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January 20, 2020
Originally published in the March 2019 issue of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine.
That golden grail we’ve been pining for since the end of winter break is almost here: Spring Break! Some of us have already booked our European city breaks, our ski trips and Caribbean all-inclusive resorts with the grandparents. But some of us are staying in town, which is just as good because we are lucky enough to LIVE in an exotic vacation destination!
More good news: We’ve done all your planning for you.
So this year, skip the lines at the airport, avoid the clogged traffic on the highways, and use our comprehensive spring break guide to put together the perfect staycation! Pick a theme to guide your adventures, or mix and match for a break that has a little bit of everything!
Grab your binoculars and camera and take off on a 30-minute guided Serengeti Safari Tour at Busch Gardens, and linger awhile to see more than 300 species from around the world.
Get nose-to-horn with a rhino or pose with a koala at ZooTampa at Lowry Park, and cool off with a ride down Roaring Springs.
At the Florida Aquarium, you can hang out backstage with African penguins, see a hissing cockroach from Madagascar and marvel at the “dragons down under” in the seahorse exhibit. Pack a swimsuit and hit the splash pad afterwards!
Hang out with a celeb when you visit Winter, star of the “Dolphin Tale” movies, at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
You have until April 15 to see some of our native animal buddies at the Tampa Electric’s Manatee Viewing Center, where hundreds of the gentle creatures gather to enjoy the warm waters from November to April.
We Floridians know that the wilting heat of summer is just around the corner, so spring is the perfect time for budding horticulturists to enjoy some of our stunning tropical gardens. Check out rare orchids and carnivorous plants at the University of South Florida’s Botanical Gardens 16 acres of research landscapes, and stop by the plant store to carry a little pot of inspiration home.
The Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo offers free entry to its several demonstration gardens, while at the 100-year-old Sunken Gardens in St Pete, your little ones will be awed by waterfalls and a butterfly encounter.
Drive an hour out to Bok Tower Gardens, and you’ll be rewarded by a stunning hilltop estate designed by Frank Olmsted Jr. (whose father designed Central Park), as well as by a concert at the 205-foot singing tower carillon.
Put on your comfy shoes and book a 90-minute Ybor City Historic Walking Tour to learn about Tampa’s Cuban past. Stop by Ybor City Museum to learn about the lives of the Italian and Cuban immigrants who moved here to work at the cigar factories.
For a peek into the lives of the rich and famous who visited Tampa Bay, spend an hour or two at the Henry B. Plant Museum, the Victorian resort hotel that is now part of the University of Tampa.
At the 21-acre living history Pinellas County Heritage Village, visit a school your pioneer ancestor could have attended, and watch sugar cane being pressed into syrup.
Browse three floors of historical exhibits at the Tampa Bay History Center, but make time for the Treasure Seekers exhibit, where you can learn all about pirates, conquistadores and shipwrecks.
If you have a little foodie on your hands, spring break is the perfect time for leisurely food exploration. Find your family’s favorite version of the iconic Tampa “mixto”—will the delicious bread of La Segunda’s Cuban win out over the honeyed one at West Tampa Sandwich Shop? If you sample the Cuban at Brocato’s, maybe your kids will want to try out another Tampa staple, the deviled crab.
Parkesdale Market in Plant City is a perfect spot for a midmorning sugar rush with their World Famous Strawberry Shortcake—grab a loaf or two of delicious strawberry bread to go.
For a fancy good time, dress the kids up and take them to Tampa’s oldest restaurant, Columbia, and ask for a room inside so you can watch a flamenco show while you enjoy your 1905 salad. You can also head over to Ulele near Tampa’s Water Works Park (which has a super fun splash pad, so bring a bathing suit and towel) and discover a piece of Tampa history and snap some selfies with the sculptures from Fairyland placed throughout the property. Then pop in for a bite to eat! It’s sooo good!
Celebrate the Year of the Pig with dim sum at Chinese staple Yummy House withyour adventurous eater, and close things out with a night at Armature Works or Sparkman Wharf, stress-free, indoor/outdoor venues where you’ll find something for everyone’s tastes.
You and the kids can cool off at one of our favorite local ice-cream shops! There are so many on our list, there is bound to be one in your neighborhood!
Even better…go pick your own fruit and veggies at a local u-pick farm! Check out some of our tried and true favorites here!
At the Glazer Children’s Museum World Café, your little ones can participate in a West African drumming circle or learn about Japanese traditions in a pagoda.
