Tampa with Kids: A Perfect Family Day

Tampa with Kids: A Family Vacation


Finding ways to entertain young children without going crazy yourself can be challenging. Here, I have created the perfect family vacation day in Tampa with kids. The children will love it and so will the adults. How do I know? I'm a mom of two young boys and I grew up here!

Hopefully, when planning your family vacation to Tampa, you will choose a hotel that is centrally located. Most people don't realize how large Tampa is, area-wise. Tampa encompasses all of Hillsborough County -- which means a lot of driving to get from point A to B, if you chose to stay in either North or South Tampa.

Luckily for those unfamiliar with the roads, Tampa is laid out on a pretty straight grid, so it's impossible to get lost for too long. Fair warning though: Between the tourists, work-related travel and snow birds, the roads can get pretty awful. So that's why I recommend picking a hotel in the heart of Tampa. Central Tampa is where the majority of the kid-friendly attractions are located, anyway.


I would start my day in Tampa with kids with breakfast at Sub World (10051 N. Dale Mabry Hwy., Old Carrollwood Shopping Center; 813-961-0352). The fact that it looks like a hole-in-the-wall is part of its charm. It's been in the same spot serving fluffy three-egg omelets and the best home fries you'll ever taste for more than 22 years. The staff is friendly and always willing to accommodate picky eaters. You will probably even get a chance to relax with a (free) newspaper, as they tend to make the kids' food arrive first.

After breakfast, head over to MOSI - The Museum of Science and Industry (4801 E. Flower Ave; 813-987-6000). It's the best place to answer all those "why" questions little kids always have. Disasterville is a very popular permanent exhibit explaining the science behind weather such as tornadoes and hurricanes. The butterfly garden is always a favorite with little girls, and everyone loves the planetarium. Parents will be entertained with the 'CSI: The Experience' exhibit and the smaller kids will love watching mom and dad on the world's longest high-wire bike ride in a museum -- don't worry, the bike is attached to the wire!


Located just a couple of blocks down the road from MOSI is Mel's Hot Dogs (4136 E. Busch Blvd.; 813-985-8000). They've been a Tampa institution since 1973, serving up the best all-natural-casing, Chicago-style hot dogs in a kitschy '50s-style diner. The namesake of Mel's, Mel Lohn, can still be found behind the counter cracking jokes on most days. Their kids meals come with a "surprise" (toy) and the fries are always fresh and hot. You have to try the oven-baked beans and fresh all-natural lemonade. Most days there is a small line; however, the plentiful memorabilia on the walls keeps everyone occupied.

A nice place to cool off during your family vacation day in Tampa with kids is Adventure Island (10001 N. McKinley Dr., across from Busch Gardens; 888-800-5447). I suggest this for the afternoon because it has something for every member of the family. There are plenty of shaded areas where the smaller ones can take a nap. Little kids go crazy over Fabians Fun Port, a special water park just for them. Older kids can float down the lazy river or plunge 700 hundred feet down the Tampa Typhoon water slide. Since the park is owned by Anheuser-Busch, Budweiser products are available for adults to purchase. The park has complimentary life vests and there are life guards everywhere in the park as well.


If you have any life left in you, I suggest Sting Ray's (formerly Shells -- 11010 N. 30th St.; 813-977-8456) for a fantastic dinner‎. Truly Florida-style seafood, this Tampa chain has been around since 1985 (though only four privately-owned restaurants remain). It features fresh Alaskan king and Dungeness crab, grouper, conch and the more traditional seafood fare of fish and shrimp-- though there are beef and chicken options, too. They have a great service, but the big draw here is the ambiance. Once you step inside you'll feel as if you were shipwrecked on some tropical island -- and the best part is you never want to leave!

But after this perfect family vacation day in Tampa with kids, it's a sure bet, you'll want to come back.

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