Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Tampa Bay, Florida: A Sunshine Tour

Lowry Park Zoo Tampa Bay FloridaAmelia from Stories for Us is thrilling us with her guided tour of Tampa Bay, Florida in this week's travel guide guest post. The beach she describes sounds absolutely heavenly.


Since moving to Tampa, Florida five-and-a-half years ago, I've played tour guide to numerous family and friends seeking inexpensive family vacations. It's been a fun adventure to be a hometown tourist.

If you aren't locked to a school schedule, or are willing to pull your kids out for a week, the best times to visit Florida are October and mid January-February. You'll have the attractions almost to yourselves and the weather is nearly perfect those months. From free to not-so-free, here are my Top Ten Tampa Bay recommendations.

Lettuce Lake Tampa Bay, Florida1. Lettuce Lake
Lettuce Lake is a 240-acre county park situated just north of Tampa with a beautiful boardwalk and observation tower surrounded by lush greenery.

The park is a nature-lovers dream. We've observed alligators in the river (from a distance!) snapping up fish, ospreys building a nest, and a flock of bright pink roseate spoonbills. The park also features a playground, paved fitness trail, picnic shelters, nice bathrooms, and a nature center.

Cost: Donation box at park entrance (A dollar or two is recommended)

2. Lowry Park Zoo

Lowry Park Zoo (pictured at the top) was voted the #1 family-friendly zoo in Child Magazine in 2004, and continues to uphold high standards with beautifully landscaped animal habitats, water play areas and plenty of opportunities to interact with the animals. The park features over 2,000 animals with a good number of babies in every area of the park.

Feed the giraffes, ride a camel, get close up with manatees, and pet a stingray. Purchase a ride wristband and enjoy the new Log Ride, get a birds eye view of the animals on the Safari Sky Ride, and watch your kids squeal with delight on a variety of kid rides. Check the website for $3 admission days and special events throughout the year. The zoo also participates in the zoo reciprocation program, so if you have an annual pass to your local zoo, you may be able to receive discounted admission. Check the website for details.

Cost: Free for kids 2 and under, Free parking, Tickets range from $14.50 - $18.95 with ticket combos for extra tours and ride wristbands available.

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay Florida3. Busch Gardens Africa – Tampa Bay
Busch Gardens has something for everyone in the family. With high speed roller-coasters for the thrill seekers, multiple kid sections with rides and play areas, a variety of great shows and music, and an African landscape filled with animals, you can spend days enjoying this park. Take a train ride or sky ride through the park and see the animals and rides from a different view.

Busch Gardens also honors our armed forces by offering members of the military and up to three dependents complimentary single-day admission in 2009 and possible other discounts.

For the entertainment value, this park is reasonably priced compared to other area theme parks. Check their website to plan your trip and for combination tickets with Sea World and other Orlando attractions.

Cost: Purchase tickets online ahead of time for best value, $59.95 (ages 3-9), $69.95 (adults) and up, parking $10 and up.

4. Florida Aquarium
The Florida Aquarium is located in the downtown Tampa area and boasts being ranked in the top 10 Aquariums in the country by TripAdvisor.com and in the top 5 "Kid-Friendly Aquariums" by Parents Magazine. The Aquarium is filled with beautiful exhibits of fish and marine life and birds featured in Florida habitats. Touch a ray, or swim with fish, or dive with sharks (check website for requirements for some experiences). The Aquarium also has a 2-acre outdoor water play area for kids to cool off and parents to relax.

Cost: Parking $6, Free for 2 and under, $14.95 (kids under 12), $19.95 (adults), and other tour packages available.

Ft. Desoto Park Tampa Bay Florida5. Ft. Desoto Park
This 1,136 acre park is located in St. Petersburg at the entrance of the Tampa Bay. It is beautifully maintained and earned the award of "America's Top Beach" by TripAdvisor in 2008, This park is our family's favorite beach. Featuring fishing piers, large picnic sites, kayak and canoe rentals, camping sites, a paved fitness trail, nice bathrooms, a gift shop/snack bar, and a historic fort to tour- this park deserves the accolades.

It's a great place to hunt for shells, or wade out to a sandbar and look for sand dollars.

Cost: About $1 in tolls to reach the park, free parking, free admission, check their website for camping prices and reservations.

Ybor City Tampa Bay Florida6. Ybor City
Located just outside of downtown Tampa, this historic Latin district has a little bit of everything, but be sure to visit with the family during the day as the area takes on a club atmosphere in the evening. Take a trolley ride to see the area's architecture. Watch a movie, do a little shopping, game at Game Works, eat a blackened grouper sandwich at the Green Iguana, or dine at Florida's oldest dining establishment, the Columbia Restaurant. Purchase some authentic Tampa cigars for Dad, and visit the Ybor Fresh Market open every Saturday with local produce and artisans.

