People have been finding unique things to do in Tampa for more than 2,000 years. Florida’s third biggest city was once the home of the Seminole people, before being colonized by the Spanish, and more recently the retirees. It’s easy to understand why people never want to leave this balmy corner of the Gulf Coast – there are plenty of unique things to do in Tampa.
With a laidback charm, close proximity to nature, and diverse, vibrant culture, the city is fast becoming one of the most popular destinations for a younger crowd looking for city life without the stress. Let’s dive in to what you can get up to in Tampa with this list of uncommon things to do!
Unique activities for kids in Tampa
You’ve finally been able to book that vacation with the whole fam – so, what’s next? There are tons of things to do in Tampa all year long for kids (and teens) of all ages – amusement parks, animal encounters, and even some learning activities! Keep scrolling for a few ways to keep the kids entertained on your upcoming vacay to Tampa.
1. Indulge your inner child at Busch Gardens
For the thrill-seekers and animal lovers among us, a trip to the iconic Busch Gardens is a must! This theme park meets zoo meets safari park allows you to take a thrill ride on some seriously scary rollercoasters in the AM and chill with gorillas in the afternoon.
For some of Tampa’s most adrenaline-pumping adventures, check out the Cheetah Hunt ride for a high-speed kick, or enjoy the panoramic view from the top of Falcon Fury, before free-falling down the 335-foot peak.
The park’s pièce de résistance is the 65-acre Serengeti Plain, where giraffes, ostriches, antelope, zebra and even rhinos roam free. You can take a tour in an open-top vehicle for a taste of the wild Savannah. The park also has a monorail that circles the plain.
And if you need to cool off from the Floridian humidity, just across the street from Busch Gardens is Adventure Island Water Park – 30 acres of watery fun that includes a ton of slides, a wave pool, and a lazy river.
2. Have breakfast with the animals at Zoo Tampa
If you want to meet even more animals, non-profit Zoo Tampa (AKA The Lowry Zoo) has been voted the #1 family-friendly zoo in the US. Here you can meet everyone from friendly koalas, penguins, and elephants to the extremely rare Indian rhino.
Zoo Tampa a range of activities including fitness classes, comedy shows, talks, and Toddler Tuesdays. They also host a regular event called ‘breakfast with the animals’, which combines an art class, mimosas, pancakes, and close encounters with some of the planet’s most iconic creatures.
3. Get creative at the Glazer Children’s Museum
Tampa is an under-the-radar cultural hotspot with a handful of world-class museums. The Riverside Walk leads you to some of the most inspiring, including the delightful Glazer Children’s Museum.
The museum creates a fun and safe learning environment, with interactive exhibits that give children a chance to try on many identities in a safe and imaginative play environment. They can take care of cuddly critters at the vet clinic, build creative masterpieces at the engineer’s workshop, and cook up something delicious at the pizza place. The museum also offers seasonal camps and field trips.
4. Get a glimpse under the sea at the Florida Aquarium
Located on the Riverside Walk, the Florida Aquarium is a must-see thing to do in Tampa, featuring sharks, penguins, sting rays, otters, and plenty of local Floridian sea life. It’s a dedicated learning zone encouraging good ocean stewardship. Above all, it’s extremely child-friendly.
Bring swimwear for the little ones, as it features a very popular splash pad. You can even book dolphin viewing excursions through the aquarium. If you fall deeply in love with the place, you’ll be pleased to know that you can get hitched here too!
Unique outdoor activities in Tampa
One of the great –and distinctly unique – things about Tampa is its close proximity to nature. The Florida Panhandle is surrounded by water, nature reserves, and national parks. You won’t have to look hard to find some outdoor activities to kickstart your stay in Tampa.
5. Swim with manatees on an airboat
If you’re looking for unforgettable outdoor activities in Tampa, then you can’t do much better than this – it’s undoubtedly one of the most unique things to do in Tampa. The natural springs surrounding the city combine two of the most fabulous Tampa activities: hanging out with sea cows and an airboat!
For the uninitiated, an airboat is just what it sounds like – a boat propelled by the wind from a giant fan that skims over the water to help protect the delicate Everglades ecosystem. You’re almost guaranteed to encounter the gentle, seagrass-munching manatees (once mistaken for mermaids) who call this area home.
If you’d rather skip the airboat, you could also check out Tampa Electric’s Manatee Viewing Center, where you can watch baby manatees soak up the warm water expelled from the Big Bend Power Station, which turns water into electric energy through cycling (and recycling) Tampa’s greatest resource – water.
6. Connect with nature at Hillsborough River State Park
Ready to get out of the city? For a truly wild outdoor activity near Tampa, take a day trip out to Hillsborough River State Park. Within a day’s drive, you’ll find loads of outdoor activities – hiking, fishing, camping, and spotting local Florida wildlife.
This lush green oasis boasts river rapids and a glorious suspension bridge. There are trails for days and plenty of opportunities for swimming. The campground amenities are very family-friendly, complete with play parks and a pool. This is a must-see for those who really want to switch off and reconnect with nature.
