Tampa Florida Travel Guide | AAA.com
 
 
 
Tampa Bay Travel Guide | Flights | Cars | Hotels | Attractions | Restaurants | Campgrounds | Events
Tampa Bay
Historical preservation and a good measure of civic pride have contributed to a cultural richness that makes Tampa comparable in Florida to Miami. Consider vibrant, historic Ybor City, birthplace of Tampa's cigar industry and now its hot-hot-hot Latin-infused nightspot. Or an eclectic mix of art, history...
Editors' Top Picks
THE ESSENTIAL THINGS TO SEE AND DO
Play
AAA EDITORS' TOP PICKS PLUS DETAILS ON ALL AREA ATTRACTIONS
Dine
AAA EDITORS' TOP PICKS PLUS DETAILS ON ALL AREA RESTAURANTS
1 to 3 Day Plan
Recommended Itineraries
 
Things to Do
Nightlife and other things to do
 
Events
Upcoming events
 
Join AAA
Enjoy the benifits of AAA
-->
1 to 3 Day Plan
Recommended Itineraries
 
Things to Do
Nightlife and other things to do
 
Events
Upcoming events
 
Vicinity
Places in the Vicinity
 
Activities
Activities
Good to Know
GETTING THERE
GETTING AROUND
INFORMED TRAVELER
VISITOR INFORMATION OFFICES
Meet Our Editors
MEET AAA's TEAM OF PROFESSIONAL TRAVEL EDITORS

close
Introduction


http://tdr.aaa.com/tdr-images/original/110046 http://tdr.aaa.com/tdr-images/preview/110046 http://tdr.aaa.com/tdr-images/thumbnail/110046
Historical preservation and a good measure of civic pride have contributed to a cultural richness that makes Tampa comparable in Florida to Miami. Consider vibrant, historic Ybor City, birthplace of Tampa's cigar industry and now its hot-hot-hot Latin-infused nightspot. Or an eclectic mix of art, history and science museums that inspire adults and children to explore new horizons together while having loads of fun.


http://tdr.aaa.com/tdr-images/original/234130 http://tdr.aaa.com/tdr-images/preview/234130 http://tdr.aaa.com/tdr-images/thumbnail/234130
When it comes to family-oriented entertainment, animals figure prominently in the mix at Busch Gardens Tampa and such top-notch attractions as Big Cat Rescue and Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo.


Nearby Gulf Coast beaches sing a siren's song to visitors who can't resist superfine sand and gently lapping waters. And while the area's parks, rivers and other natural attributes are conducive to active participation, there's plenty of spectator action for those who like a good game. Tampa's championship football, arena football and hockey teams provide seasonal sports excitement, but baseball rules in April when the Tampa Bay Rays and fellow “boys of summer”—the New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies—suit up for spring training. Family outings don't get any better than a day at the ballpark.

http://tdr.aaa.com/tdr-images/original/234124 http://tdr.aaa.com/tdr-images/preview/234124 http://tdr.aaa.com/tdr-images/thumbnail/234124
And when you've seen all there is to see, Tampa can be an ideal starting point for a cruise to Caribbean ports of call, or maybe just a drive trip down Florida's scenic west coast to Bradenton, Sarasota, Sanibel or Fort Myers.


In Depth
With the world's tourism mecca—Orlando—just 70 miles up the road, it might be easy to overlook the city by the bay as a major travel destination. But Tampa and its adjoining communities have a great deal to offer visitors. And yes, there's a theme park here, too: Busch Gardens Tampa preceded Walt Disney's dream by 12 years.

But there also are some things Mickey and friends don't have. With varied cultural offerings, world-class attractions, championship sports teams, water recreation opportunities and a vibrant Latin heritage, Tampa merits a closer look.


During the 18th century the bay belonged to pirates who left a decided influence on the area. One of them, the legendary Jose Gaspar, may have pillaged his way to annual celebrity—Tampa's Gasparilla Pirate Festival, a weeklong extravaganza, takes place late January or early February. The area's NFL team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, also takes its name from this era.

In the late 1800s, railroads stimulated the tourist trade, attracting wealthy Northern vacationers to the area. In 1891, royalty, financial bigwigs and luminaries attended the opening of Henry B. Plant's exclusive Tampa Bay Hotel, which is today part of the University of Tampa.

Cigars were once the city's mainstay, and brick and frame factories housing such companies as Hav-a-Tampa and Cuesta-Rey provided employment for Spanish, Italian and Cuban immigrants who labored at long tables hand-rolling tobacco leaves. Cigars are still produced, but the area business community has diversified.

Tampa is now the foremost port of Florida's west coast and one of the nation's busiest, with petroleum, coal, steel and cement among its major inbound cargoes. A state-of-the-art cruise terminal also welcomes passengers of Carnival Cruise Lines, Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International bound for Caribbean and Latin American destinations.

Architecturally, Tampa admirably records the different periods of its growth. Older stucco homes with flat roofs, patios and wrought-iron balconies show a marked Spanish influence. And the Tampa Convention Center, the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, and several office skyscrapers and luxury hotels added during the building boom of the 1980s and early 1990s heightened the city's once modest business district to a stature worthy of more established corporate centers.