For an authentic Thai experience on the banks of the Palm River, spend Sunday morning at Wat Mongkolratanaram, a complex that includes a gorgeous temple, garden sculptures and a popular farmer’s market-style spread of food stalls.
Tarpon Springs in Pinellas County has the largest concentration of Greeks in the United States, so what better place to head to for Greek food, music and dance, as well as an interesting look into the sponge diving industry that the Greek immigrants came here for.
Fowler Avenue in Temple Terrace is home to several outposts of Indian culture—pick out a cool Bollywood-style outfit at Gro Style boutique, sniff out exotic spices and interesting snacks at House of Spices, and try the biriyani at Pastries ‘n’ Chaat.
Soak up that Vitamin D before things get too hot and steamy. You have a couple of weeks left to take the Hillsborough County’s 2019 Hiking Spree challenge and complete 8 trails for a reward. You can get more information here as well as a detailed listing of area trails with distances and difficulty levels.
You can also check out sections of the Pinellas Trail to explore parts of St Pete from a bicycle.
For a rush of adrenaline, check out the 36-foot-high MOSI Ropes Course, or test your family’s bravery at TreeHoppers Aerial Adventure Park or Empower Adventures Tampa Bay.
For an active downtown morning, check out Urban Kai and explore downtown Tampa from a stand up paddleboard.
So what if it rains all week? Being stuck indoors with whiny little ones desperate to burn off energy is no fun, but Tampa has plenty of bad-weather play options as well.
With three museums dedicated to children—MOSI, Glazer Children’s Museum and Great Explorations—our kids can visit the MoonBase, get pre-historic with the NEW Dinovations Exhibit at MOSI or “work” as a vet for a day and build forts at Glazer.
If it’s purely physical fun you’re after, check out AirHeads Adventure Arena, Aerosphere in Tampa, Altitude Trampoline Park Tampa or Sky Zone Trampoline Park, all a great choice for kids who want to burn off some of that energy by jumping. Start a game of dodgeball with your kids on one of those trampolines and you may find yourself burning off some calories as well!
If you have slightly older ones looking to spend a more cerebral hour or two, see if they can handle the fast pace of an escape room, where you can create a team and see if you can solve clues to stop deranged scientists or art thieves, and break out of a “locked” room in an hour or less!
A week off from school and scheduled activities is the perfect opportunity to let kids explore their creative sides. They can peek into the mind of a genius at the Dali Museum in St Pete, or for more traditional fare, drive a few minutes downtown to the Museum of Fine Arts—exhibitions on display in March include everything from Van Gogh to Broadway.
The James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art and Chihuly Collection provide other unique and beautiful feasts for the eyes.
The Tampa Museum of Art and the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts are not only full of amazing creativity, they are also close to Curtis Hixon Park, where kids can blow off some steam after being good indoors all day long.
It’s a century-old tradition, and for baseball fans, one of the biggest perks of living in Tampa Bay. February and March is when the state of hosts 15 major league teams for their annual spring training. This means we can go see our favorite teams form up north play right around the corner from us! Whether it’s the New York Yankees at the George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, or the Philadelphia Phillies at Spectrum Field in Clearwater, or the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin Stadium, you can find a game to take your little enthusiasts to so they can taste the greatest American tradition!
Visit floridagrapefruitleague.com to get more information, a daily schedule of games and buy tickets.
By March, the cool sweater weather of January will be a distant memory and we’ll have broken out the swimsuits and sunscreen, ready to hit the water.
A whole week off from school is an ideal excuse to explore the best water venues in town, from the 30 acres of water rides at Adventure Island to the 10 splash pads operated by the Tampa Parks and Recreation Department.
The Florida Aquarium and ZooTampa at Lowry Park have extensive water play areas also.
Spring is also the perfect time to make a final decision on which perfect stretch of golden sand can be deemed your family’s favorite beach—have each member of the family pick one to try!
You can also head up to Weeki Wachee Springs and slide into the crystal clear spring water at Buccaneer Bay (the water park re-opens of the season on March 15, 2019).
How lucky are we to call some of the world’s best beaches as our very own! Venture out to Clearwater Beach which tops the list or take a break from the spring break crowds and discover some of the area’s beautiful, less-traveled beaches!
We have a ton of AWESOME summer camps in our 2019 Summer Camp Guide! Find the perfect one for your child. Be sure to register early since many camps tend to book up quickly!