11 Fun Things to do in Tampa For Families (+ 3-day Itinerary)
Are you looking for a list of the most fun things to do in Tampa Bay for kids and families?
In this article, we’ll highlight the best family activities in Tampa, as well as outline a perfect 3-day itinerary for visiting here.
Whether you’re looking to peak your adrenaline on Florida’s tallest roller coaster, visit an amazing museum or aquarium, or eat from a colorful shipping container, there are literally so many fun things to do in Tampa, Florida.
Look no further for the 11 best things to do in Tampa Bay with kids while you’re on vacation!
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(For the purposes of this article, the terms Tampa and Tampa Bay are used interchangeably to refer to this US city located on the west coast of Florida near the Gulf of Mexico.)
1. Go Wild at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
Attention all roller-coaster, theme park, and animal fans!
Busch Garden’s Tampa Bay has an amazing reputation for being one of the most fun things to do in Tampa. There is literally something to do for everyone here as Busch Gardens features rollercoasters, water rides, children’s rides, and animal shows, and exhibits.
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is home to some of the nation’s most thrilling coasters including Tigris (Florida’s tallest launch coaster), Iron Gwazi (North American’s fastest hybrid coaster), and Cheetah Hunt (the area’s longest roller coaster).
Not only that, but the park also features one of the biggest zoos in North America. Over 300 species of animals including kangaroos, alligators, cheetahs, and sloths call Busch Gardens Tampa Bay home.
With an abundance of things to do here, plan to arrive early, pack light, dress appropriately, and grab a map.
Additional planning tip: Busch Gardens provides an entirely different (more adrenaline-pumping) theme-park experience than neighboring Magic Kingdom and Universal Studios, which are located only 70-miles away.
2. Explore the The Florida Aquarium
The Florida Aquarium is conveniently located in Downtown Tampa and is within walking distance to some of the best hotels in Downtown Tampa Bay.
The aquarium features over 7,000 aquatic plants and animals from Florida and around the world. Species include octopus, stingrays, tiger sharks, and sea turtles who are housed in some of the cleanest and most fascinating exhibits you will ever see.
As a non-profit organization endorsed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Florida Aquarium is a leader in conservation and education.
Additional planning tip: The cost of general admission varies based on what day you visit. Plan to spend 2-3 hours here.
3. Visit ZooTampa at Lowry Park
For more awesome animal encounters, head to ZooTampa at Lowry Park.
Another one of our favorite animal habitats, ZooTampa features animals such as panthers, rhinos, elephants, black bears, and an amazing manatee rehabilitation center.
What makes ZooTampa different, and one of the most fun things to do in Tampa is the up-close-and-personal animal experiences that can be had here.
Guests are allowed to touch the tortoises, feed the giraffes, feel the stingrays, and get photos taken with a koala, for example.
Additional planning tip: Be sure to ride the open-air, custom-made Expedition Africa Safari Tram that winds its way behind the scenes and through the Africa exhibits. The 15-minute long narrated ride is included free with your admission.
4. Sparkman Wharf
Sparkman Wharf is a fun, surprisingly kid-friendly hub of restaurants and retail shops found along the Garrison Channel in downtown Tampa.
The Wharf is home to a collection of colorful shipping containers that have been turned into food stalls, as well as an eclectic mix of other outdoor dining options.
Kids are able to run and play in the large open grassy area and eat chicken tenders from Flock and Stock while parents sip on a delicious craft brew from the Fermented Reality Biergarten.
5. Play at Adventure Island
No Florida family vacation would be complete without some outdoor waterpark fun in the sun!
Located directly across the street from Busch Gardens, Adventure Island is Tampa’s premier waterpark and is definitely one of the most fun things to do in Tampa with kids.
Their classic waterslides, wave pool, children’s water playground, and lazy river provide hours of both thrills, relaxation, and fun.
Additional planning tip: Arrive early for fewer crowds. Plan on a lot of walking as the waterpark is very spread out.
If you’re looking to head to the beach instead, we recommend Clearwater Beach (25 miles away), or our favorites, Siesta Key Beach, or the beaches of Sarasota, Florida (both 60 miles away).
