80 Best Sights in The Tampa Bay Area, Florida

Busch Gardens

Central Tampa Fodor's choice

Roller coasters and other thrill rides are the biggest draw at this theme park, which has some 4 million visitors annually. The twisting Tigris, with a 50-foot skyward surge and dramatic drops, is Florida’s tallest coaster. The Iron Gwazi, at more than 200 feet, is the tallest hybrid roller coaster in North America, as well as the fastest and steepest hybrid coaster in the world. The new-in-2023 Serengeti Flyer features back-to-back seating in gondolas that swing ever higher and faster as the ride progresses.

The park also has a world-class zoo—with more than 2,000 animals and a live entertainment venue—that provides a full day (or more) of fun for the whole family. The Jungala exhibit puts Bengal tigers center stage and at eye level—allowing you to view them from underground caves and underwater windows. In the 335-acre adventure park's habitats, you can spot some of the world's most endangered and exotic animals. For the best sightings, come early, when it's cooler. Also, to beat the crowds, start in the back of the park and work your way around clockwise.

Catering to the shorter set, the Sesame Street Safari of Fun is a 5-acre kids' playground with themed rides, shows, and water adventures. The Air Grover Rollercoaster takes kids (and parents) on minidives and twisty turns over the Sahara, while Jungle Flyers gets everyone swinging and screeching. Cool off at Congo River Rapids, Stanleyville Falls (a flume ride), or Bert and Ernie's Water Hole—complete with bubblers, geysers, water jets, and dumping buckets. Character lunches are available (but you might want to wait until after your rides).

Caladesi Island State Park

Fodor's choice

Quiet, secluded, and still wild, this 3½-mile-long barrier island is one of the best shelling beaches on the Gulf Coast. The park also has plenty of sights for birders—from common sandpipers to majestic blue herons to rare black skimmers—and miles of trails through scrub oaks, saw palmettos, and cacti (with tenants such as armadillos, rabbits, and raccoons). The landscape also features mangroves and dunes, and the gradual slope of the sea bottom makes this a good spot for novice swimmers and kids.

You have to get to Caladesi Island by private boat (there's a 108-slip marina) or through its sister park, the Honeymoon Island State Recreation Area, where you take the hourly ferry ride across to Caladesi ($14 per person). You can also paddle yourself over in a kayak. Amenities: food and drink; showers; toilets. Best for: solitude; swimming.

Chihuly Collection

Downtown Fodor's choice

An electrifying 10,000-square-foot, Albert Alfonso–designed building is home to world-renowned glass sculptor Dale Chihuly's work. Here, impossibly vibrant, larger-than-life pieces such as Float Boat and Ruby Red Icicle sit next to some of the famed sculptor's smaller and more under-the-radar works. You can tour the museum independently or with one of its volunteer docents (no added cost; tours are given hourly on the half hour during the week).

Each display is perfectly lighted against a shade of gray paint handpicked by Chihuly himself, which adds to the drama of the designs. Check out the gift shop at the end if you'd like to take some of the magic home with you. Your admission includes access to the Morean Arts Center's glassblowing studio, where you can watch resident artists create a unique glass piece before your eyes.

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Clearwater Beach

Fodor's choice

On a narrow island between Clearwater Harbor and the Gulf is a stretch of sand known for its beach volleyball. Pier 60, which extends from shore here, is the site of a nightly sunset celebration, complete with buskers and artisans. It's one of the area's nicest and busiest beaches, especially on weekends and during spring break, but it's also one of the costliest in terms of parking fees, which can reach $3 per hour in city-owned lots and even higher in private parking areas. Note, too, that parking can be scarce and traffic can be gnarly, especially approaching sunset, so arrive early or plan to come on foot or by public transport. Amenities: food and drink; showers; toilets. Best for: partiers; sunset; walking.

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Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge

Fodor's choice

This is a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sanctuary for the manatee. Kings Bay, around which manatees congregate in winter (generally from November to March), feeds crystal clear water into the river at 72°F year-round. This is one of the sure-bet places to see manatees in winter since hundreds congregate near this 90-acre refuge. The small visitor center has displays about the manatee and other refuge inhabitants.

If you want to get an even closer look at these gentle giants, several dive companies provide opportunities for you to swim among them—if you don't mind shelling out some extra cash, donning a wet suit, and adhering to some strict interaction guidelines. In warmer months, when most manatees scatter, the main spring is fun for a swim or scuba diving.

Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

Fodor's choice

Here you can see many manatees and several species of fish through a floating glass observatory known as the Fish Bowl—except, in this case, the fish are outside the bowl and you are inside it. The park's wildlife walk trails lead you to excellent manatee, alligator, and other animal programs.

Among the species are bobcats, a western cougar, white-tailed deer, a black bear, pelicans, herons, snowy egrets, river otters, whooping cranes, and even a hippopotamus named Lu—a keepsake from the park's days as an exotic-animal attraction. Boat cruises on Pepper Creek lead you to the Homosassa wildlife park, (which takes its name from a Creek word meaning "place where wild peppers grow").

Fort De Soto Park

Fodor's choice

Spread over five small islands, 1,136-acre Fort De Soto Park lies at the mouth of Tampa Bay. It has 7 miles of waterfront (much of it beach); two fishing piers; a 4-mile hiking, cycling, and skating trail; picnic and camping grounds; and a historic fort that kids of any age can explore. For those traveling with their canine family members, there is a long and popular dog beach just north of the main fishing pier. Its namesake fort was built on the southern end of Mullet Key to protect sea lanes in the Gulf during the Spanish-American War.

Roam the fort or wander the beaches of any of the islands within the park. Kayaks and beach cruisers are available to rent, and mementos can be found at a souvenir shop/grill on the park's north side.

Giraffe Ranch

Fodor's choice

Dade City is known mostly for its strawberries, but word is spreading about another, more unusual attraction: the graceful giraffes at this nearly 50-acre ranch. You can view them on a tour—in a safari-style vehicle, on the back of a camel, or aboard a Segway—and hand-feed them cabbage leaves. Other animals that roam the grounds here include zebras and ostriches, a pair of pygmy hippos, and a giant porcupine. In enclosures near the ranch's welcome center and gift shop, you can watch guinea pigs chomp on sweet-potato chunks, hold a baby goat, (for a little extra cash), and feed lemurs or bongos (antelopes). You can also feed and help bathe a pair of rhinos.

The ranch's proprietors have encyclopedic knowledge on the natural world, and the overall experience is meant to impart a sense of connection with the animal kingdom and the environment. Tours, which start at 11 am and 2 pm, take about 1½ hours, and reservations are required. Credit cards are not accepted.

38650 Mickler Rd., Dade City, FL, 33523, USA
Sights Details
Rate Includes: $150 for Wildlife Drive-Thru Safari; $239 for tour by camelback; $239 by Segway; $219 for Custom Safari Vehicle Tour

John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art

Fodor's choice

Administered by Florida State University, this 20-acre waterfront compound encompasses the entire estate of circus magnate John Ringling and his wife, Mable. This includes not only the museum built to house their enormous personal art collection, but also their Ca' d'Zan mansion and its expansive gardens; the Circus Museum; the Historic Asolo Theater, home to the Asolo Repertory Company; restaurants; an education center; and a research library.

The Museum of Art, completed in 1931, was a dream long in the making, with setbacks that included a land bust and Mable's death. Works here range from Indian doorways elaborately carved with Jain deities to paintings by Rubens and other Old Masters—all of it displayed in a seemingly endless number of gorgeously appointed rooms. Contemporary art has dedicated space here, too, as do selections from the museum's photography collection. A newer wing, with its facade of jade-tinged terracotta, houses ancient and contemporary Asian art.

Patterned after the Doge's Palace in Venice, Ringling's grand home, Ca' d'Zan, has 32 rooms, 15 bathrooms, and the 61-foot Belvedere Tower. Completed in 1925, the mansion sits along the bay, and its 8,000-square-foot terrace overlooks the dock where Mable moored her gondola. Thirty-minute mansion tours occur on the hour; if you prefer to explore on your own, show up on the half hour for a self-guided tour. Allow time to wander around in Mable's Rose Garden, a lush labyrinth surrounded by towering banyans and filled with rare blooms and haunting statues.

