The Tampa Bay area has it all – beautiful beaches, delicious food, and plenty of attractions to keep anyone busy. While I’ve been to the Tampa Bay area a few times (mainly to Clearwater) and visited Busch Gardens, one of Tampa’s most popular attractions, I had never taken the time to actually explore downtown Tampa until recently. Before visiting, I really wasn’t too sure of what to expect, but within a few days, Tampa quickly became one of my favorite accessible Florida cities.
It turns out that there is much more to Tampa than just Busch Gardens. I really enjoyed checking out many of the wheelchair accessible Tampa attractions, from an outdoor shopping center to the riverwalk and one of the best zoos I’ve ever visited. My few days in Tampa were a ton of fun and I’m now head-over-heels in love with the city. Keep reading to discover my recommendations for accessible things to do in Tampa, accessible transportation options, and where to stay.
Wheelchair Accessible Tampa Attractions & Things to Do
The Florida Aquarium
No exaggeration, The Florida Aquarium is one of the best aquariums I’ve ever been to. Over the course of a couple hours, I saw alligators, snakes, sharks, stingrays, lemurs, and more!
Accessibility throughout the aquarium was great. All public access doors had automatic door push plates and an elevator was available, so that I could visit the various levels. The viewing areas for all of the animals were quite spacious as well, so I could easily roll throughout the aquarium. And if you need to rent a wheelchair or scooter for your visit, they are available on a first-come, first-served basis from the aquarium.
If you’re looking for a fun place to visit in Tampa as a wheelchair user, this is a great first-stop for any trip. The Florida Aquarium is open seven days per week and tickets can be purchased in advance here.
On a nice day, which happens frequently and year-round in Tampa, Sparkman Wharf is the perfect place to grab a meal, shop, and hang out. I visited on a Sunday and it was packed with families enjoying the sunny day.
Sparkman Wharf is waterfront and has many restaurants (most of them are located in colorful shipping containers), a biergarten, shops, a dining garden, and a recreational lawn. There are more than a dozen places to choose from for some good food and even more options are coming soon to Sparkman Wharf.
I started with some delicious Mexican food from Gallito and then followed that up with “salted peanut butter with chocolate flecks” ice cream from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. It was all fantastic and I can’t wait to return and try some more of the restaurants.
Tampa Bay History Center
Located along the Riverwalk, the Tampa Bay History Center is a 60,000 square foot facility. Here, you can explore the past 12,000 years of Tampa history across three floors of interactive exhibits, theaters, and displays. You can even learn the history of Tampa Bay’s first native inhabitants, and also stroll through a reproduction of a 1920’s cigar store, which was one of my favorite exhibits.
The accessibility throughout the museum is easily manageable for wheelchair users, as there is a large elevator to maneuver from floor to floor. There are also manual wheelchairs available for use free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis. The museum is spacious and allows chair users easy access to view the displays, exhibits, and park inside the theaters for great views.
The museum is open 7 days per week from 10am-5pm. If you want something to eat before or after your visit, there is also the most delicious restaurant, Columbia Cafe, inside the museum near the ticket counter. This is hands-down one of my favorite restaurants in the entire world, as I have eaten there multiple times.
The Tampa Riverwalk is a 2.6-mile long pedestrian trail along the Hillsborough River in Tampa, Florida. This paved pathway allows beautiful views of the waterfront and provides access to delicious dining and entertainment options.
The Riverwalk is wide and spacious enough for wheelchairs, bikes, and pedestrians to easily come and go freely. Don’t worry about tiring out before reaching the end, as there are plenty of spots to sit and enjoy the views and several benches also provided.
From the Riverwalk, you can also catch the water taxi for a convenient ride further down the river. I will discuss the wheelchair accessible water taxi in more detail later in this blog post.
Hyde Park Village
If you’re in the mood to do some shopping, visit Hyde Park Village in Tampa! Hyde Park Village has dozens of shops & quite a few great restaurants as well, making it the ultimate outdoor entertainment destination.
There are six city blocks of shops at Hyde Park Village and you can find everything from Nike to Downtown Dogs (I bought some souvenirs for my two dogs here!) to a movie theater and much more. Every shop that I saw was wheelchair accessible and the sidewalks/curb cuts were very smooth for a wheelchair.
There are several dining options at Hyde Park Village, but I would highly recommend getting some food at Goody Goody. Goody Goody is a diner that serves burgers, hotdogs, southern fried chicken, and more, but it also serves breakfast all day. The pancakes are huge (12 inches in diameter to be exact!!) and the Bananas Foster syrup is out-of-this-world. Southern Living Magazine called it “the best breakfast in Florida” and after one bite, I understood why.
Whether you’re in search of a phenomenal breakfast or in need of a shopping spree, Hyde Park Village is a must-visit during any Tampa trip!
Walking/rolling tours are one of my favorite ways to explore any destination. You can see so much more than on a driving tour, for example, and you can learn a ton of stuff that you wouldn’t by just rolling around on your own. While in Tampa, I did a walking/rolling tour of Ybor City, a historic part of Tampa that will make you feel like you’ve gone back in time.
The tour with Ybor City Historic Walking Tours was informative and a ton of fun. I learned a lot and even “visited” Cuba (Cuba owns a piece of land in Ybor, so technically you can “visit” Cuba without a passport)! It was a unique tour experience that I honestly never expected to have in Tampa.
Our guide, Max, did a great job of making the tour wheelchair accessible. He knew where ramps were, went at a good pace, and was exceptionally knowledgeable about accessibility in Ybor City.
