Tampa/St. Petersburg/Clearwater: Top Attractions
|Get on a Florida roll (courtesy, Visit Florida)|
On Florida's west coast, Tampa draws visitors with its pleasant weather, golf courses, and the Busch Gardens theme park. St. Petersburg, across Tampa Bay, lies on the Gulf of Mexico and includes 35 beautiful miles of beaches. Catch a baseball game, enjoy family museums, and soak up the beautiful sunshine.
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
Busch Gardens combines the adventure of animal encounters with the screaming fun of thrill rides. SheiKra, the tallest dive coaster in the world with a 200-foot climb followed by a 90-degree plunge, debuts in MayÂ—twisting, dropping, and shooting riders through a tunnel. Equally impressive, in different sort of way, are the zebras, hippos, giraffes, and other animals that roam the African-themed areas. Reserve ahead for the Serengeti Safari. On this flatbed truck tour, you feed a giraffe and get up close to an ostrich.
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay: 888.800.5447, www.buschgardens.com
Museum of Science & Industry
With more than 450 hands-on exhibits, science is always fun at MOSI. You can experience 75-mile-per-hour hurricane force winds and let static electricity stand your hair on end. But MOSI gets even better when Kids in Charge, the largest children's science center in the country, debuts in May 2005. At Activate, Investigate, and Kids Create, budding engineers design, experiment, and build. Busy Box is a play space for tots three and younger.
Museum of Science & Industry: 813.987.6000, www.mosi.org
The Florida Aquarium tells the story of plants and animals native to the state by focusing on wetlands, bays, coral reefs, and the open sea. To get the most from your visit, reserve the special experiences. Scuba enthusiasts can dive with tiger, zebra, and black tip reef sharks by plunging into their 93,000-gallon home. Snorkelers swim with hundreds of fish in the coral reef exhibit, and the curious can go in search of dolphins aboard Bay Spirit, the aquarium's boat.
Florida Aquarium: 813.273.4000, www.flaquarium.net
St. Petersburg's and Clearwater's jewels are their beaches. St. Pete Beach sports fine sands and calm gulf waters. Caladesi Island, a top-ranked beach, has great shelling and swimming, plus a three-mile nature trail. Another top-rated strand, 900-acre Fort DeSoto Park, offers seven miles of undeveloped beaches spread out across five islands. Clearwater Beach, popular with families, has a covered playground and concessions.
Additional Info: 800.944.1847, www.tampabaybeaches.com
Cool off at this all-play water park. Fly down the flumes, splash in the wave pool, frolic under the waterfalls, and twist down the rapids. At the children's area, kids play with fountains and jump in splash pools. There are lounge chairs and picnic areas, but arrive early to lay claim to these attractions.
Adventure Island: 888.800.5447, www.adventureisland.com
Lowry Park Zoo
Lowry Park Zoo feels "just right" for the little ones in your stable who might feel a bit overwhelmed by the crowds and attractions at Busch Gardens. Push the stroller through Safari Africa, where elephants, warthogs, zebras, and a white rhino roam. Walk through the Asian Aviary to see toucans, purple swamp hens and other colorful birds. And at Ikeet Landing, hold a cup of nectar and watch these tiny, rainbow-colored birds fly up close enough to feed. A true delight for the toddlers.
Lowry Park Zoo: 813.932.0245, www.lowryparkzoo.com
Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary
Bring out the humanity in your children by visiting the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary, a bird hospital that treats over 10,000 injured birds each year, many which have been struck by automobiles or tangled in fish lines. At any one time, several hundred recuperating seagulls cormorants, pelicans and other birds live under the care of these veterinarians and are available for viewing. Eighty percent of the treated birds recover sufficiently enough to return to the wild, but several hawks, owls and sandhill cranesâ€”hose injuries prevent them from being releasedâ€”emain and delight visitors.
Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary: 727.391.6211, www.seabirdsanctuary.org
Salvador DalÃ Museum
From his twisted handlebar mustache to his paintings of melting watches, DalÃ's swagger appeals to break-the-rules adolescents searching for their own style. And that swagger is on display at this Tampa collection that showcases DalÃ's different periods from Impressionism to Surrealism. "DalÃ Revealed," on exhibit through October, presents 100 of DalÃ's works, focusing on his use of land, myth, perception, and God. "Whatever," as the teens will like say. They just like looking at his surrealist, double image, and other intriguing canvases and appreciate him for being different.
Salvador DalÃ Museum: 727.823.3767, www.salvadordalÃmuseum.org
Jutting out into Tampa Bay stands the Pier, a St. Petersburg's landmark and tourist hub that sports a five-floor dining-shopping complex an aquarium. Here the vacationing American (or international) family can find outfitters renting poles for fishing along the seawall, and surrey-covered, four-seater tandem bikes and Segways (ages 13+) for tours around town. The biggest hook for the children might be the cruises that leave from the pier. Grab tickets for a dolphin sight seeing or shelling adventure.
The Pier: 727.821.6443, www.stpete-pier.com
Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
The West Indian manatees are the stars of this state park 75 miles north of Tampa, providing an educational glimpse into Florida's natural environment. It might sound like a long drive, but the trek makes for a very atypical family-fun daytrip. An underwater observatory allows you to see these gentle creatures in the park's main spring. On view from the Wildlife Walk, a 1,600-foot boardwalk, are bobcats, cougars, otters, and birds. Check out the children's education center for hands-on exhibits and wildlife information.
Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park: 352.628.5343, www.floridastateparks.org
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication