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Tampa

tampa florida aquarium The Ybor City Museum offers tours of the Cigar Worker's House Museum (La Casita) as well as walking tours of the historic Ybor City district. The museum complex includes the amazing Ferlita Bakery building, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and there is a lovely ornamental garden, too.

Try to find Nemo at the Florida Aquarium. With more than 5,000 aquatic animals and plants to choose from, you might get lucky. Popular programs include "Swim with the Fishes," which allows kids age 6 and up to paddle around in a coral reef tank, and the more adventurous "Dive with the Sharks" (for certified SCUBA divers at least 15 years of age).

Inside the old Tampa Bay Hotel is the Henry B. Plant Museum. This virtual Victorian palace offers up stunning European furnishings and art.

You'll find everything from contemporary art to an outstanding world-class collection of Greek and Roman Classical artifacts at the Tampa Museum of Art.

See who's up at bat during spring training -- since some of the best teams call this part of the world home in February and March. The Devil Rays and Phillies are based in Clearwater and the Yankees have set up shop in Tampa.

Clearwater on its award-winning three-mile stretch of beach. Pier 60 Park is a wonderful family complex, offering not just the expansive beach, but also covered playgrounds, fishing, live music and a glorious Gulf of Mexico sunset any day of the year. In fact, find yourself here any Thursday through Monday and you'll enjoy the sunset amid artists, magicians, jugglers and musicians.

Clearwater is home to several other popular attractions and activities, like the Captain Memo Pirate Cruise, which sets out from the Clearwater Marina for two-hour sails; kids don pirate hats and go out on a treasure hunt while moms and dads relax with complimentary wine, beer and such. Or walk the trails and boardwalks inside the Moccasin Lake Nature Park. A 51-acre preserve, it offers bird-watching tours, workshops and guided group hikes. You'll melt when you see some of the rescued marine animals, such as Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, sea turtles and otters, at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. The most popular critter is Winter the dolphin, who starred in the movie "Dolphin Tale."

pier st petersburg shopping restaurants waterfront Head to St. Petersburg and make a pit stop at The Pier (that's the inverted pyramid that juts out a half mile into Tampa Bay). This popular waterfront entertainment center is filled with shops, galleries, restaurants, a small aquarium, surrey bike rentals and a chance to sign up for dolphin-spotting cruises.

Stroll through St. Petersburg's bloom-filled Sunken Gardens to see an exotic collection of more than 50,000 tropical flowers and plants. Don't miss the butterfly garden.

Art lovers won't want to miss the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg. It's the world's most comprehensive and incredible collection of works by the famous Spanish master (there are more than 1,500 works of art here). In January 2011, the museum moved into a cutting-edge new building called the "Glass Enigma."

Inside the St. Petersburg Museum of History, a 1929 Model A pickup truck outfitted for bootlegging and a gorgeous beaded flapper dress are just two of the fascinating items you'll see.

One of the largest Holocaust museums in the country, the Florida Holocaust Museum opened in 1992 as the Holocaust Center. Renamed in 1999, the museum played a critical role in shaping legislation that made Florida the nation's first state to mandate Holocaust education in public schools.

The Tampa area is well known for its many white sand beaches. Indian Rocks Beach, along Gulf Boulevard, is conveniently accessible from the city (and there are plenty of restaurants nearby). Clearwater Beach is a gorgeous swath of sugar-fine white sand that offers everything from swimming to volleyball. At St. Pete Beach you can rent a Jet Ski, or go SCUBA diving, parasailing or fishing. If you're seeking solitude, head to the quiet sands of Caladesi Island State Park, on one of Florida's last undeveloped barrier islands (it's accessible by ferry from Honeymoon Island).

For leisure strollers, nothing beats the turn-of-the-century fishing village of John's Pass, between Clearwater and St. Petersburg, where old tin-roofed wood shacks offer up art galleries, cute shops, beach bars and restaurants.

For those desperate to speak to their inner deep-sea fishermen, there are the party-central boats at Hubbard's Marina on Madeira Beach.

It may not be Disney World, but Busch Gardens is no second fiddle. It's got it all: thrilling coaster rides, great entertainment and food, and the state's largest zoo, where you can see lots of animals roaming freely. Take a monorail through the Serengeti Plain, sign up for an African safari or go off-road on a Rhino Rally. The newest addition is the Sesame Street Safari of Fun, where kids can climb Elmo's treehouse or splash around in Bert and Ernie's watering hole. For thrill seekers, there's the Montu -- one of the world's largest inverted roller coasters -- as well as more than a dozen other rides.

For all things nature just 25 minutes from Tampa and close to Busch Gardens, take the two-hour or full-day Canoe Escape down the Hillsborough River through a 16,000-acre wildlife preserve. You'll paddle down "alligator alley," where dozens of gators, including some 11-footers, sunbathe on logs and dive into the river from the river's banks. Tour guides also point out snakes, turtles, river otters, fish and birds of prey as they relax in their natural habitat. Hourly rentals also are available.

We dare you to free fall at Skydive City. About 45 minutes from Tampa, this is one of the best places for skydivers -- even first-timers.
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