My return from Hawaii was a brutal awakening — in the six weeks that I had been island-hopping, it had gotten cold back on the mainland! While I was thrilled to be spending the holidays at home before my big departure back to Thailand, I was not so enthralled with the gray skies and temperatures too low to enjoy being outside.
But you guys know me — I never stay put for long. First, I jetted off to Vegas for five days of birthday bliss and slightly more lovely weather. A few weeks later, I flew down to Florida for a week of fun and family. I hadn’t been down to visit my Tampa-based aunts and grandmother in years, and finally had the push to go when I signed up the St. Petersburg Color Run (which you’ll read more about this week!)
Despite having been to West Florida many, many times in my youth I felt I hadn’t really ever explored ample number of Tampa attractions. There are so many that I’ll have new ones to see on each of what I hope are my more regular visits in years to come, but here’s a rundown of three I got to visit on this trip!
The Florida Aquarium
Over 15,000 boxes of live fish are flown out of the Tampa Aquarium each week — the most monetarily valuable cargo that comes and goes every year. Additionally, Florida fish farmers breed more than 800 species of aquarium fish and aquatic plants, making them a major player in the global industry. All of this to say, what’s a better place than Tampa for The Florida Aquarium?
I’m somewhat of an aquarium aficionado, and while it’s not going to make any top ten lists anytime soon, The Florida Aquarium is a nice way to spend an afternoon. It sits appropriately right on the waterfront downtown, so a genuine sea breeze is never far away.
In addition to the usual suspects — a stingray touch tank, a tunnel where sharks shimmy overhead, and a special exhibit on the local aquatic flora and fauna (in this case, The Wetlands) — this aquarium has unique features like an outdoor water-based play area for kiddos. There are also chances to get up close and personal with the animals by taking part in the dive with the sharks program or going on a wild dolphin cruise in the bay.
My personal favorite exhibits were the same they are anywhere — jellyfish and seahorses. Both are creatures I don’t get to see nearly enough in my underwater diving adventures — so I’m really grateful to see them in places like this. Bonus! I got to spend the afternoon with my Aunt Linda, who ducked out of work to hang out with me.
Info: Adult tickets are $21.95, seniors are $18.95, and children are $16.95. You can get $2 off per person by booking online or $3 off per person by presenting the coupon in the Where Tampa guide. The Florida Aquarium, flaquarium.org, 701 Channelside Drive, Tampa.
Over the bridge in St. Petersburg lies one of America’s newest and most exciting art museums. Having opened it’s doors in 2011, The Dali Museum houses the largest collection of Salvador Dali’s work outside of Europe. As a former art major and forever art lover, I knew I had to go.
The museum has works from every stage of Dali’s artistic career, from his masterworks to sketches he completed while doing his studies. Most people are familiar with Dali’s famous works like The Persistence of Memory, so what I found fascinating was seeing his early work from before he developed his signature surrealist style. He was a talented painter and sculptor who could have chosen many paths.
Photos were not allowed inside the galleries, but I was okay with that — what impressed me more than anything was the building itself. The helical staircase leading to the galleries reflected Dali’s obsession with the DNA reminiscent spiral shape, while geodesic domes are nod’s to Dali’s museum in Spain.
Info: Adult tickets are $21, seniors are $19, children and students over 13 are $15, and children 6-12 are $7. After 5pm on Thursdays, the price drops to $10 for everyone. The Dali Museum, thedali.org, One Dali Blvd, St. Petersburg.
Clearwater Marine Aquarium
Just thirty minutes from Tampa lies the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, a non-profit organization specializing in the rescue, rehabilitation and release of sick or injured marine animals.
Recently, Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA) was the setting and filming location for the movie Dolphin Tale, based on the true story of Winter, a CMA dolphin with a prosthetic dorsal fin. They are definitely capitalizing on this new claim to fame as there was Winter-mania in every direction.
This place is a bit different from your typical aquarium as all the animals are there because they suffered a severe illness or injury in the wild that required rescue. While they will attempt to release all animals, some have lost the ability to protect and feed themselves, and thus they become permanent residents at CMA.
While I admire the work the CMA does, I found the facilities to be in dire need of a facelift, and I thought the dolphin tanks seemed to small for such grand and intelligent creatures. The CMA seems to agree, as they are currently fundraising for a new facility that would include much upgraded habitats for all the animals.
Info: Adult tickets are $19.95, seniors are $17.95, and children are $14.95. You can get $3 off per person by presenting the coupon in the Where Tampa guide. Clearwater Marine Aquarium, seewinter.com, 249 Windward Passage, Clearwater
Have you been to this area, or any of these Tampa attractions? Any I missed and must return for?