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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 may contain affiliate links.

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

Looking for more beaches near Tampa? 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 Zoo Tampa at Lowry Park, 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 guided cruises to see dolphins promise to create wakes that attract dolphins. Or, you may have good luck and a lot more fun on a rented yacht.

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

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.

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
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.

Get skip-the-line tickets: Viator offers tickets to The Florida Aquarium now!

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. I got a ton of great ideas for things to do in Clearwater Beach! 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)

Read more about Tampa Bay CityPASS with Discount Attraction Admission Tickets 2021 – Tampa Bay City Pass

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

Busch Gardens. Get your tickets ahead of time here.

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

Tip: Consider getting the Tampa Bay CityPASS if you’re planning on visiting more than one attraction with your family. Attractions included in the pass: Busch Gardens® Tampa Bay, the Florida Aquarium, ZooTampa at Lowry Park and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

6. Stay at a bucket list-worthy hotel

Want to have a suite at a waterfront resort with a balcony? That sounds perfect for a bucket list trip, and you can have it at the family-friendly Sailport Waterfront Suites.

Are you a foodie family? Check out the Epicurean Hotel! And if you want to know more about it, read my review here.

Vacation homes and condos are starting to be my new favorite accommodations, and Tampa has several highly-rated homes to rent from, including this exceptionally rated apartment with an outdoor pool near Busch Gardens.

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Monday 30th of March 2015

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!


Monday 30th of March 2015

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.


Monday 30th of March 2015

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.:)

Lisa Trudell

Monday 30th of March 2015

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.


Monday 30th of March 2015

I wish we had one more day (week...) - the Big Cat Rescue looks pretty cool! I'm looking forward to seeing your photos!


Monday 30th of March 2015

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!


Monday 30th of March 2015

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!

Alissa Apel

Monday 30th of March 2015

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.


Monday 30th of March 2015

Thanks, Alissa. I think we'll be busy but it's going to be a lot of fun!

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