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

– Marisa Langford (aka TampaMama) is Trekaroo’s Destination Guroo for the state of Florida. 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

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. 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. 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

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

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

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

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