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Ponce de Leon explored Florida searching for gold and the mythical fountain of youth, neither of which he found. Today’s explorers journey to Tampa to discover the many treasures found in its diverse museums.
The U.S. Census Bureau named the Tampa Bay area, rich in art and museums, as one of the top five most culturally diverse and integrated urban areas in the country. Tampa offers an eclectic assortment of museums ranging from the surreal world of Salvador Dali to the Tampa Baseball Museum at the Al Lopez House.
The Tampa Bay History Center, a Smithsonian Affiliate Museum, records the Tampa Bay area’s heritage and growth. Its three floors of hands-on exhibits (permanent and temporary) and immersive theater experiences explore 12,000 years of Florida History including the Seminole Indians, the Cuban cigar rollers and Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. Located on the Riverwalk in Tampa’s bustling Channel District, the 60,000 square foot museum also features waterfront dining at the Columbia Café. The café, which serves many Spanish delicacies, is a branch of Florida’s oldest and most distinctive Spanish restaurant located in Ybor City.
During your visit to the Tampa Bay History Center, you’ll learn about the Spanish conquistadors, explore a vast array of Seminole artifacts, see more than 1,000 Tampa cigar industry-related objects and browse a 1920s-era cigar store. Costumed guides share amusing stories of the area’s intriguing history, while curated collections animate its unforgettable past. The Tampa Bay History Center offers a unique educational experience for all ages.
Visit their events calendar to check out programs that may interest you.
The Henry B. Plant Museum, a National Historic Landmark, offers visitors a chance to step into the era of the 1890s. From its impressive Moorish architecture facade to the authentically restored rooms within, the former Tampa Bay Hotel will transport you to a time of Victorian splendor.
Built in 1891 by railroad magnate Henry B. Plant, the Henry B. Plant Museum was purchased by the city in 1904 after his death. It became part of the University of Tampa campus and, as such, is now known as Plant Hall. The museum is housed in the south wing of the first floor with the remainder of the building acting as offices and classrooms for the university.
Visitors to the museum are first impressed by its magnificent Victorian-era architectural features with pewter filigreed arches and soaring silver minarets. Inside you’ll find the original furnishings of the hotel which reflect the opulence of frontier life for the elite during America’s Gilded Age.
The realization that this resplendent building and the lush tropical gardens surrounding it were carved out of swamplands in the late 1800s makes its creation even more amazing. The hotel cost approximately $2.5 million to build and $500K to furnish, which translates into $63.3 million and $1.3 million, respectively, in today’s terms.
The Florida Museum of Photographic Arts is dedicated to the collection, preservation and exhibition of photographic art depicting historic and contemporary life and culture by nationally and internationally known photographic artists. The Florida Museum of Photographic Arts is one of the few museums in the U.S. dedicated solely to the exhibition of photography. The museum also offers “Photography at 5” happy hours, gallery talks, creative family activities and a host of photography classes for all ages.
To see their events calendar, click here.
One of only four fully-operational World War II warships in the U.S., the SS American Victory is a national historic landmark and a memorial to the dedicated men and women of the American Merchant Fleet. The warship, permanently docked at Tampa Bay, serves as the museum itself. Almost all areas of the ship are open to the public, including the bridge, captain’s quarters, crew cabins, weaponry, galley and mess halls, radio and gyro rooms and more. Visitors are provided the unique opportunity of experiencing the working and living conditions of the sailors on nine decks of the warship. Interpretive exhibits containing rare artifacts, uniforms, medals, naval equipment, documents and photographs complete the experience.
The American Victory Ship Mariners’ Memorial Museum is dedicated to honoring the men and women who have served in the American Merchant Fleet since 1775. The SS American Victory transports you back to a time when brave sailors overcame the harsh seas to bring supplies, ammunition, cargo, equipment, troops and more to their comrades serving in the United States Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. Unknown to many, these unsung heroes have experienced the highest percentage rate of causalities of any service branch.
