15 Best Things to Do in Hillsborough County, FL

Hillsborough County, FL

Situated in west central Florida, Hillsborough County is a top urban destination with lots of family-friendly attractions you can visit.

This densely populated area is comprised of 33 cities with Tampa being the county seat and the largest city.

Spanning more than 1,000 square miles, the county is also included in the TampaSt. Petersburg–Clearwater Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Historically, the area was first mapped and discovered in the early 16th century by Spanish explorers; the county was later named after the Secretary of State for the Colonies Wills Hill, who also became the first Earl of Hillsborough.

At present, Hillsborough County is teeming with parks, restaurants, bars, and coffee shops, along with kid-friendly attractions like zoos and museums.

Whether it’s a beach getaway, fun amusement, scenic location, or an educational trip, this Florida destination has much to offer.

Here are the best things to do in Hillsborough County, Florida.

Get the Adrenaline Rush at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay

Thrilling ride at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
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If you’re in for an exhilarating experience, you’ll definitely enjoy the thrilling rides at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay located on McKinley Drive.

Defy gravity with the Serengeti Flyer, hailed as the world’s fastest and largest swing ride, or plunge 206 feet from the ground at 76 miles per hour on the Iron Gwazi.

Get tossed through loops and twists and brace yourself for suspenseful drops at the Tigris; likewise, the Falcon's Fury is surely not for the faint-hearted.

Cheetah hunt rollercoaster at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
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Conquer your fears as you zoom on extreme Cheetah Hunt, Cobra's Curse, SheiKra, Montu, Kumba, Scorpion, and SandSerpent coaster rides.

There are also water rides you can enjoy with the family like the Congo River Rapids and Stanley Falls Flume.

Kids of all ages will have lots of fun and giggle at the Sesame Street-themed Air Grover, Grand Caravan Carousel, Desert Runners, Ubanga-Banga Bumper Cars, Gwazi Gliders, Kiddie Train, and Bush Flyers, all designed for little tots to enjoy.

Ride the Serengeti Express train ride and see over 200 animal species from safari favorites like cheetahs, lions, gorillas, elephants, and zebras to colorful birds like lorikeets, flamingos, the iconic toucan, ostrich, and so much more.

Drop tower ride at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
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After all the tiring adventures, you can relax for some drinks at Springs Taproom or Giraffe Bar, and enjoy barbecue ribs at Zambia Smokehouse, oven-cooked pizzas at Oasis Pizza, or Dragon Dog’s gourmet hotdogs.

Likewise, you’ll also find other snack stops like Pantopia Drinks and Snacks, Moroccan Delights, Twisted Tails Pretzels, Zagora Café, and Chick-fil-A®.

Don’t forget to drop by any of the specialty shops and boutiques at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay for souvenirs and tokens.

People at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
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Engage with Sea Creatures at The Florida Aquarium

Exterior of The Florida Aquarium
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The Florida Aquarium opened in Channelside Drive Tampa in 1995.

The aquatic facility offers visitors a unique experience of marine life and aims to build awareness and inspire the public about animal rescue and habitat conservation.

Tour the 80-foot Wetlands of Florida glass dome exhibit and meet the animals native to the state; you’ll enjoy watching the river otters and get fascinated with alligators, white ibises, and roseate spoonbills at the mangrove areas.

Enjoy the Journey to Madagascar attraction featuring tropical coral reef habitats, unique ring-tailed lemurs, Madagascar hissing cockroaches, and much more.

See the creatures like spiny lobsters and garden eels that roam and live along the Florida coast at the Shorelines exhibit.

People in The Florida Aquarium
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Feel the slippery wing tip of a cownose ray and view other marine species like the blue angelfish, doctorfish, Florida horse conch, and porkfish at Stingray Beach; likewise, you can also touch other sea creatures like sea cucumbers, sea stars, anemones, and much more at the No Bone Zone.

Discover more fascinating facts about marine habitats at the Coral Reef, Reef Secrets, and Waves of Wonder galleries, and watch the beautiful moon jellies at Moon Bay.

