2 Days In Tampa Bay With Kids

Disclaimer: All thoughts and opinions expressed on the blog are my own. Allegiant Air provided complimentary roundtrip airfare for my family. I was provided complimentary passes to Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Morean Arts Center, The Florida Aquarium and MOSI. Epicurean Hotel provided free brunch for my family at Elevage.  This post contains affiliate links.

Two days in Tampa Bay is a fun, quick getaway for Omaha families. In early April, Mr. Wonderful and I took the kids – ages 3 and 5 – on a whirlwind weekend trip to southwestern Florida. We crammed a lot in. I had a plan (and I had some local advice on what to do, as well).

2 days title

Skip past the “Getting there” section if you want to read a sample two-day itinerary.

Getting there

Allegiant Air offered to fly me and my family to St. Petersburg/Clearwater International Airport in exchange for telling you all about it. The beautiful thing about that flight? It’s direct. No schlepping kids on and off planes for an extended layover. 

Love that.

Destination: Florida.
Destination: Florida.

The downside? There are only two flights to and from Omaha each week – Thursday and Sunday. You’ll have to plan your trip around those days, but really, Tampa is as good of a getaway for a weekend as it is for a week. We took a Thursday to Sunday trip. We were to arrive Thursday afternoon, but due to some major delays (I’ll tell you all about it in my Allegiant Airlines post), we didn’t get in until night time. It affected our plans big time, but we still managed to have a ton of fun. 

You can pack a lot in over the course of two days in Tampa.

Arriving at St. Petersburg/Clearwater International Airport

You aren’t technically arriving in Tampa, though you’re close to it. Tampa isn’t far, but it’s still between 20 to 40 minutes away depending on traffic. The beaches are closer to this airport, if that’s what you were headed for on a trip to Tampa Bay.

Our rental car was on site at the airport, which was super convenient. We decided to fork over extra money at Enterprise to drive this beauty.

I let Mr. Wonderful arrange the car rental and we ended up with a Mustang convertible. I would've booked the budget sedan, so this was a nice surprise.
I let Mr. Wonderful arrange the car rental and we ended up with a Mustang convertible. I would’ve booked the budget sedan, so this was a nice surprise. (Ignore that Alamo sign, that’s just where we had to park the car)

It fits two car seats (well, technically, Farley was in a booster), and the experience of feeling an ocean breeze with the top down is memorable!

This is Farley on our drive from the airport to our hotel on Thursday night. A Mustang lover is born.
This is Farley on our drive from the airport to our hotel on Thursday night. A Mustang lover is born.

Where to stay

If you want all things beachy, you’re better off finding a hotel on the St. Petersburg/Clearwater side of the bridge. If you want a mix of beach and city (like museums or Busch Gardens), Tampa is a better choice.

We opted to stay in south Tampa at a gorgeous place called Epicurean Hotel, located in Hyde Park.

Just beyond the main lobby of the Epicurean Hotel in Tampa is this inviting sitting area. While the family slept in, I was relaxed on one of these couches with a cup of coffee. Loved it.
Just beyond the main lobby of the Epicurean Hotel in Tampa is this inviting sitting area. While the family slept in, I was relaxed on one of these couches with a cup of coffee. Loved it.

It was a 20-mile drive from St. Petersburg/Clearwater International Airport – when we had to do it at 10 p.m. The hotel is near attractions and restaurants my family wanted to go to on our trip, so it made sense. Check back to this blog in a week to read more about Epicurean!

 

Two days in Tampa

With Allegiant’s schedule, you’ll arrive in Florida on Thursday afternoon. Usually. For this post, I’m writing as if you only had Friday and Saturday there.

I planned our days out to allow enough time in the car between attractions so that my youngest could nap. I was optimistic. You can be, too, but between you and me, things like that never go according to plan.

 

Day 1

For our first day, we had breakfast at Dough, a few minutes of a drive from our hotel. They’re known for their donuts – you’ll be tempted to order them all.

