With its warm Gulf waters, pristine beaches, temperate climate, and nearly guaranteed daily sunshine, the Tampa Bay area is a magnet for surf-loving families. There's even more fun to be had away from the shore: take a journey through Africa at Busch Gardens, race down a 210-foot water slide at Adventure Islands, stand eye-to-eye with lions at Big Cat Rescue, or float serenely through a 16,000-acre wildlife preserve on a Canoe Escape paddling trip. Even an oh-so-seldom rainy day won't spoil your family's tropical vacation -- head indoors and marvel at underwater life at the Florida Aquarium or ponder the surreal at the Dali Museum. Thrill-seekers, sun worshippers, and nature lovers will all say the same thing when it's time to head home: Can't we stay longer?
The Tampa area population balloons during its peak tourist season, roughly December through April, when snowbirds seeking a retreat from harsh winter weather flock to the area. Visit in the late spring and early fall to benefit from reduced rates for accommodations and smaller crowds at the beach, or during the sweltering summer to take advantage of abundant bargain rates, sometimes up to 50 percent lower than during the peak season.
Tampa enjoys supremely pleasant weather for three seasons out of the year, with an average high of 70 during the winter (low of 55), 80 in the spring (low of 65), and 83 in the fall (low of 70). The high humidity, heat, and frequent rain storms (though they usually pass quickly) combine to put a damper on outdoor summer fun, when the average high is 90 and low is 76. Water temperatures are relatively comfortable year round, averaging 63 in the winter, 74 in the spring, 85 in the summer, and 77 in the fall. Hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30, with September having the highest probability of a hurricane.
Visitors arriving via air have the luxury of choosing between four airports. Tampa International Airport (TPA), located just outside of downtown Tampa, is served by more than 20 airlines (many offering non-stop service). Visitors from the Midwest and mid-Atlantic regions may also consider St. Petersburg-Clearwater Airport (PIE), which is served by several regional airlines. Located about an hour's drive south of Tampa, the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport (SRQ) is a third option, featuring flights from a handful of major carriers. Finally, the bustling Orlando International Airport (MCO), approximately a 90-minute drive from downtown Tampa, offers direct and connecting service by most major and regional carriers. Greyhound provides bus service to the Tampa area; Amtrak riders detrain in the historic Tampa Union Train Station.
A car is a necessity for most visitors to the Tampa Bay area, as many of the family-friendly venues are in the outskirts of the city and the area's pristine beaches are all located on the western side of the Bay in Clearwater and St. Petersburg. Visitors who stay in Tampa's Channelside District, however, can walk to many venues or take a TECO Line streetcar between the District and Ybor City. The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) operates bus and trolley service; taxi service is available as well.
Tampa Bay & Company is the official tourism bureau for Hillsborough County (which includes Tampa), offering information about things to do and where to stay at www.visittampabay.com. The St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area Convention & Visitors Bureau offers similar information for Pinellas County at www.floridasbeach.com.
Visit the Hot Deals section of Tampa Bay & Company's website for special offers on accommodations, dining and nightlife, and attractions.
Families can camp at several area campgrounds, some with beaches (such as Fort De Soto Park and St. Petersburg/Madeira Beach Resort KOA) and some in more wooded settings (such as Hillsborough River State Park and Bay Bayou RV Resort). In addition, some state parks allow overnight stays in their marinas for those with a private boat, such as Caladesi Island State Park.