Top Ten Things to Do in Tampa, FL

Downtown Tampa Skyline
Downtown Tampa Skyline

Tampa, FL, in the heart of Hillsborough County, is truly a treasure on Florida's west central coastline. With a background that includes Spanish explorers, cigar manufacturing, and mafia families, Tampa has as rich a history as one could hope to uncover. It even has a fun false history in the form of fictional pirate Jose Gaspar, who with his krewe, invades Tampa every year and sparks off the annual Gasparilla festival.

Tampa, home to both the University of South Florida and the University of Tampa, features a wealth of culture and diversity. It's also a playground of commercialism, with opportunities for consumers to spend money as great as any other major U.S. city.

In 2008, Tampa was ranked the 8th Cleanest City in the country by Yahoo! Real Estate and 5th Best Outdoor City by Forbes.In 2004, the NYU newspaper ranked Tampa as a top city for people in their 20's.

When I moved to Tampa, FL from Upstate NY as a wide-eyed 21-year-old, I thought I had found my wonderland. I lived there for five years and, though as a resident the novelty wore off, I still have family and friends there, and Tampa remains one of my favorite places to visit.

Here are my top ten things to do in Tampa, in no particular order.

Busch Gardens Africa

In my opinion, Busch Gardens Africa beats the Disney parks in nearby Orlando, hands down. While Disney has always seemed to have been focused on families with smaller children, Busch Gardens is fun for kids of ALL ages. From roller coasters, to the Serengeti Plain, to the Brewmasters Club, there is definitely something from everyone at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.

Busch Gardens is open year round, though hours vary (check the website for details). The park also features fun seasonal events like their annual Howl-O-Scream event held every year around Halloween.

Address: 1001 N. McKinley Drive, Tampa, FL 33612

Phone: 1-888-800-5447

Lowry Park Zoo
Lowry Park Zoo

Lowry Park Zoo

Voted the #1 family-friendly zoo in America by Child Magazine, Lowry Park Zoo is one of my absolute must-visit spots every time I go to Tampa. The zoo attractions are wonderful and varied. A few of my favorites:

  • Lorikeet Landing is fantastic, allowing you to go into a sort of small tropical sanctuary and hand feed the gorgeous little birds.
  • The Florida Manatee and Aquatic center is a very soothing exhibit. I could spend hours just watching the manatees swim and nibble on lettuce.
  • The chimps and orangutans are my absolute favorites. The zoo has done a wonderful job of keeping their primates happy, and they're very active and enjoy interacting with the zoo visitors (from within their enclosure, of course).

Lowry Park Zoo is open 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week, and is closed only on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Address: 1101 West Sligh Avenue, Tampa, FL 33604

Phone: (813) 935-8552

Raymond James Stadium
Raymond James Stadium

Football in Tampa

Founded in 1976, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are at the heart of nearly everything in Tampa. In my early days in Tampa, I was always amazed at how gametime was the best time to go to the mall or the grocery store because they were empty of other customers - then I became a football fan and understood why. The Bucs are very active in the local community, and the games are a guaranteed good time. For Bucs tickets, call (813) 879-BUCS.

The University of South Florida created their football program in the late 1990s and it has been a popular one since. The USF Bulls always show their fans a good time (even if the the game is a loss), and tailgating at a USF game is a real treat. For USF game tickets, call 1-800-GO-BULLS.

Both the Bucs and the Bulls play their home games at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. The box office generally opens three hours before kickoff on gameday.

The stadium was also home to Super Bowl XLIII on February 1, 2009, as the Arizona Cardinals lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Address: 4201 North Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa, FL

Box office phone (on gameday only): (813) 350-6502

Channelside Entertainment District
Channelside Entertainment District


The Channelside entertainment district near downtown Tampa is a great place to spend an evening. Filled with restaurants featuring many different cuisines, an upscale bowling alley, a 10-screen movie theater with an IMAX screen, nightclubs, and specialty retail shops, there is always something to entertain at Channelside. The area caters to families during the day, but after dark is popular with a 30+ bar crowd.

