Often overlooked by its neighbor, the much larger and flashier Orlando, Tampa Florida is a city worth visiting. Not only does it offer a variety of great family activities, but Tampa is also a central destination for those who also want to visit Orlando and Clearwater Beach on their family vacation.
Filled with museums, theme parks, zoos, culture, waterfront activities, and more, Tampa is a great family vacation destination. Thinking of visiting with your kids? Check out these top things to do in Tampa with kids and get ready to plan your family vacation!.
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We received complimentardy tickets to Busch Gardens during our trip to Tampa. All opinions are my own.
When traveling to Tampa, note that the local airport, the Tampa International Airport, is very convenient to the city. There are other airports in the area, but for the easiest ride to the city, choose the Tampa airport. It’s located about six miles from the city and is very easy to navigate.
The Tampa airport is serviced by many of the top airlines including JetBlue, Spirit Airlines, Frontier Airlines, United Airlines, Delta, American, and Southwest. Car rentals are offered on-site by most of the major companies.
You can also save money on popular Tampa attractions for families by looking at the CityPASS Tampa Bay. Take a look before you go and see if it includes the attractions you plan on visiting. If so, it can definitely be worth the purchase. You are able to purchase one for each member of your family because each pass includes one admission.
The Tampa Bay CityPASS includes admission to the following:
- Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
- The Clearwater Marine Aquarium
- The Florida Aquarium
- ZooTampa at Lowry Park
- And either the Museum of Science and Industry or the Tropics Boat Tours Dolphin or Sunset Cruise
The Best Things To Do In Tampa With Kids: Kids Activities in Tampa
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
If you are visiting Tampa with kids, you absolutely need to visit Busch Gardens Tampa Bay (buy tickets here). I used to enjoy visiting as a kid and have loved taking my own children there. You’ll see animals and get to enjoy some great attractions, including several thrill rides that are unlike rides at other theme parks.
I’ve visited many theme parks over the years, but have a special fondness for Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. It’s especially great for older kids, although it is a great place for the whole family. The rides are just so much fun.
During our visits, my kids’ favorites were Falcon’s Fury, which includes a 300+ foot drop, Cheetah’s Hunt, which reaches speeds of 60 MPH, and the Scorpion, which is a more traditional roller coaster with a big upside-down loop. These rides are definitely best for older kids who have a bit of a daredevil streak.
While thrill-seekers will really love the roller coasters and other thrill rides at Busch Gardens, there are some great rides for the whole family. The Sesame Street Safari of Fun is especially popular for families with little kids and features popular Sesame Street characters.
There are also several premium add-ons that you can include with your ticket. These include quick-queue, all-day dining, and several private tours. We didn’t add on any of these experiences/features, but quick-queue especially could be helpful if you are visiting during a busy day.
Depending on when you visit Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, you may also be able to experience one of the festivals and special events. On our last visit to Busch Gardens, we were able to attend the Busch Gardens Food and Wine Festivals.
During this limited-time festival, you can purchase food and drinks from the various kiosks located throughout the festival area. We opted to visit the festival during lunchtime, and each chose a few different samples to purchase for lunch. It’s all contained in one area of the park, so it’s best to visit when you are hungry and want to try a few different things.
Regardless of when you visit Busch Gardens, expect to spend most of the day there. While you probably won’t need two days, you’ll definitely want to have a full day so you can experience as many attractions and see as many animals as possible.
During our April trip, we arrived at the park opening and stayed most of the day. Like other family attractions and theme parks, it’s best to visit early to avoid the worst of the crowds. We found that it got busier and more crowded as the day went on, so make sure you visit the most popular attractions early in the day.
See our full review of Busch Gardens Tampa Bay here.
Adventure Island Water Park
If you are wondering what to do with kids in Tampa when it’s hot outside, Adventure Island water park is a good option. It’s owned by the same company that owns Busch Gardens and is open seasonally (generally March-October). Adventure Island Water Park is located across the street from Busch Gardens.
Adventure Island offers a wave pool, lazy river, 10 water slides, and more. Some of the water slides are especially fun, including the Solar Vortex – America’s first dual tailspin waterslide. There are more traditional waterslides, as well as raft waterslides.
At Adventure Island, you’ll also find a 17,000 square foot wave pool, the Paradise Lagoon Adventure pool, a half-mile lazy river adventure, a splash pad, and a water jungle gym. A new water slide, Wahoo Run, is scheduled to open this summer.
Like Busch Gardens, there are add ons that you can include with your ticket, including different quick queue options where you can skip the line. This isn’t necessary, but maybe a good idea if you are visiting on a hot day or at a busy time. Seasonal passes are also available if you live in the area and plan to visit often.
You can get more ticket information here. Combination tickets with admission to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay are also offered if you are planning to visit both during your Tampa vacation.
ZooTampa at Lowry Park
The Lowry Park Zoo (ZooTampa at Lowry Park), a non-profit zoo, is regularly rated as one of the top zoos in the United States by several publications (including Parents Magazine). It’s one of the most fun things to do in Tampa, especially for families who want to spend some time walking outdoors.
This zoo features several distinct areas, including a Florida Wildlife section, Asian Gardens, Primate World, and Safari Africa. Some of the most popular exhibits include the manatees, penguins, and African elephants. It’s a great place to see animals in their natural habitat.
In addition to the animal exhibits, they also recently added the Roaring Springs water ride for families. It’s a great way to cool off during a hot day outside at the zoo.
ZooTampa at Lowry Park is located right in Tampa so it’s easy to access. Free parking is available, and members of the zoo have access to preferred parking.
Tickets for ZooTampa are available for purchase online including daily tickets and annual passes. There are also special signature animal encounters that can be added to your ticket. These can be lots of fun for animal lovers.
These include a koala photo encounter, backstage with African penguins, sloth photo encounter, and more. Some are only available on certain days, so you’ll want to check the schedule before you plan your visit.
In March, you can also choose to purchase tickets for a special spring break event – Music in the Wild. This event features live music, animal encounters, and food and drinks specials (including some food trucks).
The Florida Aquarium
The Florida Aquarium, one of the top-rated aquariums in the US, is located right in Tampa. It’s one of the most popular Tampa Florida attractions and includes a number of exhibits, including Journey Into Madagascar, the Wetlands Trail, and the Coral Reef. There’s also a Splash Pad and a 4D theater.
If you have kids interested in sea life, you may consider adding one one of the special experiences to your ticket. These include a 75-minute wild dolphin cruise and a backstage penguin experience.
Tickets to the Florida Aquarium can be purchased online. You’ll also receive admission as part of a CityPASS. Parking is $10 and free for members of the aquarium.
Straz Center of the Arts
The Straz Center of the Arts, located on the Hillsborough River in downtown Tampa, is a performance arts center. It houses a variety of different performances throughout the year, so check the schedule before you leave on vacation. It’s a great place to see live entertainment, and it’s also beautiful to walk around the area.
During our first trip to Tampa, we decided to purchase tickets to see Wicked on tour. Since then, I’ve received emails with the center’s schedule, and there are lots of great shows that travel to this theatre.
The Straz Center of the Arts is relatively large, so there are plenty of different seating options at various price points. We picked orchestra seats in the center of the theater and had a good view.
It’s definitely worth checking their schedule during your vacation to see what show(s) are playing during your visit. Look well before you arrive to make ensure availability and the best options for seating, as shows do sell out.
Glazer Children’s Museum
If you are traveling with young children, you may want to visit the Glazer Children’s Museum. This museum, which is best for kids in elementary school or younger, is located along the Tampa Riverwalk in the arts district.
The Glazer Children’s Museum features many hands-on exhibits, as well as visiting exhibits. Popular ones include the pizza place, the central bank, as well as a model hospital and a model grocery store. They also offer special daily programs as well as spring break programming.
Tickets for the children’s museum are available online. It’s open 6 days a week and is closed on Mondays and holidays. Parking is available in local garages or metered street parking may also be available.
If you are hungry during your visit, a local Subway restaurant is located on the property. There’s also a nursing room available for nursing mothers.
Day Trip to Clearwater Beach
My daughter loved the movie a Dolphin’s Tale, so I knew that we’d have to visit the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. This is definitely a must-visit for families visiting the Tampa area. Check the schedule on their website to see when the various shows and feedings take place.
During our visit to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, we arrived at the opening of the aquarium and stayed for a few hours. Depending on what you want to do, you should probably expect to stay for at least a morning or afternoon. We stayed for a dolphin show and the turtle feeding, but there are lots of activities throughout the day.
After our morning at the Clearwater Aquarium, we headed to the gorgeous Clearwater beach. The sugar sand in Clearwater is beautiful – there’s even a Sugar Sand Festival held every spring right on the beach. It’s a must-see if you are visiting during the festival, and is worth the festival admission price.
There are also some fabulous restaurants in Clearwater Beach. We ate at Frenchy’s, which is located right on the beach. Most restaurants serve fresh seafood and are very casual.
If you have a CityPASS, you can either choose to go to the Museum of Science and Industry or go on one of the Tropics Boat Tours. These tours leave from the Clearwater marina, and you can choose either the dolphin or the sunset cruise.
The Dolphin Exploration Tours include guaranteed dolphin sightings (which means you’ll get another ticket to return if you aren’t able to see dolphins during your trip). The Sunset Celebration Cruise is a two-hour experience that takes you to the Gulf Of Mexico to see the beautiful Clearwater sunsets.
