Founded as a small city in the 1820s, Tampa has grown into a sprawling, vibrant city and the seat of Hillsborough County.
One of my favorite parts of the city is Downtown Tampa, which spreads over 521 acres and offers a fascinating mix of landscapes and activities.
Downtown Tampa is bordered by the Hillsborough River to the west, Davis Islands and Harbour Island to the south, Channelside to the east, and Interstate 275 to the north.
As a resident, I've had the pleasure of exploring all the family-friendly recreational activities in the award-winning parks in the area, as well as enjoying the beautiful downtown waterfront, which provides a perfect setting for dining and entertainment.
There are also plenty of art centers and museums to visit in Downtown Tampa, and I'm excited to share my favorite things to do in this amazing part of the city.
So, let's dive into the 15 best things to do in Downtown Tampa, Florida!
Tour the Tampa Bay History Center
I've been living in Tampa for years, and one of my favorite places to visit is the Tampa Bay History Center.
Founded in 1989 and located on Water Street at Tampa’s Riverwalk, this 60,000-square-foot four-story museum building is a treasure trove of Florida's history.
The Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners opened the center in 2009, and since then, it has been a must-visit destination for both tourists and locals like me.
The Tampa Bay History Center’s new facility boasts temporary and permanent exhibition galleries devoted to Florida’s 12,000-year history.
I love exploring the museum’s permanent exhibits, which are housed on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th floors of the building.
The displays include artifacts, souvenirs, and prominent figures before and after the European settlement of Florida.
Some stories and personalities featured in the museum’s collections are the Timucua and Tocobaga natives of Florida’s west coast, the pirate Jack Rackam, and the aggressive Teddy Roosevelt.
The Winds of Change Theater and Coacoochee's Story Theater provide deep insights into European exploration of the Americas and immerse visitors in the rich history of the region.
Visit The Florida Aquarium
I recently visited the Florida Aquarium on Channelside Drive and was absolutely amazed by the sights and sounds of the marine world.
One of the highlights of my visit was the Coral Reef habitat, a 500,000-gallon tank with a panoramic window.
The view of sea turtles, sand tiger sharks, giant Atlantic stingrays, and hundreds of other reef-dwelling creatures was simply breathtaking.
Another exhibit that caught my attention was the Wetlands of Florida, housed under an 80-foot-tall glass dome.
The habitat display featured aquatic life and sea birds on watch on the Wetlands’ trail and mangrove forest.
It felt like I was taking a walk through a real wetland ecosystem.
The Florida Aquarium also offers other habitat displays, such as Journey to Madagascar, Bays & Beaches, Stingray Beach, No Bone Zone, Reef Secrets, Waves of Wonder, and Moon Bay.
Each exhibit was unique and showcased different aspects of marine life.
During my visit, I also stopped by the 4Ducks Theater, which offered a four-dimension experience with built-in sensory gadgets.
It was an immersive and entertaining experience that I highly recommend.
If you're visiting with children, they'll definitely enjoy the splash pad located next to the theater.
It's a great way for them to cool off and have fun while learning about marine life.
Lastly, I was impressed by the Florida Aquarium's Ocean Decade Exhibition, which featured digital artworks focused on conservation and the value of the earth’s oceans.
It was a thought-provoking and educational experience that deepened my appreciation for our planet's marine ecosystems.
Board a 1940s Steamship at the American Victory Ship and Museum
Just across the Florida Aquarium, another downtown Tampa attraction beckons in the American Victory Ship and Museum.
I've always been fascinated by history, and this museum is in a fully operational steamship, the SS American Victory, which served in World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars.
The ship is one of only three remaining vessels that served in those conflicts that remain fully functional.
Built in 1945, this world-class vessel impresses visitors with its various features like the ship’s weaponry, flying bridge, radio and gyro rooms, and three-level cargo holds.
The ship, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, also displays photos, sailor uniforms, medals, and documents about SS American Victory’s exploits.
I remember when they spent $2.5 million on its restoration in 1985 to convert the ship into a museum.
