15 ways to cool off, escape the summer heat in Tampa

Whether or not you have access to a boat, the Tampa Bay Area offers a broad array of affordable activities and rentals to get you and your family or friends out on the water for a day, a weekend, or a whole week of fun and outdoor activities. 

This is the time of year to take advantage of easy access to the Gulf, local bays, freshwater springs, and rivers, while taking in Florida’s natural beauty and getting some relief from the heat of summer. So read on as we dive into some of the cooler things to do on the water in Tampa, St. Pete, Clearwater, and the surrounding region.

1. Dinner cruises

Looking for a way to switch up your usual date night? Book a dining cruise through Yacht Starship, America’s first three diamond-rated dining yacht. Enjoy a three-course meal of hand-crafted seasonal dishes with fresh ingredients and an open bar overlooking one of Florida’s famous sunsets. 

Exemplary award-winning service and one-of-a-kind views are among the highlights. Both their Tampa and Clearwater cruises feature a dance floor on the top deck. You can view menu details (different ships offer different menus) and book your location, date, and time online. The 2½- to 3-hour cruise tickets start at $59.95 per person. 

2. Jet skis
There’s a long list of places to rent jet skis around the Tampa Bay Area. First, decide where you want to ride: on one of the bays or along the Pinellas beaches, etc., then go to each company’s website to find the best rates and available rentals.

Check out some of the websites listed below for a few options.The catch of the day with Poseidon Fishing Charters. 
3. Fishing

Poseidon Fishing Charters offers “a trip of a lifetime” with their fishing trips out of Tampa, Clearwater, St. Pete, Sarasota, and other surrounding communities. Whether your goal is to catch a trophy fish or eat fresh fish for dinner, you’ll do it all while surrounded by the area’s beautiful beaches, possible dolphin sighting, and/or stopping for some waterfront dining.  

After booking your trip through their website, you’ll arrive to your awaiting captain at 8 a.m. with your boat already stocked and ready to go with ice, drinks, fishing rods, and bait. Your captain will plan your day based on what you’re looking to catch, whether you’re looking to jump right into deep sea fishing or are looking for a more laid-back relaxing day. Even if you don’t have a fishing license, you don’t have to worry because they’ll get everything set up for you so you can just sit back and enjoy the trip. 

“Tampa Bay is one of the most amazing places on planet Earth. … In the winter months, a lot of the big fish come in here [the Bay] and have their babies, so we get a bunch of sharks, groupers, triple tail. … So you can actually catch big fish that normally you have to travel really, really far offshore to catch,” Owner Hunter Harris says. 

Additionally, they do a thing called “Hook and Cook.” They’ll take people out on the charter and bring their catches back to their marina where there are a few restaurants that will actually cook your fish for you. “As a family, if you can teach catching it in a natural resource and then not wasting that, or not just catching and releasing, but actually filling your body with it is super, super cool to teach the younger generation,” Harris says. 

4. Aquariums
Book your spot online to hop aboard The Florida Aquarium Bay Spirit II catamaran’s 75-minute cruise. Be on the lookout for the abundant amount of wildlife that calls Hillsborough Bay and Tampa Bay home as one of the aquarium’s experienced naturalists guides your eyes in the right direction while offering information on all of the different creatures you are seeing. These Wild Dolphin Cruises leave the aquarium daily as long as the weather permits. On board, you can purchase food and beverages (including wine and beer) at their Café Ray. 

Although at this time, The Florida Aquarium is not offering their Shark Swim Program, keep checking back on their website for when this experience will open back up. It's a real adrenaline rush. And no scuba certification is required. You’ll be able to swim among more than 1,000 fish, including stingrays, barracudas, sea turtles, and sand tiger sharks.

Also, check out the Clearwater Aquarium, where you and your littles can visit with Winter and Hope, stars of Dolphin Tale and Dolphin Tale 2, take guided boat tours, see rescued animals, and learn lots about the Florida environment. 

5. Water taxi

Looking for an alternative way to get from here to there in Tampa? A ticket on the Pirate Water Taxi allows you to hop on and off all day for unlimited rides to and from any of their stops throughout downtown. You can buy your ticket for the day for $23 ($13 for kids) or get an annual pass for $99.95. Tickets are available for purchase online, at their home dock (Stop #7 at the Tampa Convention Center), or on board the taxi. If you’re looking for a way to tour anything within walking distance of the city's waterfront without the worry of parking, gas money, etc., the water taxi is the perfect way to go. 

The taxi features 14 stops near attractions, museums, restaurants, and parks. Additionally, with the wristband, you’ll receive after buying your pass, you will get discounts at a number of venues along the route through their Pirate Perks Program. 