I would 100% recommend this tour if you’ll be in the Tampa area. To book a tour, you can do so here, but call beforehand (phone number: 813-505-6779) and just let them know that you are a wheelchair user.
If you are searching for great food and drink options in the Tampa Bay area, Armature Works is another fun place to check out. This is a 22,000 sq.-ft. industrial market that has a new, fresh feel.
Here, you will find plenty of open seating and some of the top chefs in Tampa. Whether you are craving something sweet like a massive Fruity Pebbles cookie like I had at Bake’n Babes or a scrumptious empanada like I also devoured (don’t judge me) at Empamamas, you can have it all here in one place.
Armature Works also houses a “Show + Tell” workshop that hosts cooking classes and wine classes. And I almost forgot to mention that the outside view of the waterfront here is breathtaking! Accessible tables are available with spectacular views.
Zoo Tampa at Lowry Park
On my last morning in Tampa, I visited ZooTampa at Lowry Park and when I say that it is the best zoo I’ve ever visited, I absolutely mean it. Zoo Tampa has hundreds of animals to see, some rides (including a wheelchair accessible safari adventure ride), and informative shows throughout the day as well.
The zoo is mostly flat and it was incredibly easy to navigate as a wheelchair user. Exhibits weren’t spread out too far like some zoos, so during my entire 2.5 hour visit, I was seeing animals nonstop. My favorites were the orangutans and the manatees, but the giraffe and elephants are close seconds.
I loved my time at Zoo Tampa and was excited to learn that the zoo is expanding even more (new exhibits coming in spring 2022)! If you are planning to visit the zoo, check out this accessibility guide before you go, as it could be helpful.
Wheelchair Accessible Transportation in Tampa
There are multiple ways to get around Tampa as a wheelchair user. While I had my own accessible van to get around with in Tampa, here are some other transportation options that I used:
Pirate Water Taxi
The Pirate Water Taxi cruises along the river and has 14 stops at various attractions, restaurants, and parks. No matter where you’re wanting to go in the downtown Tampa area, the water taxi can probably get you pretty close to your destination. You can ride for the whole day and hop on and off as many times as you like once you purchase a wristband for $25 per adult. This is a fun way to get around Tampa, Florida (a bar is even onboard!) & it’s wheelchair accessible.
To get me on the water taxi, they had a portable ramp. It was pretty easy for me to get onboard with it, but depending on the tide on the day you visit, it could be a bit steep.
Once inside the water taxi, there is a wheelchair-friendly seating area. It is open-air, so you’ll have beautiful views of Tampa along the way. The enclosed seating area on the water taxi and the onboard restroom are not wheelchair accessible.
The TECO Line Streetcar
If you’re looking for a convenient, and cheaper, way to get around Tampa, this is a great option. The TECO Line Streetcar is a 2.7 mile long fixed guideway transit system that connects downtown Tampa, the Channelside District, and Ybor City.
It is completely free to ride the streetcars and all streetcars are wheelchair accessible. I was able to easily board the streetcar and once inside, there was an accessible area for me to sit. It was a quick and comfortable ride and I was highly impressed that it was free. What a fun way to get around Tampa!
I did not personally use an accessible taxi while in Tampa because I had my own vehicle, but a couple companies do seem to offer wheelchair accessible taxi services.
Yellow Cab of Tampa has wheelchair accessible taxis, but they need to be reserved up to three days in advance. You can reserve an accessible taxi by calling 813-666-6666 or 727-666-6666.
States Taxi also offers wheelchair accessible taxis in Tampa. Please give them at least 24 hours notice of when you’ll be needing a ride. Contact them at 813-358-8468.
Where to Stay in Tampa: Tampa Marriott Water Street
During my few days in Tampa, I stayed at the beautiful Tampa Marriott Water Street. This hotel is in a perfect location on the waterfront and within walking/rolling distance of the Riverwalk, the streetcar and Pirate Water Taxi, and some attractions, including the Tampa Bay History Center and Sparkman Wharf.
The Tampa Marriott Water Street also has an on-site Starbucks, which I hit up every morning, valet parking, and there is an enclosed bridge that connects the hotel to the JW Marriott Tampa Water Street, which is just across the street. I enjoyed going over to the JW Marriott for dinner at their on-site restaurant, Six, one night.
My wheelchair accessible room had one king bed in it. The bed was a great height for self-transferring and a hoyer lift could easily go under the bed, as there was plenty of clearance underneath. A desk, mini fridge, smart TV, and Keurig coffee maker were in the room as well. There was also a balcony overlooking the river, but it was unfortunately not accessible.
In the bathroom, there was a smooth roll-in shower with a fold-down shower bench and handheld shower wand, a pull-under sink, and grab bars by the toilet. The bathroom was quite spacious as well.
If you’re looking for a nice hotel in a spectacular location, look no further. The Tampa Marriott Water Street has it all and is somewhere I’d stay again in a heartbeat.
The city of Tampa left quite an impression on me in just a few days and I wish I would’ve visited years ago, but I’m thankful that I now know how awesome Tampa is. With wheelchair accessible Tampa attractions, transportation, and accommodations, this city has something for visitors of all abilities and is definitely worth visiting during any Florida trip.
*Thank you to Visit Florida and Visit Tampa Bay for working with me on this trip and showing me the best of wheelchair accessible Tampa! While my experiences in Tampa were complimentary, all opinions expressed are authentic and my own.