I've visited the American Victory Ship and Museum multiple times, and each time I'm amazed by the dedication and passion of the staff and volunteers.
They are always eager to share their knowledge and stories about the ship and its history.
The self-guided tour is informative, and the audio tour provides even more in-depth information about the ship and its past.
One of my favorite parts of the tour was the engine room, where you could see the massive steam engines that powered the ship during its service.
It's incredible to think about the engineering and effort that went into building and maintaining such a vessel.
The ship's weaponry is also impressive, and it's fascinating to learn about the different types of guns and their uses during wartime.
Immerse in the Pieces at the Tampa Museum of Art
Tampa Museum of Art has an incredibly immersive, innovative exhibition of artworks.
The museum is located on West Gasparilla Plaza in downtown Tampa's Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, and I was delighted to find out that they offer art courses and studio workshops, including half-day and all-day sessions.
As soon as I stepped into the building housing the museum—the Cornelia Corbett Center—I was struck by the aesthetic experience.
This 66,000-square-foot building has won many awards for its designer, the famed San Francisco architect Stanley Saitowitz.
The building’s exterior caught my attention, with its pierced aluminum rendition shimmering into view.
The south façade of the building flaunts LED coverage of 12,000 square feet, which mesmerized me even more.
Inside the building, I explored the museum’s seven expansive galleries laid out beneath innovative translucent ceilings.
I was amazed by the world-class traveling exhibits, a growing collection of antiquities, and classical and contemporary art that filled the fabulous tableaux of the museum’s galleries.
One of the exhibits that stood out to me was the Kusama exhibit, which was a truly unique and immersive experience.
The exhibit featured a mirrored room filled with colorful lights and shapes, creating a mesmerizing environment I could have spent hours in.
I also enjoyed the exterior sculpture gallery, which added to the wide range of visual art experiences at the Tampa Museum of Art.
The sculptures were beautifully displayed, and I appreciated the opportunity to enjoy art in an outdoor setting.
During my visit, I stopped by the museum's café, Sono Café, which offers a great view of the Hillsborough River and the University of Tampa.
The food was delicious, and the atmosphere was perfect for taking a break and reflecting on the art I had just experienced.
Take the Kids to the Glazer Children's Museum
I recently visited the Glazer Children’s Museum on West Gasparilla Plaza in Downtown Tampa with my kids, and we had a blast!
The museum is conveniently located next to the Tampa Museum of Art and offers more than 150 interactive activities for children.
My kids loved learning while having fun in setups like running a vet clinic, restaurant, or grocery store.
They also enjoyed staging a show in the museum’s Twinkle Stars Theater and designing and building in the Engineer’s Workshop.
We explored and interacted with various themes in the museum, including Art Smart, Central Bank, Farm, KidsPort, Light Cloud, Water’s Journey, and Tugboat Tots.
Each exhibit was engaging and educational, making it a perfect day out for the whole family.
One thing that stood out to me was the museum's commitment to hosting signature events year-round, such as Halloween Spree, Pi Day, and Gingerbread Village.
These events add an extra layer of excitement and make it a must-visit destination for families in the area.
View Photo Exhibits at The Florida Museum of Photographic Arts
I love living in downtown Tampa, especially because of the architectural gems we have here, like the Cube, a pair of two-story structures housing the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts.
The Cube and its museum are on North Ashley Drive, and I always enjoy visiting for a unique experience.
One of the things that always catches my eye is the open, bright atrium that dominates the Cube and rises at least six stories high.
The open glass panels flanking the atrium are laid out in a grid and circle, making the setup truly impressive.
I also appreciate how they've installed outward-facing images from the museum on panels to preview the photo exhibits inside.
Whenever I visit the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts, I'm always amazed by the rotating and permanent exhibits.
I remember attending a workshop there once, and it was such an enriching experience.
I've also noticed that they offer children-oriented programs, which I think is a great way to introduce kids to the world of photography.
I've shared my experiences with friends and family, and they've also had great things to say about the museum.
