Tampa Top 10 with Kids: The Local’s Guide to the Big Guava

Tampa Sign at Sparkman’s Wharf

Introducing guest blogger Portia Olaughlin from When I Wander

Oh, the Big Guava! Yes, that’s right, I’m talking about Tampa, Florida. Once a place that wasn’t immediately associated with family fun, Tampa has undergone a remarkable transformation.

Now, it’s not just the radiant sun or the cool Gulf breezes that get the spotlight. Recently christened by Forbes as the “#1 Best Place to Live in Florida,” Tampa has become a paradise packed with thrilling family-friendly exploits!

Curious why Tampa’s earned the quirky moniker of the “Big Guava”? Picture this: it’s the late 19th century, and someone’s got the bright idea to plant a commercial guava orchard right here. The venture didn’t quite blossom, but the name sure did, sticking to the city like a sun-loving iguana to a Tampa Bay palm tree. Today, it’s a beloved nickname, reminding us of a time when Tampa was just a fledgling city with big tropical dreams.

Now, let’s delve into what makes Tampa such a grand family destination. Perfectly nestled within a stone’s throw of Miami and Orlando, it’s a hub that’s cozily close to everything you could wish for – from the sparkling sands of the Gulf of Mexico to the bustling streets of larger cities.

Yet, Tampa is far from just a convenient pit-stop. It’s home to adrenaline-pumping sports teams that draw huge crowds and museums that bring history and science to life. It’s a haven for outdoor exploration, boasting spots like the Tampa Riverwalk and Lettuce Lake Park where families can enjoy picnics, hiking, and wildlife viewing.

And let’s not forget Tampa’s touch of Southern charm. Think warm hospitality, comfort food that makes you sigh in delight, and local traditions that lend a distinct, warm flavor to the city. So, come on over, and let Tampa, the radiant Big Guava, show you the time of your life.

This post is part of our Explore My City series – come and visit cities around the world through the eyes of locals

Top 10 Things to do with Kids in Tampa

1: Tampa Riverwalk

Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park on the Tampa RiverWalk

This 2.6-mile walk provides panoramic views of the Hillsborough River and the Tampa skyline. Families will enjoy strolling, biking, or taking a Segway trip along the riverwalk.

Your children will be delighted to see the numerous city icons and possibly spot some of Florida’s famous wildlife. It’s one of Tampa’s best sites for Instagram-worthy photos!

The Riverwalk provides access to some of Tampa’s most interesting activities, from visiting the World War II American Victory Ship to renting one of Tampa’s EBoats for a DIY river cruise.  

Sparkman Wharf

Take a moment to stop at Sparkman Wharf to enjoy food from the large variety of food stalls while listening to live music, playing some yard games, and watching the cruise ships go by.

Be sure to check out the interactive map for an amazing overview of the area and to help plan your adventure. https://www.visittampabay.com/map/#

2: ZooTampa at Lowry Park

Renowned as one of the most family-friendly zoos in the U.S., ZooTampa is a must-visit in the city. It houses over 1,300 animals and offers close encounters, interactive exhibits, and animal feeding experiences.

The Florida Boardwalk, which features native Florida wildlife, and Primate World, which features a variety of monkey and ape species, will captivate children. Don’t miss the Roaring Springs Water Adventure, which takes you on a ride through a crystal clear spring and ends with a 3-story splashdown.

3: Museums

OG Tampa Top 10 with Kids - Florida Aquarium

Tampa has an outstanding assortment of museums appealing to a wide range of interests. These museums guarantee to keep your kids entertained on a day when Florida’s weather isn’t cooperating. But remember, our summer storms are often short, so you can usually be back out enjoying the sun within an hour or two.

The top museums in Tampa for families include:

  • Glazer Children’s Museum
  • Florida Aquarium
  • Museum of Science and Industry
  • Henry B. Plant Museum
  • Tampa Firefighters Museum
  • Tampa Bay History Center
  • Tampa Museum of Art

The interactive exhibits at the Glazer Children’s Museum are entertaining for the whole family as the kids become bankers, engineers, farmers, and restaurant owners; they can even climb to the clouds. Be prepared at the Florida Aquarium to spend some time playing at the Splash Pad, and experiencing the Wild Dolphin Cruise is a must. The Museum of Science and Industry offers a blend of fun and learning with over 100 hands-on activities, but one of our absolute favorites is the Sky-Trail Ropes Course.