Have a memorable experience on a Wild Dolphin Cruise or go on 15 feet down the Heart of the Sea habitat on a SeaTREK.

What’s more, you can also enjoy other attractions at The Florida Aquarium like The Ocean Decade Exhibition and the 4Ducks Theater, while kids can also play at the amusing Splash Pad.

Cute stingray in The Florida Aquarium
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Have a Splash of Fun at Adventure Island

Entrance to Adventure Island
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Adventure Island is another fun family attraction in Tampa located along McKinley Drive.

Beat the heat and enjoy the slides and pools like the Aruba Tuba or have a fun competition on the Rapids Racer.

Go with the music while enjoying the waves at Wahoo Remix or take a splashing spin and slide down the Solar Vortex; likewise, brace yourself for a suspenseful free-fall down the Vanish Point.

Ride, slide, and zoom your way down the epic water slides like the Colossal Curl, Calypso Coaster, Caribbean Corkscrew, Riptide, and Water Moccasin.

Little ones will surely have a fun time at the Shaka-Laka Shores built with colorful interactive play elements and structures.

Colossal curl slide at Adventure Island
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Of course, everyone in the family will enjoy the pool attractions like the huge Endless Surf wave pool and the relaxing half-mile Rambling Bayou.

For thrill-seekers and adventurers, the Paradise Lagoon and Splash Attack offer exciting pool activities.

In case the pack gets hungry, you can get some grubs at Surfside Café or Mango Joe's or have some drinks at Hang Ten Tiki Bar; likewise, there are snack treats available at the Island Food Truck and Colossal Snacks.

Make sure to drop by the Island Surf Shop for Adventure Island souvenirs, tokens, and gift items to bring home.

Swimming pool at Adventure Island
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Experience the Prehistoric Era at Dinosaur World

Dinosaur sculptures at Dinosaur World
Jana Taylor, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Come to Dinosaur World and get to meet the prehistoric giants that once roamed the earth.

This entertaining attraction is located along Plant City’s Harvey Tew Road.

Tour around to see the life-sized dinosaurs and enjoy viewing the interactive exhibits that will surely capture your child’s imagination.

Step inside the Prehistoric museum to see the life-like animatronic dinosaur collections, artifacts, and all things dinosaurs.

Let your kids run and climb the dinosaur-themed playground and wander around the boardwalks to see the ancient oak trees.

Likewise, you can enjoy other activities like the Dino Gem Excavation and the Fossil Dig for an additional fee.

You also need to pack some picnic lunch on your visit since the venue doesn’t offer food services.

Before you leave, make sure to shop for souvenirs at the Dinosaur World gift shop.

Go Beach Bumming at Southshore Bay Lagoon

Hillsborough hosts plenty of beach areas you can relax and swim.

But if you also want to enjoy excellent amenities and fun activities, Southshore Bay Lagoon is one for the books.

Spend a day and enjoy the warm sun and serene blue waters of Southshore Bay in Wimauma.

Slip and zoom down the water slide or wade out the shallow waters at the Gasparilla Island splash pad.

Enjoy kayaking or paddleboarding near the lagoon and take up the challenge at the Water Obstacle Course.

Treat yourself and get VIP treatment at the private bar and pool; likewise, you can choose from their lounging spaces which include the Floating Aquabana, Premium Cabana, Cabana Cove, Clamshell Lounger, and Premium Seating.

If you’re coming with the family, they have shade areas like Beach Pavilions, Medium Pavilions, Large Pavilions, and Mini Tikis available.

While having fun at the beach, you can also grab good eats from the Food Truck serving burgers, hotdogs, and meals for kids.

Likewise, you can order cocktails, specialty drinks, brews, wines, and frozen drinks at Cabana Cove or the Lagoon Bar.

Have a fun beach day at Southshore Bay Lagoon.

View Amazing Wildlife at ZooTampa at Lowry Park

Exterior of ZooTampa at Lowry Park
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Bring the family to ZooTampa at Lowry Park and get to see a variety of wildlife from across the globe.

