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Unique One Day Tampa Travel Itinerary

Tampa is the third largest city in Florida. As such, there is no shortage of things to do in the area. Sunny Tampa offers everything from quiet neighborhood afternoons to bustling downtown nights. When visiting the Tampa Bay area, be sure to include this unique one day Tampa travel itinerary. Do not limit yourself to just downtown sights. There are so many nearby attractions that you will not want to miss! Here is a local Tampa itinerary that offers a fun filled, yet manageable day.

Also, be sure to visit Jenny In Wanderland article 12 Unique Tampa Attractions besides the Beach.

Getting Around During Your Unique One Day Tampa Travel Itinerary

While there are buses in Tampa, a car is probably much more convenient, especially to be on your own schedule. Overall, Tampa is not a difficult area to get around and in our suggested itinerary, everything is very close together. As a matter of fact, some locations you can walk to, depending on which hotel you choose. You can compare discounted prices and secure your rental car here.

As a note, between the port area and Ybor City, there is a trolley that runs, but even if you choose to park and take the trolley for this part, a rental car is still advisable for many of the attractions. Also, Tampa can be very hot, so walking any distance during the day between attractions, may not be in your best interest.

Breakfast

Since you are likely to want an early start, grab a quick, yet yummy breakfast at a this popular counter-service establishment, offering egg sandwiches, soups, salads, baked goods & a variety of bagels, complete with gourmet coffee options.

Unique One Day Tampa Travel Itinerary - Bagel Sandwich
Sample Breakfast Bagel Sandwich, Photo: Vicky Ng

Museum of Science and Industry

Once you have had breakfast, start your unique one day Tampa travel itinerary with a visit to the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI for short). I remember many fond trips to MOSI during my time in Tampa, and the museum remains a favorite spot for people of all ages for good reason.

MOSI hosts permanent and rotating exhibits on technology, biology, physics, and meteorology, as well as interactive educational displays. Highlights include Mission: Moon Base, an interactive exhibit that recreates NASA’s idea of life on the moon, and Connectus, an evolving exhibit that exposes you to developing technology and ideas not yet revealed to the masses. 

MOSI is also home to the Saunders Planetarium (the only planetarium in Tampa), which projects stargazing shows. Another special feature of the museum is its Sky Trail Ropes Course. The course is an exercise in stamina and gravity, welcome to all ages. It takes place on a 36-foot tall structure that you climb while clipped to a harness.

Admission

MOSI hours are generally from 10am to 5pm every day, closing on Thanksgiving (November 25th) and Christmas (December 25th). Visits to the Saunders Planetarium Show and to Sky Trail Ropes Course cost an additional fee, as does the the Virtual Reality Simulator.

A Tampa Ticket Pass can be purchased in advance that include admission to Mosi as well as to a variety of nearby activities as well.

Address: 4801 E Fowler Ave, Tampa, FL 33617

Unique one day Tampa travel itinerary

University of South Florida (USF)

After an enriching time at MOSI, you will be warmed up to visit Tampa’s largest university campus. A short drive from MOSI, the University of South Florida (USF) is next on your unique one day Tampa travel itinerary. It features plenty of sights for visitors to explore, including the USF Contemporary Art Museum and the USF Botanical Gardens. Both are popular and not to miss. As a matter of fact, if you desire a slower pace, you could make a full day of just visiting here!

USF Contemporary Museum of Art

This cultural contemporary art museum opened its doors in 1989. Since then, it has held exhibitions from both Florida and around the world.

USF has an extensive art collection of more than 5,000 pieces. It offers various genres of art from graphics to photography, to painting and sculpture. It even has works by Lichtenstein, Rauschenberg and Rosenquist, who have all worked at USF’s Graphic studio at some period in time.

Admission

The museum is usually open Monday through Wednesday and Friday from 9am to 5pm. On Thursday, it is open from 9am to 8pm, so you could make it an early evening activity before dinner. It is only open 1pm to 4pm on Saturday, making it a perfect post lunch stop if you are in town on a weekend, but it is closed on Sunday.

Admission is for a nominal fee and can be paid upon arrival.

