The Tampa Bay History Center is the only Smithsonian-affiliated museum in the area, is Tampa's highest-rated museum on TripAdvisor, and was featured on an episode of the History Channel show "Museum Men." It's not hard to see why. It takes its visitors on a walk through time, and while it might only feel like an hour or two has passed, the journey actually covers 12,000 years. Beginning with Florida’s first native inhabitants and the Spanish conquistadors, the story charts a course through history that touches on explorers, railroads, sports stars, and everything in between—ultimately depositing guests back in the present day.
Size: Three floors of exhibits and 15 permanent galleries that tell the Tampa Bay story, plus visiting exhibits
On Exhibit Now: Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown featuring classic Peanuts comics and memorabilia
Hands-On Activities: Imagine life as a pioneer via the replica cabin and other interactive features inside the Patrick Smith-inspired A Land Remembered gallery.
Don't Miss: one of the largest cigar memorabilia collections in the world inside Cigar City
Dining: Enjoy waterfront dining in the Columbia Cafe, located inside the History Center
Special Programs: public tours; crafting days for kids; book clubs; guest speakers
Photography is ubiquitous in contemporary life and culture. The founders of the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts recognized this fact, so they sought to create a setting where visitors from all walks of life could appreciate and experience photography. As one of the few photography museums in the country, FMoPA presents exhibitions, which exclusively use this medium to explore themes that expose some intriguing or exciting aspect of history or modern, everyday life. This focus allows the museum to prominently feature pieces that other art institutions might not necessarily show, such as works of photojournalism or historic photographs.
In addition to scheduling upcoming exhibitions, FMoPA also includes a permanent collection. The collection aims to preserve particularly important images, such as those of various masters of the medium, including Harold Edgerton, Clyde Butcher, Hans Silvester, and Berenice Abbott.
After studying the museum's exhibitions?which can include images culled from national and international sources?guests can step behind the camera themselves during photography workshops for students of all skill levels. Then, budding photographers can display their latest shots at 15 Minutes of Fame, a showcase where up to six presenters exhibit and discuss their original work. They also host a photography group, the Photo League, for those photographers that want to share tips and helpful hints once a month.
The Florida Aquarium has given families a glimpse into the mysteries and magic of the undersea world and the land that surrounds it for 20 years. View marine life from around the world from mere inches away, and splash with your family in Explore A Shore, the outdoor water adventure zone. Extended Fun Thursdays offers family-friendly entertainment, dining, and drinks at the aquarium on the Bay.
The Journey to Madagascar exhibit provides a look into the island's unique wildlife and diverse geography as well as the nearby Indian Ocean coral reef. The marine life exhibits spotlight the creatures that live in the bay or deeper underwater, even allowing kids to touch rays and sharks at Stingray Beach or lock eyes with sea turtles. Kids also see the sights of a 60-foot dive at the coral-reef exhibit's walk-through tunnel, whose underwater coral cave and brightly colored fish earned the aquarium a place in Parents magazine's top 10 aquariums for kids. A trip down the Wetlands Trail allows visitors to get face to face with playful otters and more circumspect Burmese pythons, while the Penguin Point opens a window into the lives of the best dressed of the flightless water birds.
Tampa's Museum of Science & Industry—also known as MOSI—has all the answers; even to questions you hadn't thought up yet. What would it be like to live on the moon? Head over to Mission: Moonbase for a detailed simulation. What did the night sky look like in the distant past and what will it look like in the future? The Saunders Planetarium can conjure the starscape of any era. These are just two of the museum's 450 hands-on activities, which also include The Amazing You—an interactive exhibit that explores the process of human development—and the BioWorks Butterfly Garden.
All of these activities feed into the nonprofit, community-based museum's mission of making science fun and accessible to curious citizens of all ages. It is home to a massive children's museum, a water treatment facility that doubles as an exhibit on marshy ecosystems, and an IMAX dome theater—the only one of its kind in Florida.
After becoming a success in the railroad and steamship industries, 1800s businessman Henry B. Plant set his sights on a new venture: building a luxury hotel near Florida's cerulean shores. His vision landed him in an area that was but swampland and sand in 1889 Tampa. But two years and $3,000,000 later—including $500,000 in furniture and art—he successfully opened The Tampa Bay Hotel, a 511-room luxury destination sprawled over six acres.
Today, Henry's architectural and engineering feat serves as the home of the Henry B. Plant Museum, an institution that educates visitors on Plant's life, the Victorian period, and life in early Tampa. Among the building's groundbreaking aspects, the hotel was among the first in Florida to feature electrified rooms and pampered guests with in-house billiards, a babershop, and a telegraph office. His guests even enjoyed in-room telephones and some rooms included private baths with hot and cold running water, a lofty accomplishment considering man wouldn't invent soap for another 13 years. The museum has now been restored to its former glory, showering current visitors in Victorian opulence, art, and its historic achievements.
Since its construction in 1944, the 455-foot SS American Victory has weathered quite a few storms, including World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. From those storms, the steamship developed a rich history filled with stories that echo throughout its three-level cargo holds, hospital, flying bridge, mess halls, crew cabins, and lifeboats. Located in downtown Tampa, behind The Florida Aquarium, the cargo vessel now serves as a museum with exhibits showcasing rare artifacts including photographs, uniforms, medals, documents, and naval gear. Guests on the shipboard museum may take in the history at their own pace with self-guided tours, or book a guided tour led by knowledgeable docents able to walk backward as smoothly as Michael Jackson.