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Meet Tampa, Florida's emerging family-friendly destination

We've got your guide to experiencing the city on the Sunshine State's west coast.

There’s more to family-friendly Florida than Orlando. Head west to the coastal city of Tampa and be surprised by this emerging destination that is particularly good for families, who can enjoy the warm weather and an endless array of activities, plus bargains.

For those looking to experience the best of Tampa, check out CityPASS, which is a thrifty way to take in some of the most popular attractions. CityPass ($106 for adults, $96 for children 3-9) offers considerable bang for the buck, with deals like 51 percent off full-price attraction tickets.

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Thanks to CityPass, we braved the thrilling dive coaster Sheikra at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, swam with the sharks and touched the rays at the Florida Aquarium, and eyeballed the Bornean orangutans at Lowry Park Zoo, which was named the best family-friendly zoo by Parents magazine. We also mixed in an education excursion to Museum of Science and Industry, which has more than 450 exhibits and live science demonstrations.

The Glazer Children’s Museum is all about hands-on play. There are 170 interactive exhibits in the bright, 53,000-square-foot facility, designed to help children discover their world through play via rock climbing walls, a firehouse and a replica of a biplane, among many other exhibits.

The museum is right next to Tampa’s new Riverwalk, a scenic 2.4-mile stretch that’s a haven for joggers, bicyclists and sun worshippers along the East Hillsborough river. Children gather at a new playground, while adults relax along the romantic docks and canopies.

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Just off the shore there are eight restaurants, four museums and 18 historical monuments along Riverwalk. Annual events like the Gasparilla Music Festival and RiverFest, which is slated for May 6-7, take advantage of downtown’s newest addition.

It’s never too early to expose kids to art. Every Saturday the Tampa of Museum of Art hosts a free drop-in program for children and families, who would like to work on art projects inspired by the museum’s vast collection.

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