7. Bike, blade, segway or take a stroll on the Tampa Riverwalk
This 2.4-mile stretch is allegedly the longest continuous sidewalk in the world. In the morning, the Tampa Riverwalk is full of fitness fanatics jogging, cycling, or practicing yoga by the glittering waters. Afternoons are for hand-holding couples, sundowners, and live music. Rent yourself some wheels or just take a leisurely stroll.
This is an outdoor activity easily paired with one of the many attractions on the walk – including the Tampa Museum of Art, the Florida Aquarium and the Glazer Children’s Museum. Go with an empty stomach because this area is also frequented by some of Tampa’s best food trucks.
8. Get out on the water
You can’t go wrong with a day’s fishing around Tampa, and if you don’t have a friend with a boat, you can easily make one by chartering a captain and their vessel. Even if the fish don’t bite, a day floating on the crystal clear waters of Anna Maria Island will be unforgettable.
And if you’re just in it for the boat (or a need to feel the ocean breeze in your hair), then a quick ride on a speedboat can be a refreshing way to jumpstart your Tampa adventure.
9. Hike the Lettuce Lake Loop
Lettuce Lake Regional Park is a stone’s throw (and a short 24 minute drive) from downtown Tampa. Despite its proximity to the city, this park is teaming with native wildlife and flora.
One of the best ways to experience Lettuce Lake is by walking the easily accessible 2 km loop trail. You can also rent kayaks and canoes to explore the lake and swamps, or simply chill at the picnic and playground.
Unexpected things to do in Tampa
There’s a reason why visitors from around the world flock to Florida every year. Besides the obvious year-round sunshine, Tampa has a long list of unique things to do that you can’t find anywhere else.
If you are looking to tick some one-of-a-kind experiences off your bucket list, then look no further than this list of unique things to do in and around Tampa.
10. Drive over the majestic Sunshine Skyway Bridge
If you’re visiting Tampa as part of a road trip, or plan on exploring some of the nearby Gulf Coast beaches, we highly recommend a detour over the incredible Sunshine Skyway Bridge. This 6.7 km-long masterpiece of structural engineering connects the nearby towns of St. Petersburg and Bradenton over a vast amount of water, and offers some incredible views of Tampa Bay.
This suspension bridge is not only long, but dizzyingly high, with a vertical clearance of 150 feet. Thankfully, there’s a place on the bridge to park and take in the panorama. There is also a nearby rest area with kayaking and fishing opportunities if you want to make a day of it (which you probably will).
11. Learn the art of shuffleboard
Shuffleboard might just be Florida’s state sport. It’s a simple game that involves pushing weighted disks across a narrow court, with the goal of having them land in a marked scoring area.
At Shuffle, the Tampa Heights Shuffleboard Society, you can learn the tricks of the trade with the help of the friendly staff, while indulging in gourmet hot dogs and craft beer from their grown-up concession stand. The venue also hosts live music, and boasts an impressive terrace. It’s a community hotspot and a great way to while away a lazy Tampa afternoon.
12. Cool off at a hockey game
You might not have Tampa pegged as a hockey town, but NHL hockey is the city’s most popular sport. The city has barely stopped celebrating since the Tampa Bay Lightning won the 2020 and 2021 Stanley Cups.
Even if you’re not a hockey buff, the games are a riot and the crowd is friendly. What’s more: the temperature is cool, making this a perfect Tampa activity if you need a break from the Florida heat. Afterwards, hang out on the Party Deck or follow fans out to one of the many downtown bars that surround the Amalie Arena.
Unique things to eat in Tampa
You might want to bring your stretchy pants because Tampa is quickly becoming a gastronomical hotspot. While you could never get through all the city’s culinary delights in one short trip (or even a lifetime), here are some of the top recommendations. Tasting your way through Tampa is one of the best things to do!
13. Devour a Cubano sandwich
Miami might be famous for this roast pork, swiss cheese, mustard, and pickle sandwich, but Tampa is where the Cubano sandwich originated. Here you’ll also get a few slices of salami in the mix – a welcome addition added by Tampa’s Italian community. Everything is lovingly nestled in some fresh Cuban bread, ready for you to devour.
A trip to Tampa isn’t complete without sampling one of these, and kū´bå, a hotspot in the trendy Armature Works, is highly recommended. If you’re vegan, you can still get involved – Golden Dinosaurs Deli offers a mouthwatering plant-based version.
14. Go on a gastro-tour
World-class steakhouse Bern’s is a must for meat and wine lovers thanks to its 100,000-strong wine list. If you prefer your meat served a little more casually, check out Wicked Oak BarbeQue on North Florida Avenue. The owner, Felix “Bubba” Flores, keeps things simple so the focus is on his slow-cooked brisket and ribs, and the results are unforgettable.
For Southern soul food and a charming ambiance, pay a visit to Ella’s Americana Folk Art Cafe. Located in Seminole Heights (not far from Downtown) this venue, gallery, and eatery will nourish your stomach and your soul, with southern classics like grits, chicken and waffles, and biscuits and gravy. There are good vegan options for the herbivores among us.
