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Things to Do in Tampa

Sunshine is a near constant in Florida’s coastal city of Tampa, which offers a breadth of fun-in-the-sun activities, from big amusement parks to boat tours. As a bonus for families, many of Tampa’s offerings are kid-friendly, including Busch Gardens Tampa Bay amusement park, the Lowry Park Zoo, and Big Cat Rescue animal sanctuary. Of course, the water is a key attraction, and a kayaking tour, a stand-up paddleboard excursion, or cruising out on the Tampa Bay or through the network of inland waterways should be on your agenda. As you take to the water, be on the lookout for manatees, fish, dolphins, and birds. For a more beachy experience, take a guided day trip from Tampa to nearby Clearwater Beach, or head to St. Petersburg beach for a chance to sink your toes into white sugar-like sand. Beat the heat in the Florida Aquarium, filled with 20,000 plants and animals, and know that you can pre-book tickets to scuba dive in its coral reef gallery. Dive deeper into biology, geology, and astrology at the Museum of Science and Industry, which includes 450 hands-on activities for kids that are equally educational and entertaining, in addition to an Imax theater, ropes course, and planetarium. Plan ahead and get a pass that allows entry into multiple attractions for one low price. To learn more about downtown Tampa’s beginnings, take a Ybor City food tour of the historic neighborhood, which pays homage to the city’s Spanish and Cuban roots.
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The Florida Aquarium
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Just a short drive from downtown Tampa, The Florida Aquarium houses more than 20,000 aquatic plants and animals within a 200,000-square-foot (18,500-square-meter) facility in Tampa Bay. The entire family will enjoy this aquarium, which offers specialty tours, dolphin cruises, an outside water adventure zone, and on-site bar and grill.

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ZooTampa at Lowry Park
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Home to a vast array of animals ranging from native Florida species to African wildlife, ZooTampa at Lowry Park is a must see for all animal and nature lovers. Rated the No. 1 zoo in the United States by Parents Magazine and the No. 1 child-friendly zoo in the US by Child Magazine, the Lowry Park Zoo is an ideal place for families with kids.

The zoo features numerous exhibits including several hands on attractions. Kids and adults alike can share in the experience of petting sting rays, feeding giraffes, or riding a camel. The zoo also recently expanded to include several kids' rides including a merry-go-round.

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Sunshine Skyway Bridge
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This iconic Florida bridge is a testament to humankind’s architectural prowess and mother nature’s sheer beauty. Officially known as the Bob Graham Sunshine Skyway Bridge (named after the former Florida governor), it was built in 1954 and spans Tampa Bay with a 1,500-foot cable-stayed main span. The bridge’s height, expansive views of the surrounding bay and modern design landed it the No. 3 spot on the Travel Channel’s list of top bridges in the world. Those traveling to Tampa shouldn’t miss the chance to be impressed by this architectural wonder and the amazing views of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico it provides.

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Clearwater Marine Aquarium
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More than just an aquarium, Clearwater Marine Aquarium is a marine life rescue and rehabilitation center. Set on Florida’s Gulf Coast, the center gained fame when it rescued Winter, a baby dolphin that later starred in theDolphin Tale movies. You can visit Winter and other dolphins, sharks, stingrays, and such at the aquarium.

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Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
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Tampa’s Busch Gardens combines the thrills of a theme park—replete with myriad roller coasters, ziplines, a white rapids ride, and other rides—with the wonder of a zoo, including more than 12,000 animals from 300 different species. Across its 335 acres (136 hectares), the Africa-themed park also hosts live performances for the whole family.

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Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI)
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The ideal destination for curious people of all ages, the Museum of Science and Industry offers numerous exhibits and attractions designed to pique one's scientific interest.

With over 450 hands-on attractions, MOSI offers a unique interactive experience to its visitors. Feel free to lie down on a "bed of nails," allow a butterfly to land on your shoulder in the "Bioworks Butterfly Garden," enjoy an astronomy show in the Saunders Planetarium, or take a ride on the famous "High Wire Bike," suspended on a cable 30 feet (9 meters) above the ground. No matter how daring you are or how interested in science, the museum offers engaging opportunities designed to draw in visitors of all ages.

"Kids in Charge!,"the largest children's science center in the United States, is the perfect place to bring those in the 12-and-under crowd. The attractions there emphasize the value of learning through play by bringing together science and creative thinking, and inspiring the imagination.MOSI is also home to Flordia's only IMAX Dome theater. The Dome regularly shows both educational and popular commercial films.

