Tampa Top 10 | Family Travel
Family Travel in Tampa Bay

Ever since our visit to the Epicurean a few years back, Tampa Bay has remained at the top of our list of favorite cities to visit. Besides the fact that it’s a one tank trip for us, Tampa is bursting with things to do for the whole family. Our last trip was more of a romantic couples weekend, so this time we decided to unlock Tampa Bay’s treasure trove of family destinations. Here is our West Family Top 10. 

Little girl smiling at Tampa Marriott Waterside
Happiness for Sienna is visiting a fancy hotel. 

Little girl jumping on bed at Tampa Marriott Waterside
How we all feel when we visit a new hotel. 

A family destination in and of itself, the Marriott Waterside is ideally located down town right across from the sportsplex. Just around the corner from the Port, you have easy access to the Cruise terminal, Tampa Bay’s stunning museums, and the popular River Walk. We stayed on the dedicated Wellness Suite floor, which was perfect for the family. Our suite included light therapy you could set for the time of day or mood you were in, and aromatherapy which eased the anxiety and wildness our little ones sometimes get when visiting a new place. We enjoyed the lobby bar, room service, the Waterside Grill, and the hotel’s stunning pool deck and fitness center. The children were endlessly doted upon by the staff and enjoyed daily gifts including stuffed animals, and coloring books. It was clear the Marriott Waterside is a destination that goes above and beyond to make every guest feel special big and small.

Tip: I highly recommend the Wellness Suites for help with keeping the family relaxed. 

Amy West and daughters smile for the camera
Family tradition. Hotel bed selfie. 

Dad drinks wine while baby drinks milk
Happy Sipping

Little girl smiles from cozy seat at Oxford Exchange in Tampa
Sienna looking very smart at Oxford Exchange

Although it might not be your first guess for a family friendly destination, we couldn’t wait to try out Oxford Exchange. We had heard many great things about the place but still our expectations were blown away. Housed in what used to be the old stables of the Tampa Bay Hotel, Oxford Exchange is an inspiration for young and old. Designed to be a place where great food, conversation, and learning converge, it’s sense of place is distinct. Enjoy brunch in the atrium, browse through the charming shop and book store, or grab a cup of artisan tea or coffee. If you have small children this might be a quick breeze through for a cup of coffee to go, however older kids will have plenty to take in as each room houses new treasures.

Tip: Make reservations well in advance, especially if you plan on having brunch on the weekend.

Latte from Oxford Exchange
Latte at Oxford Exchange 

Stack of Pancakes from Oxford Exchange
Do not leave without ordering the pancakes at Oxford Exchange

Little girl stands in front of The Florida Aquarium sign

In preparation for my upcoming round up on the best Aquariums to visit, we naturally had to visit the Florida Aquarium. I had passed the Aquarium a few times in the past leaving the Tampa port next door after a few of our most recent Cruises. I wish we had stopped in sooner! The Florida Aquarium is a “must visit” full of fun. Our favorite exhibits were the Wetland Trail which wove it’s way throughout a lush atrium, the Coral Reef gallery, and all the touch tanks. We arrived just in time to participate in an exciting game show for the kids and enjoyed an up close look as the Aquarium’s divers interacted with sharks, turtles, and exotic fish. The Aquarium also offers Dolphin cruises, and (if you are a certified diver) you can pay to dive with the sharks! 
Tip: In the hot months come prepared for the kiddos to get wet on the Aquarium’s splash pad. 

Dad and daughters look at the coral reef gallery at The Florida Aquarium

Amy West and daughter explore the Florida Aquarium
Housed in Tampa’s historic water works building, this restaurant and brewery is an impressive experience for every age. Ulele, named after a Native American Princess, serves up cuisine inspired by Florida’s original inhabitants. Fresh organic fare cooked over an open flame gives each dish a distinctive flavor and essence. The building underwent massive restoration and has quite the history. Ask your server the story and enjoy a journey through time. We had to get a close up of the large Barbacoa grill where dishes were prepared openly for guests to view. Our 6 year old loved the creative kids menu and special gift of colorful plastic wires to create characters with instead of the typical crayons. We couldn’t get enough of our dishes including Okra fries and Alligator Hush Puppies for starters. Bonus! Water works park is next door with a large splash pad for an after dinner cool off for the kids. 
Tip: The building itself is a piece of art. Take a look at this video documenting it’s restoration

The doors of Ulele in Tampa
Ulele’s building is a work of art. Check out these gears salvaged from one of Tampa’s bridges. 

Since David and I have been married, we have journeyed to Zoos everywhere from New Zealand to Houston. We had heard from many insiders in the Zoo world, that Tampa was a top destination. Let me tell you, we were not disappointed. The Lowry Park Zoo is housed on 60 plus acres, and is home to thousands of different species. Upon entry we were greeted with a bright cheerful courtyard where colorful parrots were released to a timely and dramatic display of feathers and flight. The path lead us through jungle habitats full of primates and tigers. In the center of it all stood a large carousel the entire family took a ride on at no additional cost. Particularly impressive was the children’s area (Wallaroo Station) which housed a small roller coaster, petting zoo, splash pad, and more. Of all the zoos we have been too, I enjoyed spotting new species I had yet to see in person. Worth a special visit was the Manatee Hospital, where experts work to aid in the rehabilitation of these gentle sea cows. We were mesmerized by their gracefulness as we watched them from the underwater viewing area. There was so much to see we couldn’t fit it all in in the short time we had. Definitely make a full day out of Lowry Park Zoo when you visit with the family. 
Tip: No outside food is aloud in the zoo. Come prepared to dine in or grab a picnic table outside the zoo. 

