15 Best Things to Do in Temple Terrace (FL)

Written by Bart Meeuwesen
Updated on
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By North Tampa, this suburban community goes back to the 1920s and has a truly beautiful location. Temple Terrace sits on the lush banks of the Hillsborough River, giving the city plenty of idyllic vistas. 

Mature trees are an important part of the cityscape, and the city is renowned for its magnificent sand live oaks, which have helped to earn a Tree City USA designation. 

Something else that strikes me about Temple Terrace is the quantity of big attractions on its margins. 

In a matter of minutes you’ve got Busch Gardens, Adventure Island, Florida’s largest casino at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa, and NCAA sports, ZooTampa at Lowry Park, and NCAA sports at the University of South Florida.

1. Busch Gardens Tampa Bay

Busch Gardens Tampa BaySource: VIAVAL / shutterstock
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay

Temple Terrace could hardly be closer to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, one of the top amusement parks in Florida. I’m sure you already know, but if you need reminding, Busch Gardens has an African animal theme.

Think of this 300-acre park as a world-class zoo mixed with rides and attractions that compete with the best theme parks in the world. 

From Congo to Nairobi to Morocco, the park’s various zones are inspired by Africa’s nature and culture, blending rides with animal encounters.

For instance, one of the nine roller coasters is Cheetah Hunt, which has a cheetah-like burst of acceleration at the start. This is side-by-side with the Cheetah Run enclosure, where you may get to see cheetahs sprinting along a 220-foot dirt track.

There are more than 200 animal species at Busch Gardens. Edge of Africa is a spellbinding walk-through habitat, with lions, hyenas, meerkats, and Nile crocodiles. 

Also amazing is Bird Gardens, a free-flight aviary with more than 500 tropical birds from around the world.

2. University of South Florida

University Of South Florida, TampaSource: Patrick Tr / shutterstock
University Of South Florida, Tampa

The main campus for Florida’s fourth-largest university is a couple of minutes from Temple Terrace. 

On more than 1,500 acres, USF has a student population of almost 50,000. Most are concentrated here in Tampa

The sprawling campus comprises criss-crossing paths, lush palms, public art, and imposing Modern architecture. 

Head here for performing arts, talks at the Marshall Student Center, and exhibitions at the USF Contemporary Art Museum. Something I think everyone should see is the botanical gardens, with thousands of plant species across 16 acres. 

There’s also varsity athletics, with 18 South Florida Bulls teams competing in NCAA Division I.

3. Lettuce Lake Park

Just northeast of Temple Terrace the suburbs give way to a huge natural area on the floodplain of the Hillsborough River.

You can get a sense of this environment without disappearing into the wilderness at Lettuce Lake Park. This county-run park is divided by the river, and has wonderful patches of cypress, pine, and live oak forest.

You can get across this swampy environment on a 3,500-foot boardwalk. This brings you to a 40-foot observation tower, with panoramas of the river and its lush floodplain. 

I’ll never cease to be amazed by the amount of wildlife you can see at parks like this. You barely have to search to see alligators, turtles, herons, ibises, osprey, water moccasins, and many more.

4. Eureka Springs Park

Hillsborough County manages this beautiful park a few minutes southeast of Temple Terrace. The story of Eureka Springs Park begins in the 1930s. 

The amateur botanist Albert Greenburg established a garden of rare plants here, close to his tropical fish farm. 

He donated this botanical garden to the county in 1967, and it has lost none of its appeal. Boardwalks and trails wind through lush floodplain forest of tupelo, cypress and maple. 

On your walk you’ll glimpse the largest public collection of ferns in the state. What I loved most of all was the greenhouse, which is almost overflowing with orchids.

5. ZooTampa at Lowry Park

Zoo Tampa at Lowry ParkSource: Nicole S Glass / shutterstock
ZooTampa At Lowry Park

Another exceptional visitor attraction close to Temple Terrace is this celebrated nonprofit zoo, with more than 1,300 animals.

Covering more than 60 acres, the ZooTampa at Lowry Park goes back to the 1930s. By the 1980s, the entire attraction was dilapidated, sparking a complete reconstruction.

The zoo hasn’t looked back. In the 21st century it has repeatedly been voted one of the top zoos in the country by travel magazines and websites.

In particular I have fond memories of the manatee demonstration. The zoo even maintains a hospital treating injured, sick, and orphaned manatees. 

Also special is a three-story chute ride that opened in 2018, and the gentle tram ride past the Safari Africa exhibit, in the shade of acacias.

6. Croc Encounters

A local agritourism attraction, Croc Encounters is a sanctuary rescuing unwanted reptiles, mammals and birds. 

Crocodilians are the main residents, and there’s a wide variety from tropical regions around the world. These include American alligators, Nile crocodiles, Morelet’s crocodiles, caiman, American crocodiles, to name a few.

Also here are snakes, from boa constrictors to corn snakes, as well as a host of turtle and tortoise species. 

Visits to the sanctuary are available on guided tours only. These take up to two hours, and feature photo ops and plenty of feeding.

7. Adventure Island

Opposite Busch Gardens there’s a 30-acre water park under the same umbrella and opened in 1980.

When I was at Adventure Island there were ten water slides. If you’re here for adrenaline, look no further than Vanish Point, which begins with a skybox capsule and a 70-foot freefall. 

A little gentler is Aruba Tuba, a tube slide that zooms through a pitch black tunnel, while the family raft ride Solar Vortex is the first dual tailspin waterslide in the country. 

Among the other attractions are a half-mile lazy river, a 17,000-square-foot wave pool, and a children’s play park with 25 interactive elements. 

