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When people think of the Tampa area, it is usually the beach that comes to mind. It’s true that for any Gulf Coast vacation, the surf and the sand are bound to be central focuses. But is the beach all that Tampa has to offer? No, far from it! In reality, there are countless activities to keep you entertained when you need a beach break.  

Busch Gardens

With Orlando renowned as the center of the theme park universe, people often forget about Busch Gardens on the Gulf Coast. This destination is far from a developing country cousin of the Orlando parks with its roller coasters and impressive animal displays. The shows, shopping, and dining options are just as remarkable as any other park in the peninsula. The animals are as magnificent as in the best zoos, and the rides will keep thrill-seekers entertained for hours. 

A roller coaster in Busch Gardens. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.

Salvador Dali Museum

Salvador Dali, a leading member of the surrealist movement, combined a penchant for flair with masterful artistic sensibilities. The Catalan painter is famous for his massive portrayals of mind-binding, bizarre, and provocative sets of images. This museum in St. Petersburg houses the most extensive collection of Dali paintings outside of Europe. Even if you are not an art connoisseur, you will find yourself mesmerized by Dali’s brash individuality and daring imagination. 

Salvador Dali Museum. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.

Horse Racing at Tampa Bay Downs

Many people associate “the sport of kings” with mega-events like the Kentucky Derby. While attending such a spectacle surely has its merits, a guest at the Derby encounters far more people than they do horses thanks to the massive crowds. Tampa Bay Downs offers a much more intimate look at the majestic thoroughbreds and their diminutive riders. Visitors can get up to the paddock to watch the horses prepared for the races, and the jockeys are often so close that you can strike up a conversation. At Tampa Bay Downs, the racing experience is not about gambling, but the incredible nature of an age-old sport. 

Aerial view of Tampa Bay Downs racetrack. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.

Tampa Bay Rowdies Soccer

With the Rays, Buccaneers, and Lightning, Tampa has plenty of major league sports options. But for a more intimate, affordable, and unique experience, consider catching the Rowdies in action at the ocean-front AL Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg. The venue is small enough that you’re bound to be right on top of the action. And while the Rowdies compete in the second tier of American soccer, the level is still impressively high.  

Rowdies soccer. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.

The Florida Aquarium

Even away from the beach, you can enjoy the nautical feel of this beach-side city. The Florida Aquarium contains more than 20,000 species of aquatic flora and fauna, all of which are housed in attractive, compelling, and informative exhibits. The variety on display includes recreations of local Floridian ecosystems as well as portrayals of distant climes. With touch-tanks and a variety of events, the Aquarium provides an interactive experience that will keep children as well as adults entertained for an entire afternoon.

The Florida Aquarium. Photo courtesy of Jared on Flickr.

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