Cost: Parking ramps provide relatively inexpensive parking based on hourly rates.

7. Local Sports
There's nothing like soaking up the sunshine while watching a sports game, and Tampa Bay has something for sports fans of all kinds. Cheer like a pirate at a football game with the Bucanneers, or chill with the Lightning hockey team. My personal favorite is rooting for the home team with the World-Series playing Tampa Bay Rays.

Check the St. Pete Times during the baseball season for family days (typically Sundays) with special pricing and events for kids. For some minor-league baseball action, check the reasonably priced Tampa Yankees playing in The Yankees spring training grounds of Legends Field. Or if you are a Yankees fan, come watch them spring train, but buy your tickets early as they sell out fast!

Florida Orchestra Tampa Bay Florida8. The Florida Orchestra
The Florida Orchestra "plays the Bay" with concerts at a variety of prices and locations throughout the area's cities. Check the calendar on their website for the FREE Pops in the Park series held at least once a year where families and friends converge on the lawns of various area parks with dinner picnics and enjoy concerts at sunset often followed by fireworks. The Orchestra also promotes educating the youth and often has hands on experiences with instruments.

Cost: a variety of prices depending on seating typically ranging from $19-$65.

9. Tampa Theater
Enjoy a movie in a historic setting in this beautifully restored theater located in downtown Tampa. From modern independent films and concerts to classic movie series and sing-alongs with a live pipe organ, this will be a movie-going experience to remember. Tours of the renovated building are also available at various times throughout the month. Check their website for a current schedule of events.

Cost: $7 and up

10. Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI)
I must confess this is the only item on the list that I have not personally experienced, but I've heard good reviews from those who have. With hands-on exhibits, an IMAX dome theater, a planetarium, and Kids in Charge – a children's science section designed for kids 12 and under, this is an exciting, educational experience for the whole family. We will definitely be visiting when our youngest is a little bit older.

Cost: Free under 2, $16.95 (kids 2-12), $20.95 (adults), check the website for information on discounts for those with memberships to science centers that are a member of the Association of Science-Technology Centers.


If you'd like to write about the activities in your area you can see the details at Your Chance to Play Tour Guide.

Congratulations to Brian from Anchorage, Alaska who won this weekend's CWD Kids Giveaway (no I didn't give away any children but a gift certificate for some sweet children's clothing--in case there was any confusion on the issue). Just wait until next week . . .

Sponsored by Just Bicycles for beach cruiser bikes and by Tiny Totties for crib bedding sets.

Technorati tags: travel, activities, children, Tampa Bay, Florida


The Bertone's said...

This post was great thanks! I live about an hour from Tampa (just moved here) and want to explore some places in Tampa.. Now I know the best places to go with the kids! Thanks again!

Amelia said...

Welcome to the area, Bertone's! I'm glad this list was a help to you and hope that you and your kids are able to make some great memories enjoying all the area has to offer!

Janet said...

I love Tampa. Then again, I love everything on the Gulf side of Florida. I'll keep this list in mind if we ever get back there.

Jennifer said...

I can definitely second at least 1 item on this list, the Lowry Park Zoo. I live all the way over in Lakeland, but still have a membership to visit year round.

I can also add 1 thing to this list, though it is a good hour away from most of this stuff, in downtown Lakeland. The Explorations V Childrens Museum is amazing and can keep a kid occupied for hours, particularly if you visit during one of their daily programs.

Michele said...

Great post! Aaah, makes me wish we were in Florida right now. I agree that late January is a great place to visit. We just got back and had a great time!

Jeanie In A Bottle said...

Tapa is great! Makes me wanna be there now...

Diane said...

I lived in Tampa for a year fresh out of college before moving back to the northeast. I haven't been back since having kids, and you have now made me even more anxious to visit and share it all with my kids by reminding me of some of my favorite places!

Dan said...

I spent a lot of time in Tampa and St. Pete some years ago. A great place to visit (unless it is the middle of the summer with the heat and humidity).

The bay is full of interesting wild life and I like all the walking paths and observation areas around it. I agree that Ybor city is a fun place to explore, especially the restaurants.

Neas Nuttiness said...

Wow - my old stompping grounds. I lived in Central Florida for most of my life...St.Pete, Dunedin, and then Lakeland.
I can give a thumbs up for Jennifers suggestions for Lowery Park Zoo (Tampa), and the Explorations V Museum (Lakeland). May I add a couple more?
Clearwater Marine Aquarium (Fun and Educational) and the Dinosaur attraction, off of I-4 between Lakeland and Tampa (This one is great, as the kids can run to their hearts content, and they have picnic grounds - so bring a picnic lunch).