Address: 12210 USF Pine Drive, Tampa, FL  33612

Contemporary Art Museum - Unique One Day Tampa Travel Itinerary
Contemporary Art Museum

USF Botanical Gardens

The Botanical Gardens are less than 5 minutes away from MOSI by car. The gardens cover a total of 15 acres, featuring more than 3,000 types of plants and habitats. The USF Botanical Gardens are also home to several animal species, ranging from insects and butterflies to birds and gopher tortoises. They host fruit trees, palms, carnivorous plants, begonias, and more, from both Florida and all over the globe. In addition to the plethora of plants to enjoy, you can also stroll through a butterfly garden and herb and scent garden.  

Starting from the garden’s parking area, you will follow a trail into the Botanical Gardens and find yourself surrounded with plenty of natural beauty to see. Stroll through the gardens at a leisurely pace and take photos; You will definitely want to!

Afterwards, visit the lovely shop that sells local plants, honey products, and cosmetics.

**Smoking is not allowed on premises and the gardens do not permit jogging, biking, skating, or removing plants. However, you can picnic within the gardens if you bring your own food.

If you fancy a picnic, pick up a lovely Korean or sushi lunch box at nearby K-Deli (11840 Bruce B Downs Blvd., Tampa, FL 33612) .

Admission

The gardens are usually open from Tuesday through Saturday from 9am to 3pm, except holidays. Admission is minimal and can be purchased upon arrival.

Address: 12210 USF Pine Drive, Tampa, FL  33612

Sulphur Springs Water Tower

Less than 15 minutes by car from the USF Botanical Gardens, the Sulphur Springs Water Tower is your next stop. In the past, the water of Sulphur Springs was said to have healing powers, an ability that may have come from the natural minerals within its water. This made the area’s water a fantastical attraction in itself and paved the way for the iconic water tower’s construction.

Built in 1927, the tower overlooks Hillsborough River with a height of 214 feet and a foundation of 45 feet. Located in the historical Sulphur Springs district, the tower’s Gothic architecture conjures up images of medieval structures.

The Sulphur Springs Water Tower

The River Tower Park surrounds the water tower, providing visitors with picnic tables and a space to admire the tower from a distance. Although you cannot enter the water tower, you can see it from behind a fence and snap photos to your heart’s content. This is just as well because your one day itinerary in Tampa has only just begun.

Access to view the tower is generally open to the public from 8am to 7pm daily. Admission is free.

Address: 455-479 E Bird St, Tampa, FL 33604

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Port Tampa Bay

Once you have seen the Sulphur Springs Water Tower, make your way to Port Tampa Bay (less than 15 minutes’ distance by car). Located by downtown Tampa’s Channel District, Port Tampa Bay is Florida’s biggest port and an huge host to many cruise lines, cargo ships, and tankers. It a bustling hub for Floridians and tourists alike. The port’s proximity to Channelside and Ybor City also makes it within walking distance of arrays of shops, boutiques, bars, restaurants, and entertainment plazas.

Cruises at port; photo by Stephanie Klepacki

Here, you can glimpse the largest port in Florida at work while watching cruise ships come and go. If time allows, you can even book a seat on one of the port’s free Educational Harbor Tours. These tours last 75 minutes each and take passengers on guided trips through Port Tampa Bay.

**Note that the tours are not offered every day and registration opens 3 weeks in advance.

Address: 1101 Channelside Dr, Tampa, FL 33602

Website: https://www.porttb.com/

*If you’d like to get out on the water, other options in Tampa that you can reserve in advance are this two seater powerboat rental on the river, this authentic private BYOB tiki bar boat, or even this dolphin cruise.

*If you prefer a historical tour, take the trolley over one stop to Ybor City that is steeped in Tampa Bay history. Take this historical walking tour to learn all about this interesting area.

Gaspar’s Grotto

Another great lunch option, treat yourself to a meal at Gaspar’s Grotto Pirate Bar & Restaurant, a renowned pirate-themed restaurant in Ybor City. It will take you just a few minutes to reach the restaurant by car. Dedicated to the legacy of pirate José Gaspar, the restaurant is a celebration of the last buccaneer and of Tampa’s vibrant immigrant culture. In addition to a hearty menu with great Cuban influence, Gaspar’s also offers plenty of fun themed alcoholic drinks.