The zoo was opened in 1930 by The City of Tampa and was eventually transferred to Lowry Park in West Sligh Avenue in 1957.

From the Manatee Circle main entrance, you already have a glimpse of the Free-Flight Aviary and the Manatee Fountains, and have your pictures taken by the Zootastic photographers.

Start your tour at the Asia attraction where you can view endangered animals like the Malayan tiger, and Indian rhino, and other wildlife native to the region like the Sulawesi Babirusa, Binturong, Malayan Tapir, and more.

Visit the Florida section and meet the black bears, manatees, panthers, and other animals native to the area; likewise, drop by the Primate World and view the Golden Lion Tamarin, Angolan Colobus Monkey, Collared Brown Lemur, and Bornean Orangutans.

Giraffe and elephants in ZooTampa at Lowry Park
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Greet the animals from down under at the Wallaroo exhibit which features koalas, Yellow-Footed Rock Wallabies, Palm Cockatoos, Llamas, and more.

Get up close with majestic animals from Africa including giraffes, elephants, pygmy hippos, and zebras, to name a few; then, eat at Safari Pizza Co. or enjoy some drinks at the Beer & Wine Garden.

Ride the Carousel Circle or enjoy delicious food, desserts, and drinks at Macaw’s Landing Cafe, then shop for unique items at Nature’s Kingdom Gift Shop.

Have a fun time at ZooTampa at Lowry Park!

Birds in ZooTampa at Lowry Park
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Enjoy Outdoor Activities at Hillsborough River State Park

Daytime view of Hillsborough River State Park
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For a great outdoor experience, head out to Hillsborough River State Park in Thonotosassa.

The public park was established in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps and many of its structures and amenities mark their style of architecture.

Today, the vast park area offers miles of scenic nature trails and wildlife viewing locations, along with plenty of activities every member of the family will enjoy.

Go on a bike ride on the Wetlands Restoration Nature Trail or the 2-mile park loop.

If you plan to stay for a day or two, you can book for glamping, park on an RV at any of the 112 campground sites, or go primitive camping for a more exciting outdoor experience.

The waters of Hillsborough River State Park
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For water activities, you can fish at Hillsborough River for a fresh catch of bass, catfish, and bream, but do make sure to get a fishing license first; likewise, you can enjoy paddling on your own canoe or kayak.

You can also enjoy geocaching or hiking along any of the four park trails, then take time to visit the Fort Foster State Historic Site and see over a hundred artifacts at the Interpretive Center.

Go horseback riding along the Model Dairy Road and bring your binoculars to view various wildlife in the area.

Hillsborough River State Park also has two playgrounds, picnic pavilions, and picnic benches dotted around the area.

Boardwalk at Hillsborough River State Park
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See the Rare Collections at the Henry B. Plant Museum

Exterior of the Henry B. Plant Museum
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Henry B. Plant Museum is located inside the Tampa Bay Hotel built in 1891.

This extravagant museum features original furnishings that guests enjoyed in the early days.

It also highlights and gives visitors an experience of the lifestyle and early industry of tourism during that era.

Originally established as the Tampa Municipal Museum in 1933, the museum was renamed in 1974 after Henry B. Plant, a prominent pioneer in transportation.

Go on a one-hour Guided Tour with the guidance of trained docents or explore the museum on a Self-Guided Tour with a brochure and complimentary audio you can download on your device.

Plant hall at the Henry B. Plant Museum
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View the interesting archive of documents, postcards, letters, and other printed materials, and learn about the history of the Tampa Bay Hotel, along with Plant’s other companies.

Browse through the eclectic collection of  19th-century ceramics, Victorian mirrors, elaborate timepieces, decorative art, and rare Victorian and Chinese furniture.

View and admire the classic paintings at the mezzanine and lobby, along with the variety of sculptures featuring Greek and Roman art, 19th-century literary characters, and others.

Then get something to remember on your visit and buy souvenir items at the Henry B. Plant Museum Store.

