Tampa city by the Tampa Bay on the Mexican Gulf’s coast, was once upon a time the sole domain of Seminole Indians. It combines history and contemporary Floridian culture in the right proportions. Its northern part is marked by alligator-peppered waterways and the Hillsborough River’s wild bayous, adding to its natural beauty. Enjoy its Riverwalk downtown and savor some classic street food. Spend your evenings at the city’s happening eateries, famous for their gulf seafood, watch dolphins in the bay, or visit some of its enthralling museums. Rest assured, you will never find a dull moment when traveling in this part of the sunshine state! So the following are the best places to visit in Tampa.
1. Experience some exotic marine life at Florida Aquarium
A must visit for marine life lovers, the Florida Aquarium hosts exhibitions on Florida’s wetland habitats that include live alligators, otters and Burmese pythons. There are also separate sections on shoreline ecosystems. Exploring the wonders of the ocean by taking a walk in the 60-foot-long coral garden with its mind-boggling collection of colorful underwater plants and tropical fish; and participate in the ‘Swim with Fish’ excursions in the Dry Tortugas reefs as also in shark dives that happen regularly here. Most thrilling!
2. Go wild at the Busch Gardens
One of America’s iconic theme parks, the Busch Gardens was commissioned in 1959 and covers over 136 hectares of land in Tampa’s northern fringes. Known for its wildlife exhibitions and rollercoaster rides, the park is unique because here, animals roam about freely in a mocked-up environment of their actual habitat. You get to see everything from giraffes, rhinos, hippos and elephants to the bright Caribbean flamingos. Kids would simply enjoy the Moroccan-themed Gwazi ride, loop-de-loops and jungle zip lines.
3. Study Tampa’s history at the Tampa Bay History Center
Located in Channelside District, this institution would certainly charm any history lover. Its permanent exhibits showcase the early exploration of the country by Europeans as also relics of the Spanish conquistadores’ arrival in Florida. Relics of the Seminole tribe and numerous historical documents are to be seen here.
4. Sip away at the Tampa Bay Brewing Company
This brewer is known for its craft ale since 1995 and is one of Tampa’s most commercially successful microbrews. It has 8 regular labels to its credit as also numerous seasonal tipples on offer. Gulp its Iron Rat Imperial Stout and hop-based beers like Old Elephant Foot IPA and feel the difference. It runs two houses in Westchase and Ybor City. Not to be missed.
5. Cool off at Adventure Island
Adjacent to Busch Gardens is Adventure Island, a water park that helps you cool off when the sun gets hot. Its tropical ambience includes lagoons that resemble the Deep South bayous, water slides, artificial beaches with sands from the Gulf of Mexico. The Caribbean-style Calypso Coaster flume with its numerous turns is another great attraction. The place is also known for its Surfside Café that serves some great cocktails and beers.
6. Walk on the wild side at Big Cat Rescue
This is a rescue facility that conserves and cares for all the big cats. Its current population is over 80 tigers, leopards and lions which have been rescued from circuses, game hunters or neglectful owners. Take the sanctuary’s full day tour to see the big cats roaming freely in their natural habitat. You can also opt for a night safari as also a guided photo tour.
7. Walk down the Tampa Riverwalk
Curving through Tampa downtown’s heart where the Hillsborough River meets the Garrison Channel, Tampa Riverwalk is a lively promenade and the nerve center of Cigar City’s cultural and local action. Studded with fountains and play pools, this sunny strip is ideal for picnicking or enjoying some great Tex-Mex food or typically American macaroni & cheese. Visit its numerous museums or shop at the Channelside Bay Plaza. The choice is entirely yours.
8. Visit Lowry Park Zoo
Ideal for family outings, the Lowry Park Zoo showcases exotic critters as also other animals. Its Asian Gardens with their collection of the rare Komodo dragon, white tigers and sloth bears is a sure hit with the kids. The enclosure called Safari Africa has meerkats and African penguins while Primate World has you in splits with lemurs swinging from tree to tree, colobuses and lion tamarins. Get close to endangered turtles or enjoy the feeding programs and rides.
9. Stroll down the streets of Ybor City
Steeped in history, Ybor City was once America’s cigar factory. It was crowded with immigrants who flocked here during the late 19th century to make cigars in the area’s famous red-brick houses. These cigar mills have now been converted into swanky nightclubs, cocktail joints, bars, microbreweries and classy restaurants. Visit its numerous art galleries and industrial-chic builds on 7th Avenue. Definitely the area for a night out on the town.
10. Marvel at the sheer expanse of University of South Florida’s Tampa campus
This is currently home to over 30,000 students and has to its credit more than 160 buildings. Some buildings are also home to some of the most famous research institutions in Florida, particularly in the sphere of architecture. You can take a daily tour where student guides take you around or just stroll around the beautiful, fountain-dotted campus with its racquetball courts. The Hillsborough River meandering through it is yet another sight to behold.
11. Experience the natural beauty of Hillsborough River State Park
Located on Tampa’s northern edge, this State Park comprises numerous wetlands and vine-draped bayous, thick mangrove vegetation and gigantic oak trees. You will simply be charmed at the sight of so many tropical birds and might even get to see a real river alligator hitting the water. Ideal for canoeing, biking, hiking on its Wetlands Restoration Trail and seeing relics of Seminole Wars at its on-site center.
12. Taste some delectable Peruvian cuisine
Visiting Tampa and not trying some authentic Peruvian cuisine at Happy Fish Tampa Authentic Peruvian Cuisine is sheer sacrilege. Its chuletas fritas of grilled pork, potato and chicken stew, fresh ensaladas, and thick Palomilla steaks are to die for. As you dine, sip on some great Latin American that complement the mind-blowing food on offer.
13. Go oyster shucking at Oystercatchers
Seafood lovers would do well to pay a visit here. Located on the edge of the Old Tampa Bay, this upscale seafood bistro gives you a grand view of the city. Must eats include hollandaise-doused oysters, scallop and shrimp fritters, coconut-flavored key lime mussels, yellowfin tuna, mahi-mahi cuts and the lobster mac & cheese.
14. Watch the bewitching designs of the Henry B. Plant Museum
It’s a typically grand Victorian mansion with old English, Oriental and Baroque motifs and houses a fascinating collection that chronicles the city’s rise as one of Florida’s top tourist destinations over the past two centuries. You will find its manicured gardens, carved fountains and honorific statues most enchanting. A colossal canon dating back to the Spanish-American War adds to its historical charm.
15. Watch dolphins play at Tampa Bay
If you’re into watching wild dolphins frolicking around, here’s where you belong. Even though Tampa Bay bustles with commercial shipping activities, it is also a veritable storehouse of marine wildlife, particularly dolphins. You can take tours on charming two-tiered catamarans that take you to the bay’s coastal contours. Delight at the dolphins frolicking in the waters, watch the seagulls soar and cry while also breathing in some fresh salt air. Truly rejuvenating.