March 30, 2015

My Tampa Bay Bucket List

The great thing about living in Omaha is that the cost of living makes travel affordable. The not-so-great thing? All the prime destinations are typically a layover away…at least.

So then Allegiant Air comes along and says, hey, Omaha, no more layovers to prime destinations. Travel with us and you can fly directly to sunny Tampa.

This is a new concept for me. Three hours and I’m near a beach (technically, you fly into St. Pete–Clearwater International Airport, which means I’m even closer to the beach). No layovers + a competitive ticket price? Holla!

I was invited by Allegiant Air to try this new nonstop flight out with my family, and I had to jump at the chance. I’ve ever been to Tampa. I could be swimming with manatees in, like, four hours or something.

Then I had a good laugh. I’m traveling with two small kids. Nothing’s fast with two small kids. We’d probably still be deboarding the plane in four hours.

Then I started planning. There’s a lot we could do in the Tampa Bay area in three days.

 

Tampa Bucket List

 

My Tampa Bay Bucket List

1. Beach Beach Beach

We arrive at St. Petersburg/Clearwater International Airport, 11 miles from Clearwater Beach, No. 8 on TripAdvisor’s 2015 Traveler’s Choice Awards of the Top U.S. Beaches. Also not far away, No. 2 on that list, St. Pete Beach.

 

A pirate ship off Clearwater Beach. Looks like a family's paradise. Photo courtesy Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater

Captain Memo’s Pirate Cruise spotted off Clearwater Beach. Looks like a family’s paradise. Photo courtesy VisitStPeteClearwater.com

 

More beaches in the area? Fort DeSoto Park and Anclote Key Preserve State Park, which both won two USA Today awards in 2014: Best Family Beach 2014 and Best Hidden-Gem Beach 2014, respectively. Parents.com quoted one person saying that North Beach at Fort Desoto Park was like “nature’s wading pool…The gentle gulf water and gradual slope makes it perfect for little kids.”

 

Ft. Desoto Park has been deemed the best beach in America by Dr. Beach...so it must be true. Photo courtesy VISIT FLORIDA

Fort Desoto Park. North Beach at the park was named the 2014 Best Family Beach by USA Today.  Take me there, now. Photo courtesy VISIT FLORIDA

 

My goal is also to take the kids to Sunsets at Pier 60 at Clearwater Beach. It sounds like a fun, nightly festival experience with live music and street performers, and artisans selling their stuff. Plus, on the weekends, there’s a free, family-friendly outdoor movie each night.

 

Sunsets at Pier 60 turns this pier into a festival-like atmosphere, with street performers, live music and artisans. Photo courtesy Visit St. Pete/Clearwater

Sunsets at Pier 60 turns this pier into a festival-like atmosphere, with street performers, live music and artisans. Photo courtesy VisitStPeteClearwater.com

 

2. See a manatee and dolphin

I will be on the hunt for manatees while I’m there, since I’ve never seen this sea cow and would love to see it in its natural habitat. If we make it to Fort DeSoto Park, I read that we should try kayaking in the mangroves to spot them. Or, we can head to the FREE TECO Manatee Viewing Center.

 

Another view of Fort DeSoto Park with Sunshine Skyway Bridge in the background. Photo courtesy Visit St. Pete/Clearwater

Another view of Fort DeSoto Park with Sunshine Skyway Bridge in the background. Photo courtesy VisitSt PeteClearwater.com

I found a list of other places in Florida to possibly see them in the wild here.

We could just head to Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo, which has the Florida Manatee and Aquatic Center. They have the world’s only non-profit manatee hospital.

Side note: This zoo was named the No. 1 zoo for families in the US by Child and Parents magazines.

As for dolphins, I think we’ll have more luck seeing them. Several boat tours out of Clearwater Beach promise to create wakes that attract dolphins. Two such tours are Little Toot, a tug boat looking thing, and Seascreamer, a large speedboat.

If your kids love “A Dolphin Tale,” you can get your celebrity dolphin fix at Clearwater Marine Aquarium, home to the Winter, the dolphin who inspired the movie.