Address: 615 Channelside Drive, Tampa, FL 33602

Ybor City

Located just northeast of downtown Tampa, Ybor City is a very historic area. The hub of Tampa's pre-Depression cigar trade, portions of the old neighborhood have been designated as a National Historic Landmark District, and several buildings in the area are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Now, Ybor City is primarily known as an entertainment district. Site of Tampa's annual Sant' Yago Knight Parade, the culmination of the two-week long Gasparilla Pirate Festival, as well as the annual Guavaween celebration (held in late October), Ybor city is frequently filled with party goers young and old.

With restaurants, nightclubs, and specialty retail shops, Ybor City is a must-see for any visitor to Tampa.

La Teresita
La Teresita

La Teresita

It would be a shame to visit Tampa and not track down some authentic Cuban and/or Spanish cuisine. For a true taste of Tampa, check out La Teresita Restaurant, a local hangout that offers amazing food and unbelievable prices in a very casual atmosphere. La Teresita offers a sit-down service, but the most popular is the diner-style setup in the back. They also have a convenient take-out window for hungry folks on the run. Portions are enormous, so be prepared to either split a meal with a friend or eat yourself sick. I highly recommend the roast pork with black beans and yellow rice, and a side of fried plantains. YUM!

Address: 3246 West Columbus Drive, Tampa, FL 33607

Phone: (813) 879-4909

The Florida Aquarium
The Florida Aquarium

Florida Aquarium

Everybody loves a visit to an aquarium, and a visit to the Florida Aquarium will be no different. With interactive exhibits such as swimming with the fish (for children ages 6 years and up who are comfortable in the water) or the Penguin Encounter, the Florida Aquarium is sure to delight.

The aquarium is open daily from 9:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., and is closed only on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Address: 701 Channelside Drive, Tampa, FL 33602

Phone: (813) 273-4000

Tampa Bay Lightning

Since first taking the ice in 1992, the Tampa Bay Lightning have been a popular, if not always winning, franchise in Tampa. Winners of the 2004 Stanley Cup Playoffs, a Bolts game is always a whole lot of fun. The Tampa Bay Lightning play their home games at St. Pete Times Forum (formerly The Ice Palace).

Address: 401 Channelside Drive,Tampa, FL 33602

Phone: (813) 301-6500

Steinbrenner Field
Steinbrenner Field

George M. Steinbrenner Field

The George M. Steinbrenner Field (formerly Legends Field) is home to spring training for the 26-time World Champion New York Yankees, as well as to the Florida State League Tampa Yankees. The Tampa team games are a great and inexpensive way to spend an afternoon or evening enjoying America's favorite pasttime. Steinbrenner Field is also a popular venue for parties and corporate events.

Address: 1 Steinbrenner Drive, Tampa, FL 33614

Phone: (813) 875-7753


Big Cat Rescue

Nestled back in the trees in the Citrus Park neighborhood of subdivisions and shopping malls, Big Cat Rescue is a true surprise. This 45-acre wildlife sanctuary is home to 140 cats representing 16 species of wild cats. Lions, tigers, and ocelots, oh my! On our visit, we went on a guided tour of the facility, and watched the big kitties acting completely at home. We also got to observe feeding time for the tigers and laughed over the tiger who dropped his cow leg into his pond and had to dive in after it to get it out. All of the cats are contained within their cat-a-tats and there is no touching, but you are so close to the animals that it is still an utterly amazing experience. Big Cat Rescue's animals come from many sources including zoos, circuses, and private homes that bought exotic cats that they didn't know how to care for. The organization relies heavily on the generosity of visitors, so if you visit, please make a donation (can also be done on the website via PayPal - scroll to the bottom of the screen.

Address: 12802 Easy Street, Tampa, FL 33625

Phone: (813) 920-4130

Where's the Beach?

Now, some of you may be asking, "Where's the beach???" There are no decent beaches in Tampa, and I wanted this hub to focus specifically on Tampa proper. Head over to neighboring Pinellas County, however, and there are beaches galore! My recommendations:

  • For those who like a more commercial, boardwalk-y beach environment, hit Clearwater Beach in beautiful Clearwater, FL.
  • For those who like peace and quiet, clear water, and nature as it was intended, grab the ferry to gorgeous Caladesi Island State Park.

