what to do in Tampa with a toddler
June 23, 2012 3:27 PM   Subscribe

Hello Mefites. I am a British person in my 50's, originally from Africa. I will be babysitting my 18-month-old grandchild in Tampa, Florida, in early August while her (British/American) parents are on honeymoon. I would be very very grateful for suggestions of fun things for a grandma and toddler to do in that week, bearing in mind I can't drive and will be taking public transport/walking with a pushchair.

Google maps tells me we will be just off Cross Creek Road and nearby districts seem to be called Hunter's Green, Pebble Creek Village and Arbor Green. I'm used to walking 2/3 miles and back at a time but I'm told it might be too hot to take the toddler on such long walks.

Can I take the bus anywhere? My daughter seemed to think it might not be the best for a naive old tourist.

I'd be really grateful for suggestions and tips about how to do really ordinary pleasurable things with my grand-daughter. Is there a Trader Joe's nearby? Are there any ethnic food shops? Is there a good library? Are there some nice parks? is there anything special to the area we shouldn't miss?

Thanks in advance.
posted by glasseyes to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (18 answers total)
I'm not familiar with Tampa, but is it near the ocean? Beaches are basically giant sand boxes, and my daughter went nuts when she was that age. Slather on the sunscreen and head to the beach!
posted by TooFewShoes at 3:49 PM on June 23, 2012

I'm not native to the area, but I've been there. Tampa in August can get very hot indeed. I'd advise sticking to indoor activities as much as possible, and taking care not to exert yourself too much in one go.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 3:53 PM on June 23, 2012

I used to live an hour south of Tampa. Trust me when I say your daytime activity will need to be in the air conditioning. Oh but you will need a sweater since the ac in most buildings will be chilly.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:09 PM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am not native to Tampa either, but I've spent a lot of time there. A cursory glance at the maps indicates you aren't staying in Tampa proper, but the nearby suburbs. Most things in your immediate vicinity will probably be subdivisions and strip malls. You are not close to the beach either.

There are definitely buses that run into Tampa, but I can't vouch for their timeliness or sketchiness. The plain truth: it will be face-meltingly hot and humid and public transport options will be poor. If there is any way you can get a vehicle, you'll defintely want one. (rental? maybe a generous family friend could play taxi?)
posted by gnutron at 4:10 PM on June 23, 2012

Hi. Tampa native and resident here.

Getting around is going to be a big problem without a car. Tampa is a car town, especially northeast New Tampa, which is all subdivisions that feed into big roads and highways. While that area is considered part of Tampa (I think?) it's a good 20-30 minutes by car away from... pretty much everything. Taxis are expensive, buses are unreliable, and any other form of public transportation is a mythical legend from magic faraway lands.

August can be painfully hot, even when it's raining (though seeing the streets steam is sort of cool) and, depending on how the weather/drought goes, we may or may not have the infamous routine 3PM thunderstorms.

If you can solve transportation, though, there are things to do. I don't know a thing about entertaining toddlers, but I'll throw out some suggestions that you may like.

One of my favorite things is the Sunday market at the Wat Tampa temple - you can get awesome amounts of Thai food on the cheap, and then eat it at picnic tables under gigantic oaks next to the river while the monks do their thing.

There's also a farmers' market in Ybor (go during the day, Ybor at night is not kid-friendly) though I can't remember when, exactly, it is. Get a proper Cuban while you're there, and a cafe con leche.

Indoor stuff: MOSI, Museum of Science and Industry, is very kid-friendly. See what exhibits they'll be hosting when you're in town. Another great indoors place is the Florida Aquarium, which is full of various local biomes and touch-tank exhibits, and also has an outside water-playground for kids. There's a childrens' museum downtown, which is spoken of highly, but I don't know a thing about it so I can't tell you how it is.

Lowry Park Zoo, while not indoors, is kid-friendly and a fantastic zoo.

There's a great Asian market, Oceanic, downtown. The best Indian and Middle Eastern stuff seems to be further north, around USF, scattered in little strip-mall shops. Good Cuban food is pretty much everywhere, ranging from cheap to ridiculous, and is really not a thing to miss out on while you're here.

If you dig nature, there are gorgeous parks: Lettuce Lake, Lithia Springs (though that's out further in the county), and the Hillsborough River State Park. Lithia has a swimmable spring too, but again, that depends on drought/rain conditions. They're definitely the places to go to get your alligator fix.

I would avoid, at all costs, the bay beaches. The bay is filthy with pollution and algal blooms. We locals don't go into it. Ever. If you want a beach, you want to go to the Gulf coast - Pinellas is closest, and while Clearwater is a bit touristy, some other spots are pretty chill.