Nowadays, all eyes are on the waterfront. The Riverwalk, a 2.6-mile pedestrian promenade that parallels the Hillsborough River, has transformed the downtown landscape, opening up public access to Tampa’s lovely waterfront and linking museums, parks and numerous hotels, restaurants and outdoor gathering places. Once completed in mid-2016, pedestrians will be able to walk alongside the river from The Florida Aquarium to Water Works Park and Spring and then to the North Boulevard Bridge. The Tampa Bay History Center, near Amalie Arena, relocated here in late 2008 to a building 10 times its original size, while the Tampa Museum of Art and the Glazer Children’s Museum occupy redesigned Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, a Riverwalk gem in the heart of downtown.

Hosting the Super Bowl for the fourth time in 2009 served notice of the bay area’s passion for sports, particularly football. Not that anyone needed reminding after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took home the Super Bowl XXXVII trophy in 2003, the same year the Tampa Bay Storm arena football team won its fourth championship. In 2004, the Tampa Bay Lightning took the NHL’s coveted Stanley Cup.

And then there’s Major League Baseball. From late February to early April, the Grapefruit League’s spring training stint at regional ballparks renders pro teams accessible to thousands who want to see how their favorites—including the 2008 American League Champion Tampa Bay Rays—are shaping up for the real season.


 
About the City


City Population
352,957

Elevation
27 ft.

Money


Sales Tax
Sales tax is 7 percent in Hillsborough and Pasco counties. An accommodations tax is 5 percent in Hillsborough County and 2 percent in Pasco County.

Whom To Call


Emergency
911

Police (non-emergency)
(813) 231-6130; Sheriff (813) 247-8200

Fire (non-emergency)
(813) 274-7011

Hospitals
Florida Hospital Carrollwood, (813) 932-2222; Florida Hospital Tampa, (813) 971-6000; Memorial Hospital of Tampa, (813) 873-6400; Tampa General, (813) 844-7000.

Where To Look and Listen


Newspapers
The city is served by The Tampa Tribune. Several publications with smaller circulations serve local areas; one such paper is the trilingual La Gaceta.

Radio
WUSF (89.7 FM) is a member of National Public Radio.

Visitor Information

Tampa Bay Visitor Information Center

615 Channelside Dr. TAMPA, FL 33602. Phone:(813)226-0293 or (800)448-2672 The Tampa Bay Visitor Information Center is open Mon.-Sat. 9:30-5:30, Sun. 11-5.


Transportation


Air Travel
Commercial flights entering Tampa land at Tampa International Airport (TPA). Several commercial airlines and private planes use St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport (PIE). Private and corporate planes have access to Albert Whitted Airport (SPG) in St. Petersburg and Peter O. Knight Airport (TPF) in Tampa.

Rental Cars
Hertz, which offers discounts to AAA members, is at Tampa International Airport, (813) 874-3232; St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport, (727) 532-4791; and at St. Pete Beach, (727) 360-1631; or phone 800-654-4173.

Rail Service
Tampa's Amtrak station is at 601 N. Nebraska Ave. in downtown Tampa, behind historic Union Station. Daily service is offered; phone (813) 221-7600 or (800) 872-7245. Bus service to Union Station is available via HARTline routes 2, 9 and 12; phone (813) 254-4278.

Buses
Greyhound Lines Inc. is at 610 E. Polk St. in Tampa; phone (813) 229-2174.

Taxis
Major companies include United Cab Co., (813) 253-2424, and Yellow Cab Co., (813) 253-0121.

Taxis are metered. Most cabs charge $2.50 to enter and $2.40 per mile and 30c per 60 seconds of waiting time. A taxi ride between Tampa International Airport and downtown Tampa, the Ybor City area and the cruise terminals costs a flat rate of $25 in either direction. Limousine service averages $65 per hour in the Tampa Bay area.

Public Transportation
HARTline serves Tampa and its immediate suburbs, including shopping malls and area attractions. Service also includes the TECO Line Streetcar System, which makes 11 stops along a 2.3-mile track between downtown Tampa and Ybor City. For HARTline bus and streetcar fares and schedules, phone (813) 254-4278.

 
Visitor Information

Tampa Bay Visitor Information Center

615 Channelside Dr. TAMPA, FL 33602. Phone:(813)226-0293 or (800)448-2672 The Tampa Bay Visitor Information Center is open Mon.-Sat. 9:30-5:30, Sun. 11-5.


 
Getting There


By Car
The major direct route to Tampa from the north is I-75, which traverses Florida's north-central lake district: The 62-mile stretch south of Wildwood is especially scenic. It is roughly paralleled by US 301 on the east and US 41 on the west. North of downtown I-75 changes to I-275, which merges with I-4 in mid-city. I-75 bypasses the city proper to the east, rejoining I-275 north of Bradenton.