David West and daughters play at the Lowry Park Zoo petting zoo
Petting the gentle creatures at Lowry Park Zoo’s Petting Zoo
For those looking for adventure and larger than life thrills, Busch Gardens is the destination for you. Busch Gardens has fun for all ages and combines the experience of a zoo and an amusement park together. Concerned for little kids too young to ride roller coasters? Don’t be, Busch Gardens has eight kid friendly rides, meanwhile Sesame Street Safari of Fun is packed with plenty of toddler friendly attractions and playgrounds meant for kids big and small. Teenage and grownup thrill seekers will get a rush out of close to a dozen rides meant to challenge even the bravest of park goers. Relax and take in a show, nosh on some tasty treats, or meander through the animal exhibits. One thing is for sure, you wont be bored at Busch Gardens. 
Tip: Watch the weather. Rides will close if lightning is nearby. This is a great time to see the shows or grab a bite!
Little girl views the belly of a Tiger from a creative viewing deck at Busch Gardens Tampa
Sienna gets an up close look at the belly of a Tiger at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay

Toddler takes in Sesame Street in Busch Gardens
London enjoys having Sesame Street Safari of Fun to herself after a rain shower clears out the park

Always on the look out for  authentic Southern comfort food, our travels to Tampa led us directly to Fodder & Shine.  Praised for it’s backwoods “Cracker” inspired fare. Fodder & Shine celebrates the old Florida pioneers who were made up of a medley of immigrants. This eclectic combination led to a cuisine all it’s own, and today Fodder & Shine gives it new life. Updated and classic cocktails don the menu and seasonal specialties are pulled together from their scratch kitchen including classics like Pimento Cheese, Mac N Cheese, and their own hand crafted version of Frito Pie. Kids love it, parents love it, it’s a win win. 
Tip: Reserve a table near the back and watch the kitchen at work through a large window. Also, bring some change for the arcade games. 
Pimento cheese, frito pie, and mac n cheese from Fodder & Shine in Tampa
Clockwise from the top:
Pimento Cheese, Frito Pie, Mac n Cheese

Sisters practice gardening at Glazer Children's Museum in Tampa
Sienna and London practice their gardening skills at Glazer Children’s Museum

Along with Aquariums we have also become collectors of Children’s Museum experiences. After enjoying our visit to the Children’s Museum of Houston, we had to visit Tampa’s as well. There is so much fun to be had! Two stories of non stop fun for big and small alike make this destination a winner! On the first floor kids enjoy an indoor water works area where they can splash and play. Story time happens through out the day on this floor and young ones enjoy climbing forts in the shape of boats. Once you make it to the second story however, things get much more active. Sienna took on the challenge of climbing the giant pringles as we like to call them. They had a fun version of these in Houston as well. After that there is room after room of dedicated fun for different age groups. Kids can learn all the ins and outs of constructing a house from electrical work to masonry. Gardening, grocery shopping, running a restaurant, becoming a vet! These are all dedicated rooms kids can explore and awaken their imagination in. I particularly enjoyed the fact that my toddler and first grader didn’t have to be separated. There was age appropriate activities for both of them on each floor. 
Tip: To fight the passing of germs there is a special bag at the entrance of each activity for toys the kiddos may put in their mouths, or you can always give them to one of the staff for cleaning.
Little girl climbs on a structure at Glazer Children's Museum in Tampa
Sienna climbs the giant pringles as we call them. 

Gourmet Grill cheese and salad at Sono Cafe
Gourmet Grilled Cheese and Fresh Salad from Sono Cafe in the Tampa Museum of Art

Conveniently located next to Glazer Children’s Museum, inside the Tampa Museum of Art, Sono Cafe was a surprising little eatery that left a memorable mark on our visit. Sono serves up local ingredients with a fresh modern take on classic cafe food. Gourmet Grilled Cheese, Fresh Salads, and Soups join Avocado Toast and Hummus in an elegant line up. Enjoy an expertly curated wine list that wouldn’t be complete without a stunning charcuterie board. As one of the stops along the popular River Walk, Sono Cafe makes an excellent lunch or brunch break with a gorgeous view out it’s wall to wall windows, and a shaded deck overlooking the River Walk. 
Little girl smiles with charcuterie board
Sienna is all smiles when her charcuterie board arrives from Sono Cafe
grilled cheese and soup from Sono Cafe in Tampa
Taking a bite out of our Gourmet Grilled Cheese and Soup from Sono Cafe

The Tampa Riverwalk has done a brilliant job of opening up the waterfront area to more pedestrian traffic. This is a great draw for local businesses, a terrific place to see the Tampa skyline while enjoying some fresh air, and yes you can stroll along with your adult beverage (in the approved cup). Just on this blog alone, five of the destinations mentioned are in fact accessible by the River Walk and one more is very near by. That’s not including many many more attractions and parks open to the public along the Riverwalk. Enjoy restaurants, festivities, and culture all within the 2.4 mile loop and see some of the best Tampa has to offer. 
Tip: Enjoy this virtual tour with Tampa Moms Blog.

Tampa Riverwalk at night
The Tampa Riverwalk at night. Photo provided by Visit Tampa Bay
I could easily turn this into a Tampa Top 20! There is so much to see and do in this ever changing city. If you want to get it all in, consider purchasing Tampa’s City Pass. We used City Pass in Houston too and it’s a real money saver. It covers several of the attractions listed here including Busch Gardens, the Lowry Park Zoo, and The Florida Aquarium.

Until then…
Enjoy the Journey!
xo- Amy West
See our full photo tour on facebook here.

Amy West and daughters in Tampa

We were pleased to be guests of Visit Tampa Bay during our West Family Top 10 Trip, however all opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own. 

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