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).
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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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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
– Tarpon Springs sponge docks and famous Greek restaurants
– 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.
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.