Driving into Tampa from the south, US 41 parallels I-75, the main corridor from the southern Gulf Coast. From Daytona Beach in the east, I-4 angles across central Florida through Orlando, while older US 92 runs parallel from Lakeland. SR 60, a four-lane, divided highway, leads from Lake Wales. Running from the Gulf Coast west of Tampa, SR 60 connects to Clearwater, and I-275 travels to St. Petersburg.

Air Travel
Commercial flights entering Tampa land at Tampa International Airport (TPA). Several commercial airlines and private planes use St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport (PIE). Private and corporate planes have access to Albert Whitted Airport (SPG) in St. Petersburg and Peter O. Knight Airport (TPF) in Tampa.

Tampa International Airport is on the city's west side along Old Tampa Bay. To reach downtown Tampa, take I-275 north—though you'll actually be traveling east—and take the Ashley Street exit. Past this exit I-275 turns sharply northward, bisecting the city. Continue along I-275 to reach such destinations as the University of South Florida and Busch Gardens Tampa. Exit to I-4 east if you're heading for Ybor City, Plant City or Lakeland. Or take a cab: United and Yellow cabs provide service from the airport. Both have a minimum $15 fare from the airport; the flat rate to downtown (about 6 miles) is about $30.

To reach downtown St. Petersburg, take I-275 south, cross the bay on the 7-mile Howard Frankland Bridge, and proceed another 10 miles or so due south. From I-275, take I-375 into the northern half of downtown or I-175 into the southern half. Transportation from Tampa International to St. Petersburg is easily acquired. Supershuttle provides transfers from Tampa International to St. Petersburg and cities in Hernando, Pasco and Sarasota counties; phone (800) 258-3826.

St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport is about 10 miles across the bay from Tampa on SR 686 (Roosevelt Boulevard), near the west side of the Howard Frankland Bridge. Airport traffic exits northwest toward Clearwater or south, providing access to St. Petersburg and Tampa.

Hertz, which offers discounts to AAA members, is at Tampa International Airport, (813) 874-3232; St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport, (727) 532-4801; and at St. Pete Beach, (727) 360-1631; or phone (800) 654-3080.

 
Getting Around


Street System
Downtown Tampa is bracketed by water and has only a few major access routes. From I-275, take the Ashley Street exit. Also from the north, SR 45 (Nebraska Avenue) and one-way US 41 Bus. Rte. lead into downtown. Cass Street approaches from the west. From the east, use SR 60 (John F. Kennedy Boulevard).

Tampa also is laid out in a basic grid, with a few geographic variations. US 41 Bus. Rte. (Florida Avenue) divides east from west; John F. Kennedy Boulevard/Frank Adamo Drive (SR 60) separates north from south. Many streets in the downtown area are one way.

Five major east-west thoroughfares support cross-town traffic: SR 582 (Fowler Avenue), SR 580 (Busch Boulevard), US 92/US 41 (Hillsborough Avenue), SR 574 (Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard), and the Crosstown Expressway (toll). Three others parallel I-275: on the west, SR 597/SR 580/US 92 (Dale Mabry Highway); through the central city, US 41/SR 45 (Nebraska Avenue); and on the east, SR 583 (56th Street).

Generally, downtown speed limits are 30 mph or as posted. Unless otherwise posted, a right turn is allowed on a red light after a complete stop. It is best to avoid taking an unfamiliar route during rush hours (about 7 to 9 a.m. and 4:30 to 6 p.m.).

Parking
Limited on-street parking is available in the downtown business sections and along major thoroughfares. Rates for municipal parking garages start at $1 per hour with a maximum of $12 per day. Metered lot parking and use of the Fort Brooke parking garage run $1.60 per hour (if using the garage for 6-24 hours, the rate is $9.50). For downtown parking information phone (813) 221-3686.


close
Essentials
• Guide the family on a safari through Busch Gardens Tampa (3000 E. Busch Blvd.). You'll be transported to the countries and landscapes of Africa the moment you walk through the arches of this extraordinary 335-acre animal preserve and theme park.

http://tdr.aaa.com/tdr-images/original/234128 http://tdr.aaa.com/tdr-images/preview/234128 http://tdr.aaa.com/tdr-images/thumbnail/234128
• Immerse yourself in the Cuban culture of Ybor City : Learn about this district's historic cigar industry at Ybor Chamber Visitor Information Center (1600 E. 8th Ave.); take a walking tour offered by the Ybor City Museum State Park (1818 E. 9th Ave.); sample traditional café con leche and guava pastry for breakfast at La Tropicana Café (1822 E. 7th Ave.); and watch sensuous flamenco dancers while dining at the 100-year-old Columbia Restaurant (2117 E. 7th Ave). On weekends, live la vida loca (the crazy life) among thousands of club-hoppers along Seventh Avenue.


