tampa skyline

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Tampa’s Got a Lot Going on. Here Are 10 Unexpected Ways To Get to Know the City

Think you know Tampa? The Big Guava (yup, that’s its nickname) still has plenty of secrets up its sleeve. We’ve sussed out 10 ways for you to discover everything Tampa has to offer, from exploring the city’s waterfront, to visiting must-see family attractions, to sampling its world-class dining and shopping options.

1. Hit Tampa Bay’s World Famous Beaches

There’s much to be said about the pristine, tranquil beaches of Tampa Bay. There are renowned spots like Archibald Beach Park and Ben T. Davis Park, as well as further and the powder white sands and quiet stretches of Clearwater Beach.

True nature lovers can do a little camping and exploring at Fort De Soto Park, where you’ll find wetlands, hammocks and mangroves alongside biking trails and kayak rentals, as well as a dog beach. For an even more remote beach, check out Caladesi Island State Park, which is accessible only by boat.

Visit the kid-friendly beaches.
Visit Clearwater’s kid-friendly beaches for a fun day. (Photo: Getty Images)

2. Meet the Fantastic Felines at Big Cat Rescue

It’s not every day you get the chance to get this close to majestic lions, tigers, cougars, and leopards, or rare cats like caracals, ocelots and servals, but you’ll find them all at this incredible wildlife sanctuary specializing in exotic cats.

Visit the facility during any of their day tours, or book an exclusive Keeper Tour, where you’ll get to make toys for the cats and watch as they play with your creations, and witness a live training session while learning about the history of the sanctuary.

things to do in tampa
Catch a glimpse of some big cats. (Photo: Getty Images)

3. Discover Creatures Great, Small at the Lowry Park Zoo

This 63-acre zoo is home to a variety of beautiful creatures, from the African penguin to the clouded leopard.

There are opportunities available to interact with these animals, like feeding the giant tortoises or towering giraffes, and premium experiences, like the behind-the-scenes tours that offer the chance to pet a white rhino, hand-feed an emu or you can view an African elephant-training session.

4. Swashbuckle Your Way through Gasparilla Season

Every January during the must-see Gasparilla Pirate Fest, the city is invaded by a band of pirates sailing in through Hillsborough Bay on the Jose Gasparilla (the world’s only fully-rigged pirate ship). This unbelievable flotilla is followed by a four-mile-long parade of pirates and subsequent street festival.

Even after the yearly reenactment is done, a full season of related, pirate themed events get underway, including the Sant’Yago Knight Parade (February), the Gasparilla Distance Classic (late February or early March) and the Gasparilla Film Festival (March).

5. Take a Stroll Down the Tampa Riverwalk

Some of the best sights of the city can be seen from the Tampa Riverwalk. Locals love coming here to run, bike and skate from one end of town to the other, passing attractions like the Tampa Convention Center and Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.

Enjoy the cool breeze, relaxing atmosphere and interesting stops along the way like the Native American cenotaph, the historical monument trail and the various quotes found along the water.

tampa waterfront
Make your way to the Tampa Riverwalk and enjoy the waterfront sights. (Photo: Getty Images)

6. Tap into Tampa’s Best Breweries

A craft beer aficionado is in for a treat when visiting Tampa. Just within the city proper, you’ll find many options, like the longstanding Tampa Bay Brewing (which also houses a restaurant), newer spots like Coppertail Brewing (where tours are given daily), and probably their most well-known brewery, Cigar City.

Then there’s also Angry Chair Brewing in the Seminole Heights neighborhood and Hidden Springs Ale Works.

glasses of beer
(Photo: Getty Images)

7. Score Tickets to Tampa’s Live Entertainment

Sometimes all you want is a front-row seat at a concert, or a VIP box at the game. Fortunately for you, Tampa offers both throughout the year. Visit George M. Steinbrenner Field in March and April and catch some spring training games, or stop by later to watch the minor league season in full.

Catch the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena, or go on a different night to check out some of the hottest names in music. For independent film, comedy shows, and other live performances, visit the spectacular landmark Tampa Theatre. And for unbelievable Broadway, theater, and dance performances, there’s nowhere quite like the David A. Straz, Jr., Center for the Performing Arts.

8. Get Cultured at Tampa Bay’s Many Museums

History buffs will enjoy walking through the Henry B. Plant Museum as well as exploring the interactive exhibits at the Tampa Bay History Center and the American Victory Mariners Memorial and Museum Ship, where visitors can come aboard a fully-functioning 1940s-era steamship.

STEM fans will appreciate the Museum of Science and Industry, along with its planetarium and IMAX theater. And if your preferred outing involves perusing art ranging from ancient Greece and contemporary American paintings, to modern sculptures and timeless photographs, you’ll have to drop by the Tampa Museum of Art, the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts, or drive a bit further out to the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg.

9. Go Big at Busch Gardens

Visit Busch Gardens theme park in style by booking an Elite Adventure Tour, which entitles you to skip the lines, enjoy an up-close-and-personalized Serengeti Safari, plus complimentary breakfast and lunch.

You’ll want to reserve your Elite Adventure Tour prior to your visit as this is a seasonal offering with limited availability in September and October. Another unique way to enjoy the park: Be a “Keeper For The Day,” where you’ll get to take part in the feeding and care of various exotic animals.

Or attend a Serengeti Night Safari, designed for adults 21 and over, that includes private hors d’oeuvres and drinks, campfire tales of Africa and up close visits with lions, tigers, hippos and giraffes.

10. Hit the Shops at International Plaza, Bay Street

Look no further than International Plaza and Bay Street to shop premium brands. Here you’ll find everything (and every shop) you need, from designer Michael Kors and Coach handbags, to beautifully crafted Montblanc watches and spectacular diamonds from Tiffany’s.