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pelicans and bridge in tampa

The Ybor City Museum offers tours of a restored cigar worker's house (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. 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).

Animal lovers have a number of fun options in the Tampa area, including the Lowry Park Zoo, the Manatee Viewing Center at Tampa Electric (open part of the year only), and the Big Cat Rescue Center, which saves lions, tigers, bobcats and more from situations such as performing acts or misguided pet owners.

Inside the old Tampa Bay Hotel is the Henry B. Plant Museum, named after the railroad magnate who helped develop Tampa into the city it is today. This Victorian palace displays stunning European furnishings and art.

Learn about the local Native Americans, the first Europeans to land in the area and the history of the area's immigrant cigar workers at the Tampa Bay History Center.

You'll find everything from contemporary art to Greek and Roman Classical artifacts at the Tampa Museum of Art. It's not particularly large, but it enjoys a scenic location right on the riverfront.

See who's up at bat during spring training -- since several Major League teams call this part of the world home in February and March. The Phillies are based in Clearwater, the Tigers play in Lakeland and the Yankees have set up shop in Tampa.

Kick back in 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.

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 beverages and keep an eye out for dolphins. Or walk the trails and boardwalks inside the Moccasin Lake Nature Park, a 51-acre preserve with a nature center for rehabitated birds.

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."

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 2,000 works of art here). Gallery tours are free with admission and are useful in understanding the sometimes cryptic nature of Dali's work. Also in St. Petersburg is the Morean Arts Center, home to a colorful collection of glass art by Dale Chihuly.

Discover local street art with the St. Pete Mural Tour, a 90-minute walking tour held every Saturday morning.

One of the largest Holocaust museums in the country, the Florida Holocaust Museum played a critical role in shaping legislation that made Florida one of the country's first states to mandate Holocaust education in public schools. Exhibits include a train car that transported Jews during World War II as well as a moving collection of art.

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. Or consider visiting the quirky town of Gulfport, with plenty of fun boutiques and a twice-monthly Art Walk (on the first Friday and third Saturday evenings each month).

For those desperate to discover their inner deep-sea fishermen, there are 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 a large zoo, where you can see lots of animals roaming freely. Take a ride through the Serengeti Plain, sign up for a nighttime safari or take a Tiger Insider Tour to learn about the care and feeding of this endangered species. For thrill seekers, there's the Montu -- one of the world's largest inverted roller coasters -- as well as about 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 freefall at Skydive City. About 45 minutes from Tampa, this is one of the best places for skydivers -- even first-timers.


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