If you want to spend the whole day, I’d recommend renting a cabana. These are set by the wave pool and have space for up to eight guests.

8. Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa

Following a $700 million expansion in 2019, the largest casino in Florida is also one of the largest in the entire United States. 

Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa has around 200,000 square feet of gaming and entertainment. This includes 5,000+ Vegas-style slot machines, and over 100 table games.

There’s a dozen different places to dine, eight bars and lounges, and the 1,500-seat Hard Rock Event Center. There are major shows here almost every week. 

When I was in town, John Legend, Wu-Tang Clan, Nas, Seth Meyers, and Ted Nugent were all on the schedule. 

The whole silhouette of the complex changed in 2019, with the completion of a 14-story hotel tower.

9. Brandon Mall

Westfield BrandonSource: Skyler Sargent / shutterstock
Brandon Mall

Large, even by Florida standards, the upscale Brandon Mall is an easy drive south of Temple Terrace on I-75. 

Opened in 1995, this place has more than 250 tenants, and I don’t remember more than a couple of empty storefronts when I was here.  

Oriented around a meandering central walkway, the Brandon Mall has a huge spectrum of retailers. 

For a cross-section, there’s Michael Kors, Apple, Abercrombie & Fitch, Loft, G by Guess, Sephora, Forever 21, LEGO Store, and Foot Locker.

I was especially impressed by the foot options. You can go full-service at the likes of The Cheesecake Factory or P.F. Changs, or keep it simple at the food court, which has a circular layout.

10. Riverhills Park

In my eyes, something that really elevates the parks around Temple Terrace is the Hillsborough River. This is true for Riverhills Park, composed of just over 10 acres of gorgeous riverfront. 

As a passive park, you can visit for a dose of nature, in a landscape of mossy oaks and cypresses. There’s a newly renovated boardwalk along the riverbank, and you’re sure to see a lot of wildlife.

I came across a lot of ibises pecking around the grassy banks, and there were plenty of alligators around. 

You can launch a canoe for a trip along the Hillsborough River State Canoe Trail. This is 30 miles long and reaches as far north as the Green Swamp in Pasco County.

11. Rowlett Park

This picture-perfect park has a blend of recreation amenities and nature by a dam on the Hillsborough River.

The best thing about Rowlett Park for me is the two-mile paved trail. This twists below pine and oak hammocks, and has lovely views of the water. 

There’s a launch for canoes and kayaks, so this is another place where you can access the Hillsborough River Paddling Trail.

The park is scattered with picnic tables and shelters, while there’s a lineup of amenities if you’re here to be active. I saw workout equipment, tennis and racquetball courts, and several ballfields.

12. Temple Terrace Golf & Country Club

Dating back to 1922, this facility has the distinction of being listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In fact, this is one of several spots in the city with buildings by renowned Tampa architect Malachi Leo Elliott (1886-1967). 

The course at Temple Terrace Golf & Country Club is an 18-hole par 72, at 6,300 yards from the tips. So while the course length is a little under average, accuracy is paramount here. 

For one thing, the greens are definitely on the small side, with the smallest measuring just 20 yards by 20 yards. There’s a well-stocked pro shop in case you’re missing any gear, while lessons are available for every level.

13. Yuengling Center

Previously known as the USF Sun Dome, this arena is one of the most prominent buildings on the USF campus.

The Yuengling Center opened in 1980, and has been renovated four times since then. The capacity when I wrote this article was 10,411, and the arena is home court for the South Florida Bulls basketball and volleyball teams.

The women’s basketball team is particularly strong. They were crowned regular season champions in 2021 and 2023, and have appeared at the NCAA tournament eight times in the last decade.

The center is also a prime concert, WWE and UFC venue. Some of the names to take the stage in the last 40+ years are Madonna, Frank Sinatra, Tom Petty, Elton John, Drake, and Ghost.

14. Florida State Fair

The enormous Florida State Fairgrounds is a couple of minutes away in East Lake-Orient Park. Over 11 days in February, the State Fair is of course the biggest annual event here.

With scores of agriculture competitions, displays, and demonstrations, the fair goes all the way back to 1904, and moved to this location in the 1970s. The scale of some of the venues on the fairgrounds blew me away.

Take the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre, with a capacity of 20,000. Or the Bob Thomas Equestrian Center, with show rings surrounded by festival seating.

As with the best fairs, awesome midway rides, and hunger-stomping food, are all part of the fun. Also give yourself time to see Cracker Country, a living history museum with 13 historic buildings. 

The fairgrounds host events, from concerts to RV, boat and gun shows, all year round.

15. The Museum of Science and Industry

Museum of Science and Industry, TampaSource: jared422_80 / Flickr
Museum Of Science And Industry, Tampa

Less than a couple of miles away, this nonprofit science museum downscaled dramatically in 2017. Although MOSI now has just a fraction of its former exhibits, it’s still a great place to bring kids.

Aimed at children under 12 exhibits exploring robotic engineering, optics, geology, astronomy, math, nutrition, medicine, paleontology, and many more topics.

One new feature is the ropes course, which is 36 feet high, and has more than 30 elements to overcome. Best of all for me is the Saunders Planetarium, with tours of the night sky presented by qualified astronomers.

15 Best Things to Do in Temple Terrace (FL):

  • Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
  • University of South Florida
  • Lettuce Lake Park
  • Eureka Springs Park
  • ZooTampa at Lowry Park
  • Croc Encounters
  • Adventure Island
  • Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa
  • Brandon Mall
  • Riverhills Park
  • Rowlett Park
  • Temple Terrace Golf & Country Club
  • Yuengling Center
  • Florida State Fair
  • The Museum of Science and Industry