• Don your beach attire and head to the Gulf Coast beaches on the Pinellas Peninsula. These are some of the best sandy shores in the nation when it comes to climate, water, sand and safety.

http://tdr.aaa.com/tdr-images/original/234132 http://tdr.aaa.com/tdr-images/preview/234132 http://tdr.aaa.com/tdr-images/thumbnail/234132
• Get acquainted with the man who turned Tampa into a winter resort at the Henry B. Plant Museum (401 W. Kennedy Blvd.) which occupies a wing of the railroad magnate's luxury 1891 hotel. The preserved Victorian-era building, with its sprawling veranda, ornate gingerbread trim and signature silver minarets, is part of the University of Tampa . During the annual Victorian Christmas Stroll, the halls are decked in 19th-century Christmas finery.


• Talk to the animals at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo (1101 W. Sligh Ave.). Practice your bird calls in the zoo's free-flight aviaries, trumpet like the African elephants in the Ituri Forest and roar along with the white Bengal tigers in the Asian Gardens. See African creatures close up on the Safari Ride's train as it weaves around behind many of the zoo's animal enclosures. You can also feed giraffes, lorikeets and white rhinos, ride a camel or a llama, pet a stingray and gaze at Australian animals like kookaburras, koalas, wallabies and emus. At Big Cat Rescue (12802 Easy St.), spend the day on a 45-acre sanctuary among more than 140 rescued lions, tigers, bobcats and leopards.

• Take in the views at the Tampa Museum of Art (120 W. Gasparilla Plaza) on the waterfront of the Hillsborough River. The building itself is quite modern, wrapped in aluminum panels with LED lights peeking out of its perforations, while the view across the river features the University of Tampa's minarets. Inside, the view includes a wide range of styles such as Greek and Roman art dating as far back as 2300 B.C., contemporary photorealist oil paintings, photography from the 19th to 21st centuries and cutting-edge works by artists like Cindy Sherman.

• Indulge in some unique cuisine at u-le-le (1810 N. Highland Ave.), one of Tampa's newest additions to its restaurant scene. Its blend of locally sourced foods and Native American dishes has the place packed every night, while its location on the Hillsborough River and The Riverwalk allows for marvelous views, especially at sunset. Adventurous diners will want to try Florida native chili, which includes alligator, wild boar and venison, or oysters on the half shell, harvested from local waters.

• Attend a rock concert or an ice hockey game at Amalie Arena (401 Channelside Dr.). The arena is home base for the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning and the AFL's Tampa Bay Storm and has recently hosted WWE wrestling events. Musical artists, including Ed Sheeran and Rush, also play at the arena. Simulated lightning bolts made by Tesla coils at the Lightning games make ice hockey even more exciting.

http://tdr.aaa.com/tdr-images/original/234088 http://tdr.aaa.com/tdr-images/preview/234088 http://tdr.aaa.com/tdr-images/thumbnail/234088
• Take a drive on the Sunshine Skyway, a 15-mile causeway spanning the mouth of Tampa Bay between the mainland north of Bradenton and the Pinellas Peninsula.




close
Restaurants
Our favorites include some of this destination's best restaurants—from fine dining to simple fare.

By Inspector 76

If you are visiting Tampa for the first time, chances are your itinerary will include a day of sightseeing in Ybor City, the historic cigar-making district established by Vicente Martinez Ybor in 1886. In the very heart of the district you'll find the Columbia Restaurant , founded in 1905 by Casimiro Hernandez and owned and operated by fourth and fifth generations of the founding family. Latin traditions run deep in both the Spanish and Cuban cuisine created from family recipes, and in the excitement generated by flamenco dancers. Sample tapas classics such as black bean cakes, empanadas or chicken croquettes, then try a robust seafood, pork and chicken paella entrée or Casimiro Hernandez's red snapper casserole. This 52,000-square-foot restaurant with 15 dining rooms and patios sprawled over an entire city block is the flagship of a fleet of six other restaurants in central and south Florida.


With its upscale décor and Mediterranean-influenced new American cuisine, Mise en Place , also downtown, caters to diners who tend to be adventurous in palate and spirit. Fresh local ingredients are the foundation for lunch and dinner originals that include sous vide lobster with spicy edamame dumplings, seared foie gras with pickled plums and Kobe New York strip with duck fat roasted fingerling potatoes. The “Get Blitzed” tasting menu pairs selected samples of Chef Marty Blitz's weekly specials with complementary wines.

Nestled in Old Hyde Village—Tampa's oldest planned neighborhood—since 1956, Bern's Steak House has built its reputation on the premise that preparing steak is an art form. Their menu—more like a book—features detailed descriptions of USDA Prime steak cuts ranging from filet mignon to delmonico to chateaubriand, plus all you need to know about rare, medium and well done cooking instructions. In addition to steak, the menu consists of nearly 95 other appetizer, soup, salad and entrée options. Because fresh ingredients are paramount, Bern's even grows most of its own vegetables. Every meal is a masterpiece, but the pièce de résistance here has to be the second-floor, after-dinner dessert retreat where guests can enjoy sweets and sip champagne, Cognac, coffee and dessert wines in cozy little spaces where you choose your own background music.