The Gulf waters off St. Beach Beach offer lots of opportunities for windsurfing.
6. Windsurfing

Even if you've never windsurfed, North Beach Windsurfing’s got you covered. Their rental gear trailer allows you to get the needed materials for your day’s adventure at a variety of locations in St. Pete and Tampa (also offering rentals for paddle boards and kayaks). Lessons for beginners to experts are available through their windsurfing school to get you comfortable and confident as you embark on your journey of sailing across the waves. 

7. Parasailing

Take in the Tampa Bay Area’s stunning scenery from above as you glide through the air over the wild colossal Gulf. While parasailing, participants get a view from up to 1,000 feet off the water as the parachute undulates above them. Though you are out on the boat during the duration of the trip, you’ll remain (relatively) dry. 

There’s an ample number of companies to go through when scheduling your excursion. See Parasail Clearwater, Gators Parasail, Parasailing the Pass, Sky’s the Limit Parasailing, and St. Pete Parasail to name a few. 

The horses seem to enjoy a dip in the water at least as much as their human riders.8. Horseback Riding (with a twist)

Have you ever seen those romantic sunset photos of a couple riding horses along the waterfront and felt a pang of jealousy? This may come as a surprise, but this experience isn’t solely available on exquisite, expensive, tropical island getaways far, far away.

Cypress Breeze Farm offers horseback riding in the surf along North Skyway Park in St. Petersburg. And, about half an hour south in Bradenton, you can visit the Florida Beach Horses, and pick from four separate ride packages: The Sand and Surf Ride, The Cruise Ride, The Sand and Surf Sunset Ride, or the Sunset Cruise Ride. Prices range from $140-$150 per person for approximately 1-hour 15-minute rides. 

Whether you’re a beginner when it comes to horseback riding or an expert, you’ll be with a one-on-one guide that will cater to your individual needs. The Sand and Surf Ride starts at the Bay and ends in the water bareback featuring horse water surfing and more fun water activities depending on what you’re comfortable with. You can even grab hold of your horses’ tail as they run off into the water feeling like you’re “tubing” behind them. 

The Cruise Ride is a more laid-back relaxing, slow-paced ride submerging you into the calm waters of Palma Sola Bay. 

Before going, it’s smart to purchase a waterproof pouch for your phone which you can hand off to your guide to take photos for you to keep as a reminder of your amazing day!

9. Paddle boarding, canoeing, kayaking

These popular water activities can be done all around the Tampa Bay Area. Rental companies can be found throughout Tampa, St. Pete, Clearwater, and at many of the surrounding springs and state parks. Whatever type of environment you’re looking to paddle through, there will be equipment available to rent to kayak, canoe, or paddleboard. Click the links below to check out a variety of rental shops offering whatever scenery you prefer.10. Water Biking

If you enjoy biking, but the humid weather is getting the best of you, try water biking. Rentals are available as single or tandem bikes for $30 per person for the hour, or $45 for two hours through the Tampa Bay Water Bike Co

Once on your water bike, you’re free to explore wherever you choose whether that be through the Hillsborough River along downtown Tampa, along Bayshore Boulevard or Davis Islands, or in the open waters in Hillsborough Bay. You can stop by the Tampa Convention Center Docks (Boat Slip #15) or book online to secure your rental. (Tip: Don’t worry about falling in because these water bikes are designed to keep you balanced and dry.) 

11. Boat rentals 

If you’re looking for a way to rent a boat for a day by yourself (no tour, no captain), Boatsetter is the place to look. In the search bar at the top of the website you can type in where you’re looking to boat and a whole long list of privately owned boats that local residents are willing to rent will pop up. If you’re looking to fish, or just relax and explore the water, there’s a large variety of boat types to choose.

The site is set up similar to Airbnb’s, connecting you to the owner, showing how much you’ll be paying, and how many passengers the boat can hold. Boatsetter has over 44,000 reviews and has an average rating of 4.91. 

12. Water parks 

Anyone of all ages can enjoy an exciting day at Adventure Island, Tampa’s very own island paradise, for as little as $43. The park features an abundant amount of water slides, pools, restaurants, and a lazy river. 

Lay back on your tube as you float through their Rambling Bayou, a half-mile trip through their colorful rainforest, or jump into their 17,000-square-foot wave pool, the Endless Surf. Their collection of water slides accommodates guests who are looking for any experience from an easy, slower slide to a stomach-dropping, adrenaline rush. With the available dining options, you can sit down for a whole meal, grab a quick snack, satisfy your sweet tooth, or grab a frozen drink or wine. 

Reservations are required and tickets can be purchased on their website.

After dark Bioluminescence Tours offer views of jellyfish that you'll never forget.
13. Bioluminescent tours
Although it’s a two-hour drive over to the East Coast of Florida, this is one of those experiences that is completely worth the trip. A Day Away Kayak Tours adds a unique twist to your average kayaking trip. You can choose from among six different tours to book online. 