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Ybor City
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Ybor City has been known for over a century as Tampa's Latin Quarter. Founded in the 1880s by Vicente Martinez-Ybor as a cigar-manufacturing center, the neighborhood is now one of Florida's most distinct areas, thanks to its diverse immigrant communities and vibrant culture.

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Honeymoon Island
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Honeymoon Island: the name conjures up images of long, romantic strolls down white sand beaches, the sun setting on the water in a pool of melting orange. The island’s original name, Hog Island, doesn’t have the same ring to it! However, thanks for a developer in the late 1930s, the island received a name overhaul when he built 50 thatch-roofed bungalows for honeymooners. The bungalows fell into disuse after World War II, but the name remains, as does Honeymoon Island’s reputation for romance.

Now part of the Florida State Parks system, Honeymoon Island welcomes nature lovers, active adventurers and those simply looking to soak up the sun. Rent a bike or a kayak and traverse the nature trails across the island or paddle through the mangroves. Bird lovers will enjoy watching osprey, terns and plovers while animal enthusiasts can keep an eye out for the gopher tortoise, armadillo and raccoons. Or, simply put down a blanket or beach chair and enjoy the view.

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Sunken Gardens
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Sunken Gardens is a four-acre botanical garden located in the heart of St. Petersburg, Florida. At more than 100 years old, it’s recognized as St. Petersburg’s oldest living museum and is home to over 50,000 tropical plants, representing more than 500 species, along with flamingos and other exotic birds.

Look for various areas like a Japanese garden, cactus garden, butterfly garden, and the Chilean flamingo garden. Stop at scenic points like the Wishing Well, Photo Ring, waterfall, and the Wedding Lawn. Don’t miss the Growing Stone, a fossilized limestone rock has a sign that says: “Legend has it that ‘he who sits upon the ancient stone shall be granted tranquility, inner harmony and the talent to make things grow.’”

Sadly, the flamingo population at Sunken Gardens has dwindled. There is a non-profit fundraising campaign currently underway to raise money in order to bring 20 more flamingos to Sunken Gardens. Flamingos thrive (and breed) in flocks; therefore breeders typically only sell them in lots of 20 or more. The city has already agreed to design and finance new housing for the flamingos as well.

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Caladesi Island
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Picture a pristine island beach complete with mangroves, sand dunes, palm trees and—most remarkably—no development. Such a place exists off of Florida’s Gulf Coast, just west of the town of Dunedin and near the city of Clearwater: it’s Caladesi Island. One of the few completely natural islands on the Gulf Coast, Caladesi Island is part of Florida’s park system and is home to a wide variety of activities.

Bask in the sun on the white sand beaches, or search for shells along the water’s edge. Fishing is plentiful, either by boat or off of the shore. Explore the three mile nature trail across the interior and keep an eye out for some of the island’s aviary denizens like sandpipers, blue herons and black skimmers. Paddlers will enjoy the three mile kayak trail through the mangroves and the bay. There is a snack bar and gift shop, plus a few picnic tables and shelters, but despite the modern conveniences, Caladesi Island retains its wild and unspoiled allure.

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More Things to Do in Tampa

Tampa Adventure Island

Tampa Adventure Island

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Itching to enjoy the Florida sun but also want a way to cool off? Want something more exciting than a trip to the beach? Tampa's own Adventure Island is the perfect place to experience fun and thrills in the beautiful Florida sunshine.

A 30 acre (12 hectare) water park, Adventure Island provides rides and attractions for thrill seekers of all ages. Whether you want a tame trip in an inner tube down the "Rambling Bayou" or the heart-pounding excitement of plummeting down the "Caribbean Corkscrew," Adventure Island provides something for the entire family.

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Tampa Museum of Art

Tampa Museum of Art

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No trip is complete without a little bit of culture, so while you're in Tampa head over to the Tampa Museum of Art. The museum offers a mixture of 20th century fine art as well as Greek, Roman, and Etruscan antiquities. After a remodel and expansion project, the new museum held its grand opening on February 6, 2010, making it one of downtown Tampa's must see new buildings.

Whether you are a modernist who enjoys photography and experimental new techniques, or a history buff who loves looking at ancient Etruscan coins, Roman pottery, and Greek statues , the Tampa Museum of Art has a wide array of exhibits designed to appeal to one's senses.