The Colonnade Restaurant On The Bay , owned and operated by the Whiteside family since 1935, specializes in seafood dishes made from the freshest catches of Gulf grouper, Alaskan salmon, mountain rainbow trout, jumbo shrimp, bay scallops and rock lobster. A tempting dessert menu features homemade pies baked daily. “The ‘Nade's” wraparound picture windows afford sweeping views of Hillsborough Bay. If scenery was a menu item, everyone would order a window seat.

If you’re looking for a casual meal as well as bang for the food buck, many locals will steer you in the direction of Sonny’s Real Pit Bar-B-Q . It’s a chain with several locations in the Tampa area, including one about 2 miles west of Busch Gardens, and a bunch more throughout Florida and the Southeast. The ambience isn’t much to shout about, but Sonny’s has been around what seems like forever (well, since 1968), and even discerning ’cue aficionados give it props for delivering consistently good grub. Chicken, ribs, pork and brisket come in a variety of preparations and combos, and any of the all-you-can-eat specials will have you waddling away from the table, sighing contentedly. If you want to sample true Southern cuisine, the fried okra makes for a good appetizer.

Locals also go to Kojak's House of Ribs , just west of Bayshore Boulevard, for barbecue. Everything from tender pork spareribs to pit-smoked chicken and beef to hot smoked sausage links is cooked Oklahoma-style and served in a relaxed, country-kitchen atmosphere. Seating is available on the front porch shaded by stately old oak trees.

In west Tampa, Charley's Steakhouse specializes in aged USDA Prime and Choice beef cooked to perfection over aromatic hardwood flames. But if you're in the mood for something from the sea, try a succulent two-pound lobster with your steak. Charley's also operates three other award-winning restaurants in the Orlando area.

Soulful Southern cooking is the essence of Lee Roy Selmon's restaurant, namesake of the former Tampa Bay Buccaneer and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The menu recalls Selmon's Oklahoma farm roots with comfort food made from Mama Selmon's recipes: fried green tomatoes, crispy fried chicken, smoked pulled pork, two-handed hamburgers and down-home desserts such as cobbler, bread pudding and pecan pie. Portions are generous enough to please a hungry defensive lineman, and sports fans will enjoy the football memorabilia displayed about the restaurant.

Old Tampa Bay provides a tranquil backdrop for lunch, dinner or Sunday brunch at Oystercatchers Restaurant , an upscale casual eatery. Signature dishes such as tandoori shrimp and Kentucky bourbon barbecued scallops highlight the restaurant's flair for contemporary cuisine. Fish selections include yellowfin tuna, mahi mahi, Chilean sea bass, Gulf Coast grouper, Alaska king crab and striped bass that you can have sautéed, grilled, poached, broiled or blackened. Oystercatchers is tucked behind the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay .

Armani's , atop the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay , claims bragging rights to spectacular views of Old Tampa Bay and beyond. The menu of Northern Italian cuisine is intriguing, partly because some of it is written in Italian—if you're not sure whether to order vitello or pesce, read on and all will be revealed in mouthwatering detail in the subtitles. Scaloppine Armani's, the restaurant's signature dish, features veal (vitello) sauteed with exotic mushrooms and Cognac and finished with creamy truffle sauce. After perusing the menu, visit the elaborate antipasto bar that caught your eye on the way in. Armani's dining room is elegant, the mood romantic, the service efficient and food presentations artistic.

Flaming tiki torches and tropical plants outside Roy's in the Westshore district only hint at what's inside. This upscale restaurant's combination of Pacific seafood, French sauces and Asian seasonings add up to a truly innovative and inspired take on Hawaiian cuisine. Order the succulent Hawaii Kai-style braised short ribs of beef if you're not a fish lover; the Hawaiian-style Misoyaki butterfish if you are. Or make a delectable meal of rolled and Nigiri sushi and riceless sashimi. The legendary chocolate soufflé is a must for dessert. For a good deal on appetizers and drinks, attend the popular Aloha Hour nightly 4:30-6:30.

Meanwhile, in the trendsetting SoHo district (aka South Howard Avenue), you'll find quite the varied dining scene. Art Deco paintings surround you at the upscale 717 South , where New American seafood, salads and steak will please your palate; try the seafood cioppino, lollipop pork chop with bacon truffle macaroni and cheese, or kale salad with roasted fennel and thyme vinaigrette. A local favorite since 1975, Hugo’s Spanish Restaurant is a no-frills luncheonette that serves up aromatic Cuban specialties like ropa viejo, arroz con pollo and Cuban sandwiches at bargain prices; they also serve burgers and are open for breakfast. In the mood to try some Thai? The menu at Royal Palace Thai Restaurant includes sushi as well as traditional dishes made with curries, lobster, chicken, crab, duck, beef, snapper and frog legs. Or try something from the “Hawkers Fare” menu, which is essentially a small plates menu featuring Asian street food. The striking decor complements the cuisine with intricate carved teakwood, eye-catching wall hangings and a pair of gilded bronze deer.

See all the AAA Diamond Rated restaurants for this destination.



close
Attractions
In a city with dozens of attractions, you may have trouble deciding where to spend your time. Here are the highlights for this destination, as chosen by AAA editors. GEMs are “Great Experiences for Members.”