The restaurant features artifacts from all over the world, including a half-ton 19th century bell that patrons can ring for the price of a donation to the local Shriner’s Hospital for Children. Another highlight is the owner’s adorable cat, Tanker Ray, Gaspar’s official ambassador.

Gaspar’s Grotto offers live music regularly. There are often performances starting 7pm on Mondays and Tuesdays, 8:30pm on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and from 11am on weekends. Sunday brunches are available from 11am to 3pm.

Gaspar’s Grotto is usually open all week from 11am to 2am.

Address: 1805 E 7th Ave, Tampa, FL 33605

Website: Gaspar’s Grotto

Croc Encounters

If you have an interest in reptiles, you must visit Croc Encounters during your one day itinerary in Tampa. Croc Encounters is a short drive from Gaspar’s Grotto (less than 15 minutes!), making it a great afternoon stop. Tampa’s Croc Encounters is a zoo featuring guided tours and face-to-face interactions with reptilian animals. Here, you can see (and even touch!) a broad range of alligators, crocodiles, tortoises, lizards, frogs, and more.

Crocodile; photo by Rae Wallis

The zoo takes its reptilian encounters one step further by hosting alligator wrestling shows as well. These shows usually last from 20 minutes to half an hour (with no set schedule) at a distance from the audience. They function as educational demonstrations of the alligator’s abilities and the handler’s safe techniques.

Admission

Croc Encounters hours are generally from 8am to 8pm daily.

Admission Tickets can be purchased in advance or at their ticket office upon arrival. They also offer guided tours.

Address: 8703 Bowles Rd. Tampa, Fl 33637

Website: http://www.crocencounters.com/

Coppertail Brewing Company

If you have a passion for beer, carve out some time in your one day itinerary in Tampa for a visit to the Coppertail Brewing Company. Less than 15 minutes, coming from Croc Encounters by car, this is the next stop on your itinerary. Located in Ybor, the Coppertail Brewing Company is an independent brewery named after, according to the owner’s (then) toddler, a beast that dwells in Tampa Bay.

Coppertail features a tasting room with vintage furnishings and service bar with 20 rotating taps for sampling. The kitchen also serves sharing plates and meals to accompany your drinks. While at Coppertail, be sure to try one of its core offerings, each with its own unique artwork and story: Free Dive India Pale Ale, Independent Pilsner Beer, Night Swim Porter, and Unholy Trippel for example.

Sit back and enjoy a sample of Coppertail’s core brews or one of its many other specialized beers, while immersing yourself in its classic atmosphere.

Tours

Coppertail features a large brewhouse with plenty of room for barrels. The brewery offers tours of the brewhouse for about $10 per person (at time of writing). Visitors must be at least 14 years old to join the tour and at least 21 years old to taste alcoholic samples.

These tours can last from 30 to 40 minutes, include a complimentary beer, and a free pint glass. See more information here.

Tour Times

Coppertail usually offers tours on Fridays and Saturdays only on the hour at 1, 2 and 3:00PM.

Operating Hours

At the time of writing, the tasting room is open Monday to Friday 11AM to 11PM, until midnight on the weekend and 9PM on Sunday. The kitchen closes one hour before the bar.

Address: 2601 E 2nd Ave, Tampa, FL 33605

Website: Coppertail Brewing

Jackson’s Bistro Bar and Sushi

Another dinner option is Jackson’s Bistro Bar and Sushi. It has been around for almost 20 years and is a treat for your inner foodie. The bistro is a modern upscale restaurant that overlooks the Tampa Riverwalk. Featuring everything from seafood to steak and award-winning sushi, the restaurant allows guests to savor mouthwatering food and a scenic view of the waterfront. Jackson also offers guests a selection of fine wine and cocktails.

Whether you watch the sunset from a window in the air conditioning or on the patio, you will be sure to pass the evening with a gorgeous view of the Tampa skyline. This is a destination on its own if you enjoy relaxing on the waterfront. Wind down from the excitement of your day over dinner, and afterwards, go for a stroll on the Riverwalk and enjoy the nightlife it offers.

Jackson’s encourages reservations as it can get very full.

The bistro opens Monday through Thursday from 11am to 10pm, Friday through Saturday from 11am to 11pm, and Sunday 10:30am to 10pm. Happy hours take place 3pm to 6pm on Fridays through Sundays. Sundays also feature a brunch buffet.