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Weedon Island Preserve

Weedon Island Preserve

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A nature preserve that spans more than 3000 acres on Tampa Bay, Weedon Island Preserve is a popular destination for visitors to St. Petersburg. Not only is Weedon Island a popular fishing and birding site, but it’s also an area that has an important cultural history as well. Consisting of mostly marine ecosystems with some solid land, the Weedon Island Preserve was first inhabited by the Manasota cultures around 5000 years ago. These cultures evolved into the Weedon Island culture that lasted some 800 years; artifacts of this prehistoric settlement can still be explored today, along with more than 28 historic structures, some dating back to the 1800s century. As a result, guests interested in culture and history can learn more about both the ancient and modern peoples that lived here. For those who prefer to explore the area’s natural beauty, there are plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities such as canoeing or kayaking through the mangrove swamps; participating in a guided hikes or walking the self-guided nature trials; fishing for Redfish, snook or spotted sea trout, or spotting the wide varieties of wildlife from the observation tower. Pack a picnic and enjoy all that Weedon Island has to offer.

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Hyde Park

Hyde Park

Tucked within the city limits of Tampa is Hyde Park, a historic neighborhood that evokes the feeling of old Florida with its historic homes and bungalows. The first houses here were built in the 1880s and the area expanded rapidly. Wondering why Swann and Rome Avenues are wider than their narrower neighboring streets? The street car line used to run down these two thoroughfares.

Now, Hyde Park is not only a desirable neighborhood to live in, but it’s also home to Hyde Park Village, a collection of upscale boutiques, cafes and restaurants located among the residential streets. Hyde Park Village is becoming a destination unto itself, with a calendar of events that range from the monthly fresh market to painting classes at one of the shops and a weekly running club. SoHo (a district centered around South Howard Avenue) contains some of the area’s most popular bars and nightclubs, with patrons being shuttled between core districts like Hyde Park, Downtown and Ybor City in electric vehicles called NEVS (Neighborhood Electric Vehicles).

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Alafia River State Park

Alafia River State Park

Mountain bikers rejoice! Alafia State Park is the perfect destination for off-road bikers, with unique topography that contributes to some of Florida’s most extreme elevation changes. Located on what was once a phosphate mining site, Alafia State Park is home to 17 miles of bike trails, with difficulty ranging from beginner to advanced levels. Other activities to enjoy at Alafia River State Park include kayaking and canoeing, hiking and geo caching.

Alafia River State Park is also a unique spot to share with your four legged buddies. No, not your dog: your horse. With 20 miles of equestrian trails to explore (hikers can also enjoy these trails), you and Black Beauty can traverse over hills, through the woods and around lakes. At the end of the day, you can even camp with your equine friend. Twelve of the campsites in the campground are equipped for equestrian campers. Available on a first-come, first-served basis, there is no additional fee to stall your horse.

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Little Manatee River State Park

Little Manatee River State Park

Even though it’s just 30 minutes from urban, bustling Tampa, Little Manatee River State Park can make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time to a day when these lands were just trees, water, wildlife, and blue sky. Rent a canoe or kayak and cruise the Little Manatee River, or lace up your boots for a 6-mile (9.7-km) hike that loops through the heart of the park. You’ll likely see deer as they trot through the bush or turtles sunning on a log, and keep an eye out for alligators that come up to rest and lie on the banks. There are also 12 miles of equestrian trails for exploring the park on horseback, as well as picnic pavilions set right on the forested riverbank.There’s a decent chance you could spot a manatee coming up to the bank for a feed, or herons silently stalking fish in the shade of the sand pine and oak. Bobcats, nine-banded armadillos, and river otters also call the park home.

All the animals in the state park are wild and in their natural environment, so it’s important to keep a safe distance and enjoy their beauty from afar.

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Downtown Tampa

Downtown Tampa

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The central business district of this popular Florida destination is rife with a diverse arts and culture scene, as well as lively nightlife, dozens of museums, and a handful of historic performance spaces. A stroll along the scenic riverwalk showcases striking views of the Tampa city skyline.

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Port Tampa Bay

Port Tampa Bay

The attractive city of Tampa is wrapped around a gleaming waterfront, that just happens to be Florida's most important port. Fine dining, sunny weather, outstanding nightlife, and attractions aplenty make this one of the USA's most enjoyable cities. Whether you're in Tampa for a day or much longer, you'll feel like you're on vacation even before you embark on one of the many cruises through the Western Caribbean, offering all sorts of cruises along the stunning Mexican Coast.

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