Although the Circus Museum offers a colorful glimpse at the history of the American circus, it's main attraction is arguably the world's largest miniature circus, a 40-year endeavor by master model builder Howard Tibbals. His impressive to-scale replica of the circa 1920s and '30s Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is astonishingly detailed and accurate—from the number of pancakes the cooks are flipping to the likenesses and costumes of the performers to the names of the animals marked on the mess buckets. If you're looking for clown noses, ringmaster hats, and circus-themed T-shirts, check out the Ringling Museum of Art Store.

5401 Bay Shore Rd., Sarasota, FL, 34243, USA
Sights Details
Rate Includes: $25 (art museum only, free on Mon.); $10 Ca’ d\'Zan first-floor self-guided tour plus museum entry; $60 Ca’ d\'Zan Experience Tour

Mote Aquarium

Fodor's choice

A renowned research facility, the Mote is also a popular attraction that draws families and others interested in its international array of ocean creatures. It has a large outdoor habitat featuring a family of frolicking river otters. In the main building, a 135,000-gallon tank lets you view various types of sharks from above and below the surface.

Other tanks contain eels, rays, and additional creatures native to area waters. Touch tanks abound here for the little ones, and the not-so faint of heart can scope out a preserved giant squid—a rare find out in the wild.

The expanded Seahorse Conservation Lab offers a glimpse into the unusual creatures' lives and how the aquarium helps them survive and thrive. Hugh and Buffett are the resident manatees, and they have lived here since 1996 as part of a research program. There's also a permanent sea-turtle exhibit.

Pass-a-Grille Beach

Fodor's choice

At the southern tip of St. Pete Beach, one of the area's most popular beaches epitomizes Old Florida. It skirts the west end of historic Pass-a-Grille, a charming neighborhood with stylish yet low-key mom-and-pop motels and restaurants. There's a sunset celebration each night at a pavilion/snack shop on the stretch of beach between the ends of 9th and 10th Avenues. On weekends, check out the Art Mart, an open-air market showcasing the work of local artists. Amenities: food and drink; parking; showers; toilets. Best for: sunset; windsurfing.

Siesta Key Beach

Fodor's choice
Siesta Key Beach
Dawn M Whalen / Shutterstock

This popular beach has fine, powdery quartz sand that squeaks under your feet, very much like the sand along the state's northwestern coast. You'll also find 40 acres of nature trails and tons of amenities. Don't forget to bring a volleyball—or a tennis racket. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; toilets. Best for: partiers; sunset; swimming; walking.

St. Pete Pier

Downtown Fodor's choice

Downtown St. Pete's waterfront buzzes thanks to a new, 26-acre entertainment district that's open from 30 minutes before sunrise to 11 pm. With both indoor and outdoor offerings, many of them family-friendly, it's the perfect place to start or finish a day. Highlights include the Spa Beach (finally, no need to drive to the Gulf side!); the shady Coastal Thicket path; the Marketplace, which showcases locally crafted goods; the Waterfront Walk; and the Splash Pad water park for kids.

You can also check out the jaw-dropping, ever-changing Bending Arc installation by Tampa Bay artist Janet Echelman, and learn about marine life at the hands-on Discovery Center. Note, too that the city's renowned Museum of Fine Arts is just a five-minute walk away. Restaurant options include Doc Ford's, with waterfront views at the start of the pier, and Teak, which has water and skyline vistas, as well as a rooftop tiki bar that's the perfect place to enjoy sunsets.

Sunset Beach

Fodor's choice

A peninsula that's technically part of Treasure Island, this 2-mile-long outcrop is one of Tampa Bay's best-kept secrets. The northern end has a mixed crowd—from bikers to spring breakers—the middle portion is good for families (there's a pavilion and playground at around 78th and West Gulf Boulevard), and the southern tip attracts the LGBTQ+ crowd. Surfers hit up Sunset Beach on the rare occasion that the Gulf has swells. Once you turn onto West Gulf, you can find multiple paid parking lots. There are several pay lots starting to your right just south of 82nd Avenue. If you opt to take advantage of the neighborhood's abundant side-street parking, make sure you park legally—it's all too easy to unwittingly get a ticket here. Amenities: parking; toilets. Best for: partiers; solitude; sunset.

The Dalí Museum

Fodor's choice

Inside and out, the building housing the waterfront Dalí Museum, which opened on 1/11/11 (Dalí is said to have been into numerology), is almost as remarkable as the Spanish surrealist's work. The state-of-the-art structure incorporates a surreal geodesic glass structure called the Enigma, as well as an outdoor labyrinth and a DNA-inspired spiral staircase leading up to the exhibition of artworks. And all this even before you've seen the collection, which is one of the most comprehensive of its kind—courtesy of Ohio magnate A. Reynolds Morse, a friend of Dalí's.