Address: 601 S Harbour Island Blvd, Tampa, FL 33602

Website: Jackson’s Bistro

Side Splitters Comedy Club

If your schedule allows, make one final stop for the night during your one day itinerary in Tampa. If you have a passion for laughter, you must visit the Side Splitters Comedy Club, a cozy venue with a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere. Side Splitters features performances from professional stand-up comics from all around the country.

The club also serves food and drinks, allowing you to enjoy a night cap, and end your evening with a more laughs.

Admission

Shows usually start after 6pm, with varying prices for different performances.

**Most shows only admit audiences over the age of 18.

Address: 12938 N Dale Mabry Hwy, Tampa, FL 33618

Website: Side Splitters Comedy Club

*Another great option for the evening is The Official Tampa Bay Ghost Tour

Extending the Unique One Day Itinerary in Tampa

If you have more than one day to spare or are looking for more suggestions for your one day itinerary in Tampa, we recommend checking out the following activities.

Upper Tampa Bay Park

The Upper Tampa Bay Conservation Park spans 596 acres, protecting and hosting habitats home to a myriad of flora and fauna. At the Upper Tampa Bay Conservation Park, you can see marshes, mangrove forests, bobcats, bald eagles and more. Its coast even attracts aquatic wildlife such as otters and dolphins. Nature lovers must stroll through the park’s scenic trails and marvel at the natural wonders it has to offer.

You can also go kayaking, canoeing, or fishing at the creek. The park also features a playground, picnic tables, and a nature center that educates visitors though live animal exhibits and displays on the area’s history and geology. So another unique day option is take a kayak down the Upper Tampa Bay Park creek, followed by a fulfilling visit to the nature center.

Admission

The Upper Tampa Bay Park generally opens from 8am to 6pm daily, with a nominal parking fee per vehicle.

You can rent a canoe or kayak at the entry center.

Address: 8001 Double Branch Rd. Tampa, FL 33635

Website:

https://www.hillsboroughcounty.org/en/locations/upper-tampa-bay-park

Tampa Bay Downs

For a change of pace, indulge the equestrian in you by visiting the historic Downs, where you can watch horses in action and even place your bets on the racers.  Located in Westchase, Tampa Bay Downs is a multi-entertainment Thoroughbred Horse Racing facility originally established in 1926.

Tampa Bay Downs

In addition to its trademark horse races, the track houses poker and golfing facilities as well. The Downs hosts giveaway Saturdays throughout the year, wherein guests can receive free gifts (which can be anything from caps to folding chairs) with admission. The facility also features a number of bars and restaurants to choose from with a fun Sunday brunch in the club house. With all of these attractions, you can easily immerse yourself in a day at the Downs.

See the racing schedule.

Admission

General admission is free, except on weekends when there is a nominal fee. The clubhouse entrance also requires an additional fee, as do premium seating areas.

Address: 11225 Race Track Road, Tampa, Florida 33626

Website: http://www.tampabaydowns.com/

Places to Stay

Options we love for staying in for overnights in Tampa.

Luxury Hotels

JW Marriott Tampa Water Street

The Marriott is a 4.5 star luxury hotel in Tampa near Amalie Arena and major attractions. The hotel offers parking, 3 restaurants, bars, and a beautiful outdoor pool. It is a 7 minute walk to the port and 15 to the River Walk.

General check-in is at 3pm, with check-out at 11am.

Address: 510 Water Street, Tampa, FL 33602

For Information and Booking

Le Méredien Tampa

Le Méridien Tampa is a 4-star hotel in downtown Tampa. Originally a 1905 federal courthouse, Le Méridien’s building is more than a century old and a prime example of historic architecture. A blend of antique and contemporary décor (thanks to a partnership with the Tampa Museum of Art), Le Méridien is a piece of artwork in itself.

The hotel’s amenities feature a French restaurant, bar, swimming pool, fitness center, airport shuttle, and an onsite car rental service. Pets are allowed.

General check-in is at 3pm, with check-out at 12pm.