A celebrity sighting in Clearwater. That's Winter, for those not in the know. Photo courtesy Vist St. Pete/Clearwater

A celebrity sighting in Clearwater. That’s Winter, for those not in the know. Photo courtesy VistStPeteClearwater.com

 

3. Eat good “only in Tampa” food

It’s Florida, folks. We’re going to have good seafood and Cuban food while we’re there (preferably with waterfront seating, right?). Where’s the best place to get a Cuban sandwich? I heard they originated in Tampa.

Beyond Cuban sandwiches, I’m looking for only-in-Tampa kind of places, like, Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City. It’s Florida’s oldest restaurant serving Spanish food and offering nightly Flamenco dancing shows six days a week.

One of The Columbia’s signature dishes, Paella "A la Valenciana." Pair some sangria

One of The Columbia’s signature dishes, Paella “A la Valenciana.” Pair some sangria and you’re set. Photo courtesy Columbia Restaurant

 

I’ve been scouting “best of Tampa” lists like 15 Tampa Restaurants That Will Blow The Taste Buds Out Of Your Mouth, but I would love some recommendations on places that not only serve great food, but I’d feel comfortable bringing small kids to. Thoughts on Al’s Finger-Licking BBQ and Taco Bus, anyone? What about the divine-looking donuts and pastries at Dough? I might sneak into William Dean Chocolates without the kids to get myself an edible work of art (‘cuz I don’t share).

If you have a recommendation of where we should go, please leave a comment!

4. Check out some kid-friendly attractions

We’ll be traveling to the Tampa Bay area with a 3- and 5-year-old, so any attraction we visit has to offer something for them.

I read great things about MOSI and the Florida Aquarium in Tampa, so they’re definite must-sees on this trip. MOSI is short for Museum of Science and Industry and they have interactive exhibits for various ages – while we’re there, they’ll also have robotics demos and exhibits for National Robotics Week!

Yeah, you can can a bike on a cable 30 feet in the air at MOSI. Photo courtesy MOSI

Yeah, you can can a bike on a cable 30 feet in the air at MOSI. Photo courtesy MOSI

 

I also read that The Florida Aquarium not only has a huge amount of exhibits indoors, but outside, there’s Explore A Shore, The Florida Aquarium’s 2-acre outdoor water adventure zone. I’ll be packing a change of clothes for the kids for our visit there.

The huge Florida Aquarium is an indoor and outdoor experience: After exploring the inside exhibits, head outside for the outdoor water adventure zone or take the Wild Dolphin Adventure Cruise. Photo courtesy VISIT FLORIDA

The huge Florida Aquarium is an indoor and outdoor experience: After exploring the inside exhibits, head outside for the outdoor water adventure zone or take the Wild Dolphin Adventure Cruise. Photo courtesy VISIT FLORIDA

 

We can find a ton of things to do with kids outside of Tampa, as well. This video suggests a few things to do with kids in the St. Pete/Clearwater area.

 

 

Both kids would love Captain Memo’s Pirate Ship Cruise. And if Mr. Wonderful and I are feeling artsy, we should haul the kids to the Dali Museum on Saturday morning. It has free games, puzzles and crafts Saturdays at 11:45 a.m.

Note: If you’re a member of the Omaha Children’s Museum or Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium, you can get reduced admission to several attractions in the Tampa area.

  • 50% off admission to Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo and the Florida Aquarium in Tampa (if zoo members)
  • FREE admission to Great Explorations Children’s Museum in St. Petersburg (if OCM members)

 

6. If only we were in the Tampa Bay area for more than three days, then we’d go to

Busch Gardens

Tarpon Springs sponge docks and famous Greek restaurants

An old dude on the sponge docks in Tarpon Springs. Photo courtesy St. Pete/Clearwater

An old dude on the sponge docks in Tarpon Springs. Photo courtesy VisitStPeteClearwater.com

Big Cat Rescue

Glazer Children’s Museum

– Parkesdale Market – world-famous strawberry shortcake to be had there

 

Your turn: What’s missing on this Tampa Bay area bucket list? What do you recommend a family with young children see or do while in the area?