Comments 40 comments

motivate11 profile image

motivate11 7 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

Wow Realy Great Travel info. I think i need a vacation!

Em Writes profile image

Em Writes 7 years ago from Upstate NY Author

Thanks, motivate11! :)

brad4l profile image

brad4l 7 years ago from USA

I didn't know there was a Busch Gardens Africa, that looks really cool. I live close to the other one, which has a European Theme and it is a great place to spend the day. It looks like there is a lot of fun stuff to do in Tampa and I have some family that live sort of close to Tampa, so I might have to make a detour next time I go down there.!-- @page { size: 8.5in 11in; margin: 0.79in } P { margin-bottom: 0.08in } -->

Em Writes profile image

Em Writes 7 years ago from Upstate NY Author

I'm guessing then, Brad, that you're in VA? I lived near D.C. for a few years, but never made it the Busch Gardens in Williamsburg. If you do make it to Tampa, I hope you have a great time!

Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 7 years ago from St. Louis

I spent a few hours in Tampa once, but didn't have time to do much. Had a nice lunch and watched a pretty cuban girl roll a cigar, which i then bought. Maybe I was in Ybor City? I didn't even know Tampa offered so much. Maybe someday I'll go back to that area and spend a little more time in Tampa. Thanks, Em Writes!

Em Writes profile image

Em Writes 7 years ago from Upstate NY Author

Sounds like you were probably in Ybor, Christoph. Tampa really is a great city. Like any city, it has its not-so-great neighborhoods but, all in all, it's a great place to visit.

keith cohen 7 years ago

you should really check out the places on gulf to bay blvd. in clearwater florida. it has so much excietment that really doesn't cost a lot of money. there are bars and clubs and pool hauls and really inexpensive resturants senor locos is a great place for lations and kumba for older folks to places i bet you will enjoy

madeline 7 years ago

hey guys

nani 6 years ago

me being born and raised in tampa fl, i have to say its the best, i have friends in clearwater, brandon, st.pete, and we always come back to tampa to do something. tampa is in the dead center of everything which i love. 20 min to the beach, hillsborough river to canoe. sponge docks in tarpon springs 30min from tampa. to ana maria island in sarasota..orlando on an hour away....its great. something for all ages. i moved, and came right back, you will love it!

TheDisneyVacation 6 years ago

Big Cat Rescue is way to go seems to be a great way to spend leisure time!

sexibert 6 years ago

i cant wait... im leaving tommorrow to go to tampa. this will be my fifth time but this time will be better (no parents or children) cant wait i kno it will be fun... jus tryin to find out what is there all to do "night-life" like....!!!!

Em Writes profile image

Em Writes 6 years ago from Upstate NY Author

Sexibert - Ybor City or Channelside will give you exactly what you're looking for. Have a great time!

Nick Malizia profile image

Nick Malizia 6 years ago from USA

It's cool to see other Tampanians on here. I wanted to reach a wide audience on Hubpages and other blogging sites, but I also realized a well-developed microcosm (for the city alone might be a cool idea for updates of businesses.)

On that note, have you ever encountered a group of Tampa bloggers (I guess the mission statement would be to assist each other bring internet-then literal- traffic to Tampa Bay)? I think that would be a great idea for the individual bloggers and the city itself.

I know that sounds a little "slick" and "schmoozy" but I swear my heart's in the right place. lol!

Please let me know what you think.

talfonso profile image

talfonso 5 years ago from Tampa Bay, FL

I went to numbers 1 and 2, with the latter during a field trip with my high school's ecology class! As for #1, I rode all 6 coasters (pre-Sesame Street Safari of Fun)!

Oh, and I live in the Tampa area!

Jaye 5 years ago

I just moved to Tampa, Fl and I can't wait to do all the things on this list! WHOOOOOOOOOOOA! Check out my articles on Assocatied Content!

angie 5 years ago

I love Tampa! Moved here 2 years ago and feel like I am always on vacation! Such a pretty, clean city with such natural beauty. So much to do and see within 30 min. Beats the heck outta Atlanta where I lived for 12 years.

brooke 5 years ago

I was bored one day and found this website I had a great time at lawerly park zoo

Karin Brown 5 years ago

taking a vacation to tampa in april 24,2012 for 1 week. Have 2 children ages 6 & 11. What should we do and see?

Yasser Kalazani 5 years ago

I love Tampa and its always the best place to spend your vacation. such as Busch garden, clear water, MOSI, Bablyon Hookah, nice food too. I enjoy the quite peaceful atmosphere.

Gaynor Walker 5 years ago

Thanks for you ideas on what to do ... I am moving there in Febrhow to keep myself occupied... but now I know... many thanksuary and as a senior i wasn't sure just what there was to do.. but now i know .. and many thanks

deepa venkitesh 4 years ago

you make want to visit this lovely place, thank you dear.

Steven 4 years ago

This list is a little misleading. It says top ten things to do. But what if it isn't football, baseball, or hockey season? Can't you think of anything else?

Joanne 4 years ago

Check out the Rusty Pelican Brunch...its the best...I recently moved from Miami and really had missed it..and now I couldn't be happier...

Blackie Chan 4 years ago

yes. My friend and I were reading the "Wheres the Beach" section. I would like to inform you that there is no beach in Tampa. I googled what is there to do in "TAMPA" not"Clearwater" I know how to get to the beach. Im not that freaking stupid. But like i said there is no beach in Tampa. Thank you fro letting me post this. Have a nice day. =)

William Davis 4 years ago

Thanks so much for the great information. Flying into Tampa tomorrow for a week vacation. i have all you spots in my GPS. You made it easy.

Tampa Pool Cleaning guy 4 years ago

Lowry park around Christmas time is great cause they have all those Christmas displays and the reindeer!!!

4 years ago

In your opinion, is Ybor City dangerous at night?

A note about Lowry Park Zoo...I saw your article mentioned its ranking with "Child" magazine (2004)...thought I'd mention that it was also ranked the number one zoo in the U.S. by "Parents" magazine in 2009.

Great article you've written, by the way. Thank you for it.

emory 4 years ago

Wow thx 4 the info I'm going to Tampa in 30 day's!

souix 4 years ago

Actually there are 2 beaches in Tampa, Ben T. Davis beach and a smaller one on the other side of the bridge. And as far as night life you should also check out howard ave. in south Tampa. Plus fishing charters galoure.

souix 4 years ago

Oh and dont forget islands of adventure a really nice water park

souix 4 years ago

I meant adventure islands. Islands of adventure is in orlando.

kittythedreamer profile image

kittythedreamer 4 years ago from the Ether

Love tampa! Have lived here for 7 years now and truly enjoy it. Ybor is the best for night life, but there is so much more to do in Tampa than one might imagine. Great hub!

Adam 4 years ago

This report stinks. I wished I could be in channelside when a family shows up after reading this. Its empty. Plus Ybor city is great if you are wanting to get stabbed. Tampa is a glorious city with SOOOOO many things to do and these to are pretty much the armpit of Tampa. Hope I wasn't rude but its the truth..

Jack Jones 4 years ago

thanks for writeing my paper .... lol jest kidding thanks i will meet all of this places .

Maria 2 years ago

So, Adam, any suggestion then ?

Meghan Palmer 2 years ago

Don't forget about us over at AirHeads Trampoline Arena! We're a go to spot ofr family fun, with huge indoor trampolines, teen nights, bday parties and special events. We even have Jumping with Superheroes in May!

Nikki 2 years ago

Honeymoon island is where you need to go it your going to Tampa and want a beach

aesta1 profile image

aesta1 2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

Ybor is really one place to go for dinner. It's fun just to walk around.

Restu 20 months ago

A range of beach areas can be discovered in the Everglades, indilcung Highland Point, Florida Bay and the Oyster Keys. These are electrifying places to see for Florida beach holidays. The swamps of the forest are defended areas in the state, and all kinds of beach recreation areas can be discovered in the forest. It extends through not only a lot of the Panhandle but also parts of close by Alabama.

veronica 20 months ago

I lived in Tampa for 4 years I agree with the list except for Teresita, the place has terrible food and it's dirty. Food good cuban food versalles, and for mi pequeña columbia.

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