4: Busch Gardens Tampa Bay

Busch Gardens white water rafting

A visit to Tampa is incomplete without a day spent at Busch Gardens. This African-themed amusement park and zoo will have you experiencing the thrill of a Cheetah Hunt by coaster, plunging 206 feet on the Iron Gwazi, and experiencing a whitewater rafting expedition, all while having access to a variety of shows and amazing animal encounters.

Children will love the Sesame Street Safari of Fun, and you can even take advantage of the chance to feed giraffes at the Serengeti Plain!

5: Ybor City Museum State Park

People often talk about Ybor CIty as a popular nightlife area but a visit to Ybor City Museum State Park provides insight into the cultural history beyond the community, including the development of the casitas (little houses), historic bakeries, and the cigar making industry that sustained life in the area.

Besides, it gives you a very good reason to stop by La Segunda Bakery for some of their fresh Cuban bread and sandwiches that they have been making since 1915. And if you’re lucky, you’ll probably meet some of the colorful residents known to have roamed the neighborhood for more than a century – the famous Ybor wild chickens!

6: TECO Line Streetcar System

When you’re tired of walking, another great way to get from downtown to Ybor is on the TECO Line Streetcar. Most of the streetcars are replicas, but there is one fully restored historic streetcar currently active – The Birney #163.

The streetcar service is free and available seven days a week, with 11 wheelchair accessible stations. The streetcar does not stop automatically, so remember to pull the cord when approaching your desired station. You can expect to see one roughly every 15 minutes.

7: Waterworks Park

Here’s a unique experience for your family that is absolutely free – enjoy the splash pad and playground in a riverfront open green space.

Just a few steps away, you will find some of the best eateries in the area, which include Ulele, Oak + Ola, and Armature Works (a chic, quick-bite style food hall).

8: Tampa Bay History Center

OG Tampa Top 10 with Kids - Tampa Bay History Center

To incorporate a bit of educational value into your vacation, visit the Tampa Bay History Center. It offers interactive exhibits that bring 12,000 years of Florida’s history to life.

Children will particularly enjoy the Treasure Seekers exhibit, themed around Spanish conquistadors and pirates, with a 60-foot, 18th century pirate ship and artifacts that date back to the 1600s.

9: The Pirate Water Taxi

Cruise Tampa’s waterways aboard the Pirate Water Taxi. It’s another fun and unique way to explore the city’s best attractions.

The captains, donned in pirate attire, share interesting tidbits about Tampa’s history, adding an educational touch to the ride.

Tickets can be purchased on board at any stop or online and include a one way pass or an all day pass.

10: Lettuce Lake Regional Park

Lettuce Lake Regional Park

Just a short drive from downtown Tampa, Lettuce Lake Regional Park is a 240 acre outdoor wonderland with a 3,500 foot boardwalk, an observation tower, a playground, a bicycle/jogging trail, and even kayaks/canoes for rent.

It is a great spot to picnic, relax, and explore nature together for only $2 per vehicle entry fee. 

Insider Tip: Check out Tampa Bay CityPASS for a discount to see 5 Tampa Bay attractions.

About the Blogger

Hi, I’m Portia, and I run a family-focused, nature/cultural travel blog named When I Wander. I have lived in the suburbs of Tampa with my husband and five children for five of my 13 years in Florida, with the remainder spent in a town perfectly placed between Disney World and Tampa.

I’m a passionate explorer, always chasing hidden gems, both in vibrant cities and in pristine nature. With my camera in hand, I capture the beauty of each location, seeking out quality experiences and foods to inspire others.

My blog mainly revolves around local travel throughout Florida, but I write about any trip we embark on, big or small. Posts vary from family vacations in Europe to day trips to our favorite Florida beaches. I’ve always loved wandering, no matter where I am, and that’s what When I Wander is all about.


With thanks to Portia for her contribution to our guest series.  You may also like to read about Fabulous Things to do in Clearwater and Best Family Beaches Perfect for you next beach vacation in Florida.

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