Book your cruise online in advance so you are guaranteed a spot. When you arrive, you may have a challenge parking in Clearwater. So, it’s best to arrive with plenty of time to make sure you are at the boat when it’s time to board.
The Clearwater Ferry water taxi service can be a great option to avoid traffic and save money on parking. You can see more information here.
Clearwater also offers several festivals throughout the year, including the Sugar Sand Festival which takes place in April. If you are driving into Clearwater during the busy season, you’ll want to arrive early to make sure you can find parking.
Raymond James Stadium
The Raymond James Stadium, home to the champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, offers various concerts, special events, and sporting events throughout the year. Check the schedule online before your trip to see if there are any events taking place during your family vacation.
Hillsborough State Park
Are you looking for a more low-key attraction to visit during your Tampa vacation? Hillsborough State Park is located a few miles from Tampa in Thonotosassa, Florida. The park offers seven miles of hiking trails and is a great place for wildlife viewing, hiking, and relaxing in nature.
More adventurous travelers may take advantage of the class II river rapids that run through the state park. There’s also a swimming pool, cafe, interpretative center, and much more. Guests pay per car (up to 8 guests), so it’s very reasonable for families.
Visit their website before you go to see what amenities and activities will be offered during your stay.
Museum of Science and Industry
The Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa, a nonprofit organization, offers over 100 hands-on, permanent exhibits. It’s located right in Tampa and also offers traveling exhibits. Tickets can be purchased at the door, and admission is also included with a CityPASS (you can choose either this or the boat tour in Clearwater).
In addition to all of the exhibits within the main exhibit hall, the Museum of Science and Industry also offers the Saunders Planetarium show. This is an add-on to a regular ticket, and the shows run for about 45 minutes.
Another add-on, the Sky Trail Ropes Course, is also available. This course is 36 feet high and has 35 elements. It’s an outdoor course, so while it’s open on Saturdays and Sundays, it is weather-dependent.
Proper shoes are required, so make sure you aren’t wearing flip-flops or other open toed shoes. Kids between 42 and 47 inches are allowed, but must go with an adult over the age of 18.
Tampa Museum of Art
The Tampa Museum of Art is located right on the waterfront (it’s even accessible by boat). It is open 7 days a week and offers a permanent collection of exhibits as well as traveling exhibits.
The art museum is probably best for families with older kids or those who have a particular interest in art. There are special programs for kids, and several times a year they offer special Family Days. Check out the schedule here before planning your trip.
Day Trip to Orlando
Orlando is located about an hour and a half from Tampa, so you could easily visit Orlando during your Tampa family vacation. Activities in Orlando include the following:
- Walt Disney World
- Universal Studios
- Discovery Cove (see tickets here)
- Orlando ICON
- Various water parks
- Sea World
If you do plan to visit the Orlando theme parks, you may consider staying overnight for at least one night. While the drive is not too long, you may want to spend the whole day at the theme parks and not worry about driving back to Tampa.
Kid-Friendly Hotels in Tampa
You may also be wondering where to stay in Tampa. During our trip, we stayed at the Westin Tampa Bay. This hotel offers a small private beach, a restaurant, and an indoor pool.
It’s kid-friendly, although it’s also a business hotel. There’s a free shuttle to the nearby mall, which we really enjoyed visiting for shopping and meals.
If you are looking for a different hotel in Tampa to stay in, check out these ten best hotels in Tampa Bay.
There are several hotels near Busch Gardens Tampa, although I’d recommend staying elsewhere and driving in for the day. You could also stay in Clearwater Beach and then drive into Tampa for the various activities. We did that for our second trip to the area.
When to Visit Tampa Florida With Kids
Are you wondering when to plan your Tampa Florida vacation? Florida is a year-round destination but there are definitely some better times to visit. If you are hoping to avoid extremely hot weather, it’s best to avoid the summer.
Our favorite time to visit Tampa is in April. It’s warm enough to enjoy the beaches and water parks but isn’t (usually) extraordinarily hot. April can coincide with spring break for schools and colleges, however, so it can be more expensive and more crowded.
Do You Need a Car for Your Tampa Vacation?
Most of the activities mentioned in this post are spread out, and you’ll need a car to access them all. When we have visited Tampa, we’ve rented a car at the airport and drove for most of our trip. However, if you’d prefer not to have a car, you definitely can use a ride-share service throughout your trip to get to each attraction.
If you are driving, you’ll want to check with your hotel and each individual attraction to see what the parking options are. In many cases, you’ll need to pay for parking in either a lot, garage, or on-street.
Additional Resources: Want to read more Gulf Coast travel tips and reviews? Click to read our post with destination recommendations, ideas on what things to do, hotel reviews, and more.