"Um, yeah...can you just give me one of everything?"
“Um, yeah…can you just give me one of everything?”

The kids picked out a chocolate M&M donut and a s’mores donut (hold on to your seatbelts, ladies and gentlemen). I tried the pistachio donut and Mr. Wonderful ordered the winner of the morning, maple and bacon donut. Get that one, for sure!

Behold, the maple and bacon donut (and a southwestern quiche).
Behold, the maple and bacon donut (and a southwestern quiche).

We also ordered coffees, milk and some quiche (I recommend quiche lorraine), and later, an oatmeal when Mooch’s tummy was upset and she actually wouldn’t eat a donut.

Sufficiently sugared up, we drove a short distance to The Florida Aquarium in downtown Tampa. Much larger than the aquarium at Omaha’s zoo, The Florida Aquarium puts you up-close to a lot of animals.

Mooch spies some turtles at the Florida Aquarium.
Mooch spies some turtles at the Florida Aquarium.

The kids got to touch a baby alligator, stingrays, sea urchins, starfish and more.

Both kids loved Explore a Shore, the outdoor water adventure zone, included with admission. Definitely pack swimsuits to change the kids into (there are changing rooms outside).

Once the kids spotted this spraygarden, there was no getting them to stay indoors at the Florida Aquarium.
Once the kids spotted this spraygarden, there was no getting them to stay indoors at the Florida Aquarium. This picture only shows about a third of what’s out there.

Lunch was at one of the Taco Bus locations downtown (located very near the Glazier Children’s Museum). I’d heard good things about it, and wasn’t disappointed. It seemed less a tourist spot than a quick place for nearby office workers to grab lunch.

Everyone must stop for the Taco Bus.
Everyone must stop for the Taco Bus.

Farley got his usual chicken quesadilla and Mooch, her usual rice and beans. I tried a salad topped with grilled portabella mushrooms and a tangy avocado dressing and Mr. Wonderful ordered a humungous burrito.

We topped everything off with ice cream bought at CVS. I’m going to kick myself if someone comments saying I was a block away from the city’s best ice cream shop. That’d be my luck.

Rockin' the shades and a Drumstick.
Rockin’ the shades and a Drumstick.

Our next destination was Clearwater Beach, with a little nappage along the way – after stopping several times trying to find pillows to make the uncomfortable rental carseat bearable.

We visited the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, home of Winter the dolphin from “A Dolphin Tale.” Farley was totally in love with this place, loving every minute of it, even getting soaked by Nicholas, the dolphin.

If you're familiar with "A Dolphin Tale" and its sequel, you'll recognize this place as the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
If you’re familiar with “A Dolphin Tale” and its sequel, you’ll recognize this place as the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

You’re probably wondering how it compares to the first aquarium of the day and if it’s worth going to both. They’re vastly different places and the experience is not similar. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is much more like a functioning marine animal hospital, and the Florida Aquarium has bigger variety of animals and more elaborate displays of animals in natural settings.

We had a celebrity sighting on our way leaving the aquarium – it was all Hulkamania up in there.

Hulk Hogan spotted outside the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Oh yeah!
Hulk Hogan spotted outside the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Oh yeah!

Our next stop was an early dinner at Frenchy’s Saltwater Café. Frenchy’s is a well-known local chain of restaurants (five in all). Several people recommended it, suggesting we try the grouper sandwich, so I had to oblige.

Believe the hype. This is a tasty grouper sandwich.
Believe the hype. This is a tasty grouper sandwich.

It’s well worth going there! The waiter was friendly, the atmosphere was low-key and fun, and after a long day of running around, it was perfect for kicking back.

All smiles at Frenchy's Seaside, a walkable distance from Clearwater Beach.
All smiles at Frenchy’s Seaside, a walkable distance from Clearwater Beach.

But there was a beach to see, so we weren’t there for long.

