Central West Florida’s beaches in this region have an awesome advantage over those on the east side of the state: their Gulf waters are typically calmer and warmer than those on than the Atlantic Ocean side. Here are the top attractions and sights in Central West Florida:
Tampa is an excellent place to vacation for both families and couples alike. Here are some of the top things to do and see:
- Tampa is the perfect spot for any animal lover. Head to the small but impressive Lowry Park Zoo, see lions, tigers and other cats at the Big Cat Rescue and check out the endangered gentle giants of the sea at the Tampa Electric Manatee Viewing Center, which is free of charge. There’s also the gorgeous Florida Aquarium on the edge of downtown Tampa, which houses more than 20,000 animals and plants. Make sure to set aside at least three hours here to see it all!
- For adventure, take a trip to Busch Gardens, which combines Seaworld and other animal exhibits with safari-themed rides. It’s the ultimate family theme park, and many people opt to spend more than one day here. Just across the street from Busch Gardens is Adventure Island, which boasts 30 splendid acres of water rides and pools. Another must-visit if you have the time is Dinosaur World, which is just a 25-minute drive east to Plant City. Here, these prehistoric beasts come to life in a large park and play area, where kids can also take part in a fossil dig.
- Tampa also prides itself on its excellent museums, including the Museum of Science and Industry, housed in an other-worldly building, and the Tampa Museum of Art, which has some great kid-friendly exhibits.
- Adults will love the Henry B. Plant Museum, which is housed in the 1891 Tampa Bay hotel and tells a wonderful story of the Victorian era, with gorgeous antiques in an ornate building. There’s also the antique Tampa Theatre for movies, Lettuce Lake State Park, the Tampa Bay History Center and The David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.
- Of course, the beaches here are top notch, but don’t miss the lovely Fort De Soto Park’s beach, with an interesting war-time history.
St. Petersburg is just southwest of Tampa on the bayside, while Clearwater lies straight west. This area offers award-winning beaches, excellent museums and other perfect amenities for your Florida vacation. Here are some of the best things to do and see in the St. Petersburg and Clearwater areas:
- It’s a rare occasion when St. Petersburg isn’t sunny, so head to some of Florida’s most amazing beaches. St. Pete Beach has been called one of the best in the country. Spend the day on its frosty white beaches, keep an eye out for dolphins and grab lunch at Frenchy’s or The Hurricane restaurants.
- Check out the collection of 50,000 tropical plants on a whopping 4 acres at the lovely Sunken Gardens in the heart of St. Petersburg.
- Take a stroll on The Pier, where you can shop for souvenirs and take a catamaran tour. It’s especially beautiful at night.
- If you can handle a day or morning away from the beach, explore the 245 acres of pure nature at the Boyd Hill Nature Preserve.
- Appreciate the work of a creative genius at the Salvador Dali Museum, which boasts the largest collection of his work outside of Europe. You’ll recognize his tell-tale Surrealist style right away.
- See Winter, the famous dolphin who lost her entire tail in a crab trap when she was only three months old. She learned to adapt and is currently a big celebrity at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
- Hang out on beautiful Clearwater Beach and take a stroll or picnic in Philippe Park in
Sarasota is about a 45-minute drive south of St. Petersburg. It’s a wonderful place for a Gulf Coast beach trip. Here are the top things to do:
- Siesta Key Beach is known as one of the best in the country. The sand is powdery and glistening and the water is often a deep, gorgeous emerald. It’s perfect for families, as it’s one of the few beaches in the area that doesn’t allow smoking. Also, the gulf waters are warm and calm, so kids can play freely here, and you might even see some frolicking dolphins, adding to Siesta Key Beach’s picture-perfect ambience. If you dare, go parasailing with Siesta Key Parasail & Jetski for a thrilling ride and unmatched views from above.
- Immerse yourself in nature at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, the Sarasota Jungle Gardens and the Mote Marine Laboratory.
- Appreciate the arts at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, housed in an ornate structure, and the palm-shrouded, Mission-style Sarasota Opera House.