Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in Channelside District, Tampa

  • Published 2022/12/20

Channelside District in Tampa is one of the most famous attractions in Hillsborough County, Florida.

A waterfront neighborhood district overlooking two water channels of Tampa, Channelside District is home to dozens of interesting restaurants, entertainment centers, and tourist hotspots.

Among the most famous attractions here is The Florida Aquarium, the American and Victory Ship Museum, and Amalie Arena.

Beyond these three, the district also has lots of waterfront activities that you can enjoy with its several parks and cruise services.

To get you started in planning your adventure, here’s a list of the best things to do in Channelside District Tampa, Florida.

See Marine Creatures at The Florida Aquarium

Exterior of The Florida Aquarium

Nick Fox /

As mentioned earlier, The Florida Aquarium is one of the most famous attractions in Tampa and Florida as a whole.

Channelside District highlights this massive aquarium, a Tampa icon for years.

It’s situated along Channelside Drive, right at the waterfront corner of the district, where it overlooks the Ybor Channel.

Shark swimming at The Florida Aquarium

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You can do tons of activities here, including checking out the sprawling marine aquariums, stingray, and jellyfish exhibits, along with its wetlands area, where you can see other unique animals, such as birds and small mammals.

There’s also a huge splash pad and playground here for the kids, so remember to pack swimsuits.

You may also want to try their dolphin cruise, as it offers some of the best views of the native dolphins found in Tampa.

Marine creatures at The Florida Aquarium

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Explore the Historic American and Victory Ship Museum

Side view of the American and Victory Ship Museum

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Right outside The Florida Aquarium is the American and Victory Ship Museum, docked along the harbors of the Ybor Channel.

The American and Victory Ship Museum’s real name when it was still in service was the SS American Victory; it carried important cargo, such as ammunition, for much of the Cold War and briefly during World War II.

Now, through the museum, you can see this victory ship’s grand beauty and inner workings, along with several other exhibits inside.

Front view of the docked American and Victory Ship Museum

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You can easily do self-guided tours here, which can take you a whole day if you plan to check every nook and cranny of this amazing ship museum.

The good news is if you have visited The Florida Aquarium already, you can score admission tickets to the American and Victory Ship Museum at half the price!

Have a Blast at Splitsville Southern + Social

Going to The Florida Aquarium and the American and Victory Ship Museum will take up your entire day, so unwind at Splitsville Southern + Social after touring.

Splitsville Southern + Social doubles as a sports bar and a bowling alley with the addition of pool tables, making it one of the best entertainment centers in the Channelside District.

The food here is amazing if you’re just looking to grab a classic American sports bar meal, plus they have a good selection of drinks.

Still, Splitsville Southern + Social is popular for its bowling alley and pool tables.

Beyond that, this spacious bar also has darts, foosball, and skeeball stations scattered throughout.

It has an amazing atmosphere that you will surely enjoy with friends and family, so add this to your itinerary.

Enjoy Waterfront Views with Yacht StarShip Cruises and Events

Daytime view of the Yacht StarShip Cruises and Events

quiggyt4 /

If you want a more elegant experience with the scenic waterfront beauty of Channelside District, Yacht StarShip Cruises and Events is your best option, found right next to Splitsville Southern + Social.

This place is famous for couples because of its romantic cruise that features fine dining and scenic sunsets in Tampa.

The ship itself is modern and pretty, especially its upper deck, commonly used for wedding pictorials by locals.

The service here is fast, and although their open bar and food menu aren’t that extensive, the quality is excellent.

Yacht StarShip Cruises and Events is a great cruise partner if you’re visiting Channelside District with your loved one or even for an intimate time with friends and family.

Experience Tampa’s Channels with Pirate Water Taxi

A Pirate Water Taxi cruising the waters

Kurt Fehlhauer /

If you’re not up for a romantic cruise, Pirate Water Taxi is another way to enjoy the waterways of the Channelside District.