Clearwater Beach was a busy place, even after dinner when things cool slightly.

There's a stretch of fine, powder sugar-like sand to cross before reaching the water, and you bet kids are going to run it all the way to the water's edge.
There’s a stretch of fine, powder sugar-like sand to cross before reaching the water, and you bet kids are going to run it all the way to the water’s edge. That’s the famous Pier 60 in the background.

We didn’t mind. The gentle waves and powdery white sand were inviting.

This was just a beautiful evening. Sunset at Clearwater Beach.
This was just a beautiful evening. Sunset at Clearwater Beach.

I regret rushing the kids out of the water to check out the Sunsets at Pier 60 festivities. I had heard it was a nightly street festival type deal, with street performers and vendors.

Vendors set up their tables along the pier. I left the kids with Mr. Wonderful while I browsed the goods, it was just to crowded to keep track of little ones here.
Vendors set up their tables along the pier. I left the kids with Mr. Wonderful while I browsed the goods, it was just to crowded to keep track of little ones here.

It was neat to see, but I think the kids would’ve liked staying in the water a little longer.

Street performers abound at Sunsets at Pier 60. Bring extra cash or suffer the wrath of tired kids wanting balloon animals.
Street performers abound at Sunsets at Pier 60. Bring extra cash or suffer the wrath of tired kids wanting balloon animals.

Bring extra cash because there’s a lot there to tempt your kids, from inflatables, to balloon animals to henna tattoos.

On weekend nights, they show a free, kid-friendly movie by the pier, so we laid our towels down and watched the old school “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” It was pretty late, so Mooch was ready to crash.  Sticking around for the entire movie (with intermission) made for a very late night for the kids.

We were hungry once back at the hotel, so Mr. Wonderful picked up some ‘za by the slice at New York New York Pizza. Yummo.

And no, I didn’t get them balloon animals. I am, in fact, the meanest mommy.

Day 2

We slept in after the late night at Clearwater Beach. We had an early brunch at Epicurean’s Elevage – they have a foodie’s dream of a brunch on the weekend. If you go right when it starts, 9 a.m., you’ll be with other families with young kids and not feel like a bother to the child-free crowd.

I'll admit it took about 6 tries to get Farley to smile for this picture at Elevage. He is not a morning person.
I’ll admit it took about 6 tries to get Farley to smile for this picture at Elevage. He is not a morning person.

We met friends in St. Petersburg and visited the Morean Arts Center, timing it right to enjoy the free kids’ art activities. It was not a typical tourist thing to do, which made it a nice change of pace.

Taking a break from go-go-go vacationing to paint some pictures with new friends. The Morean Arts Center is located in St. Petersburg.
Taking a break from go-go-go vacationing to paint some pictures with new friends. The Morean Arts Center is located in St. Petersburg.

It was hard to get everyone to leave the room when it was lunch time for the art instructor, it was that inviting and fun of a place for kids.

The boys all found something to love about one of the temporary exhibits at the Morean Arts Center. I swear didn't even pose this. It was like, "Whoa! And look at that!" "No! Look at this!"
The boys all found something to love about one of the temporary exhibits at the Morean Arts Center. I swear didn’t even pose this. It was like, “Whoa! And look at that!” “No! Look at this!”

We checked out the current exhibits at Morean before going next store to the Morean Hot Shop to watch a glass blowing demo.

We watched a live glass blowing demonstration at the Morean Hot Shops.
We watched a live glass blowing demonstration at the Morean Hot Shops.

Ours were the only kids there (evidently, it was a perfect beach day). If you have time, take the 1-mile drive or walk to the Chihuly Collection, included with your St. Petersburg Art Experience ticket. Our group of cute but nearing-nap-time kids made the decision to skip the glass exhibit easy, but I’m bummed I missed it.

Lunch was at nearby Bodega, a popular Cuban sandwich shop.

