More than any other locale that sought to revitalize an urban core with an aquarium, Tampa  is particularly well-suited to be the host of the Florida Aquarium (701 Channelside Dr., 813/273-4000, www.flaquarium.com , 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Days, $17.95 adults, $14.95 seniors, $12.95 children under 12, children 2 and under free).
With water not only defining much of the Tampa Bay  area but also most of the state of Florida , the designers of the 200,000-square-foot facility were free to create an environment that not only gives visitors the opportunity to gawk at marine life but also to learn quite a bit about the ecology of the state. The Florida Aquarium is designed in a way that traces the voyage of a drop of water from Florida’s freshwater springs through its brackish coastal estuaries and out into the ocean.
Of course the Florida theme doesn’t explain the presence of penguins, but boy, are they adorable. Sharks and a giant 300-pound grouper get a lot of attention, but there are also alligators, sea turtles, river otters, eels, octopuses, and crustaceans galore.
The Florida Aquarium also offers a unique dolphin-watching excursion ($19.95 adults, $18.95 seniors, $14.95 children under 12, children under 2 free) that takes you out on a 49-passenger boat into Tampa Bay .