White sand beaches, a glittering gulf coast and sunshine 361 days of the year, Tampa Bay, FL, is the perfect family destination made up of sandcastle building and kite flying. But ask any parent and they’ll tell you that after a day or two on the beach, their wee ones start whining about all that scratchy sand and super hot sun. So take a break from the beach on your next family vacation in Tampa and try one of these kid-approved activities instead. The best part? No funny tan lines on the young ones!
10. Lowry Park Zoo
Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! And penguins and primates, too — plus a whole lot more. Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa was voted the #1 zoo for kids by Parents Magazine offering up nearly endless animal delights for the young and young at heart. And you can get up close and personal, too; in the Safari Africa exhibit, try stepping on the raised platform to feed long-necked giraffes, or help your child saddle up on a llama for a ride through Wallaroo Station. Plus, much of the zoo’s sidewalks and paths are covered by a canopy of old oaks, so you and the kids will be clocking in summer fun in the shade.
9. Dinosaur World
Zoo animals are cool and all, but they don’t compare to the thrill and chills of life-sized dinosaurs! Just off of Interstate 4 (about 20 minutes from downtown Tampa), this attraction may come off as a little kitschy to the adults, but kids are sure to get a kick out of the Fossil Dig, Dino Gem Excavation, and plenty of fearsome Jurassic beasts to climb all over. Your wee ones might even learn something educational at the Prehistoric Museum, which houses interactive exhibits and dino artifacts like eggs and raptor claws. Plus, leashed dogs are welcomed at the park, perfect for if you’re traveling with Fido. The exit for Dinosaur World is easy to spot: as you drive down the interstate, you’ll spy a ferocious T-Rex and a leaf-loving Brontosaurus peeking through the trees!
8. Tampa Theatre
After sightseeing in the sun all day, you and your kids will be ready for a little relaxing, so sit back and take in a show at the historic Tampa Theatre downtown. Built in 1926, the theater boasts a breathtaking interior built to resemble a Mediterranean courtyard, complete with twinkling lights on the ceiling that mimic a bed of stars in a clear night sky. The main attraction, though, is the fun line up of contemporary and classic films that the theater airs; if you’re lucky, they may even be offering a sing-along experience to one of your family’s favorite musicals, like The Sound of Music.
7. Manatee Viewing Center
Don’t let the nickname “sea cow” fool you — manatees are graceful, gentle creatures, and kids of all ages will delight in spotting them in Tampa’s waters. For the best chance of spying these hefty aquatic mammals, head to Tampa Electric Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach. Stroll down a wooden boardwalk to a 50-foot-high wildlife observation tower that gives you an amazing vantage point to the water below. A visit to the Manatee Viewing Center is perfect if you’re in town with the kids during the cooler months of winter and spring, since the center is only open from Nov. 1 through to April 15. To make a day of the outing, pack a picnic lunch to enjoy at one of the tables scattered around the observation tower.
6. Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI)
Rip-roaring winds, slimy science experiments, and tightrope walking — you’ll find it all at MOSI. Load up the kids in the Gulf Coast Hurricane simulator to experience hair-whipping 74-mph winds. Snap pics as your wee one’s swing and zip line their way through the outdoor ropes course, then cool off inside with a starry show at Saunders Planetarium. When the kids get hungry, grab some snacks at the ground floor MOSI café, and try not to jump with fright when you spy the two giant diplodocus dinosaur skeletons standing guard over the lobby. Don’t worry, they won’t bite! The biggest can’t-miss spectacle at MOSI, though, is the IMAX Dome theater. The massive, curved screen and booming surround-sound system completely envelop theater goers in the film experience, so it really feels like you’re right there petting pandas, exploring outer space, or feeling the spray of humpback whales. Tickets cost extra, but it’s so worth it.
5. Salvador Dali Museum
With his colorful, trippy paintings and cartoon-like pointy mustache, Salvador Dali is one artist that appeals to the kid in all of us. Impart some culture on your kids with a trip to the world-renowned Dali Museum in downtown St. Petersburg, just across the bridge from Tampa. The museum hosts a score of activities for children and families; visit on a Saturday to participate in “Dillydally with Dali,” where kids learn more about the surrealist master through fun puzzles, games, and crafts. The best part of this program? It’s free! After your museum visit, take a stroll with your kids down the nearby St. Pete waterfront. Taking a moment to survey the gently bobbing boats in the marina will be super soothing after an afternoon viewing Dali’s topsy-turvy paintings.
4. Saturday Morning Market
If you and the kids are getting hungry, pop over to downtown St. Pete’s Saturday Morning Market, which runs from 9 am to 2 pm. In addition to over 50 food and produce vendors, the market is normally abuzz with jamming live music. This fun farmer’s market is perfect for families; instead of trying not to fidget in a stuffy restaurant, kids can pick from an array of easy-to-eat cuisines served from some of St. Pete’s best food trucks. Plus, the handcrafted gifts and gourmet food items for sale make the perfect souvenirs to bring back home — you’ll find everything from hand-thrown pottery to handmade strawberry jam up for grabs. The market is also extremely pet-friendly; you’ll find all kinds of animals, from dogs to bunnies and even parrots, enjoying the warm Saturday morning with their owners.
3. Tampa Bay Rays Game
Do you have a budding baseball star in the family? Take him or her to Tropicana Field in St. Pete to watch the Rays in action. And don’t worry, you’ll keep cool during the game even with the intense Florida heat, since Tropicana Field is an indoor stadium. Try to visit on a Sunday, which is considered “Family Fun Day”, for cool discounts and giveaways that will delight the kids. Face painters, magicians, and mimes will be around providing extra entertainment if things get a little dull down on the field. Stick around after the game for Kids Run the Bases, which is exactly what it sounds like — kids get the chance to run the bases of a giant MLB diamond!
2. Adventure Island
Slip into your bathing suit and beat the heat at Tampa’s Adventure Island theme park. We’re talking 30 acres of rip-roaring, hair-wetting fun at a water park that’s the definition of “fun for the whole family”. Join your kids for the ride of a lifetime down Colossal Curl, the park’s newest slide that seats four in a giant inflatable tube that tossing and turning through corkscrews and waterfalls — you’ll even experience a stomach-flipping feeling of weightlessness during the slide’s descent! If you’re looking for something that’s not quite so heart-racing, head to Paradise Lagoon to watch your wee ones navigate their way through rope nets, slides, and a cool pool. There’s even a cliff that your miniature adventurers can jump off of (don’t worry, it’s not that high!). And you can rest easy knowing that life vests are available to kids who are still brushing up on their swimming skills.
1. The Florida Aquarium
Just because you skip the beach doesn’t mean you and the kids have to miss out on seeing Florida’s incredible array of aquatic wildlife. A trip to the wondrous Florida Aquarium, regarded as one of the top aquariums in the nation, will leave your kids wide eyed with mouths agape — much like a fish’s expression! The best thing about this aquarium, located in Tampa’s bustling Channelside district, is the numerous interactive touch exhibits available to kids. They can stroke stingrays gliding through a shallow tank at Stingray Beach, poke prickly anemones and starfish at the No Bone Zone, and even cuddle with an African black-footed penguin during the “Penguins: Backstage Pass” experience. If your kids are nine or older (and very, very brave) they can get SCUBA equipment and hangout with the ocean’s toothiest predators through the “Shark Swim” program. An experience like that is sure to give your child bragging rights for months to come post-vacation!