If you love animals, if you are looking for a place to take a family-friendly vacation or if you want to plan a fun day of activities, Tampa is the place to go. This city on the Gulf coast of Florida features many museums and outdoor happenings during the day, and you can enjoy the nightlife and cultural festivals at night.
With warm weather year-round and the gorgeous waters of the Gulf of Mexico so close, there are many different options for things to do in Tampa. Take a look at this list of great options for some inspiration.
1. Stroll the Tampa Riverwalk
The Tampa Riverwalk is a pedestrian pathway that follows the Hillsborough River, connecting downtown Tampa to many of the other attractions the city has to offer. If you begin a stroll on the Riverwalk, you will see a variety of different public parks, hotels, museums and other entertainment options that branch off from the main path. The Florida Aquarium, the Channelside Bay Plaza and the Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park are among the favorite stops along the Riverwalk.
You could also explore the Historical Monument Trail where you will see beautifully carved bronze and marble monuments honoring people who are prominent in Tampa history. A stroll along the Riverwalk is among the free things to do in Tampa. Moreover, it is perfect any time because of the great Florida weather. You could literally spend all day following the path and exploring the sights.
2. Visit the Big Cat Rescue
Located in Citrus Park, Big Cat Rescue is dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating wild and exotic felines. The organization was established in 1992 to help combat the private trade of big cats, and this park in Tampa now houses more than 100 wild cats from 11 different species.
If you are looking for things to do in Tampa, take a guided tour of the facility to see tigers, cougars, bobcats and mountain lions. All tours require reservation and prepayment, and Big Cat Rescue offers several different options for visitors over the age of 10 years. Children under this age are allowed on certain tours with a parent or guardian present. A typical day tour costs $36 a person, but you can also book a feeding tour for $65 or a photo tour for $125. You can even book a wedding or other event at Big Cat Rescue by contacting the main office.
3. Watch the Manatees Swim
If big cats are not your style, check out the manatee sanctuary at the Tampa Electric Manatee Viewing Center, which provides a protected environment for the breeding and the daily living of manatees in the Gulf area. In addition to watching the manatees in a natural habitat, you can experience the hurricane simulator, stroll through the award-winning butterfly gardens or learn about electricity generation for the city. You can also climb to the top of the wildlife observation tower for a view of Tampa and of the entire sanctuary.
The viewing center is open from November 1 through April 15 although it is closed for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Admission and parking are free, and the center is open from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. daily with the wildlife observation tower and the habitat trails closing at 4:00 p.m.
4. Ride the Coasters at Busch Gardens Tampa
A trip to Tampa is not complete without a stop at this world-renowned amusement park. As part of the SeaWorld Entertainment company, Busch Gardens Tampa offers Guided Adventure Tours, live entertainment and plenty of themed rides for your entire family. See the animals at Cheetah Run, Jambo Junction and Edge of Africa. You can also take a break at the many cafes, bars and shops scattered throughout the park. If you are brave, ride SheiKra, a three-minute coaster that drops you 200 feet at 70 mph. As the first dive coaster in North America, SheiKra is sure to give you a thrill.
You can visit Busch Gardens Tampa 365 days a year although the park times vary by season. During the off-season months, the park is open from 10:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. During the busy summer months, you can stay until 9:00 p.m. on weekdays or midnight on Friday and Saturday. The entrance fee is $92 for anyone over the age of three.
5. Catch a Show at Skipper’s Smokehouse
If you are looking for things to do in Tampa that are a little more low-key, check out Skipper’s Smokehouse. This off-the-beaten-path restaurant and live music venue has been attracting a variety of different musical acts since it opened in 1980. From Grateful Dead cover bands to bluegrass and folk acts to reggae and rock groups, you can find just about any style of music at Skipper’s on a regular basis. The establishment is family-friendly, and you can sit down with a plate of gator tail or a slice of the homemade pie while you enjoy the tunes.
You can find a full list of the music groups booked for the coming nights online, and Skipper’s gets a new band every two or three days. Entrance for most performances costs $15 per person, including service fees, and the place is closed on Mondays. Shows begin at 8:00 p.m., but get there early to pick your seat and to enjoy a great dinner. This is one of the most fun things to do in Tampa FL.
6. See a Movie at Tampa Theatre
You cannot miss the iconic and ornate sign for Tampa Theatre if you are exploring the city for things to do in Tampa. If the outside sign catches your eye, you will love the ostentatious décor of the interior, where statues, gargoyles and flowers demonstrate nearly every style of architecture history. Since Tampa Theatre opened in 1926 with its first silent film, the place has been drawing crowds reliably for films and for listening to its Mighty Wurlitzer organ pipes.
You will mostly catch classic films at Tampa Theatre, but it does run series of Oscar-nominated shorts and Hollywood previews just before awards seasons. Show times and prices for these events vary, so it is a good idea to check directly with the theater before visiting. Typical costs for a single movie showing is $7, but other events can be closer to $20 per person. These events give you a taste of the old glamour of Hollywood with more modern films.
7. Ride the Trolley in Ybor City
Streetcars are an exciting and unique part of the past, and riding the trolley in Ybor City is one of the fun things to do in Tampa. The Ybor City neighborhood was founded around the cigar factory, and the trolley was used to transport workers to and from their homes and the factory. Although the main use ended in the 1940s, the trolley lines were revived for tourism in 2002. Today, you can travel from downtown to Channelside or to Harbour Island via this unusual mode of transportation.
A pass for the entire day only costs $5, so you can feel free to take the trolley as many times as you would like for a very reasonable cost. The city also runs events along the streetcar line, such as a concert series called Streetcar Live and food truck and film tour called Flicks and Food Trucks. This one of the nice things to do in in Tampa with kids.
8. Shop in Hyde Park Village
With the beautiful year-round weather in Tampa, it is the perfect place to enjoy the outdoor shopping of Hyde Park Village. You will find everything from popular retail chains like West Elm and Sur La Table to small, local boutiques. There are also several restaurants and bars, a gourmet chocolate shop and a dog boutique that will give you a great day of browsing and of shopping as you are looking for things to do in Tampa.
With its rich history on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico and its unique variety of interests and activities, Tampa truly offers something for everyone. If you like animals and good music, visit the big cats and manatees before heading to the Tampa Riverwalk or Skipper’s Smokehouse. You can travel via roller coaster or trolley all within the city limits. Enjoy excellent weather year-round with an eclectic variety of things to do in Tampa.