By Samantha Chapnick
Free beer, beaches and baboons. What more could you ask for on a Florida vacation? Here are my top picks for free (or almost free) things to do in Tampa.
ARTS & CULTURE
University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum (FREE) — Recently honored with a substantial Andy Warhol Foundation Gift of 150 photos produced by the artist, this museum curates exhibits more about stimulating dialog than having pretty pictures. Come to see cutting-edge exhibits from lesser known artists.
Ybor City Museum — Cigar fan or not, visit Ybor City Museum to get a glimpse at what life was like in this small city — the historic Latin district — 100+ years ago. Remember before iPhones and airplanes? See the small casitas — cottages built for the cigar workers’ families — the Garden, a great rendition of a 19th century Mediterranean-style patio, and the city’s old theater. A permanent exhibit reflects the history of the people and institutions of this area. Check in advance to see what events are taking place.
Yuengling Brewery Tours (FREE) — America’s oldest brewery, Yuengling offers two free tours at 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, the highlight of which is free beer (aka “samples”).
Museum of Science and Industry (FREE for members of one of the 200+ museums participating in the ASTC Passport Program) — A large science center with a planetarium, hurricane and flight simulators, a bicycle you can ride across a tight rope strung 50 feet above the ground, dinosaur bones, and rotating exhibits including the most recent, Bodies.
USF botanical gardens ($1 admission for students; $5 adults) — While you’re at it, might as well take a quick stroll through the 10 acres to see butterflies, carnivorous plants (always popular), cacti, herbs, bamboo, and plenty of other more common trees and plants.
Lowry Park Zoo (FREE for reciprocal members at 100 national zoos) — Parents have consistently rated Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo the best in the nation with good reason. It has very original sleepovers (when was the last time you snored in a manatee pool?), the 2,000 animals are all housed in relatively spacious natural habitats, and the flume ride makes a perfect way to cool off.
Camp Bayou preserve (FREE) — On the Little Manatee River in Ruskin, the 160-acre Camp Bayou preserve packs diverse Florida habitats into a small space. It offers a Nature Center, Fossil Museum, Native Peoples Camp, butterfly habitat, native plant gardens, canoe launch, and trails through pine flatwoods, hardwood hammocks and wetlands. Admission to get into Camp Bayou is free.
Children’s Movies (Free) — A number of theaters in Tampa are running popular kid’s movies for free all summer. Movies include Nim’s Island, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Shrek, and more. Click here for the full listing.
And, if you’re planning a Florida vacation this fall or winter, here are two events you may want to check out:
Guavaween ($5 kids, $15 adults) — A Ybor city Halloween celebration. Once the kids parade is done and they are safely packed away at home, 80,000+ converge on this little area to do the adult revelry version.
Gasparilla — By far one of the biggest winter celebrations south of Times Square. Think Mardi Gras with pirates instead of alcoholics. This Tampa tradition begins with a ship full of pirates coming ashore, doing a mock takeover of the city via parade and lots of merrymaking. Alas, they are kind enough to also organize a ton of family-friendly and adult-friendly events including a parade, street festival and games. While some events are free (most mentioned before), a whole host of others will set you back dearly if you want to participate. This includes the pirate brunch, rides, and of course food and drink.
Samantha Chapnick is a New York writer who scours international destinations looking for what hasn’t been found.