Here you can scope out his early impressionistic works and see how the painter evolved into the visionary he's now seen to be. The mind-expanding paintings in this Downtown headliner include Eggs on the Plate without the Plate, The Hallucinogenic Toreador, and more than 90 other oils. Another 2,000 additional works include watercolors, drawings, sculptures, photographs, and objets d'art. The museum also hosts temporary collections from the likes of Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol. Free hour-long tours are led by well-informed docents.

Adventure Island

Central Tampa

From spring until fall, Busch Gardens' water park promises heat relief with rides like Vanish Point, Aruba Tuba, and Caribbean Corkscrew. Tampa's most popular "wet" park features waterslides and artificial wave pools, along with tranquil "beaches" in a 30-acre package. Try Colossal Curl, a massive thrill ride that's the tallest waterslide in the park. Another of the attraction's headliners, Riptide, challenges you to race three other riders on a sliding mat through twisting tubes and hairpin turns.

Planners of this park also took the younger kids into account, with offerings such as Fabian's Funport, which has a scaled-down pool and interactive water gym. Along with a volleyball complex and a rambling river, there are cafés, snack bars, picnic and sunbathing areas, changing rooms, and private cabanas. Good discounts are offered on the park's website.

10001 N. McKinley Dr., Tampa, FL, 33612, USA
Sights Details
Rate Includes: From $45 online; parking $25, Closed Nov.–Feb.

Anna Maria Bayfront Park

This narrow yet secluded beach fronts Tampa Bay at Passage Key Inlet and the Gulf of Mexico. It's also situated between two fishing piers. Don't forget to bring the picnic gear to this unforgettably scenic stretch of shoreline. Amenities: showers; toilets. Best for: solitude; sunset.

310 N. Bay Blvd., Anna Maria, FL, 34216, USA

Beach Drive

This upscale stretch along Downtown's waterfront is the epicenter of St. Pete's cultural revival and serves as the city's restaurant row. Tons of pricey shops and alfresco eateries line the east side of this blocks-long promenade, giving it a European feel. Highlights include the St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Art and Bella Brava. Dazzling waterfront parks, which are often packed during the area's many weekend festivals, flank the drive's west side.

Blind Pass Beach

This is a good beach for nature lovers and a great spot if you are looking for a tranquil stretch of beach. The park contains about 60 acres of Gulf-to-bay land. If you're up for a hike, check out the short nature trail on-site, and keep an eye out for the Hermitage House, one of the oldest structures in the area. Amenities: showers; toilets. Best for: solitude; swimming.

6725 Manasota Key Rd., Manasota Key, FL, 34223, USA

Bradenton Riverwalk

Overlooking the Manatee River, this 1.5-mile path connects downtown Bradenton attractions to the waterfront. The path spans the Green and Desoto bridges and offers various activities, including a splash fountain, a skate park, a canoe and kayak launch, a beach volleyball court, a fishing pier, outdoor seating, and a 20-slip day dock. Various groups use the outdoor amphitheater for special events, and musical and theatrical performances. An eastward expansion of the Bradenton Riverwalk is planned.

Calusa Commons

Bridging two vibrant neighborhoods—the Warehouse Arts District to the south and the Grand Central District to the north—Calusa Commons is home to three favorite local outfits. Pick up everything from the latest bestsellers to titles by Florida authors at the charming Tombolo Books. Or grab a cup of coffee from Black Crow Coffee Co. or a cold-pressed juice from Squeeze Juice Works next door. Special events are held throughout the year in the shared brick courtyard.

2161 1st Ave. S, St. Petersburg, FL, 33712, USA
727-755-9456-Tombolo Books

Caspersen Beach

Sarasota County's largest park is known for its fossil finds. Amenities: playground; showers; toilets. Best for: solitude; walking.