 

About Allegiant Air

Las Vegas-based Allegiant Travel Company®  is focused on linking travelers in small cities to world-class leisure destinations. The company operates a low-cost, high-efficiency, all-jet passenger airline through its subsidiary, Allegiant Air. Currently, this new-to-Omaha airline offers flights to St. Pete–Clearwater International Airport in St. Petersburg, Fla., and Oakland International Airport in Oakland, Calif.


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Comments

  1. This looks like one amazing adventure. I’ve never been there. The closest I’ve been is Savannah, Georgia. That’s where I went to grad school. Forest Gump and Legend of Bagger Vance were both filmed there.

  2. 1. Rent a boat in Tarpon Springs. You can go out on your own, and I can’t promise anything, but you may see Dolphins!
    2. Go to Frenchy’s http://frenchysonline.com/ and have the SheCrab soup. I may go multiple times in one trip.
    3. Clearwater Aquarium, but it’s VERY busy now. Winter is amazing.
    4. Make sure to hit the beach. (Duh).

    I am so excited you get to experience one of my favorite vacay spots! I love that Allegiant is offering non-stop flights. It’s making it more affordable for me to see my son. Love your post. Have a blast!

    • Thank you for these suggestions! I had kept coming across Frenchy’s while planning this trip, so now that you can vouch for it, I think I’ll add it into our itinerary. I think we will also be able to check out Clearwater Marine Aquarium too!

  3. You are right! Been doing our research too for our upcoming trip and there is sooo much to do with so little time. It has been quite a long time since we’ve been to Florida. Looking forward to seeing that part of the country again. Loving all the diverse options from museums to aquatic wildlife to new cultural cuisine options. Can’t wait to try a Cuban and maybe catch some Flamenco dancing. We hope to hit the Big Cat Rescue and a few things in Clearwater/St. Pete area too.

    • I wish we had one more day (week…) – the Big Cat Rescue looks pretty cool! I’m looking forward to seeing your photos!

  4. You have a lot planned, but all sound good. You’ll be busy! Found my way here from a tweet mentioning Datz Dough to you (Datz and Dough, neighbors, are both delish! (Datz has a stupendous tap beer list too) If you go to Datz, text to get in “line” when you’re near to save time waiting.

    I second Frenchy’s (the Rockaway location, as it’s right at the sand, and always has families there). The grouper sandwich (blackened or grilled) is second to none. Seeing Winter has become a must-do for lots of people, so it’s quite crowded and theme-parky now. Maybe going early in the AM helps, I don’t know. That does help with the *terrible* traffic over the causeway to the beach this time of year.

    For Cuban sandwiches, I like Alessi’s and La Ideal (west Tampa area). West Tampa Sandwich Shop is popular too. The Taco Bus (original Hillsborough Ave location) is an old fave of mine- has both indoor and outdoor seating. If you’re crunched for time, they’ve a small outpost in downtown(not far from Aquarium) which is also good, just not same atmosphere (good or bad, depending on your tastes!)

    If you have more time in downtown Tampa, the Riverwalk goes from near the hockey arena all the way upriver to Ulele Springs. (Urban rent-a-bike stations are around). Manatees hang around that spring from time to time and the restaurant/bar there (Ulele) is fantastic. Waterworks park next door has a playground, I believe.

    Hope you have a great time!

    • Liz, thank you for your insight! I highly doubt we’ll make it to all of these things on the list. It probably wouldn’t be very enjoyable. It’s my wish list, though. Maybe I can split this list up into two trips.:)

    • And I had read about Ulele – would you say we wouldn’t be out of place bringing kids there? It definitely looks like a restaurant I’d like, but didn’t know if it’s “find a sitter” kind of restaurant.

      • I probably wouldn’t bring kids for dinner, both for atmosphere and it’s a bit spendy, but earlier in the afternoon, I think apps (yummy crab mac’n’cheese) and drinks on the outside patio would be ok. Sweaty on a bike ride at the patio is our usual afternoon m.o. here, and have never felt unwelcome.

        • I was hoping you’d say something like that. The lunch menu looks reasonable enough and there are a few things I could see the kids trying. Definitely that mac n cheese!

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