Most seating at Bodega is outdoors, though Bodega's juice bar next door is air conditioned and you can bring your food in there.
Most seating at Bodega is outdoors, though Bodega’s juice bar next door is air conditioned and you can bring your food in there.

It’s walkable from Morean, but in the heat of the day and with small kids, it probably would’ve been better to drive.

Waiting for our food to arrive at the juice bar next to Bodega. You can hum the "Jeopardy" theme song in your head.
Waiting for our food to arrive at the juice bar next to Bodega. You can hum the “Jeopardy” theme song in your head.

Expect a wait. It was a tough one with four kids in tow. Oh, but that Cuban sandwich was divine. I may have been the only adult to say it was worth the wait, but whatever. I loved my sandwich.

If you're headed to Bodega in St. Petersburg, get the Cuban sandwich. You're welcome.
If you’re headed to Bodega in St. Petersburg, get the Cuban sandwich. You’re welcome.

The kids crashed in the car and we debated on our next step. But, I’m a checklist kind of girl, so we drove the long drive to MOSI, the Museum of Science and Industry. I knew the kids would love it but I didn’t know how long they’d nap.

Spoiler Alert: A long time.

Head to the Kids in Charge building for activities perfectly suited for toddlers, preschoolers and grade schoolers.
Head to the Kids in Charge building for activities perfectly suited for toddlers, preschoolers and grade schoolers.

We didn’t get much time at MOSI, the pitfalls of a quick getaway weekend, huh? We explored Kids in Charge, a building dedicated to younger kids with a lot of fun activities. We also checked out some of the activities for Robotics Week and the weather exhibits. There was so much more we missed out on.

We met our friends for dinner at Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City (a neighborhood in Tampa), a place that always seems to be on top 10 lists of places to eat or things to experience.

Four adults and four children at a Flamenco dancing show and not a single person cried. Columbia Restaurant with the win.
Four adults and four children at a Flamenco dancing show and not a single person cried. Columbia Restaurant with the win.

We had reservations for the Flamenco dance show. Plan on spending your whole evening here if you’re watching the show.

The kids liked the dancing and tried mimicking it later (admittedly, the two 3-year-olds didn’t like how loud it was). The food was superb, and the kids food was reasonably priced.

 

What I’d do differently

Mooch dressed for the beach and impatiently waiting for dinner to wrap up at Frenchy's Saltwater Cafe.
Mooch dressed for the beach and impatiently waiting for dinner to wrap up at Frenchy’s Saltwater Cafe.

I’d probably spend more than two days there, that’s for sure. We fit a lot into our weekend, but didn’t get any downtime. Next time, I’ll plan some relaxation and pool time in.

Facebook fan tip: Sherri recommended visitors look into purchasing the Tampa Bay City Pass. Three of the places we visited are included in it. For $99 for adults and $84 for a child ages 3-9, you get admission into Busch Gardens, Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo, Clearwater Marine Aquarium, The Florida Aquarium,  and the Chihuly Collection or MOSI. The price to Busch Gardens for an adult is at least $75 alone. One CityPASS booklet saves up to 51% on admission to the 5 best attractions in Tampa Bay! Shop Now!.

Want to know more about the trip? Read these posts about family-friendly things to do in Tampa Bay and how to get there.

Allegiant Airlines 

Epicurean Hotel

The Florida Aquarium

Columbia Restaurant

Clearwater Marine Aquarium 

Morean Arts Center and Hot Shops

Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI)

It’s inexpensive to get to Tampa Bay. We flew via Allegiant, but you can find deals with other airlines. Book a Trip with Airfarewatchdog and Save Big!


Save up to 49% or more on Tampa Bay’s 5 best attractions at CityPASS.com - Shop Now!