One of my friends mentioned how much they enjoyed the variety of exhibits, from contemporary photography to historical pieces.
Take a Selfie at the “Beer Can Building”
I recall my visit to Downtown Tampa with a selfie picture with the Rivergate Tower as the backdrop.
This building on North Ashley Drive is Downtown Tampa’s iconic skyline.
Standing 454 feet high with 31 stories, the building was formerly home to the brewing giant Anheuser-Busch.
For this reason, Rivergate Tower has earned the moniker “Beer Can Building.”
Designed by renowned architect Harry Wolf, the building was completed in 1988, and its cylindrical shape further reinforced its unique identity.
I've always been fascinated by its design and how it stands out among the other buildings in the area.
Whenever I have friends or family visiting, I make sure to take them to see the "Beer Can Building" and snap a selfie with it in the background.
Enjoy a Beer at District Tavern
Located on North 12th Street, District Tavern is my go-to neighborhood bar with an upscale ambiance.
It occupies the ground floor of the SkyHouse Channelside apartment building in the Channel District of Downtown Tampa.
I love how District Tavern matches its craft beer, cocktails, and wines with offerings of new American cuisine.
The place opens daily, and I often find myself enjoying their delicious brunch on Sundays and Saturdays.
One of the best things about District Tavern is its convenient location.
It's within walking distance to the Channelside stop of the free TECO Line Streetcar System and the Downtowner free ride service route.
This makes it super easy for me to get there and back home without worrying about driving or parking.
The atmosphere at District Tavern is always welcoming and friendly.
Salute the Cops at the Tampa Police Museum
The Tampa Police Museum is on North Franklin Street on the ground floor of the Tampa Police Department.
The museum honors the brave Tampa police officers who dedicated their lives to their calling.
It's a great way to learn about the history of the Tampa Police Department through a collection of documents, records, and police equipment.
During my visit, I was impressed by the educational programs offered to the public and the guided tours for school children.
I was particularly moved by the memorial wall, which pays tribute to the fallen officers who served the community.
The museum is open from morning to mid-afternoon from Monday to Saturday, making it a perfect spot to visit during a lunch break or a weekend outing.
Before leaving, I stopped by the store and picked up a few souvenir items to remember my visit.
Visit the Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park
Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park is one of my favorite spots in Downtown Tampa.
The park hosts various special events annually and attracts more than one million visitors, including myself.
I love attending the monthly musical concerts on the eight-acre Great Lawn with flexible perimeter seating.
It's always a great time, and the atmosphere is lively and fun.
The park is pet-friendly, perfect for me since I have a dog.
We often visit the dog run, where my furry friend can play and socialize with other dogs.
Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park is also popular with kids, and I often see families enjoying the two splash pads and well-equipped playground.
It's a great place for children to burn off some energy and have a good time.
The park's facilities include a pavilion with restrooms, which are always clean and well-maintained.
I appreciate that the park is well-kept and offers a variety of amenities for visitors.
Relax at the Kiley Garden
Occupying 4.5 acres on North Ashley Drive, the Kiley Garden is designed as a plaza.
I love to come here to unwind and enjoy the scenery.
The garden is uniquely developed atop a two-level parking garage sandwiched between the 33-story Rivergate Tower and The Cube.
The clever checkerboard design of concrete panels and grass is one of the things that makes this place so special.
The design’s rendition revolves around the Fibonacci mathematical sequence starting from the numbers zero and one, with each subsequent number of the checkerboard layout equaling the sum of the previous two numbers.
Dan Kiley, the architect behind Kiley Garden, also incorporated seating cubes and five pools with an island and a solitary tree in his grid design.
I often find myself sitting on one of the cubes, taking in the peaceful atmosphere.
Another endearing feature Kiley put up was a water garden near the Tampa Museum of Art, which is a great play area for children.
I've seen many families enjoying their time there, and it always brings a smile to my face.
Explore the Tampa Riverwalk
Stretching 2.6 miles on the east banks of the Hillsborough River, the Tampa Riverwalk opened in 1989, unlocking more things to do in Downtown Tampa.