4100 Harbor Dr., Venice, FL, 34285, USA

Centennial Park

Ybor City

You can step back into the past at Centennial Park, which re-creates a period streetscape and hosts a farmers' market called the "Fresh Market" every Saturday, as well as festivals, pottery classes, and other events throughout the year.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium

This aquarium gives you the opportunity to participate in the work of saving and caring for endangered marine species. Many of the sea turtles, dolphins, and other animals living at the aquarium were brought here to be rehabilitated from an injury or saved from danger. The dolphin exhibit has an open-air arena giving the dolphins plenty of room to jump during their shows.

This aquarium is also home to Hope, star of the Dolphin Tale film franchise. The aquarium conducts tours of the bays and islands around Clearwater, including a daily cruise on a pontoon boat (you might just see a wild dolphin or two), and kayak tours of Clearwater Harbor and St. Joseph Sound.

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Coquina Beach

Singles and families flock to Coquina Beach, a wide swath of sand at the southern end of Anna Maria Island. Beach walkers love this stretch since it's Anna Maria's longest beach. Amenities: food and drink; showers; toilets. Best for: solitude; swimming; walking.

2650 Gulf Dr. S, Anna Maria, FL, 34217, USA

Cortez Beach

Towering Australian pines greet you at the entrance to this popular beach park, a favorite among locals and visitors alike. Amenities: showers; toilets. Best for: solitude; swimming; walking.

1506 Gulf Dr. S, Bradenton Beach, FL, 34216, USA

De Soto National Memorial

Hernando de Soto, one of the first Spanish explorers to land in North America, came ashore with his men and 200 horses near what is now Bradenton in 1539. This federal park commemorates De Soto's expedition and the Native Americans he and his crew encountered.

During the height of tourist season, from mid-December to late April, park staff and volunteers dress in period costumes at Camp Uzita, demonstrate the use of 16th-century weapons, and show how European explorers prepared and preserved food for their overland journeys. The season ends with a reenactment of the explorer's landing. The site also offers a film and short nature trail through the mangroves.

Egmont Key State Park

In the middle of the mouth of Tampa Bay lies the small (350 acres), largely unspoiled but critically eroding island Egmont Key, now a state park, national wildlife refuge, national historic site, and bird sanctuary. On the island are the ruins of Ft. De Soto's sister fortification, Ft. Dade, built during the Spanish-American War to protect Tampa Bay. The primary inhabitants of the less-than-2-mile-long island are the threatened gopher tortoise and box turtles.

The only way to get here is by boat, and you can catch a ferry from Ft. De Soto, among other places; area operators include Hubbard's Marina, Dolphin Landings, and Island Boat Adventures. It's well worth the trip—the beach here is excellent for shelling, secluded beach bathing, wildlife viewing, and snorkeling.

Englewood Beach

This beach is popular with teenagers, although beachgoers of all ages frequent it. Though it attracts crowds, it's easy to find your own patch of beach. Parking can be tough on busy weekends. Amenities: showers; toilets. Best for: partiers; swimming.

2100 N. Beach Rd., Manasota Key, FL, 34223, USA

Florida Aquarium


Although eels, sharks, and stingrays are the headliners, this aquarium is much more than a giant fishbowl. The architectural landmark features an 83-foot-high, tiered glass dome; 250,000 square feet of air-conditioned exhibit space; and more than 20,000 aquatic plants and animals—from blacktip sharks to leafy sea dragons—from Florida and elsewhere in the world. Interactive displays, behind-the-scenes tours, and in-water adventures let you get hands-on—and get your feet wet.

The 500,000-gallon Coral Reef Gallery has a 43-foot-wide panoramic opening, viewing windows, and a walk-through tunnel where you feel as if you've entered the depths. A thicket of elkhorn coral teems with tropical fish, a dark cave reveals sea life normally seen only on night dives, and South African penguins make daily appearances. Another highlight is the Indian Ocean coral reef at the Journey to Madagascar exhibit, which also features ring-tailed lemurs and hissing cockroaches.

Younger kids love the Explore a Shore, an aquatic playground with a waterslide, water-jet sprays, and a climbable replica pirate ship. If you have an extra 90 minutes, try the Wild Dolphin Cruise, which takes up to 130 passengers onto Tampa Bay in a 72-foot catamaran to see bottlenose dolphins and other wildlife. 

701 Channelside Dr., Tampa, FL, 33602, USA
Sights Details
Rate Includes: Aquarium tickets purchased online in advance from $28.95; Dolphin Cruise $17; parking $10