Insider’s Family Guide: Tampa

Editor’s note: Insider’s Family Guide is a guest blogger series that runs occasionally on Oh My! Omaha. In advance of family trips, I like to seek a local’s advice on what to do in their hometowns. Now that Allegiant Air flies directly to Tampa, Fla., from Omaha, it’s pretty easy for an Omaha family to make a trip to this sunny destination, so check out what Marisa Langford (aka TampaMama) recommends for Tampa:

Tampa Like a Local

TampaMama shares her favorite things to do with kids in Tampa. Here, her children pose for a picture while playing at Sail Pavilion. Photo courtesy Marisa Langford
TampaMama, AKA Marisa Langford, shares her favorite things to do with kids in Tampa. Here, her children pose for a picture while playing at Sail Pavilion. Photo courtesy Marisa Langford

I love Tampa. Period. I love everything about my city and living so close to the epic center allows my family to experience it to the fullest everyday. From city park hopping, to concerts in the park, museums, the River and knowing the secrets to the city, here’s my take on Tampa if I only had three days with kids in tow.

Where To Stay

Tampa has many pockets and plenty of places to stay that will put you close to the action and a short drive away from other attractions. I would stay in Downtown Tampa at The Tampa Marriott Waterside or the Embassy Suites Downtown Tampa.

Marriott Waterside. Photo courtesy Marisa Langford.
Marriott Waterside in Downtown Tampa. Photo courtesy Marisa Langford.

Both hotels have TECO Streetcar access to get you to a number of places and are also close to I-275 in case you are heading to Busch Gardens or the beach (Clearwater and St.Petersburg are only a 45 minute drive away.) The airport is about 20 minutes from downtown and both hotels also have shuttles. My recommendation would be to rent a car and we love Alamo!

Where To Play

Once you get settled in (and of course hop in the pool) you’ll want to go explore a few of our best family attractions! If you have a half-day to explore (or a nap time to adhere to), I’d recommend visiting Lowry Park Zoo, The Florida Aquarium or the Glazer Children’s Museum.

Getting up close to a giraffe at Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa. Photo courtesy Marisa Langford.
Getting up close to a giraffe at Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa. Photo courtesy Marisa Langford.

The Glazer Children’s Museum is geared towards kids 0-5. Fun indoor hands-on activities and you’ll love playing in Curtis Hixon Park afterwards. The Florida Aquarium is downtown in Channelside and has newly been remodeled. Pet stingrays and explore Madagascar’s animals up close! The Explore-A-Shore is fun to cool off with spraying water and a splash pad. The tropical music sets a fun island-like vibe that will have you relaxing while the kids play.

Curtis Hixon Park, located near Glazier Children's Museum, is one of many places to play in Downtown Tampa. Photo courtesy Marisa Langford
Curtis Hixon Park, located near Glazier Children’s Museum, is one of many places to play in Downtown Tampa.
Photo courtesy Marisa Langford

Tampa Insider Tip: Bring swimsuits everywhere because there are usually splash pads and water to cool down and play in while visiting most places and parks.

If you’ve got a full day, and maybe some older children, visit Busch Gardens or Adventure Island. Busch Gardens also has water play areas in the Sesame Street Safari of Fun area, where you’ll also find live character shows and kid-friendly rides for kids under 3 feet! Lots of animals to see and you’ll definitely want to grab a spot on a spacious open-air tour across the wide and wild African Plain on the unforgettable Serengeti Safari. Adventure Island is a full-day of water fun where you can relax in a cabana (available for rent) along with riding some awesome thrill water rides too, or relaxing in the lazy river!

Where to Eat

A fun experience for kids is seeing the Flamenco dancers perform during dinner in historic Ybor City at the Columbia Restaurant. Since 1905, the Gonzmart Family has made its mark on the Tampa food scene with its delicious traditional Cuban food. You can’t leave the Columbia without having the 1905 salad, Cuban coffee or the flan. (Take home a cookbook as a souvenir!)

