Best things for families to do visiting this gulf city
With an average of 361 days of sunshine each year, you're sure to find some perfect weather during your visit to the Tampa area, including Sarasota and St. Petersburg. Firmly holding on to its charming Southern roots, this oceanside paradise is just waiting for your family to explore!
1/Glazer Children's Museum
110 W. Gasparilla Plaza, Tampa
It’s the place where learning meets fun! Glazer Children’s Museum is a great place to spend an afternoon. There are over 15 continually-changing exhibits to delight your children. My 5-year old’s favorites are the engineering workshop and hurricane simulator. Bring your own sack lunch as dining options are limited. Cost: Youth (1-12) $9.50; Adults $15.
2/Lowry Park Zoo
A world-class zoo, Lowry Park Zoo was voted the #1 family-friendly zoo in the U.S. by Parents Magazine. My family would have to agree! Fascinating exhibits, hands-on opportunities, and multiple dining options make this a popular spot. Cost: Youth (3-11) $22.95; Adults $29.95.
KidTripster Tip: Ask about the "pay for a day, return all year" ticket.
Photo courtesy: Matt Marriott
The Tampa area offers many amusement park options. One of the most popular is Busch Gardens (10165 N. McKinley Dr., Tampa). With several new thrilling roller coasters, Busch Gardens will satisfy even the most adventurous teenager. Younger children looking to expend some energy will love the Treetop Trails climbing nets. More than just an amusement park, Busch Garden also offers you an opportunity to get up close with some amazing animals from around the world. Cost: All (3 & up) $79.
If you have a dinosaur lover in your family, then Dinosaur World (5145 Harvey Tew Rd., Plant City) is just the place for you. Over 20 acres of paved walking trails with life-size dinosaurs throughout await your little explorer. My dino hunter most enjoys the excavation experience, where kids get to use archaeology tools and uncover fossils. The gift shop here has the most extensive collection of everything dinosaur that I’ve ever seen. Cost: Youth (3-12) $12; Adults $17.
For your junior brick builder, LEGOLAND Florida (1 Legoland Way, Winter Haven) is the land of imagination. Granted, there’s not enough here to keep the interest of your teenager but for those under the age of 10, this place is perfect. Junior-sized race cars, police cars, fire engines, boats, and planes all beg to be driven. And throughout the park, you will be dazzled and inspired by ingenious LEGO displays. If you have two days to spend (or the stamina to do two parks in one day!), cool off in LEGOLAND’s own water park, where the bricks float! Cost: Youth (3-12) $86; Adults $91.
4/Museum of Science and Industry
4801 E. Fowler Ave., Tampa
Visitors to MOSI will be treated to an array of exhibits on future technology, space exploration, and 3-D printing. Children will love Mission Moonbase and Imagination Playground, while tweens and teens must try the SkyTrail ropes course and bicycle zip line that runs right through the museum! The museum’s restaurant, Everything’s Fresh, has a wide variety of food for the whole family. Cost: Youth (3-12) $21; Adults $27.
5/The Florida Aquarium
701 Channelside Dr., Tampa
The Florida Aquarium is a true first-class aquarium. Visitors can expect to see some highly thoughtful and educational exhibits on Madagascar, the wetlands, coral reefs, and Florida beaches and bays. My son still talks about wanting to catch the 300-lb. Goliath Grouper that he saw. Cost: Youth (3-11) $20; Adults $25.
KidTripster Tip: If you plan on visiting many attractions on this list, consider getting a Tampa City Pass. You receive admission to Glazer Children’s Museum, Lowry Park Zoo, Busch Gardens, MOSI, and the Florida Aquarium. All 5! It’s a phenomenal deal. Cost: Youth (3-9) $89; Adult $99.
Docks on Dodecanese Blvd., Tarpon Springs
The sponge industry helped build the famous Greek community of Tarpon Springs. Here you will find arguably the finest Greek restaurants, markets, and bakeries in the country. There are many options for sightseeing cruises and natural sponge diving tours, but I highly recommend the St. Nicholas Boat Line. You and your kids will be amazed! Cost: Youth (3-12) $6; Adults $8.
7/St. Armands Circle
St. Armands Circle, Sarasota
This is a unique upscale island shopping experience. Stroll through the many impressive boutiques or try some of the area’s best Italian, French, Mexican, Cuban, and seafood restaurants. My son loves to try a new flavor of ice cream each time we go and view the candy-making process through the window of one of the fine confectionaries here. St. Armands Circle is a short 5-minute walk to Lido Key. Grab an ice cream cone and then watch a beautiful sunset.
8/Largo Central Park
101 Central Park Ave., Largo
Largo Central Park is a 70-acre park, located just north of Tampa. Beautiful landscaping and many amenities make this a great place to spend the morning with your little ones. The immense playground is one of the few playgrounds in the nation to be completely accessible to disabled users and was voted the nation’s #1 playground by Nickelodeon Magazine. Largo Central Park is home to the Largo Railroad, an amazing functional miniature train ride that spans several acres. The train is operated by retired train enthusiasts and is free on the first Saturday morning of every month. Get there early! Cost: Free.
9/TECO Manatee Viewing Center
6990 Dickman Rd., Apollo Beach
The Manatee Viewing Center is open from November 1 through April 15, when manatees seek the warm waters near the Tampa Electric Company. This is a federal and state-sponsored sanctuary for these unique and gentle creatures. Also check out the award-winning butterfly garden, tidal walk through the mangroves, and an exceptional visitors center. My 5-year old loves the “Smell a Manatee’s Breath” exhibit in the visitors center. Cost: Free.
This is the real reason for visiting Florida, right? To escape the doldrums of everyday life and sink your feet into the sand, feel the warm rays of sunshine upon your face, and wade into some blue-green, crystal clear water? Well, Tampa is just the place for that. No matter what beach you find yourself on, you can’t go wrong, but these three beaches stand out for families.
Clearwater Beach is about 25 minutes northwest of Tampa and home to its famous boardwalk, vendors, and street performers.
St. Pete Beach is located about 15 minutes west of Tampa and is routinely voted one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. This is a beautiful area surrounded by luxury accommodations and sensational restaurants.
Anna Maria Island, about 40 minutes south of Tampa, is a natural paradise, home to nesting sea turtles. It’s the least busy of all the beaches that I’ve mentioned and family-friendly with its ample free parking and proximity to ice cream parlors!
Greg Bailey lives in the Tampa area with his wife and two sons. Born and raised in Michigan, he has happily traded in his winter parka, snow shovel, and gloves for the beach, sunny skies, and gentle breezes of the coast of Florida.
This writer received some complimentary activities for the purpose of this review. However, all opinions expressed are solely his own.