The grounds of the Henry B. Plant Museum
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Bring the Little Ones to Glazer Children's Museum

Exterior of Glazer Children's Museum
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Little tots will have an enjoyable learning experience at the Glazer Children’s Museum on Tampa’s West Gasparilla Plaza.

This interactive space allows children to play, get creative, and explore the world through fun play activities.

The museum started back in 1965 and opened its 53,000-square feet building in 2010.

Are your kids budding artists? Then, they’ll enjoy Art Smart.

Let them become bankers for a day at the Central Bank, build something at the Engineers’ Workshop, be a fireman at the Firehouse, or get busy at the Farm.

Building sign of Glazer Children's Museum
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They’ll enjoy exploring the world at the Global Café, enjoy splashes at the KidsPort, and be amazed at lights and colors in Light Cloud.

If they like cooking and preparing food, they’ll surely enjoy the Ice Cream Parlor and Pizza Place, or get to shop at Publix grocery shop.

Likewise, they can enjoy other attractions like the St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital, Twinkle Stars Theater, Water’s Journey, Vet Clinic, and Tugboat Tots.

After hours of play, you can grab some food and drinks at Creativity Cafe.

Glazer Children's Museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday.

Children playing in Glazer Children's Museum
Glazer Children's Museum, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Encourage Fun Learning for Kids at the Museum of Science & Industry

Exterior of the Museum of Science & Industry
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Curious kids will have a great time discovering scientific wonders at the Museum of Science & Industry.

This attraction is located on East Fowler Avenue in Tampa and offers over a hundred hands-on activities and state-of-the-art exhibits that kids and even adults will enjoy.

Discover the human body and learn about nutrition, medicine, fitness, and other body facts, play Mindball to see how the brain works or perform an Operation.

Explore the dinosaur age and prehistoric life at the Dinovations Lab with PaleoLab activities, cave-like challenges, and Fossil Film animations.

Experience being an astronaut at Mission: Moonbase or get to create unique projects at Idea Zone®.

Satisfy your curiosity and know more about basic physics, geology, optics, and math principles you can apply in daily life at I Wonder...

Journey the night skies at the Saunders Planetarium and discover the stars through the state-of-the-art projector.

Brave the heights at the 36-foot-high Sky Trail® Ropes Course which features 35 elements and challenges or enjoy a thrilling experience with the Virtual Reality Simulator.

Visit the Museum of Science & Industry for an unforgettable learning experience.

Have Fun at The Hillsborough County Fair

If you’re around the Dover area in November, be sure to drop by the Hillsborough County Fair.

This yearly event focuses on Hillsborough’s family fair traditions featuring fun wholesome attractions and events visitors of all ages will enjoy.

The county fair was birthed in 1990 by locals who thought of bringing back the county fair traditions, thus forming The Greater Hillsborough County Fair Association, Inc.

Since then, the eleven-day celebration held on two weekends has welcomed guests to join the festivities from Thursday to Sunday.

Get to see the exciting rodeo shows, truck and tractor pull events, and the action-packed demolition derby.

Watch the entertaining talent shows, contests, pageants, and honoring of local heroes during the fair.

And of course, a county fair won’t be complete without the thrilling carnival rides and fun games.

The Hillsborough County Fair definitely has something for everyone!

Discover Maritime History at the American Victory Ship and Museum

Aerial view of the American Victory Ship and Museum
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Go aboard the SS American Victory and learn more about the country’s maritime history at the American Victory Ship and Museum.

The vessel is among the four World War II ships that are fully operational in the country and is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

You’ll find the museum on Channelside Drive in Tampa open from Tuesday to Sunday from noon until 5:00 p.m.

In just 55 days, SS American Victory was built way back in 1945 and served hundreds of Army and Navy personnel over the decades carrying goods, equipment, ammunition, and troops to the field.

Exterior of the American Victory Ship and Museum
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Explore the entire three-level ship and view the cargo-hold areas, radio and gyro rooms, steering stations, galley, weaponry, and more.