June to early October is the best time to book their Dinoflagellate Bioluminescence Tour. For normal kayaks, weekdays are $44.95 and weekend days are $49.95 per person. To add another component to your tour, you can book the Clear Kayak tour for $65. 

“In the warm and dark lagoon waters on the Space Coast of Florida lies a natural phenomenon of glowing blue waters alive with activity called bioluminescence,” the A Day Away Kayak Tours website says. “The swirling of your hand, every paddle stroke, the darting trails of nearby fish swimming, the torpedo-like aura of a dolphin swimming by all spark the blue that many compare to the “Avatar” or “Life of Pi” movies, and some even recall “those Gatorade commercials” as the gentle plankton leave a trickling glow when holding it in your hands.” 

The after dark Comb Jelly Bioluminescence Tour is best to book between November and May. They can’t sting so you can fearlessly reach right in and touch one of these magical-looking jellies.

For $60 a person, you can go out on the water earlier in the day for their Sunset Bioluminescence Tour, spending the daylight looking for dolphins and manatees, then slowly watch as the water begins to glow around you. Sign up for the Mondo Combo Bioluminescent Tour for $70 a person or their Moonlight Bioluminescence Tour for $39.95 M-Th, or $44.95 F-Sun.

14. Springs

Weeki Wachee Springs State Park: (1-hour drive from Tampa)

The home of the famous Florida mermaids since 1947, a 400-seat submerged Mermaid Theater greets guests eager to enter the magical, underwater world of mermaids. Take a seat and be amazed as they swim in the cool, crystal-clear water or hop onto one of the 538-acre park’s four waterslides, splash around in the swimming area, relax on the sandy white beach, or take a seat on the River Boat Cruise. 

If you’re looking more to immerse yourself within the nature of this park and get away from the crowds, reserve a kayak or paddleboard to float atop the Weeki Wachee River for about three miles through its transparent, emerald-green-blue waters. If you’re lucky, you may even get to see a few manatees, sometimes called “giant sea cows.”

You can peacefully drift underneath the cypress, oak, and palm trees as turtles, swarms of fish, and otters swim below. If you’re looking for a thrill, make your way up of the climbing trees and plunge into the pristine, eco-rich water. 

Silver Springs State Park: (1 hour, 40 minutes from Tampa)

Grab a seat on one of Silver Springs Glass Bottom Boat tours and experience one of America’s largest springs. If you’re looking to do your own adventure, rent a canoe, paddleboard, or kayak and make your way along the five-mile Silver River. In addition to the main spring, the 4,000-acre state park features a sandhill forest and gardens to wander through. 

Stop into the Silver River Museum, camp, or gift shop, or take a hike, or enjoy a bite to eat at one of the parks two restaurants. 

Rainbow Springs State Park: (1 hour, 40 minutes from Tampa)

Rent your a canoe or kayak or skip the strenuous work and just lay back and relax on one of their rented inner tubes on this real-life lazy river. The 5- to 18-feet deep spring averages around 72 degrees F year-round making it the perfect temperature to snorkel and watch the marine life buzzing right around you. 

Additionally, this is a great spot for bird watchers to hike, explore nature trails, and spot species from the parks birding list. (From September through May, the park hosts a guided walking tour on the second Saturday of the month). 

15. Ferries 

The Clearwater Ferry runs year-round between downtown Clearwater and Clearwater Beach and from Clearwater Beach to the Dunedin Marina where visitors can easily walk to Main Street and a bevy of unique shops and restaurants. Fares for adults start at $4; local residents, members of the military, children, and seniors may be eligible for discounted rates. 

For $10 each way (or less for college students, seniors, and kids), the Cross-Bay Ferry connects downtown Tampa to downtown St. Pete during Florida’s main tourist season between November and April. The 50-minute ride will take you through Tampa Bay between docks located at St. Pete’s Vinoy Basin and The Florida Aquarium in Tampa. Ditch the exhaust-filled, congested roads and take in all the beautiful sights of the bay aboard the spacious Provincetown III. The vessel offers limited food service, coffee, tea, soft drinks, and a full-service bar. Book your trip on their website to secure your spot on this ferry that runs every Wednesday through Sunday.

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Read more articles by Lauren Wong.

Lauren Wong is a graduate of the University of Tampa with a degree in journalism who is freelancing while she looks for a full-time job. Originally from the Chicago area, she enjoys travel and aspires to be a travel photojournalist. During the summer of 2019, she worked for Premier Travel Media in Chicago and as a correspondent for Input Fort Wayne, another Issue Media group online magazine based in Indiana. She loves spending time outdoors camping, kayaking, and taking pictures.