The beating heart of Tampa’s food scene is inside a 1900s streetcar warehouse known as the Armature Works. This public market showcases food created by some of Tampa’s top chefs.
You can’t go wrong here, but you might want to try a Quesabirria taco at Muchachas. It’s a taco-quesadilla hybrid stuffed with gooey cheese and braised beef, served with a consommé dipping sauce. It’s every bit as dreamy as it sounds.
Unique cultural activities in Tampa
If theme parks aren’t your thing, or a rare rainstorm has ruined your beach day, there are plenty of unique things to do in Tampa that allow you to participate in the city’s history and culture. From history museums to live entertainment, Tampa doesn’t disappoint.
15. Go out on the town in Ybor City
The historic Ybor City neighborhood once housed the Cuban and Spanish cigar-factory workers at the turn of the 20th century. Nowadays, the cultural heart of Tampa is known for its vibrant nightlife.
Music lovers should check out the Ritz for big name acts, the Orpheum for indie shows, and the Crowbar for local acts and nights out (where the cover charge rarely exceeds $10). Blur Nightclub is the spot for drag shows. This area is a destination for craft beer lovers, who should make time for a visit to Tampa Brewing Company.
Unsurprisingly, for such a rich, historical area, it’s also a hot spot for close encounters of the spiritual kind. Ghost Tours Ybor City offers a spooky guided walk that is both creepy and highly informative.
16. Experience Tampa’s gilded History at the Henry B. Plant Museum
For history buffs, the Henry B. Plant Museum is a Tampa must-see. Housed in the 1891 Tampa Bay Hotel, this is one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks with it’s Moorish minarets visible from many a city vista.
Henry Plant commissioned the hotel as a destination for wealthy passengers of the new railroad that put Tampa on the map. Today, most of the grand building is used by the sprawling University of Tampa, while the south wing celebrates Tampa’s sumptuous 18th-century heyday.
17. Party like a pirate
Though glorious year round, if there was a best time to visit Tampa, it might be the last Sunday of January, when the Gasparilla Pirate Festival takes over Downtown. This Mardi Gras-style parade celebrating the invasion of mythical Floridian folk hero pirate Jose Gaspar has been held nearly every year since 1904.
On that day, members of the Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla sail into downtown Tampa aboard their pirate ship float (along with hundreds of private boats), and demand that the mayor hand over the key to the city. After the invasion, the victory parade takes over the Riverside Walk and the party goes on till the small hours.
Pirates are a big thing in Tampa, so if you can’t make it for Gasparilla, you can always pay Gaspar’s Grotto a visit. This Ybor City bar and restaurant celebrates the famous pirate invasion all year long.
18. Visit the Tampa Bay History Center
Explore 12,000 years of Florida history and culture when you enter the Tampa Bay History Center. Learn all about the swash-buckling pirates who guarded the Florida coastline with an interactive timeline, trace the footsteps of ancient people and early explorers with a cartographic map, and understand the recent people and places who make the Sunshine State great.
A perfect activity for families and individuals alike, the Tampa Bay History Center is a treasure trove full of engaging learning activities for hours of educational entertainment.
Unique relaxing things to do in Tampa
If you are looking to unplug and get away on your holiday in Tampa, you are in the right place. Tampa is a little slice of paradise with access to white sandy beaches at every turn. Splurge on a day of shopping with hundreds of unique boutiques, sip a coffee at a cozy cafe, or enjoy a cold beverage on a patio surrounded by palm trees.
19. Unwind at the beach
A trip to Tampa isn’t complete without catching some rays by the seaside, and beach bums won’t have to go far to sink their toes in perfect white sand.
One of the best beaches in the Tampa area is Pass-a-Grille Beach. The wide, powdery beach is situated beside a cute, historical town, boasting a ton of good seafood restaurants, art galleries, and an old-fashioned main street. If you’d rather avoid the flashy resorts of Clearwater, then this is your spot. From here, take a snorkeling trip out to uninhabited Shell Key, or watch dolphins play from the deck of a sunset cruise.
A more local spot is the Getaway. Snuggled between Tampa and neighboring St. Pete, this chilled-out tiki bar offers kayak, canoe, and paddle board rentals onsite. It’s easy to paddle out to Weedon Island Preserve and explore the mangroves and sandbars. Or you can just stay put, chill out on the sand, and soak up the Keys vibe over some fish tacos and sundowner cocktails.
20. Splurge in some retail therapy
Go for a wander in historic Hyde Park, one of Tampa’s coolest neighborhoods. Bordering the University, this community is full of glorious old houses, cool hangouts, and some of the best shopping in Tampa.
Open-air mall Hyde Park Village is a good place to start with its mix of high-end chain stores and independent boutiques, as well as beauty parlors and eateries. If your feet (and credit card) need a break, take a stroll up SoHo (AKA South Howard Avenue) to decompress in one of its many bars and cafes.