Looking for a fun mini-vaca for the family? Well, Tampa is a great place for family fun. I recently took a three-day trip that was packed full of exciting places and wonderful food to be enjoyed by any and all ages.
We started off with lunch at the Bizou Brasserie inside Le Méridien Tampa, which is an actual courthouse in the heart of downtown that has been transformed into a boutique hotel. The Bizou Brasserie restaurant’s menu offers a hint of French inspiration with American comfort favorites. After enjoying a delicious lunch, we looked around Le Méridien Tampa, a century-old courthouse recognized by the National Register of Historic Places, that is now home to 130 guest rooms and suites.
For those that want to actually get out there and see the sights, as opposed to the folks that just want to relax at the hotel, I recommend getting a CityPASS. The CityPASS covers admission to five of Tampa’s most popular attractions with a 53% savings of over $100 per person and is valid for 9 days. CityPASS, which is $99 per adult and $89 for children 9 and under, includes: Busch Gardens Tampa Bay; The Florida Aquarium; Lowry Park Zoo; Clearwater Marine Aquarium; and either MOSI (the Museum of Science and Industry) or the Chihuly Collection.
We headed to the Florida Aquarium after lunch to explore some underwater wonders. Ranked one of the top 10 aquariums in the country by TripAdvisor.com and in the top 5 “Kid-Friendly Aquariums” by Parents Magazine, The Florida Aquarium offers two floors of interactive, fun and educational exhibits. Check out the alligators and other species native to Florida on the Wetlands Trail. Discover leaping lemurs and hissing cockroaches in the Journey to Madagascar exhibit. Or just wander and be amazed by all the beautiful and amazing underwater adventures.
The Barrymore Hotel Tampa Riverwalk became our home-away-from-home with its central location in downtown Tampa. Directly across the street from the David A. Straz Center for the Performing Arts and positioned right on the Tampa Riverwalk, the 14-story hotel is also home to Waterworks Bar & Grill, with a “Florida southern” menu.
Time to funk it up for dinner at Ella’s American Folk Art Café. The entire family will enjoy the crazy fun art and the eclectic menu at Ella’s. Metal and found object art sets the stage for a unique dining experience. The food is amazing and there is live music on Friday nights. A good time with great food, don’t miss this one.
Day Two included a visit to Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo. Ranked among the nation’s best zoos, the Lowry Park Zoo has an Australian-themed water park (Wallaroo Station) with rides for small children; an Asian-themed section with animals from Indochina and Indonesia; and an African-themed area where visitors can come face-to-face with hungry giraffes armed only with lettuce leaves; and one of three locations in Florida (SeaWorld Orlando and the Miami Seaquarium are the other two) contracted and federally permitted in the state of Florida certified as a rehabilitation site for injured West Indian manatees.
Dinner at Ulele is a real treat. Situated on the banks of the Hillsborough River, Ulele features a menu inspired by Tampa Bay’s early native and Spanish explorers and includes its own craft brewery. The art in and around the restaurant comes from restaurant founder Richard Gonzmart’s private collection. The $5 million restoration of Tampa’s historic public water pump house, along with the nearby spring that once supplied the city’s drinking water, makes Ulele unique and the food at Ulele’s is some of the best I’ve ever eaten – and that’s saying a lot.
Day three starts out with breakfast at Oxford Exchange near the University of Tampa campus. Shop around the bookstore and home décor space for unusual and vintage gifts before entering the popular restaurant.
Busch Gardens Tampa is the next stop for a day filled with exciting roller coasters, water rides, live theater shows and animal adventures. Part of Tampa Bay’s landscape since the 1950s, today Busch Gardens Tampa combines an African wildlife preserve and breeding program and a theme park. The newest addition is Falcon’s Fury. At 335 feet (102 meters), it is the tallest drop-tower in North America and gives riders a chance to test their courage with a face-down plunge like its namesake bird.
The morning of our last day in Tampa we checked out Tampa’s Riverwalk. The newly finished Riverwalk runs .4 miles (4 km) along the historic Hillsborough River and Garrison Channel and offers dining, shopping, playgrounds, vendors and family fun.
Want to see and learn more? Take the family for a ride on the Pirate Water Taxi. The bright yellow water taxis are manned by a friendly pirate captain and mate that will shuttle you around its 13 stops while sharing info you on the area. All day, hop on and hop off, passes are $15 for adults, $8 for children, or an after 6pm pass is $ 10 for adults and $5 for children. What a great way to go from dining, to museums and parks, while having a jolly good pirate time with the family. Everyone will love this water ride.
Tampa has so much to offer it’s impossible to see it all in just four days. But if you plan ahead, you can squeeze in a lot of family fun.