For the next several articles I’ll be focusing on cities, attractions, and events in and around Hillsborough County so settle in as we make Tampa our base for our traveling adventures. Before we head off down I-4 in search of fun things to do, let me suggest a few local places you might like to visit.
Lowry Park Zoo
First, is Lowry Park Zoo established in the early 1930s on the banks of the Hillsborough River with only a few animals? Over the years the park, which encompasses 41 beautiful acres, was taken over and managed by the Zoological Society and today is recognized as one of the top three mid-sized zoos in the country and is well known for its Manatee rescue and rehabilitation facility.
The newest addition to the zoo is the Florida Environmental Education Center offering classes and field trips year-round to children and adults.
Museum of Science and Industry-MOSI
The Museum of Science and Industry-MOSI is a great way to spend the day. Currently running, now through March 4th in the IMAX theatre on the “big” screen is, The Lion King. Make a point to stop by the permanent exhibits for some exciting “hands-on” interaction like the Gulf Coast Hurricane exhibit that allows you to experience 74 mph hurricane-force winds to get a taste of what it’s like being in a storm. The newest exhibit is the Flight Avionics Flight Simulator, which allows up to 15 people to take a 5-minute ride experiencing flight in space and beyond. A must-do!
Right around the corner and just a short way down the street from MOSI is Busch Gardens. Check this link for a clickable map of the park.
If you plan to “do” the park, plan on spending the day! There is just too much to see and do at this fantastic theme park. From the numerous shows and rides like Rhino Rally where you experience the animals in a safari typesetting to the infamous Kumba roller coaster where you plunge into a 110 ft loop where you’ll loop-the-loop 360 degrees at a speed of 60 mph. Hold on tight, you’re in for the time of your life!
Be sure to stop by and visit the world famous Clydesdale horses, too.
A short distance from Busch Gardens you’ll find Adventure Island, An apt name for this water park you’ll soon discover. Take a ride on Wahoo Run, the ultimate raft ride, and be sure to bring plenty of dry clothes!
Hillsborough State Park
Now for a day of picnicking, hiking, swimming, canoeing and just overall relaxation, Hillsborough State Park is the place to go. Opened in 1938, this 3,950-acre park has it all. Plenty of covered picnic areas and grills, hiking trails, camping area, swimming area (not the river), and plenty of Florida flora and fauna, wildlife and reptiles!
Big Cat Rescue
Back across town near Citrus Park Mall, you can spend the day up close and personal with over 170 exotic cats, representing 23 species, at Big Cat Rescue formerly known as Wildlife on EasyStreet, a non-profit sanctuary for big cats (and some of the smaller species too)!
The cats live out their lives here in a natural habitat setting, so you won’t see any cages. The only thing between you and the big kitty’s is a 6 ft high fence. They also have a “hands-on” program where you’re able to be really up close and personal with many of the residents.
If you’re a lover of wildlife then a visit to Easy Street will make you feel good.
Gasparilla Invasion of Tampa
In February is the annual Gasparilla Invasion of Tampa. If you’ve never witnessed this event, you’re in for a treat! The pirates, all 700, sail into Tampa Bay on the 165ft Jose Gaspar decked out with flags-a-flying. Once they land, they take over the city. There are plenty of fireworks, a huge parade with floats and more pirates, and beads and trinkets for the crowds. On February 8th, the festivities continue with Fiesta Day in Ybor City with plenty of food, music and arts and crafts. There is also the Knight Parade, which winds its way through the Channel district into Ybor with floats ablaze with lights. This Knight parade takes place at night! Please check out the link for much more information about our impending invasion!
With all this running around you’ll be doing you’re bound to be hungry and so I’ll suggest a few local food stops.
Right across from Easy Street you’ll find Citrus Park Mall that has a very large food court along with several very nice restaurants like, Rice & Company (Asian), Johnny Rocket’s (50’s style), Cino Grille (upscale) not to mention a beautiful array of stores and movie theatres.
In the Busch Gardens area, there are plenty of restaurants from fast food to casual dining. Starting on Busch Blvd. you can find, The Olive Garden (Italian), Mel’s Hot Dog’s ( a must if you’re a hotdog gourmet), Popeye’s (chicken, Lupton’s BBQ, IHOP, MacDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell.
Jump over to Fowler Ave. which runs parallel to Busch and you’ll find Fridays, Tia’s (Mexican), Bennigans, Chilis, Jason’s Deli (fantastic baked [potatoes), and Ruby Tuesdays located at University Square Mall. Also on Fowler, on the way to MOSI and Hillsborough State Park, you’ll find Ryan’s Steakhouse offering a huge variety of delicious foods on their breakfast, lunch, and dinner buffet.
If you’re in Tampa during the pirate invasion and you find yourself in Ybor you won’t have to look hard for great places to eat. From the famous Columbia Restaurant and upscale Bernini’s, casual Carmichaels, and La Tropicana to the Rockin Green Iguana, you’ll find plenty of authentic cuisine and atmosphere.
Our next trip will take us out of town to beautiful Brooksville and Dade City, about an hour’s drive from Tampa. See you then!