The lively Tampa Bay area is far from your typical Florida retirement location. The region caters to all ages, offering attractions and activities that appeal to the young and the young-at-heart. As a matter of fact, some of Florida's most popular attractions are located in the Tampa Bay metro area or within a reasonable driving distance of the Central Gulf Coast.
Traveling with kids? No problem! Despite the number of retirees that settle here or frequent the area during the winter months, Tampa abounds with kid-friendly sights and activities. Offering everything from world-class theme parks to a highly-acclaimed aquarium, the Tampa Bay area will delight the little ones with enough attractions to keep them busy for days.
Hoping to soak up some culture? No problem either. The Tampa Bay area is one of the most cultural in the state, boasting visual and performing arts venues, excellent museums, botanical gardens, and much more. Add to those the unique ethnic neighborhoods of Tampa and its surrounding areas and the area's natural beauty, and you'll find that a visit to Tampa Bay is a treat for all the senses.
Arts and Culture
The arts are alive and well in the Tampa Bay metro region! Here are a few must-sees for visitors to the area:
- Tampa Museum of Art (Tampa) – This excellent mid-sized museum boasts a fine collection of 20th century and contemporary art and a renowned collection of Greek and Roman antiquities. They also offer lectures and classes as well as special children's programs.
- Tampa Bay History Center (Tampa) – This little gem provides a comprehensive look at the history of the area, past and present, and also hosts a variety of special events.
- Museum of Science and Industry (Tampa) – Commonly referred to as MOSI, this hands-on museum is a favorite with all ages, but especially the kids. There's also an IMAX dome theater and planetarium on site.
- Henry B. Plant Museum (Tampa) – Situated in the old Tampa Bay Hotel, undisputedly Tampa's architectural gem, the Plant Museum is geared towards mature guests and provides a look at the opulence of life in the Gilded Age.
- Salvador Dali Museum (St. Petersburg) – This museum is home to one of the most comprehensive collections of Dali's art. Come view a variety of pieces created throughout the Spanish surrealist's lifetime.
- John and Mable Ringling Museums (Sarasota) – The Ringling property actually offers several museum experiences in one. At the art museum, visitors can admire European, American, and Asian works of art including one of the world's most amazing collections of Baroque works by the "old masters." Reminiscent of a Venetian Gothic palace, Ringling's mansion, Ca d'Zan, is a masterpiece in itself and is a treat to explore on a guided tour. For something a bit more lighthearted, check out the Circus Museum. A shuttle takes visitors to each attraction.
- Ybor City Museum (Ybor City) – Learn the fascinating history of Tampa's cigar industry and unique Cuban culture at this museum, state park, and garden. Well worth the small admission fee!
- Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center – This magnificent performance venue, opened 20 years ago, is the largest of its kind south of Washington D.C.'s Kennedy Center. The events calendar is vast and includes plays and musicals, concerts by the Florida Orchestra, dance troupe performances, and so much more. Check out the monthly calendar for upcoming events.
Whether you're a kid or just wish you were, the wealth of fun attractions in the Tampa Bay area will thrill you. Most are suitable for the whole family.
- Busch Gardens Africa – The area's number one attraction, Busch Gardens has been beckoning visitors since 1959, when it started as a brewery and bird garden. Today, guests will be delighted with the variety of attractions at this well-run theme park, including not only thrill and family-oriented rides, but also animal attractions, live entertainment and, of course, beer.
- Florida Aquarium – Home to 10,000 aquatic plants and animals, this 200,000-square-foot facility is one of the best in the U.S. With live dive shows daily and the opportunity to enjoy an "eco-tour" via catamaran, the Florida Aquarium is more than just a few fish.
- Adventure Island – Dubbed "Tampa's Water Park," this Anheuser Busch-owned fun park is open seasonally (March through October) and features dozens of water-based rides including an area for small children only.
- Dinosaur World – If you liked Jurassic Park, you'll love Dino World. Enjoy life-sized replicas of more than 150 dinosaurs of various species. Kids can participate in a fossil dig and learn the ins and outs of life as a paleontologist.
- Lowry Park Zoo – This mid-sized zoo is considered one of the best in the country. Here you'll find about 2,000 animals and a host of other attractions including live animal shows and interactive exhibits, several rides, and – for an additional cost – the "River Odyssey Ecotour" on the Hillsborough River.
- Marie Selby Botanical Gardens (Sarasota) – These lush tropical gardens on 10 acres fronting Sarasota Bay offers 20,000 colorful plants and a number of interesting special exhibits, including a rain forest, outdoor butterfly garden, and a breathtaking banyan grove.
Once you've had your fill of museums and theme parks, you can spend some time being a part of the action. The Tampa Bay area offers a variety of recreational opportunities for all ages.
- Canoeing and kayaking – Traverse the scenic Hillsborough River on a guided canoe or kayak tour. This is a good way to view Florida's unique birds and wildlife, including the alligator.
- Boating and fishing – This is one of the Central Gulf Coast's most popular pastimes. A number of outfitters rent boats for pleasure or fishing, including both sail boats and power boats. Choose a captained vessel or a do-it-yourself trip. Fishing charters are available for groups as well.
- Golf – The Tampa Bay region is home to about two dozen golf courses, some of them designed by the top names in the business, such as Robert Trent Jones and Arnold Palmer.
- Ecotours – A growing trend in Florida, ecotourism stresses environmentally-responsible and sustainable travel while showing off the Gulf Coast's beautiful natural side. Check out the cool airboat ride at Myakka River State Park near Sarasota, Florida's oldest and largest state park.