7. Ride the TECO Line Street Car
The Tampa Bay streetcar system first started operation in the late 1800s in order to transport Tampa passengers for work and leisure.
The current TECO Line Street Car system operates on a 2.7-mile line and features historical replica streetcars of the original Tampa Streetcar Line.
There are 11 covered stations where you can hop on or off with stops that connect Downtown Tampa, the Channel District, and Ybor City.
Service is free seven days a week which is why you should add a ride on the historical street care to your list of fun things to do in Tampa.
6. Check Out Big Cat Rescue
Tampa’s Big Cat Rescue is one of the world’s largest accredited sanctuaries for exotic cats. They are a leading advocate for ending the abuse of captive big cats and saving wild cats from extinction.
Big Cat Rescue is home to lions, tigers, bobcats, cougars, jaguars, and other species that have been abused, orphaned or retired from performing acts.
Guests here are led around by a volunteer tour guide which gives you a chance to ask questions, as well as to hear the individual stories about the various cats.
Consider Big Cat Rescue if you have members of your travel party who are interested in education on animal cruelty and the preservation of wildlife species.
8. Museum of Science and Industry
Located in North Tampa, The Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) is a Tampa attraction that combines both education and fun; a perfect combination for family entertainment.
Similar to our Chicago itinerary, most big cities offer a Museum of Science and Industry that provides hands-on exhibits related to science and space.
Though Tampa’s MOSI isn’t as big as other museums we’ve been to, we still consider it to be one of the most fun things to do in Tampa for kids. The majority of the exhibits here are geared toward children vs. adults and make for a memorable experience.
Additional planning tip: The MOSI planetarium ($5), Sky Trail ropes course ($7), and virtual reality simulator ($8) are welcomed add-ons to its reasonable general admission prices.
9. Browse the Tampa Riverwalk
The Tampa Riverwalk provides 2.6 miles worth of paved trails along the Tampa waterfront.
The Riverwalk walkway begins north of downtown Tampa at the Heights Public Market, continues along the shores of the Hillsborough River, and ends at the Sparkman Wharf.
Great for walking, biking, or jogging, the Tampa Riverwalk connects the area’s parks, museums, restaurants, bars, and hotels while providing amazing scenery and sunsets.
Any visit to Tampa must include the sights and scenes of the Tampa Riverwalk!
Additional planning tip: For ease of exploring, browse the Tampa Riverwalk via segway tours or a bike rental.
10. Dine at Height Public Market at Amature Works
Heights Public Market was once a streetcar depot and has now been turned into a 22,000 square-foot open-concept dining hall.
What makes Heights one of the most fun things to do in Tampa is its pure uniqueness and the fact that the Bay Area’s tops chefs are featured here.
With over 14 vendors offering both quick-serve and table service dining, cooking classes, wine tastings, and pop-up dinners are also offered.
Family-friendly options include BnB (awesome house-smoked meats & sandwiches), AVA (authentic wood-fired pizza), and Bake n’ Babes (a local bakery and home of the best chocolate chip cookie you’ll ever eat).
11. Ride the Pirate Water Taxi
The Pirate Water Taxis are a fleet of bright-yellow, open-air, pirate-themed water shuttles (You can’t miss them!).
The water taxis operate in a hop-on-hop-off style in that guests riding the taxi can get off at a location, spend as much time as they want there, and then get back on to continue riding.
The best part about riding the Pirate Water Taxis is that the entire ride is fully narrated with historical insights and funny pirate references.
There are 17 stops that each feature unique attractions, museums, restaurants, and parks. Be sure to get off at Stop 16 to have food and drinks at Ulele, our favorite, and one of the best restaurants in Tampa!
Additional planning tip: Tickets may be purchased on board at any stop, online, or at the ticket booth located at Stop #7, the Tampa Bay Convention Center.
Admission includes unlimited rides and hop-on-hop-off privileges for the entire day. Check the schedule and rates here.
3-Day Tampa Bay Itinerary
The Tampa Bay area is packed with loads of family-friendly attractions!