Pirate Water Taxi is a boat tour agency that offers all-day tickets for you to ride their water taxis, where you can access several areas in Channelside District while enjoying scenic water views.

Pirate Water Taxi’s pricing is affordable, making it one of the best family-oriented boat tours in the district.

People aboard a Pirate Water Taxi

WoodysPhotos /

The clean boats and the service are excellent, accentuating a fun boat ride across the Garrison and Ybor Channels.

Channelside District’s charm is in its unique waterways, so trying the water taxis with Pirate Water Taxi is highly recommended for the complete Tampa experience.

Explore Sparkman Wharf

Welcome sign of Sparkman Wharf

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Sparkman Wharf is the best place to go if you want to experience Tampa’s authentic waterfront city culture.

]Sparkman Wharf is a sort of urban park sprawling with all kinds of restaurants, cafes, and entertainment centers.

A notable thing about the wharf is its beer garden, a great place for friends and families to enjoy the waterfront views over a cold glass of beer.

People on the grounds of Sparkman Wharf

Noah Densmore /

Dozens of food trucks are also around Sparkman Wharf, so if you’re looking for an eclectic array of food options, this is the place to be.

There’s also live music here, and the location is great for watching the sunsets in Tampa.

You can find Sparkman Wharf along the corner of Channelside Drive and Garrison Street.

A beer garden at Sparkman Wharf

Michael Gordon /

Enjoy Seafood Overload at Harpoon Harry’s Crabhouse

Going to Channelside District isn’t complete without a seafood feast, and Harpoon Harry’s Crabhouse is one of the most popular ones in the neighborhood.

Right next to the Tampa Bay Convention Center, Harpoon Harry’s Crabhouse doubles as an attraction thanks to its beautiful, pirate-themed interiors.

They serve amazing seafood dishes like their grouper sandwich, shrimp and grits, conch fritters, and miso salmon.

The place also serves great cocktails and other non-alcoholic beverages.

Both large in menu and restaurant space, Harpoon Harry’s Crabhouse is a must-try for any food lover.

Relieve History at Tampa Bay History Center

Exterior of Tampa Bay History Center

Michael O’Keene /

Tampa Bay History Center is another icon in Florida and Tampa, located along Water Street, connecting with Channelside Drive.

Unlike other history centers in the country, Tampa Bay History Center distinguishes itself by providing a unique “Disney-like” experience through its exhibits, making this a great place for younger children to connect with history and science.

The Tampa Bay History Center pirate room best represents this, featuring a giant hull replica of a pirate ship.

Building sign of Tampa Bay History Center

Red Lemon /

There are loads of other interesting rooms here that depict the rich waterfront history of Tampa.

An observation deck overlooking the Garrison Channel is also available, along with a gift shop where you can get all kinds of cool souvenirs.

Water fountain at Tampa Bay History Center

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Watch a Concert or Game at Amalie Arena

Exterior of Amalie Arena

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The massive Amalie Arena is located along Channelside Drive across from Tampa Bay History Center.

This state-of-the-art sporting facility is home to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the city’s hockey team that’s part of the National Hockey League (NHL).

The Florida Gators from the University of Florida also play here, particularly their basketball team.

Female boxer in Amalie Arena

YES Market Media /

Besides hockey, Amalie Arena is also home to several major concerts throughout the year.

Many iconic artists have graced this huge arena, so be sure you’re aware of its schedule during your visit.

There’s a lot more in store for you at Amalie Arena, including various concessionaires and shops.

Football setup in Amalie Arena

DMC511, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Enjoy a Retro Experience at Park & Rec

Park & Rec may not be a waterfront location like Sparkman Wharf, but it offers a unique entertainment vibe because of its retro aesthetic and available games.

A restaurant and bar that doubles as an arcade facility, Park & Rec provides an overdose of nostalgia to any 1980s or 1990s kid.

They have many retro-themed arcade games here, such as classic Donkey Kong and Super Mario games.

You’ll appreciate it if you’re into retro gaming, as you can find many cool fixtures like large GameBoy replicas and retro neon lights.