Feel free to MeMail me if you have any specific questions about things.
posted by cmyk at 4:12 PM on June 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Are there Florida in-laws who can meet up with you, and maybe go on day trips to fun places, like the aquarium? How about local friends of your daughter with similar age children? Maybe you can arrange to go on an outing with one of your grandchild's buddies? This would hopefully mean someone could drive you, and also you could have some adult conversation while the little ones play or look at something.
posted by Joh at 4:28 PM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Sponge Docks area of Tarpon Springs is a touristy place to wander around with Greek food and five years ago, at least, there was a little aquarium there with a touch-the-squshy-sea-creatures exhibit for kids.
posted by XMLicious at 5:50 PM on June 23, 2012

I vote for pretty much staying at home with an 18 month old. The world is such an amazing and new place at that age. Will you have a backyard? A small wading pool, especially if you can put it in some shade, will be glorious fun. Ditto a hose, with or without a sprinkler head. Take a walk around the block at twilight (or dawn if toddler is an early riser - as they usually are). I assume the parents have a stash of simple books, all of which can, and should be, read multiple times. Let the toddler help make things in the kitchen: smearing icing on cookies, making mashed potato shapes and then pouring gravy and eating. Play music, sing, dance around the house together. Bubbles. Finger paints.

As for going places, I think most places are too much for toddlers. You may want/need to get out of the house, maybe to simply go to a store and buy some fruit and cheese chosen by the kid, and some cheap plastic crap to play with. And some magazines for you to read in the evenings.

Personally, I would be very wary of renting a car. This may be just me, but the thought of driving on the "wrong" side of the road scares the bejesus out of me. Is a cab possible? Are there neighbors who would be willing to drive you to a place or two? And what about other parents of toddlers who know your toddler? Are play dates arranged? Could a "native" parent arrange a trip, or a play date?

The biggest and best treat will be the undivided attention of a loving grown-up. Lucky toddler!
I bet the week will fly by. Have fun.
posted by kestralwing at 6:44 PM on June 23, 2012

I'm another person from the Tampa Bay area dittoing the following points: Getting around is going to be a big problem without a car and August can be painfully hot. Would it be possible for the two of you to get a hotel room somewhere on a local beach (I'll also ditto you want a Gulf beach)? Clearwater Beach (this is my #1 choice for you), Indian Rocks Beach, St. Petersburg Beach- you'd be in an area where you could walk around and do a lot of stuff, eat out, go to the beach or hang out at the hotel pool.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:56 PM on June 23, 2012

My best memories of doing things with my grandparents are crafts & helping them with their projects. Perhaps you could identiypfy in advance some games or crafts you played with your daughter to play with grandbaby? There may be ingredients you can get in advance in the US to do things like flour & salt play doh. Or food you could cook together like cucumber sandwiches.

Maybe bring photos, postcards or magazines from home and use them to make a book together about the UK family?

Grandbaby is small, lots won't be remembered... But things you could take back or leave behind might be fun.

And if you have to get out if the house, sometimes it just has to be taxis.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 7:21 PM on June 23, 2012

I live just to the east of Tampa.

Tampa is at its best in the winter, not in August. The heat in Tampa in August can be unbearable and dangerous. Very humid. Coming from England, you will not be climatized to it. It is going to wear you down. The summer sun around here wears down natives, nevermind someone not used to it.

A well known piece of advise in these parts is: Pee often, pee clear. De-hydration can have subtle yet powerful effects without you realizing it, like fatigue, aches and soreness, and head-aches. Stay hydrated, you and the baby. Pee often, pee clear.

It can also rain unexpectedly in Tampa. And not a soft rain like you get in England. I mean pounding driving rain, that can arise and disappear in less than a half hour.

Public transportation in and around the Tampa is terrible. Connecting to different bus lines will be very difficult, especially in August with the heat and the rain. You are better trying to use a cab, if you can afford it. Round trip cab fare can be expensive though, as cabs are not that common in this area either. You can call a local cab company when you arrive, and ask the cost round trip to some location.

One place I would definitely recommend is MOSI. It is a children's science musuem. It is only about 12 miles from Hunter's Green, so a cab ride might be manageable in terms of cost. And also, it is indoor and air-conditioned.

You are also about 20 miles from Busch Gardens, which is a very nice theme park. Busch Gardens caters more to teens, with huge roller-coasters. But there are things you might enjoy there. Like any Florida theme park, it is expensive.