Spending 1 to 3 days here will give you plenty of time to explore the most fun things to do in Tampa, as well as to enjoy the diverse and thriving atmosphere here.
*All of our top recommended restaurants, landmarks, and attractions are bolded. Their physical locations fit into the flow of this itinerary. If you choose to substitute a restaurant or attraction in their place, be sure to adjust the timing of your itinerary accordingly.
Tampa Bay Itinerary: Day 1
- Check in to your Downtown Tampa accommodations. Walk to the La Segunda Central Bakery for coffee and pastries.
- Spend the morning at the Florida Aquarium.
- Have a late lunch at the historic Columbia Cafe (home to the best, original Cuban Sandwich and the famous 1905 Salad).
- Take an Uber or taxi 6 miles to enjoy Zoo Tampa at Lowry Park.
- Have a casual dinner at King of the Koop (located near Zoo Tampa) before heading back to your hotel.
Tampa Bay Itinerary: Day 2
- Depart for Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. If a waterpark is more your style, hit-up Adventure Island.
- Spend the entire day here. It’s a blast!
- Return to your hotel and then head to Sparkman Wharf for the evening to enjoy restaurants, shops, beer gardens, and street-stands.
Tampa Bay Itinerary: Day 3
- Spend the morning at either the Museum of Science and Industry or Big Cat Rescue.
- Enjoy an afternoon by the water at the Tampa Riverwalk. Ride the Pirate River Taxi around the entire bay, making stops as you please (our favorite, wine, and apps at Ulele).
- Feast on dinner at one of the awesome restaurants at the Heights Public Market.
Best Places to Stay in Tampa Bay
If you only have one to three days to spend in Tampa, I would definitely recommend staying in Downtown Tampa, close to the action.
Likewise, I would recommend narrowing down your choices by staying in a hotel that is closest to the downtown restaurants and attractions that you are interested in checking out.
Our top recommendations for family-friendly downtown Tampa hotels are Embassy Suites Tampa Downtown Convention Center, Home 2 Suites by Hilton Downtown Tampa, and Residence Inn by Tampa Downtown.
JW Marriott Tampa Water Street and Hilton Tampa Downtown are also popular choices for families of 4 or less.
*All photos courtesy of Visit Tampa Bay unless otherwise noted.
Are you considering a family vacation to Tampa, Florida? What do you think looks like some of the most fun things to do in Tampa?Jen
If you like our list of Tampa family attractions as well as our 3-Day Tampa Itinerary, click here to read our Related Posts:
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*Before leaving, be sure to check our Travel Resources Page to find exclusive travel discounts and to book hotels, rental cars, and guided tours.*
I had no idea that there were so many things to do in Tampa! We stayed nearby several years ago and didn’t do much but lay on the beach. 🙂 Hopefully we’ll soon be able to travel again because I could use a warm weather vacation in Florida!!
Yes, Tampa is great! I do prefer a beach vacation, however, so usually 3 days there is enough for me 🙂
Harmony, Momma To Go
I’ve been to Tampa many times (with and without kids) and I’ve literally done NONE of these! How is that possible? Is big cat rescue still taking visitors?I’m sure its crazy popular because of Tiger King!
🙂 Now you have some fun activities to add to your list for when you go there again 🙂
I’ve only recently started to realize how cool the Tampa area is. The Riverwalk looks particularly delightful — as do the pirate references in the Pirate Water Taxis.
Thanks for reading! I often don’t think of going there for a family vacation because it is not on a beach, but there are so many fun things to do there that it is just a different type of vacation 🙂
Can’t wait to return to Florida when our border opens back up again!
So true! Thinking of you and all of my readers/friends overseas!!
Holidays from Hels
My kids would love all of these things – but an outdoor water park in the sun might just be the winner! That street car looks like great fun to ride. A really useful itinerary. I just hope we are allowed to actually fly to the States this year as per our original. but now rolled over 2020 plan. Crossing fingers!
Yes, fingers crossed indeed! Thanks for reading and for the thoughtful and sweet comment!