Tampa, Florida, is a popular tourist destination. Visitors flock to this city, located on a bay off of the Gulf of Mexico, to cheer on its sport teams, peruse its museums, and enjoy the gorgeous beaches nearby. You could spend days touring spots like the Florida Aquarium and ZooTampa and having a blast at Busch Gardens amusement park. Come evening, retire in one of the luxury rentals and hotels in Tampa. However, if you’re looking for ways to mix up your usual vacation activities, Tampa also has lots of attractions that differ from your usual vacation fare. Whether you’ve exhausted yourself of the area’s major attractions or are just looking to have a vacation unlike any other, here are 10 ideas for non-touristy things to do in Tampa.
1. Visit the Hindu Temple of Florida
You don’t have to travel to Southeast Asia to visit a magnificent Hindu temple. Whether you are looking to worship, learn more about Hinduism, or see a breathtaking place, head to the Hindu Temple of Florida in Tampa. The Hindu Temple of Florida was first founded in 1983 by a group who wished to practice Sanatana dharma in their new home. Over the next few decades, the temple expanded in size, services offered, and the building itself. The temple is a magnificent structure with an intricately sculpted tower reaching up to the sky. Tours are free, so add this interesting spot to your Tampa itinerary.
Hindu Temple of Florida
Address: 5509 Lynn Road, Tampa, FL 33624
Website: Hindu Temple of Florida
Opening hours: 9:30am - 9pm (daily)
2. Take part in the Gasparilla Pirate Festival
If you’re in Tampa at the end of January, be sure to make a stop at the Gasparilla Pirate Festival! This annual tradition was inspired by Jose Gaspar, a pirate in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The event starts with hundreds of pirates invading Tampa aboard a pirate ship. A huge parade follows, which is the third largest in the US and attended by hundreds of thousands of onlookers. Most folks dress in pirate garb as they attend the rest of the day’s events, including music, games, food, and more!
Gasparilla Pirate Festival
Address: Locations throughout downtown Tampa
Website: Gasparilla Pirate Festival
Opening hours: Occurs the last Saturday in January
3. Buy a sponge or loofah at Tarpon Springs
Editor's Note: There's no photo available at the time of writing
Buying a loofah might seem like a strange addition to your Tampa itinerary, but Tampa is located just a short drive away from the sponge capital of the world, Tarpon Springs. The sponge industry has been the heart of Tarpon Springs since the 1800s, when Greek immigrants began harvesting the natural sponges underwater. Today, this charming city still boasts Greek influences and lots of sponge products in a quaint area with narrow streets and canals. You can buy a sponge, once a skeleton of a small sea creature, or a loofah, the dried part of a loofah plant, at many spots along the historic Sponge Docks.
Tarpon Sponge Company
Website: Tarpon Sponge Company
Opening hours: Mon - Thurs: 10am - 6pm; Fri - Sun: 10am - 9pm
Tip from our local expert
The best sponge shops are located along Dodecanese Blvd., which has a lively Greek atmosphere and delicious restaurants. The area normally has a relaxed atmosphere but can be extremely busy during university spring break (March and April) when students create a vibrant party scene. A must-do activity is going on sponge diving tours from one of the local companies. These tours include a 40-minute boat cruise with local sponge divers who tell you about the history and experience!
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4. Check out the two-headed gator of Seminole Heights
Strolling around the streets of the Seminole Heights neighborhood in Tampa, you might notice a lot of two-headed alligator drawings and sculptures popping up. The legend of the two-headed gator comes from old Florida folklore. In 2014, a man claimed to have seen a real one, and a questionable picture was printed in the Tampa Bay Times. The neighborhood has embraced this mythical creature, so while you’re in town take your picture with a six-foot statue version at Southern Brewing and Winemaking or see the alleged taxidermy original at Ella’s Americana Folk Art Cafe.