Address: 601 N Florida Ave, Tampa, FL 33602

For Information and Booking

Renaissance Tampa International Plaza Hotel

Another Marriott branch, the Renaissance Tampa International Plaza Hotel is an upscale 4-star hotel located along the International Plaza and Bay Street mall. This luxurious hotel is a convenient distance from Tampa International Airport, Ybor City, and downtown, and offers the convenience of being adjacent to Tampa’s luxury mall and outdoor shopping street.

The Renaissance’s amenities feature complimentary breakfast, an Italian restaurant, lobby bar, swimming pool, fitness center, and onsite car rental. Pets are allowed (with extra charge).

General check-in is at 4pm, with check-out at 12pm.

Address: 4200 Jim Walter Blvd, Tampa, FL 33607

For Information and Booking

Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa

A branch of the Hard Rock name, this is a high-end 4-star hotel with a modern flare. It spans two buildings and includes an arena for concert performances. Amenities feature a fitness center, spa, complimentary breakfast, 4 bars, and 12 different restaurants. The hotel also features its signature casino, which hosts live music, drinks, and food as well. Pets are allowed.

General check-in is at 4pm, with check-out at 11am.

Address: 5223 Orient Rd, Tampa, FL 33610

For Information and Booking

Mid-Range Hotels

Embassy Suites

Embassy Suites by Hilton Downtown Convention Center is a 3-star hotel next to the Tampa Convention Center. Nearby downtown sights, it is a convenient location with a lovely view of Tampa Bay. The hotel’s amenities feature a coffee shop, bar, fitness center, onsite car rental, and complimentary breakfast.

General check-in is at 4pm, with check-out at 11am.

Address: 513 S Florida Ave, Tampa, FL 33602

For Information and Booking

Godfrey Hotel & Cabanas

The Godfrey Hotel & Cabanas, a Best Western property, is a 3-star waterside hotel with a great view of Tampa Bay. At a convenient distance from Tampa International Airport, the hotel is perfect for a traveler looking for comfort and convenience. The hotel’s amenities feature a lounge, restaurant, beach bar with live music, fitness center, boat dock, airport shuttle, and complimentary breakfast. Pets are allowed.

General check-in is at 3pm, with check-out at 11am.

Address: 7700 W Courtney Campbell Causeway, Tampa, FL 33607

For Information and Booking

Budget Hotels

La Quinta Inn by Wyndham Tampa Bay Airport

La Quinta Inn by Wyndham Tampa Bay Airport is a 2-star hotel less than 10 minutes away from Tampa International Airport, making it ideal for the traveler on a budget. Amenities feature complimentary breakfast, free parking, an airport shuttle service, and a swimming pool. Guests 18 years old or younger can stay free of charge if they are with a parent or grandparent.

General check-in is at 3pm, with check-out at 12pm.

Address: 4730 W Spruce St, Tampa, FL 33607

For Information and Booking

Holiday Inn Express Tampa N-175 University Area

The Holiday Inn Express Tampa N-175 University Area is an affordable 2-star hotel at a convenient distance from USF and Busch Gardens. Its amenities feature a fitness center, shuttle service (only to business within a 5-mile distance), swimming pool, free parking, and complimentary breakfast.

Address: 13294 Telecom Dr, Tampa, FL 33637

For Booking and Information

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Suggested Schedule for Your Unique One Day Itinerary in Tampa

To maximize your time, here is a suggested breakdown of how long to spend at each stop on your one day itinerary in Tampa. Assuming you start your itinerary between 9 and 10am

  • 3 hours at the Museum of Science and Industry
  • 1.5 to 2 hours at USF Botanical Gardens
  • 15 to 20 minutes at the Sulphur Springs Water Tower
  • 20 to 30 minutes at Port Tampa Bay**
  • 40 minutes to 1 hour at lunch nearby Port Tampa Bay (such as at Gaspar’s Grotto)
  • 2 hours at Croc Encounters
  • 40 minutes to 1 hour at Coppertail Brewing Company
  • 1 hour at Jackson’s Bistro Bar & Sushi (if you stop for dinner)
  • 2 hours at Side Splitters Comedy Club or a Ghost Tour

**If you book the 9am Educational Harbor Tour at Port Tampa Bay or choose a rental boat, be sure to have 1.5 hours to spare at the beginning of your day.


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