Browse nine decks of rare artifacts and unique exhibits including old documents, uniforms, medals, and photographs that present the country’s naval history.

You can also join featured events hosted by the American Victory Ship and Museum.

Enjoy the Florida Strawberry Festival Attractions

Signage of the Florida Strawberry Festival
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Florida Strawberry Festival is an annual spring event that features the spirit of Americana when communities hosted fairs and festivals to celebrate an abundant harvest.

This highly anticipated event highlights the Florida strawberry legacy and industry and welcomes visitors to a uniquely sweet experience.

The event started in 1930 when members of the Plant City Lions Club thought of creating an event to celebrate the plentiful strawberry harvest.

After World War II, American Legion Post #26 revived the festival and today, it has been recognized as one of North America’s top fairs and among the best festivals in the country.

Drop by the various exhibits featuring different industries like agriculture, livestock, commerce, horticulture, and others.

Concession stand at the Florida Strawberry Festival
Walter, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

You’ll also enjoy an array of award-winning arts and homemade crafts at the Neighborhood Village featuring local artisans and craftsmen.

Kids and kids at heart will enjoy over 80 adrenaline-pumping rides, exciting attractions, and fun games at Belle City Midway; likewise, take your kids for a ride at the BERRY Big Wheel.

Little ones will have lots of fun with Kiddie Korral attractions like mini rollercoasters, train and motorcycle rides, swings, bumper boats, fun houses, and a whole lot more; there are also lines of food options and treats to enjoy.

Watch the Grand Parade, meet festival mascots Mr. & Miss Berry, and get entertained with live music performances.

Enjoy the Florida Strawberry Festival with the family.

Explore the Cockroach Bay Nature Preserve

A bird at Cockroach Bay Nature Preserve
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Get immersed in calming nature views at Cockroach Bay Nature Preserve on Ruskin’s Gulf City Road.

This nature location is free to the public and offers opportunities for outdoor adventures.

The reservation’s Ecosystem Restoration Project is among the largest and most complex projects of its kind in the Tampa Bay area.

You can access the boat ramp and launch your canoe or kayak from the western end of Cockroach Bay Road.

Paddle along the Horseshoe Crab Canoe Trail going south or the Snook Canoe Trail to the north.

You’ll enjoy exploring various habitats including mangrove tunnels, seagrass beds, and oyster reefs that are home to abundant marine life and bird species.

Trek the short trail to get to the scenic overlook offering a spectacular view of other natural habitats in the area.

You can also bring your pets on your visit and enjoy a relaxing picnic at the tables and shelters provided around the reserve.

Go on a nature trip at Cockroach Bay Nature Preserve.

Be One of the Locals at the Gasparilla Pirate Fest

Pirate float at the Gasparilla Pirate Fest
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Shout “Land, ho!” with the buccaneers and catch the Gasparilla Pirate Fest.

For more than 100 years, this lively and colorful festival highlights Tampa Bay’s invasion by pirate legend José Gaspar and his crew.

Held on the last Saturday of January, this free event draws thousands of crowds to witness the grand Gasparilla Flotilla accompanied by hundreds of floats sailing Hillsborough Bay.

Led by the captain and the Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla in full pirate costumes, they take a four-and-a-half-mile route that ends at the Tampa Convention Center.

Catch the amusing Gasparilla Parade of the Pirates making their way from Bayshore Boulevard to downtown Tampa.

You’ll enjoy the sight of over 100 decorative floats and hosts of marching bands, different Krewes, and the infamous YMKG pirate gang.

After the parade, there are rows of food and novelty vendors you can check out.

The Gasparilla Pirate Fest is truly a fantastic event you shouldn’t miss.

Final Thoughts

Hillsborough County has lots of thrilling attractions perfect for a family getaway.

From fascinating zoos, theme parks, and museums, you’ll enjoy plenty of leisure opportunities here.

If you prefer to relax and unwind, the area hosts beautiful beach areas and nature parks ideal for nature tripping.

Pack your bags and get ready to enjoy the best things to do in Hillsborough County.

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