Datz Deli and Datz Dough in South Tampa are fun to experience and their food is amazing! You’ll love Ulele on the Hillsborough River for a sunset dinner and the kids will love Water Works Park too! Ducky’s is also a fun place to hit with kids (for duck pin bowling with the kids) or Ella’s in Seminole Heights has a great brunch or on Sunday, Soul Food Sunday.

Additional Places I Would Squeeze In

– Curtis Hixon Park is located on the brand new Tampa Riverwalk, along which is home to the Tampa Museum of Art, the Straz Center and the Glazer Children’s Museum. Take a stroll along this new addition to downtown Tampa and dine at Sono Café for a light afternoon lunch with a view.

– If time allows, I’d head over to the Pink Palace, the Lowes Don CeSar and stay one night. A historic hotel known for it’s “pink castle-like” appearance and a very family friendly hotel is a perfect beach stay. Seeing the sun set on St.Pete, a beach over the gulf, is one thing you should definitely make time for.

– The Clearwater Marine Aquarium, home to Winter and Hope from the hit movie “Dolphin Tale.” If your children love the movie, they will love to see them in person and learn all about how the aquarium helps and rescues other marine life too! Take a Sea Life Safari, which is a 90-minute tour into the beautiful intra-coastal waters. You will search for dolphins, sea birds and other marine life too!

Visiting with dolphins at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Photo courtesy Marisa Langford.
A trainer with dolphins at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Photo courtesy Marisa Langford.

– Take a ride on an eBOATs on the Hillsborough River. Start at The Sail Pavilion, right outside the Tampa Convention Center on the water, for a late afternoon snack and venture out for a tour of Tampa from the water!

A unique way to see the city - eBoat. Photo courtesy Marisa Langford
A unique way to see the city – eBOAT. Photo courtesy Marisa Langford

– If you are looking for a place to walk around and grab a bit to eat, I would head to Hyde Park Village, where on the first Sunday of every month is an awesome Fresh Market too!

 

Have an amazing time in my city! While you are here, feel free to tweet me for last minute suggestions @TampaMama or check out all my “Tampa Tips” on Trekaroo.com.

 

– Marisa Langford (aka TampaMama) is Trekaroo’s Destination Guroo for the state of Florida and the founder of Fit Kids Playground, a website dedicated to helping families push away the screen, eat healthier and move more. She is an active member of Tampa Bay Bloggers too. She is a busy Mom to 4 young kids and loves living in Tampa where the weather is always beautiful and a vacation is only 30 minutes away. On a constant search for adventures with kids, she can be found out and about with her 4 kids (and husband) in tow, enjoying family time together. Find her on Google+ or visit her personal blog at Adventures of Tampa Mama.

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My Tampa Bay Bucket List

When I started planning a family getaway to Tampa, I was overwhelmed by the variety of things to do. After combing through sites and guide books, here’s what I come up with: my ultimate list of things to do in Tampa and nearby…also known as My Tampa Bay Bucket List.

Use it to help plan your family vacation to Tampa Bay (which includes Tampa, Clearwater, and St. Petersburg, among other nearby cities).

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking the link, I receive a small referral stipend.

Planning a trip to sunny Florida? Here's a great bucket list of things to do in the Tampa Bay Area, including pirate adventures, gorgeous beaches and not-to-miss attractions. This Tampa guide also includes "best of Tampa" restaurants worth including on your itinerary. #Tampa #TampaBay #Florida #USA

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.

Tampa Bay Bucket List item - Ride on a pirate ship! Photo courtesy Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater
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
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
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
AnothPhoto courtesy VisitStPeteClearwater.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
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.

Related post: Read what it’s like Taking Kids To Columbia Restaurant.

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

Big Cat Rescue

Glazer Children’s Museum

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

Save money on your Florida vacation

The good news is that you can purchase tickets to a lot of things on this list ahead…and save money! Here are a few that caught my eye:

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The ultimate Tampa Bay bucket list of things to do, eat, and see in the region #Florida #travel #vacation