20 Tampa Bay tourist attractions that are actually worth the struggle

Like most of Florida, there’s a lot of touristy crap in Tampa Bay. And frankly, some of it can be, well... not the kind of thing locals want to do. But that doesn’t mean that all of our attractions should be avoided at all costs. Here are a few “tourist traps” — some obvious, some less so — you should get out to at least once this season.

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Caladesi Island/Honeymoon Island
First off, don’t ever, ever, try to swim across the pass from Honeymoon to Caladesi Island. There are boats and riptides, and it’s much farther than your eye tells you it is. Do, however, take every effort to visit both. The sister slabs of pristine, protected land are two of the most beautiful places you can visit in Tampa Bay, and it takes a considerable effort to get to both. Not just because of the drive, which is often slowed down by speed limits and construction, but because Caladesi (a bird sanctuary) is only accessible by kayak or ferry from Honeymoon Island. Virgin sand, birdwatching, kayak trails, sea oats and, yes, snakes, await, but you won’t find a single reason not to return year after year (or week after week if you’re local). The best part is that the closest thing to a city or downtown is Dunedin nearly six miles away. (RR)
1 Causeway Blvd., Dunedin. 727-241-6106
Photo by Spark for Visit Florida

Caladesi Island/Honeymoon Island

First off, don’t ever, ever, try to swim across the pass from Honeymoon to Caladesi Island. There are boats and riptides, and it’s much farther than your eye tells you it is. Do, however, take every effort to visit both. The sister slabs of pristine, protected land are two of the most beautiful places you can visit in Tampa Bay, and it takes a considerable effort to get to both. Not just because of the drive, which is often slowed down by speed limits and construction, but because Caladesi (a bird sanctuary) is only accessible by kayak or ferry from Honeymoon Island. Virgin sand, birdwatching, kayak trails, sea oats and, yes, snakes, await, but you won’t find a single reason not to return year after year (or week after week if you’re local). The best part is that the closest thing to a city or downtown is Dunedin nearly six miles away. (RR)
1 Causeway Blvd., Dunedin. 727-241-6106
Photo by Spark for Visit Florida
Fish off the John’s Pass Boardwalk
It’s another tourist magnet, but there’s a reason for that: John’s Pass is just a lot of fun, and offers a lot of options for filing away a hot day down by the sea. Feel like a mini bar crawl? The Village has you covered. Want to try some of the freshest seafood available? Check. Looking to actually act like a tourist? There are T-shirt stores and games aplenty, not to mention some rather upscale shops, as well. It’s tough to think of a spot along the southern Pinellas beaches that offers so much to do without constantly getting into the car and out on Gulf Boulevard. 12901 Gulf Blvd., Madeira Beach. 
Photo by Richard McNeil/Creative Commons

Fish off the John’s Pass Boardwalk

It’s another tourist magnet, but there’s a reason for that: John’s Pass is just a lot of fun, and offers a lot of options for filing away a hot day down by the sea. Feel like a mini bar crawl? The Village has you covered. Want to try some of the freshest seafood available? Check. Looking to actually act like a tourist? There are T-shirt stores and games aplenty, not to mention some rather upscale shops, as well. It’s tough to think of a spot along the southern Pinellas beaches that offers so much to do without constantly getting into the car and out on Gulf Boulevard.
12901 Gulf Blvd., Madeira Beach.
Photo by Richard McNeil/Creative Commons
MOSI
If you’re from here, you’ve most likely taken a trip on a class field trip, tasted the astronaut ice cream and crawled through every strange crevasse possible. Now you can search Groupon for deals to the exhibits and the outdoor activity area.
4801 E. Fowler Ave., Tampa. 813-987-6000.
Photo via MOSITampa/Facebook

MOSI

If you’re from here, you’ve most likely taken a trip on a class field trip, tasted the astronaut ice cream and crawled through every strange crevasse possible. Now you can search Groupon for deals to the exhibits and the outdoor activity area.
4801 E. Fowler Ave., Tampa. 813-987-6000.
Photo via MOSITampa/Facebook
Take in a Rays game
We love to bitch about the low attendance, the traffic snarls, whether or not the Rays “belong” in St. Pete or Tampa. But even if you’re not the world’s biggest baseball fan, half a day spent inside the enclosed Trop, out of the heat, eating good food and drinking craft beer and feeling the energy of the crowd, isn’t half bad. Plus, ahem, you can almost always get tickets — if the Yankees or the Sox aren’t in town.
1 Tropicana Dr., St. Petersburg.
Photo via Rays/Facebook

Take in a Rays game

We love to bitch about the low attendance, the traffic snarls, whether or not the Rays “belong” in St. Pete or Tampa. But even if you’re not the world’s biggest baseball fan, half a day spent inside the enclosed Trop, out of the heat, eating good food and drinking craft beer and feeling the energy of the crowd, isn’t half bad. Plus, ahem, you can almost always get tickets — if the Yankees or the Sox aren’t in town.
1 Tropicana Dr., St. Petersburg.
Photo via Rays/Facebook
Bok Tower Gardens
This one’s the furthest away from Tampa proper, but on a free day when you just need to get away from it all, it’s well worth the trip. Acres and acres of landscaped gardens set on one of the state’s highest elevations, shot through with pathways, romantic nooks and contemplative copses, surrounding a true marvel of beautiful architecture: the nearly century-old, 205-foot Singing Tower, with its evocative blend of neo-Gothic and Art Deco styles and its carillon, one of the finest in the world. It’s a perfect destination on those days when the first hints of fall are in the air.
1151 Tower Blvd., Lake Wales.
Photo by Larry Crovo/Flickr

Bok Tower Gardens

This one’s the furthest away from Tampa proper, but on a free day when you just need to get away from it all, it’s well worth the trip. Acres and acres of landscaped gardens set on one of the state’s highest elevations, shot through with pathways, romantic nooks and contemplative copses, surrounding a true marvel of beautiful architecture: the nearly century-old, 205-foot Singing Tower, with its evocative blend of neo-Gothic and Art Deco styles and its carillon, one of the finest in the world. It’s a perfect destination on those days when the first hints of fall are in the air.
1151 Tower Blvd., Lake Wales.
Photo by Larry Crovo/Flickr

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At a time when local-based reporting is critical, support from our readers is essential to our future.