Tampa's top attractions fall into four fun-packed categories—theme parks, museums, outdoor activities and historic sites. Busch Gardens Tampa , the area's only theme park and a AAA GEM attraction, predates Disney's earliest Orlando park by several years, making it something of a regional pioneer in family oriented entertainment. Through exciting rides, live entertainment and natural animal habitats, Busch Gardens presents a grand tour of Africa. A Serengeti safari among free-roaming animals, a soaking raft ride on the Congo River and a lowland gorilla domain plus Egyptian tombs, a Moroccan bazaar and syncopated drumbeats re-create the sights and sounds of exotic places known only to world travelers. Four unique steel roller coasters punch up this park's thrill factor.


Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo features outstanding animal exhibit areas with lots of interaction, shows, safaris, rides and learning stations. Hop aboard the Treetop Skyfari for a round-trip aerial view of the park.

Speaking of treetops, chances are you will spot a leopard lounging in one when you tour Big Cat Rescue , a sanctuary for unwanted or abused exotic animals.

Of the art, history, science and nature museums that dot culturally chic Tampa, three attractions exude excellence. The Florida Aquarium , a AAA GEM attraction set under a shell-shaped, glass and steel canopy, offers a marine life roundup of more than 10,000 oceanic and freshwater creatures plus dive shows and personal interaction with sharks, rays and other species. You don't have to be a science geek to get into MOSI (Museum of Science & Industry) , a AAA GEM attraction where practical applications put scientific principals into perspective for all age groups. Ride a bicycle across a balance beam and learn why the laws of physics won't let you fall off; or feel the power of nature as you sit in a hurricane-force wind chamber. And while you're at MOSI, take in an IMAX film or two. At the Tampa Museum of Art , see what a difference a few thousand years can make as you gaze in equal wonder at 4,000-year-old Greek marble sculptures as well as oil paintings, photographs, lithographs and sculpture from the 20th century; all can be found in a modern box-shaped aluminum building completed in 2010.

If you like to paint the town red, you've got your pick of nightclubs in Ybor City ; once a cigar-making hub in the late 1800s, it's now the area's epicenter of entertainment. Brimming with dozens of nightclubs and restaurants, the district also appeals to shoppers (stop at the Ybor Chamber Visitor Information Center for some souvenirs—perhaps an Ybor City cookbook or cigars) or check out a cigar-rolling demonstration at one of several still-in-business cigar shops.

Take your inner child about 50 miles south on I-75 to Sarasota, the former winter home of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus. Steeped in its circus heritage, Sarasota also is rich with tangible treasures bequeathed to the state by John Ringling. The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art , a AAA GEM attraction, holds a world-class collection of European masterworks amassed by the couple on their world travels in the early 1900s. Ca' d'Zan (or House of John), the palatial Ringling mansion, reflects the family's passion for all things Venetian. Costumes, posters and nostalgia-evoking displays at The Circus Museum preserve the Ringling legacy and even have the potential to trigger a few happy childhood memories of your day under the big top. Also on exhibit is the Ringling family's private 1905 rail car. And don't miss the Tibbals Learning Center , which illustrates the sights and sounds of circus history with interactive exhibits, a 3-D timeline, displays about circus music and a 3,800-square-foot handmade miniature replica of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus that will have you dropping your jaw in awe.

In nearby Bradenton an important collection of American Indian artifacts unearthed in Florida during the 1930s and ‘40s forms the core of the South Florida Museum . With cultural and natural history exhibits, a dome-style planetarium featuring digital astronomy shows, and a habitat for the state's oldest manatee born in a protective environment (Snooty marked his “golden” birthday in 1998), this AAA GEM attraction captures Florida's life stages like a cherished family scrapbook. Hope you brought a camera.

See all the AAA recommended attractions for this destination.



close
Tampa in 3 Days
Three days is barely enough time to get to know any major destination. But AAA travel editors suggest these activities to make the most of your time in Tampa.

Day 1: Morning
You'll want to set aside a full day to enjoy all the shows, rides and live animal exhibits at Busch Gardens Tampa. Roller-coaster fanatics might need an extra day to do multiple laps on seven thrillers, including Kumba, an inversion coaster; Montu, delivering 3.85 Gs; floorless SheiKra; and Gwazi, a wooden classic.

In the alternative, devote the first day of your itinerary to Tampa's museum group. Begin with an introduction to the early days at the Tampa Bay History Center. Four floors of interactive exhibits cover periods of native habitation, Spanish exploration and events of the 20th century. A satellite of the renowned Columbia Restaurant opens for lunch at 11.


Day 1: Afternoon
Among Tampa's milestones was the arrival of railroad tycoon and developer Henry Plant in the late 1800s. Complement your history lesson with a visit to the Henry B. Plant Museum, in the restored Tampa Bay Hotel on the University of Tampa campus. With its exotic minarets, domes and cupolas, Plant's Moorish-design hotel overlooking the Hillsborough River was a magnet for the Victorian-era's well-heeled. Peer into lavishly decorated rooms filled with antique furniture, period accessories and vintage clothing.