Food and drinks are also available.

The atmosphere here is great, especially on a weekend.

Park & Rec is located along the corner of South Meridian Avenue and Channelside Drive.

Stroll along Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park

Welcome sign of Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park

Red Lemon /

If you’re looking for a nice large waterfront park in the Channel District, visit Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park, conveniently located just across Amalie Arena.

This park overlooks the Garrison Channel, where you can get a close-up view of the neighboring Harbour Island of the city.

At Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park, you may have the chance to spot dolphins that traverse along the Garrison Channel.

This waterfront park offers a great respite after a long day exploring Channelside District.

A playground, artwork, a jogging path, and more make this an ideal place to relax.

Catch an Event at Tampa Convention Center

Exterior of the Tampa Convention Center

Michael O’Keene /

Another iconic events venue along the district is the Tampa Convention Center at the end of Water Street, which runs parallel to Channelside Drive.

Tampa Convention Center is home to many large-scale events, most prominently Comic Con.

Tampa’s Comic Con usually happens in the summer, particularly at the end of July.

Facade of the Tampa Convention Center

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If you’re planning to visit during this period, Tampa Convention Center is a must in your itinerary as many locals and tourists alike congregate here with loads of interesting cosplays and merchandise of iconic comic characters.

Even if you’re not going on those dates, there’s almost always a big event happening every month here, ranging from car shows to anime cosplay conventions.

Comic con at Tampa Convention Center

fitzcrittle /

Take Your Dog to Deputy Kotfila Memorial Dog Park

If you want to dedicate a couple of hours to your pooch, Deputy Kotfila Memorial Dog Park is a great addition to your itinerary.

Located along North Raymond Avenue, this dog park is at the northern tip of the Channelside District, far from the entertainment hubs in its southern waterfront area.

Still, it won’t take long to reach, and it’s worthwhile because its layout is unique.

Deputy Kotfila Memorial Dog Park is constructed right under an expressway, making it feel like an indoor dog park.

There are many obstacles here, and the greens are well-maintained—all great features to have a blast with your pet.

The place is fenced, too, and is commonly visited by locals, so this is a great place to go if you want to let your pooch run loose!

Other Things to Do Nearby

See the Animals at ZooTampa

Entrance to ZooTampa

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Only an 11-minute drive north of Channelside District, ZooTampa is one of the best nearby attractions in Tampa.

A massive zoo that’s a Florida icon, ZooTampa can take an entire day for you to explore its many enclosures and exhibits.

It’s home to various large animals, such as elephants, tigers, and manatees.

Giraffes at ZooTampa

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There are also a lot of international animals in ZooTampa, particularly ones from Africa and Asia.

Because of its massive size, water rides are also available here, which is a big hit among both adults and children.

A great place where animals thrive in their large enclosed habitats, ZooTampa is a must-visit during your stay in Tampa.

Orangutan at ZooTampa

Jim Schwabel /

Visit the Bustling Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park

Welcome sign of Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park

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One of Tampa’s most famous waterfront parks is just a seven-minute drive east of Channel District: Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.

Tons of locals and tourists congregate here, so if you’re looking for a bustling park, this place is for you.

This is due to the density of other attractions here, such as the Glazer Children’s Museum and The Florida Museum of Photographic Arts.

The grounds of Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park

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Besides these, Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park has a large dog park and hosts various large-scale events throughout the year.

The best part about this is it’s right along the Hillsborough River, where you can also take a scenic water taxi ride.

Pathway at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park

Fotoluminate LLC /

Final Thoughts

Channelside District is one of the best locations in the city of Tampa.

Teeming with museums, entertainment centers, and state-of-the-art event spaces, this neighborhood can easily take a whole week to enjoy.

Of course, its unique charm as a channel district is also something you must capitalize on—best done via its water taxis.

An amazing neighborhood that epitomizes fun, these best things to do in Channelside District Tampa, Florida, should be on your itinerary.

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