Waking here has become one of my favorite things to do in Downtown Tampa.
The Riverwalk is just off North Ashley Drive, and I usually get there by taking the TECO Line Streetcar.
Another great way to access the Riverwalk is through the Pirate Water Taxi that travels along the Hillsborough River.
I've found that the Water Taxi is not only a fun way to get around, but it also provides hop-on, hop-off stops throughout Tampa’s Channelside District and Harbour and Davis Islands.
Taking a stroll along the Riverwalk allows me to enjoy Downtown Tampa’s various parks, museums, cultural attractions, shops, and restaurants.
One of my favorite spots to grab a bite is Ulele, which offers delicious native-inspired food and a great view of the river.
The Riverwalk also features the Historical Monument Trail, which I find fascinating.
It's adorned with beautiful marble and bronze monuments and busts of prominent personalities behind the history of Tampa and Hillsborough County.
Every time I walk along the trail, I feel like I'm learning something new about the area's rich history.
See a Show at the Straz Center
I love checking the schedule at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts on North Macinnes Place.
This place offers multiple performance venues that can hold an audience of nearly 4,500 people.
The Straz Center has five theaters, a Rehearsal Hall, and a Riverwalk venue with complimentary movies on its lawn.
Each venue flaunts personalities suited for varying events, including grand operas, Broadway productions, and jazz concerts.
I've been to the Carol Morsani Hall, which has a 2,610-seat capacity for ballets, operas, orchestral concerts, and Broadway plays.
The acoustics in this hall are fantastic, and I've enjoyed every performance I've seen there.
Another option at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts is the Ferguson Hall, a 1,042-seat theater hosting diverse musical productions, family shows, and lectures.
I've attended a few events in this theater, and it's always been a great experience. The staff is friendly and helpful, and the seating is comfortable.
One of my favorite memories at the Straz Center was watching a Broadway production with my family.
The show was amazing, and the atmosphere was electric.
I also appreciate that the Straz Center offers a variety of performances, so there's always something new and exciting to see.
Pick a Showtime at Tampa Theatre
Built in 1926, this historic gem has a single auditorium with a total of 1,238-seat capacity.
Despite its size, it hosts more than 700 events annually, including a full schedule of first-run movies and classic films.
The non-profit Tampa Theatre Foundation runs the theatre, and they also stage live events like concerts and comedy shows.
I've attended a few of these events, and the atmosphere is always electric.
The architecture and design of the theatre are stunning, making every visit a memorable experience.
One of my favorite things to do is to take the "balcony to backstage" tour offered on select Tuesdays and Saturdays.
The tour lasts 90 minutes and starts at 11:30 a.m.
One of the highlights of the tour is a demonstration of the theatre's trademark Wurlitzer organ, which is truly a sight to behold.
As someone who has visited the Tampa Theatre numerous times, I can't recommend it enough.
Whether catching a movie, attending a live event, or taking a tour, you will have a fantastic time at this historic venue.
Dine on a Cruise Ship with Yacht StarShip Cruises & Events
Book a dinner date at the Yacht StarShip Cruises & Events on Channelside Drive.
Visiting here was an unforgettable experience, as Yacht StarShip offers the ultimate dining experience on a cruise on the waters of Tampa Bay.
While having dinner, I enjoyed not only the chef's specialties but also the spectacular views of Downtown Tampa.
The food was absolutely delicious, and the presentation was top-notch.
The complimentary open bar was a pleasant surprise, and the selection of drinks was impressive.
One of the highlights of the evening was dancing on the top deck of Yacht Starship, which boasts a three-Diamond rating.
The music was lively, and the atmosphere was perfect for a romantic evening under the stars.
Living in Tampa has been a truly satisfying experience, especially with the abundance of attractions and activities in the downtown area.
Downtown Tampa truly captures the essence of the city, and I am always discovering new things to do and places to explore.
I highly recommend planning a visit to experience the best that Downtown Tampa, Florida has to offer!