Ella's Americana Folk Art Cafe
Address: 5119 N. Nebraska Ave Tampa, Fl 33603
Website: Ella’s Americana Folk Art Cafe
Opening hours: Tue - Wed: 5pm - 11pm; Thur - Sat: 11am - 12am; Sun: 11am - 8pm (Closed Mon)
5. Head to Tampa Theatre
If you’re looking for relaxing things to do in Tampa, watching a movie is a great option. Why head to a regular movie theater when you can go to the unique Tampa Theatre instead? This historic theater dates to the 1920s and has an elegant interior. The ceiling lights up like a night sky and the walls are designed to look like a Mediterranean courtyard. The Tampa Theatre shows movies, including first run and classic films, concerts, and other events.
Address: 711 N Franklin St. Tampa, FL 33602
Website: Tampa Theatre
Opening hours: Showtimes vary
Price: Movie tickets are 11 USD
6. Explore Ulele Fairyland Figures
Happy Hump(ty) Day. Make yours eggs-tra special at Ulele. (Photo: @momma_hubs. Fairyland character restoration by The Hulfish Project.)Posted by Ulele on Wednesday, 30 January 2019
Kids and adults alike will enjoy visiting the Ulele Fairyland Figures. These fiberglass figures of fairy tale characters like Humpty Dumpty, the Three Little Pigs, and more once called the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa home. When the zoo sold the figures, they sat deteriorating in a storage unit for decades. The city auctioned them off and they were bought by the owner of restaurant Ulele, one of the top casual restaurants in Tampa. Today, they stand proudly restored outside of the restaurant and are free to visit!
Ulele Fairyland Figures
Address: 1810 North Highland Avenue, Tampa, FL 33602
Website: Ulele Fairyland Figures
Opening hours: All day
7. Go kayaking (from USD 64.0)
Tampa is a big city, but it is located in an area that is rich in marine wildlife. What better way to explore the area’s natural beauty than by boat? A great option is this Viator Clear Kayak Guided Tour. For a few hours, you can paddle around Shell Key preserve and Fort Desoto park in the nearby city of St. Petersburg. The tour will take you through protected waters and mangrove tunnels and you might spot a manatee, dolphin, or manta ray in the water, and pelicans, egrets, herons, and more up in the air and trees.
Tip from our local expert
Kayaking is one of the best outdoor activities in the Tampa area if you want to spend time on the water without the crowds. There are so many places to go kayaking in the area, but I recommend going to Honeymoon Island or taking the ferry to Caladesi Island, both of which are west of Tampa along its Caribbean coast. These two islands are beautiful natural areas where you can kayak to your heart's content through mangroves and along beautiful beaches. You might even get to see owls while you are out on Honeymoon Island which is always an amazing experience.
Shell Key Preserve Small-Group Clear-Bottom Kayak Tour
Duration: 2 hours
8. Sightsee dolphins (from USD 30.0)
Dolphins are one of Florida’s natural treasures. These playful creatures can often be spotted off the shorelines near Tampa if you know where to look. For the best experience, hop on a dolphin sightseeing cruise like this one offered by Viator. It is a 1.5-hour tour around Tampa Bay led by an expert captain. The boat drivers will know just where the dolphins like to feed and play, and can get the boat close enough so you can see them without disturbing them!
Tampa Bay 1.5-hour Dolphin Sightseeing Cruise with Guide
Duration: 1 hour 30 minutes
9. Enjoy a zipline tour at night (from USD 65.0)
Ziplining is becoming an increasingly popular activity, but have you ever done one at night? On this Moonlight Zip Tour offered by Viator, enjoy the city lights of Tampa as you zoom by on 3,000 feet (914 meters) of cables! You’ll get to zipline on several different cables, providing different vantage points and speeds. Ziplining at night is a unique and thrilling experience for all ages, and a great way to plan an evening activity that’s not just dinner and a movie.
Moonlight Zip Line Tour
Duration: 2 hours
A destination for everyone
Whether you want to do popular outdoor activities in Tampa or try out things that are off the beaten path, the city and surrounding areas have tons of options to choose from. Besides the activities on this list, you could head to the historic city of St. Petersburg to visit the unique Salvador Dali museum, or go further out to St. Pete Beach and Treasure Island for relaxation on an endless sandy beach. We hope this list helps you plan a vacation that is both traditional and slightly offbeat, and fun for everyone.
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