Florida

12 things to do with kids in Tampa

by Paul Joseph  |  Published December 12, 2018

A myriad of museums, a world famous African-themed amusement park, a sparkling waterfront and glorious weather are just some of the reasons why so many travellers come to Tampa each year. The hip, urban heart of Florida’s Gulf Coast, it is also hugely popular with families thanks to its clean and safe beaches and array of child-friendly attractions.

A view over Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park Riverwalk in downtown Tampa (Photo: Walter via Flickr)

Whatever age your kids, there’ll be something to keep them entertained in Tampa. From wildlife to watersports, they’ll find themselves spoilt for choice, with plenty of activities that can be enjoyed by parents too. If you’re planning a visit to Tampa with the little ones and are looking for inspiration ahead of your trip, then look no further, as we’ve compiled 12 of the best and most fun things to do here with your family.

Get immersed at Glazer Children’s Museum

Located downtown next to Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, this museum is part of Tampa’s cultural corridor along the beautiful River Walk. Featuring over 150 interactive activities focused on weather, art, communication and more, it is an interactive learning laboratory where children play, discover, and connect to the world around them to develop as lifelong learners and leaders. Whether kids put on a lab coat in the Vet Clinic or leap to stardom in the Twinkle Stars Theater, imaginative play is essential to the experience.

LOCATION 110 W Gasparilla Plaza HOURS Mon-Fri 10am-5pm Sat 10am-6pm Sun 1pm-6pm

Small kids clamber through netting at Glazer Children’s Museum (Photo: Glazer Children’s Museum)

Take to the skies on a hot air balloon ride

Whether for a sweetheart flight for two, or an entire family or group of friends seeking a unique experience, a hot air balloon ride certainly fits the bill. American Balloon Rides specialise in magical adventures that transport guests over the beautiful Floridian landscapes of Wesley Chapel, New Tampa, Lutz and Land O Lakes. Flights take place in the morning to capitalise on calm wind and last for about an hour. After your steady descent and landing, you’ll be treated to a traditional champagne toast and a light brunch back at the facility.

A procession of hot air balloons soar above Tampa (Photo: American Balloon Rides)

Join a local food tour

A 30-minute drive west of Tampa, the charming coastal city of Dunedin has a rich food and drinks scene that revolves around freshly caught seafood and locally produced craft beer. Keen foodies can join a food-themed weekend walking tour centred around lively Main Street, home to a wide range of eateries and breweries, several of which guests will visit during the 3-hour trip. Run by TampaBay Food Tours and suitable for kids aged around 8 and up, tours are kept to a maximum of 12 guests and are highly interactive and sociable, run by friendly and experienced guides well versed in all of Dunedin’s foodie delights and the heritage that accompanies them.

A guide leads a food tour through the streets of Dunedin (Photo: Tampa Bay Food Tours)

Explore a Big Cat rescue sanctuary

It’s always joyous to see kids taking an interest in animals, but at a certain point it’s important to make them aware that there’s a less happy side to the animal kingdom. Situated a short drive outside of central Tampa, Big Cat Rescue is an animal sanctuary devoted to rescuing and housing exotic felines, rehabilitating injured or orphaned native wild cats. Families with toddlers and older children can come and see such animals and learn about the often sad, but also heart-warming journeys that brought them here.

LOCATION 12802 Easy Street HOURS Fri-Weds 9am-5pm Closed Thurs

Marvel at life-sized dinosaurs

This kid friendly, open-air museum is Florida’s only attraction dedicated to the giants of yesteryear. Housed in a natural lush garden setting that’s dotted with native vegetation and water features to simulate an authentic landscape, the park features over 150 life-size dinosaur sculptures. There are many activities for small children and among the most popular is the “Fossil Dig” where kids can dig at a sand table for real fossils and take home their favourites.

LOCATION 5145 Harvey Tew Road, Plant City HOURS Mon-Sun 9am-5pm

Visit a magical theme park

The ultimate family adventure in Tampa can be found at perhaps the city’s most famous attractions. Featuring more than 12,000 animals, along with world-class rides and live entertainment, this 335-acre park offers something for every taste, however sedate or extreme. For adrenaline-junkies, there’s a 335-foot drop tower, while those of a calmer disposition can sit down to enjoy a show or simply wander around and marvel at the array of exotic wildlife to be found here.

LOCATION 10165 McKinley Drive HOURS Mon-Thurs 10am-7pm Fri-Sun 10am-10pm

Busch Gardens

A thrilling roller coaster ride at Busch Gardens (Photo: Lawrence Rayner via Flickr)

Catch an ‘outdoor’ flick at Tampa Theatre

Tampa theatre is a major landmark on the city’s cultural landscape, with its diverse programme of productions held throughout the year. As well as regular theatre shows, the venue also hosts movie screenings in its stunning Franklin Street auditorium, all under a stunning, star-flecked, faux-night sky. One of the best things to do in Tampa for all the family, visitors can enjoy great films here in a truly unique setting.

LOCATION 711 N Franklin Street

Observe underwater life at Florida Aquarium

One of the finest aquariums anywhere in the US, the Florida Aquarium is spread across 250,000 square foot and is home to thousands of amazing sea creatures, terrestrial animals and plants, including such exotic creatures as sharks, alligators, seahorses. Among the most popular attractions are the Wetlands Trail which winds through a vast mangrove forest where you’re likely to encounter river otters, free-flying birds and native fish.

LOCATION 701 Channelside Drive HOURS Mon-Sun 9.30am-5pm

Florida Aquarium

Visitors observe sea life behind the glass at Florida Aquarium (Photo: Walter via Flickr)

Watch a Tampa Bay Buccaneers football match

There are few more quintessentially American activities than attending an NFL match and in Tampa the only football team in town are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They play their home fixtures at the Raymond James Stadium, located just northwest of the city centre, and tickets are most easily purchased through the club itself, or through Ticketmaster, the official ticket exchange of the NFL.

LOCATION 4201 N Dale Mabry Highway

Let the kids loose at Gasparilla Music Festival

Each year, downtown Tampa plays host to the Gasparilla Music Festival featuring musical acts from a wide variety of genres, with the event created to support and promote music and education. While the main festival itself is geared towards adults, it also features a ‘fest within a fest’ designed specifically for kids. During Kids’ Fest, you can enjoy family friendly music across several stages as well as interactive musical experiences for little ones. Even better, children 12 years and under go free.

LOCATION Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park DATES 9-10 March

Gasparilla Music Festival

A performer seen through the smoke effect at Gasparilla Music Festival (Photo: Joseph Brent via Flickr)

Hit the water slides at Adventure Island

Located directly across the street from the more famous Busch Gardens, Adventure Island is another hugely popular Tampa entertainments venue for kids. Perfect for making the most of the city’s excellent year-round weather, the vast outdoor water park is spread across some 30 acres and is home to a huge variety of slides, rides and other attractions, suitable for babies through to teenagers – and there’s nothing to stop grown-ups joining in the fun too.

LOCATION 10001 McKinley Drive

Adventure Island

A child and mother at the bottom of a water slide at Adventure Island (Photo: Joseph Brent via Flickr)

Enjoy free entertainment at Florida State Fair

The official state fair of Florida includes indoor and outdoor agricultural exhibits featuring over 5,000 animals, along with a wide range of thrilling rides, equestrian shows, aerial entertainers and other live entertainment. Among the regular highlights at the annual event are performing sea lions, giraffe petting sessions and pig racing. There’s also plenty of fair food and drink, including tasty fried treats, to keep revellers well satiated.

LOCATION Florida State Fairgrounds DATES 7-18 February 2019