Where you are staying is 40 miles or more to a beach. That will be an expensive distance in a cab, and very difficult on public transport.
posted by Flood at 7:23 PM on June 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Ah, yeah, the thunderstorms. This does need clarification. The late-summer Florida thunderstorm is not a gradually darkening sky, a little bit of thunder and rain, etc. This is a fast moving mess of dark clouds and doom, power flickers on and off, rain going sideways, Come To Jesus lookin' drama-queen of a storm that blows in, lasts between 30-90 minutes, and clears up as suddenly as it came.

An hour after that photo it was sunny again. That's just how things work here.

They are dramatic as all get out, but not particularly dangerous, unless your favorite thing to do is wave giant metal poles around in the middle of flat fields. They rinse everything down and smell fantastic.

You'll want to know well beforehand if your granddaughter is afraid of storms, and what her parents do to help her through them. That could be a big thing - or it might be nothing at all. Depends on the kid, really.
posted by cmyk at 8:09 PM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's a public libray, pretty good one, just down Cross Creek from you.

A few miles north on Bruce B. Downs and state road 56 you'll find the Shoppes at Wiregrass, a nice new mall that does a really good job of being a community town center. It's also got he nearest major bookstore.

There's a large movie theater to the south, at BBD and I75.

MOSI is a pretty good idea and nearby. Downtown Tampa features the Glazer Children's Museum.

You'll really want a car, since most of your activity is ight near a county line and I'm not aware of any public transportation that crosses the line.

I live close to Cross Creek and would be happy to answer any questions you might have about specific places.
posted by mikewas at 8:26 PM on June 23, 2012

Seconding what everyone else has said here about the heat and poor public transport. As someone who has lived in Tampa and in the UK, it's safe to say that you will find August to be disgustingly hot. Probably even in spite of your African experience, as Florida's summer is oppressively humid as well. Average temperatures will be +32C, with humidity 90% and above. It's really the humidity that does you in. For this reason, you probably won't want to do much outdoors, and even a 10 minute walk to the shops will have you drenched in sweat.

You should also expect to be quite isolated in the suburban sprawl of north Tampa. There is no real public transport, and even walking can be difficult, because most subdivisions treat the design of sidewalks and pedestrian paths as a last priority. It is disturbingly car-centric. You will not see people walking or cycling. There may be a playground or park nearby, but if you don't have a car, I think it will be difficult for you to access local shops and libraries.

I think the advice to plan on indoor activities is wise, as you will probably be housebound, apart from strolls around the neighbourhood in the morning or evenings. Perhaps a neighbour or friend can schedule a car outing so that you can visit some of the museums or sites mentioned above.
posted by amusebuche at 11:05 PM on June 23, 2012

I would say that without a car you'll be essentially housebound. I'd worry even about getting groceries or other food for the time. The local bus system, HART, does not go as far north as the neighborhoods you are suggesting, and what appears to be the nearest grocery store, a Publix (a local chain), is probably going to be at least 2 km away from where you're staying. You will need someone to drive you or find a taxi company to take you places.

You are somewhat near to Lettuce Lake Park, which is a nice park which will have nice shady areas, although it'll probably be stiflingly hot regardless.
posted by that girl at 4:21 AM on June 24, 2012

Thanks everybody for the really informative answers. And yes, I'm used to tropical heat and fantastic thunder storms, but it's a good point that the baby might not be!

Great ideas and useful information, so thanks again.
posted by glasseyes at 6:16 AM on June 25, 2012

I'd hit up her parents to do a bit of pre-shopping for your; sidewalk chalk, fingerpaint (and a place to do it outside and hose her off afterwards), bubbles, blowouts (example! they are at most Party stores or Target/MalWart), even sew up some bean bags (throwing to each other, at targets, "racing" down the slides at the park or down books lain on the stairs), Slinkies, etc.

Only been to Tampa a few times, but most of what I see here is pretty accurate - you'll be further away than you expect from big things and a lot might be more suited to older kids. I have been to the aquarium, but we stayed nearby and had older kids who appreciated the aquarium part and the water splash land park (there is a separate toddler section but it might strike her as boring, so you'll spend time in the splashy part with her).

Is there a chance for playdates with some of the parents' friends and similarly-aged kids?

The only thing I didn't see mentioned was Hurricanes. You may wish to speak to them about what needs to be done/where to go if one should blow in - public information about evacuation (if needed), health insurance coverage for the child (unseen emergency) - I'm guessing that you'll have a letter of temporary guardianship (nothing complicated, just your information, child information, contact information for parents and a statement about empowering you to make medical decisions if necessary). What kind of things she'd need packed up in case of emergency and all that.
posted by tilde at 1:14 PM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sorry, forgot to add: Don't go down on any slides with her. She might be fine with going down slides she's used to.

I'd also ask the parents for any info they have on local parks and other walking distance things and activities she's used to.
posted by tilde at 1:21 PM on June 25, 2012

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