Grasp the laws of physics on a high-wire bicycle, withstand the forces of nature in a wind tunnel and experience aviation technology through a flight simulator, all at MOSI (Museum of Science & Industry), another of Tampa's leading cultural attractions. Dozens of engaging exhibits appeal to all ages, but youngsters really get to push their imaginations to the limit at Kids in Charge! The Children's Science Center at MOSI.

Day 1: Evening
Head back to your hotel and freshen up for a gourmet repast at the Tampa landmark Bern's Steak House in the Hyde Park neighborhood. For a more casual dining atmosphere, opt for signature seafood dishes and a view of Hillsborough Bay from a window seat at The Colonnade Restaurant on the Bay; after dinner, walk across the street and enjoy a leisurely moonlight stroll along Bayshore Boulevard.

Day 2: Morning
This is your day to talk to the animals. Start out in west Tampa at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo, where you can feed giraffes, ride a camel, pet a pony, interact with kangaroos, observe submerged manatees and giggle over monkey shines in the primate exhibit.

If time allows, don't miss an opportunity to see lions, tigers, ligers, servals, snow leopards and other endangered cats living in harmony at Big Cat Rescue. Bring a camera—photo ops are guaranteed on a tour of this 45-acre sanctuary that lovingly shelters abused or abandoned cats for their lifetime.

Day 2: Afternoon
Get up close for a personal encounter with penguins at The Florida Aquarium. Dive shows, animal feedings, touch tanks and a live coral reef place you within reach of the secrets of the sea.

The aquarium is next to Channelside Bay Plaza, where you can grab a bite and a brew at Precinct Pizza or several casual eateries serving everything from souvlaki and sushi to tapas and Thai.

After lunch explore Tampa's Riverwalk, a waterfront linear park punctuated with plazas. Walk from Fort Brooke Park (just south of Channelside) on Ybor Channel to the Tampa Convention Center on Garrison Channel to USF Park facing the Hillsborough River. On the way, break for a snack at the Sail Pavilion near the convention center.

Day 2: Evening
Don casual cocktail attire and step aboard Yacht Starship Dining Cruises for a romantic evening of dining, dancing and stargazing in luxury surroundings. The ship departs from a berth near Channelside Bay Plaza and cruises the scenic waterways bordering Tampa.

Day 3: Morning
Spend the day in Ybor City, the 1886 birthplace of Florida's once-lucrative cigar industry. Transportation tip: Take the TECO streetcar from your lodgings in downtown Tampa, or park your own car in Ybor's pre-pay, self-park lots or one of two parking garages.

Start with a breakfast of toasted Cuban bread, guava pastry and rich café con leche at La Tropicana Café, on the corner of Seventh Avenue and 19th Street. Exit through the back door on Eighth Avenue and walk through Centennial Park to Ybor City Museum State Park, on Ninth Avenue. On Saturday mornings an outdoor produce and crafts market enlivens this otherwise peaceful plaza.

After perusing the museum's exhibits, walk over to Ybor's bustling shopping district on Seventh Avenue. Between 15th and 17th streets you'll find vintage clothing, Panama hats, jewelry, giftware and artwork plus cigar shops with wine and coffee bars (a few even offer cigar rolling demonstrations).

Day 3: Afternoon
Remain immersed in the Ybor cultural experience by sampling a traditional Cuban sandwich or deviled crabs at Carmine's, on Seventh Avenue. You'll taste why this family-owned restaurant and bar has served the community for more than 60 years.

Walk off the calories while you work up an appetite for dinner on a self-guiding tour of the cigar city. Look for old cigar factories, historic casitas (frame houses rented to factory workers), benevolent society buildings, statuary honoring prominent citizens and unique architectural features such as wrought iron balconies and globe street lamps. Maps, brochures and an orientation film are available at the visitor information center on Eighth Avenue, just across from Centro Ybor, a popular entertainment center in the heart of the district.

Day 3: Evening
Start the evening with authentic Spanish-inspired cuisine and a flamenco show at one of Florida's oldest dining establishments. The Columbia Restaurant had its start as a lunch counter for cigar rollers in 1905 and is still operated by descendants of founder Casimiro Hernandez. An informative menu tempts you with detailed descriptions of dishes prepared from original family recipes.

After dinner, return to Seventh Avenue and sample nightlife at a variety of clubs. See our Nightlife article for recommendations.



close
Tampa in 3 Days
Three days is barely enough time to get to know any major destination. But AAA travel editors suggest these activities to make the most of your time in Tampa.

Day 1: Morning
You'll want to set aside a full day to enjoy all the shows, rides and live animal exhibits at Busch Gardens Tampa. Roller-coaster fanatics might need an extra day to do multiple laps on seven thrillers, including Kumba, an inversion coaster; Montu, delivering 3.85 Gs; floorless SheiKra; and Gwazi, a wooden classic.

