The wee ones love a trip to the Tampa Aquarium. (Photo: Rafael Tongol)
With no shortage of walkways and waterways, downtown Tampa is as family friendly as cities come, allowing parents and their tots to explore the city without dodging cars and move around freely with a stroller or on bikes.
So if you’re planning a stay in Tampa with kids, here’s your guide to making them squeal with delight—without spending a fortune.
Find Free Fun
The two-mile (three-kilometer) Riverwalk in Downtown Tampa—which winds around downtown, running alongside the Hillsboro River where it meets the bay—is home to three playgrounds, three water areas to splash around in, and a sandbox at Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park with alligator replicas.
At the other far end of the Riverwalk is Water Works Park, with a dry playground and a free water playground. In the middle of the Riverwalk is Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, where there are sometimes free concerts and festivals ranging from Rock to Jazz (it’s best to check the schedule beforehand). Giant fountains that the kids can run through and play in are on the street side of the park, while a large playground with a snack stand and bathrooms is on the river side.
Explore by Bike, Trolley, or Boat
Tampa’s city Coast Bike system is tourist-friendly with its $8 rentals by the hour in 30 locations. Just over a bridge from the Riverwalk is Bayshore Drive, where another walk and bike sidewalk extends for miles along the bay. Diving sea birds and the occasional dolphin are on one side, with some of the city’s grandest homes on the other.
An old-fashioned trolley car line goes from downtown (there are multiple stops throughout the area where you can hop on) to Ybor City, the historic area by the port where the U.S. cigar industry was based. Ybor is full of family-friendly restaurants, ice cream shops, a multi-screen movie theater, and a giant game arcade.
In front of the Sail Pavilion Bar and the Tampa Convention Center is a dock with small boats to rent for exploring Tampa Bay, Harbour Island, Davis Island and the Hillsborough River. Or get tickets for the Pirate Water Taxi, which makes stops at all three of the playground areas and most downtown attractions. And best of all: you pay one flat rate for unlimited rides all day.
Big and Bold Attractions
The Florida Aquarium is just past the east end of the Riverwalk, on the trolley line and by the cruise ship terminal. See seahorses, rays, sharks, and many other sea creatures in huge tanks. Combo ticket options include a behind-the-scenes tour or a boat ride to go exploring Tampa Bay.
Or there’s the Glazer Children’s Museum, which features several floors of hands-on educational fun, such as an engineers’ workshop and a mini cruise ship. Oh, and it’s next to the city’s art museum if parents want to split up.
If you don’t mind splurging a bit, head 20 minutes north from downtown to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, the thrills-packed amusement park with rides and shows for all ages. In the hot months, get a two-day pass and hit the adjoining Adventure Island water park as well (purchasing a multi-park pass as part of the CityPass will help you save significantly, and will also allow you access to other attractions around the city). With 10 different water slides and a play area, there’s plenty to keep the kids occupied all day.
This article was published through a partnership with Visit the USA, inspiring travelers to explore America’s boundless possibilities.