Summer vacations are in swing, and it’s about to get extra weird. After being cooped up, tourists are ready to drink from whole pineapples and wear T-shirts with screen-printed bikini bodies.
Where do such visitors flock? Free-wheeling Florida, like Las Vegas with more sun poisoning.
Reasons abound to avoid tourist traps. The crowds, the noise, the way a group of eight manages to span the sidewalk in an unbreakable ribbon of flesh. Plus, being a tourist is expensive: the fruity drinks, the vats of sunscreen, the bail money.
But people come here for a reason, and it’s not to stay out of our way. We’re, you know, fun. Would it kill us to admit? To enjoy the overpopulated, silly scenes in our own backyard, once or twice a year?
Last Friday, my family hopped on the ferry to Clearwater Beach and spent an evening bopping around, like we’d just landed from Milwaukee. We saw dolphin tour boats and scooters, ordered blended drinks and crab legs, browsed the vials of sand in gift shops. “Why would anyone buy sand?” our Florida kid asked. We explained that some people don’t have sand, as if describing a Charles Dickens character.
Do we want to do it every weekend? God, no. Was it fun? Totally.
We at the Times, with help from readers online, put together this list of tourist-tastic things to do in Tampa Bay. Open your drink umbrellas and start living.
Tampa Bay Tourist Traps
Take a dolphin dinner cruise or speedboat ride. Or try Tiki Fun Tours, a six-seat floating bar in the Clearwater Beach marina. BYOB!
Hoof it on a walking tour of historic Ybor City. Stay after dark for the nightlife, if you dare.
Hop the ferry from Honeymoon Island to Caladesi Island, an untouched treasure only reached by boat.
Head to Plant City for the prehistoric charm of Dinosaur World. Finish with a strawberry milkshake at Parkesdale Farm Market.
Have dinner at the rotating restaurant, Spinners Rooftop Grille, in St. Pete Beach.
Shop the artisan tables at the nightly sunset festival on Clearwater Beach’s Pier 60. Get a grouper sandwich at Frenchy’s Rockaway or across the parking lot at Palm Pavilion.
Visit the John’s Pass Village and Boardwalk in Madeira Beach, eat at Bubba Gump’s and shop for saltwater taffy at Zeno’s Boardwalk Sweet Shop.
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Unwind with your pups at Fort De Soto dog beach and park. Or, just go and look at other people’s dogs.
Escape the heat at the Florida Aquarium in Tampa and have a drink while the kids play in the splash pad.
Spend a day learning about the past at the Tampa Bay History Center and the Henry B. Plant Museum.
Breathe in more than 50,000 tropical plants among the waterfalls of St. Petersburg’s Sunken Gardens.
Ride a roller coaster at Busch Gardens and buy the unflattering keepsake photo.
Get a day pass via ResortPass to pools at the Tampa Marriot Waterside, the Godfrey, Hotel Alba and Epicurean in Tampa, the Fenway in Dunedin, the Postcard Inn and Don Cesar in St. Petersburg and the Hyatt Regency on Clearwater Beach.
Take in a flamenco show at Ybor City’s Columbia Restaurant. Order a 1905 salad and a pitcher of sangria.
Flex next to the Hulk Hogan statue on Clearwater Beach, for better or worse.
Treat yourself to candy, homemade ice cream, fudge or Italian ice at Candy Kitchen in Madeira Beach and Redington Shores.
Party all day at the original Caddy’s on Sunset Beach (but we suggest a carpool).
Stroll the Tampa Riverwalk. Visit Curtis Hixon Park and play in the splash zone. Rent an electric boat or tour the city aboard the Pirate Water Taxi.
Book a session in the FlowRider indoor wave machine in the SurfStyle store on Clearwater Beach.
Visit the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, even if you’ve been. There’s always something new to find. Same for the Chihuly Collection.
Have sidewalk dinner on Beach Drive in St. Petersburg, followed by rooftop cocktails at the Canopy.
Head to the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks, eat Greek food and shop for sponges and soap. Get baklava at Hellas Bakery and learn the history of sponge diving at Spongeorama.
Visit Sparkman’s Wharf at Water Street Tampa and tour the converted shipping container restaurants. Say something like, “I didn’t know Tampa was cool.”
Staycation at the TradeWinds in St. Pete Beach. Go down the three-story waterslide. Eat at RumFish Grill and watch snorkelers in the 33,500-gallon tank. Or jump in yourself.
Spot gentle giants at Tampa Electric’s Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach, where they gather around the Big Bend Power Station.
Meet our most famous resident and movie star, Winter, at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
Rent a bike from Kafe Racer and hit the Pinellas Trail to tour Dunedin’s many craft breweries.
Run, bike or walk along Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa and pick the fantasy mansion you’d like to live in.
Buy the tacky T-shirt.
Don’t forget to clap at sunset.
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