza, a popular shopping and entertainment complex. Taxis can take you downtown or to the surrounding beaches and attractions, though more adventurous souls could use the TECO Line Streetcar, which connects the cruise terminals to Ybor City and downtown, connecting to HARTline buses around the city and bay.

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