Twice a year, usually in the spring and fall, visitors board the SS American Victory for its critically-acclaimed Relive History Cruises. During these cruises, visitors experience an unforgettable voyage of discovery as they relive historic traditions aboard a 1940s era steamship and enjoy music and entertainment as they make their way through the Channel.
Located on the Florida State Fairgrounds and featuring 13 authentic buildings dating from 1870 through 1912 (moved to their current location from all across the state and then carefully restored), the Cracker Country Living History Museum recreates life in a rural 1890s Floridian town. Living history interpreters and skilled artisans along with heirloom plants and heritage livestock help visitors experience the daily life of early, hard-working Florida settlers revolving around chores, family, community and the seasons.
Interpreters and artisans demonstrate various trades such as soap making, spinning, blacksmithing and storytelling, bringing the experience of the early Florida “Crackers” to life. On certain Saturdays, “Discover the Past” programs allow visitors to take part in seasonal hands-on activities such as rope making, butter churning and crop planting.
MOSI, the Museum of Science and Industry, strives to make a difference in people’s lives by making science real for people of all ages and backgrounds. MOSI houses a large collection of permanent exhibits and is packed with lots of interactive learning experiences and fun activities in all disciplines of science including anatomy, biology, meteorology and physics.
Check out MOSI’s Mission: Moonbase, a collaboration with NASA to simulate travel to the moon via a space transport where you’ll assist in the operation of a lunar colony in the year 2070, becoming part of a team living and working on the moon.
Outside, daring adventurers get the ultimate adrenaline rush on MOSI’s Zip Line, soaring more than 700 feet over the building and grounds, or by conquering 35 elements on their Sky Trail® Ropes Course. You can also hike on the nature trail which highlights Florida’s flora and fauna.
Click here to check out their calendar of events.
If you’re bringing children with you, be sure to check out the Imagination Playground where kids experience creativity and collaboration in their efforts to engineer everything from cities to robots using various construction materials. At MOSI’s Kids in Charge science center, kids and adults can experience what it’s like to lie on a bed of nails or how it feels to pedal a bicycle on a one-inch cable suspended 30-foot above ground. Or you can team up with your kids using large foam pieces to create and build whatever you can dream up.
If you’re entertaining children, two other museums in Tampa may interest you – the 53,000 sq. ft. Glazer Children’s Museum which provides creative learning opportunities centered around innovative play and the 24,000 sq. ft. Great Explorations Children’s Museum filled with lots of activities and exhibits to stimulate and encourage learning through exploration, creativity and play.
With six temporary exhibits, a permanent collection of 20th-century sculpture and the largest Roman and Greek antiquities collections in the southeastern U.S., the Tampa Museum of Art is committed to offering inventive public programs with an emphasis on antiquities and contemporary and modern art. Embracing photography and new media such as Leo Villareal’s (Tampa) Sky, the iconic 14,000 sq. ft. LED display illuminating the Museum’s south facade, it’s the area’s largest museum dedicated to contemporary art.
After visiting the galleries, you can choose to stroll through the tranquil riverfront sculpture garden and visit the Sono Café, a Slow Food movement café overlooking the Hillsborough River.
The Museum offers an extensive calendar of events, from Buddhist meditation to art classes, with more than half of their programs provided free of charge.
Located just a short distance from Tampa in St. Petersburg, The Dali Museum contains one of theworld’s most comprehensive collections of Dali’s work
and is the largest outside of Europe. The museum celebrates the life and work of Salvador Dali (1904-1989) featuring more than 2,100 works spanning the artist’s entire career in every medium of his artistic activity. Through his work, Dali sought to bring forth art’s vigor through his unique combination of dreamlike images and realistic representation.
Even the building itself (replacing the original) which opened its doors in 2011 is a tribute to Dali and is one of the most architecturally stunning buildings in the area. The exterior of the building features the “enigma,” a large free-form geodesic glass bubble which pays homage to the dome atop Dali’s museum in Spain. Inside, you’ll find a helical staircase, memorializing the artist’s obsession with spirals.