In the alternative, devote the first day of your itinerary to Tampa's museum group. Begin with an introduction to the early days at the Tampa Bay History Center. Four floors of interactive exhibits cover periods of native habitation, Spanish exploration and events of the 20th century. A satellite of the renowned Columbia Restaurant opens for lunch at 11.


Day 1: Afternoon
Among Tampa's milestones was the arrival of railroad tycoon and developer Henry Plant in the late 1800s. Complement your history lesson with a visit to the Henry B. Plant Museum, in the restored Tampa Bay Hotel on the University of Tampa campus. With its exotic minarets, domes and cupolas, Plant's Moorish-design hotel overlooking the Hillsborough River was a magnet for the Victorian-era's well-heeled. Peer into lavishly decorated rooms filled with antique furniture, period accessories and vintage clothing.

Grasp the laws of physics on a high-wire bicycle, withstand the forces of nature in a wind tunnel and experience aviation technology through a flight simulator, all at MOSI (Museum of Science & Industry), another of Tampa's leading cultural attractions. Dozens of engaging exhibits appeal to all ages, but youngsters really get to push their imaginations to the limit at Kids in Charge! The Children's Science Center at MOSI.

Day 1: Evening
Head back to your hotel and freshen up for a gourmet repast at the Tampa landmark Bern's Steak House in the Hyde Park neighborhood. For a more casual dining atmosphere, opt for signature seafood dishes and a view of Hillsborough Bay from a window seat at The Colonnade Restaurant on the Bay; after dinner, walk across the street and enjoy a leisurely moonlight stroll along Bayshore Boulevard.

Day 2: Morning
This is your day to talk to the animals. Start out in west Tampa at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo, where you can feed giraffes, ride a camel, pet a pony, interact with kangaroos, observe submerged manatees and giggle over monkey shines in the primate exhibit.

If time allows, don't miss an opportunity to see lions, tigers, ligers, servals, snow leopards and other endangered cats living in harmony at Big Cat Rescue. Bring a camera—photo ops are guaranteed on a tour of this 45-acre sanctuary that lovingly shelters abused or abandoned cats for their lifetime.

Day 2: Afternoon
Get up close for a personal encounter with penguins at The Florida Aquarium. Dive shows, animal feedings, touch tanks and a live coral reef place you within reach of the secrets of the sea.

The aquarium is next to Channelside Bay Plaza, where you can grab a bite and a brew at Precinct Pizza or several casual eateries serving everything from souvlaki and sushi to tapas and Thai.

After lunch explore Tampa's Riverwalk, a waterfront linear park punctuated with plazas. Walk from Fort Brooke Park (just south of Channelside) on Ybor Channel to the Tampa Convention Center on Garrison Channel to USF Park facing the Hillsborough River. On the way, break for a snack at the Sail Pavilion near the convention center.

Day 2: Evening
Don casual cocktail attire and step aboard Yacht Starship Dining Cruises for a romantic evening of dining, dancing and stargazing in luxury surroundings. The ship departs from a berth near Channelside Bay Plaza and cruises the scenic waterways bordering Tampa.

Day 3: Morning
Spend the day in Ybor City, the 1886 birthplace of Florida's once-lucrative cigar industry. Transportation tip: Take the TECO streetcar from your lodgings in downtown Tampa, or park your own car in Ybor's pre-pay, self-park lots or one of two parking garages.

Start with a breakfast of toasted Cuban bread, guava pastry and rich café con leche at La Tropicana Café, on the corner of Seventh Avenue and 19th Street. Exit through the back door on Eighth Avenue and walk through Centennial Park to Ybor City Museum State Park, on Ninth Avenue. On Saturday mornings an outdoor produce and crafts market enlivens this otherwise peaceful plaza.

After perusing the museum's exhibits, walk over to Ybor's bustling shopping district on Seventh Avenue. Between 15th and 17th streets you'll find vintage clothing, Panama hats, jewelry, giftware and artwork plus cigar shops with wine and coffee bars (a few even offer cigar rolling demonstrations).

Day 3: Afternoon
Remain immersed in the Ybor cultural experience by sampling a traditional Cuban sandwich or deviled crabs at Carmine's, on Seventh Avenue. You'll taste why this family-owned restaurant and bar has served the community for more than 60 years.

Walk off the calories while you work up an appetite for dinner on a self-guiding tour of the cigar city. Look for old cigar factories, historic casitas (frame houses rented to factory workers), benevolent society buildings, statuary honoring prominent citizens and unique architectural features such as wrought iron balconies and globe street lamps. Maps, brochures and an orientation film are available at the visitor information center on Eighth Avenue, just across from Centro Ybor, a popular entertainment center in the heart of the district.

Day 3: Evening
Start the evening with authentic Spanish-inspired cuisine and a flamenco show at one of Florida's oldest dining establishments. The Columbia Restaurant had its start as a lunch counter for cigar rollers in 1905 and is still operated by descendants of founder Casimiro Hernandez. An informative menu tempts you with detailed descriptions of dishes prepared from original family recipes.

After dinner, return to Seventh Avenue and sample nightlife at a variety of clubs. See our Nightlife article for recommendations.



close


close