While Busch Gardens and its awesome roller coasters and animal safaris is a big draw for the older kiddos, if you’re toting around younger children and have a couple days to spare in the Sunshine State, here are our top picks for things you must see, do and eat in Tampa Bay.
1. ZooTampa at Lowry Park
Home to more than 1,300 animals, this zoo also runs the country’s only non-profit hospital and rehabilitation centre for injured West Indian manatees—also known as sea cows. Kids will love the Australia-themed water park, the new Roaring Springs water ride and the African area, where they can feed lettuce leaves to hungry giraffes.
2. Tampa Bay History Center
Twelve thousand years of local history is housed in this museum on the Riverwalk, including a cute replica of a Florida Cracker house, where your kids can play make-believe. Start with the Tocobaga First Nation, who first called the waters of Tampa Bay home. Next, head to Treasure Seekers, an immersive pirate experience that explores Florida’s history of pirates, conquistadors and shipwrecks with actual Spanish treasure recovered from a sunken ship.
3. Florida Aquarium
Tampa’s historic yellow streetcars—a free and fun ride—take you straight to the Florida Aquarium, which has more than 7,000 aquatic plants and animals. Meet the resident penguins in the lobby (their schedule varies), check out the adorable river otters and ring-tailed lemurs and watch the lovely egrets and white ibises flying around the stunning indoor mangrove aviary. 4-D movie screenings, which combine 3-D movies with extra sensory effects like bubbles, mist and seat vibrations, should not be missed.
4. Cuban cuisine
The famous Cuban sandwich was reportedly invented in Tampa in the 1880s to feed hungry cigar factory workers. Urban legend says that the sandwich was a result of immigrants from different countries coming together in Tampa’s old Ybor City district: The Spanish brought the fine ham; the Sicilians, the Genoa salami; the Cubans, the mojo-marinated roast pork; the Germans and Jews, the Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard. Get a delicious one at Columbia, the oldest restaurant in the state. For a sugar fix, pastelitos de guayaba, or pastries filled with sweet guava paste, can be found at La Segunda Bakery and Café, which is considered the world’s most popular producer of authentically made Cuban bread outside of Cuba—similar to the baguette but softer, and fluffier inside, with a lighter papery crust on the outside.
5. Heights Public Market at Armature Works
This new project is about to blow the lid off Tampa’s secret yet outstanding food scene. Latin American food and local beer (it’s the hub of craft brewing in Florida) come together in a curated waterfront food hall. Housed in a restored trolley barn in historic Tampa Heights, the 22,000-square-foot industrial market features a beautifully designed open floor plan with communal seating and restaurants showcasing the top chefs and restaurateurs from the area. A cool workshop space hosts events such as Tots in the Kitchen.
Some of the writer’s costs were covered by Visit Tampa Bay.