The museum’s gardens offer a unique environment for learning and tranquility. Various gardens and features of the gardens include a labyrinth in the Mathematical Garden, the West Garden, The Grotto with dripping and pooling waters surrounded by extraordinary plants including orchids, the Fountain of Youth, the East Garden featuring stones and the Wish Tree.
For a small taste of what you’ll see at the Dali Museum, check out their online exhibit curated by the Museum librarian.
The beautifully restored 18,000 sq. ft. building which houses the Tampa Firefighters Museum, a local historical landmark located in downtown Tampa, was originally built in 1911. The Museum, a tribute to those who have served and continue to serve the city of Tampa, takes you back in time through its historical exhibits and interactive educational displays, including an early fire wagon in mint condition. By sharing real-life events, exhibits and life safety education, the Tampa Firefighters Museum’s vision is to sustain the rich heritage of the Tampa Fire Department and to inspire and encourage future generations to consider becoming a firefighter.
The Robert W. Willaford Railroad Museum, located just 30 minutes from Tampa in the Historic Train Depot in downtown Plant City, displays and maintains a sizable collection of railroad memorabilia including a completely restored Seaboard Airline, no. 5735 Caboose. Its mission is “to promote and educate visitors about railroad history and its impact on Eastern Hillsborough County and Plant City.” The train viewing platform, located next to the museum, is open seven days a week and is well lit for great train viewing in the evenings as well.
Ever-changing exhibitions at the University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum introduce students, faculty and the local area to current cultural trends in art. The USFCAM, situated adjacent to the USF College of the Arts building, presents significant and investigative exhibitions of contemporary art from Florida and around the world. USFCAM houses the university’s art collection, comprised of over 5,000 works of art, and oversees their award-winning Public Art program. The USFCAM is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.
The actual childhood home of Al Lopez, Tampa’s first major league baseball player inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame, has been carefully preserved and moved to its current location in Ybor City to become the Tampa Baseball Museum at the Al Lopez House. In this home, you’ll experience a historical glance into local baseball culture highlighting more than 125 years of baseball heritage through permanent and rotating exhibits. Its mission, to honor and preserve Tampa’s unique and historic role in baseball by celebrating local legends, is accomplished through the preservation of and education about local baseball culture.
Ybor City Museum State Park is an urban park and museum located in the heart of Tampa’s National Historic Landmark District. Built to preserve and celebrate Ybor City’s colorful past, the park consists of the main exhibit space located in a 1923-era bakery building, a recreated typical cigar worker’s home (casita) and a lush 19th-century Mediterranean-style garden. Cigars were big business and had a massive economic impact on the area. The renovated historic Ferlita Bakery houses temporary and permanent exhibits telling the story of the “Cigar Capital of the World.”
Ybor City itself, a remnant of Tampa’s antiquated cigar industry, is a neighborhood rich in cuisine and culture, a neighborhood that continues to showcase its Italian, Cuban and Spanish roots. It is one of only two National Historic Landmark Districts in Florida.
Click here for the museum and park’s event calendar or here for news concerning the various exciting activities that are scheduled. If the Latin community fascinates you and you want to learn more about its past, you’ll want to add this museum to your must-see list.
The Tampa Police Museum honors officers who have been killed in the line of duty and preserves historically important police equipment, records and books. It also offers educational programs to the public to advocate the teaching of police science/police work and to encourage the next generation to choose police science/police work as a career.
Tessera of Brandon is committed to helping you pursue an active and cultured lifestyle, and in doing so, offers many engaging programs. Along with these programs, visiting museums is a terrific way to stay mentally and physically fit. Contact us today to learn more about the amazing living experience that awaits you at Tessera of Brandon, Tampa’s premier assisted living and memory care community.