One of the perks of living in a major metropolitan area is the cultural offerings. Entertainment, theater, music, art galleries, exhibits and museums will keep you learning as long as you’d like.

But sometimes the smaller museums pack just as powerful a cultural punch. They might be a bit off the beaten tourist trail and require some online research, but we promise the ones we spotlightunique Tampa museums here will be worth the time.

Make a day of it and visit two or three museums located near each other. Or, take separate trips to savor everything each attraction has to offer.

Either way, you’ll be glad you uncovered some of Tampa’s niche museums.

American Victory Ship Mariners Museum

A National Historic Landmark, the World War II-era SS American Victory is anchored in the Channelside District. It’s a steam-powered cargo ship built near the end of WWII that also served in the Korean War and Vietnam War. And it still sails twice each year for commemorate cruises. See the website for details. opens in a new window

Today, the American Victory hosts daily tours and the occasional special event. Aside from exploring the ship (there are three enormous cargo holds), visitors also enjoy a special memorabilia collection.

Henry B. Plant Museum

This truly is a Tampa-centric museum. It’s housed in the former Tampa Bay Hotel, built by early Florida developer Henry B. Plant in the late 1880s. The Tampa Bay Hotel opened in 1891, closed in 1932 and today serves as the architectural centerpiece of the University of Tampa. A six-acre, quarter-mile-long National Historic Landmark, it’s now known as Plant Hall.

The Plant Museum opens in a new window occupies the south wing of the first floor. It holds numerous artifacts, original hotel and public rooms, and furnishings enjoyed by former Gilded Age guests who traveled to a then-very-young Tampa on Henry B. Plant’s Florida railroads.

Take a tour, serve as a volunteer, but don’t miss the Museum Store.

Florida Museum of Photographic Arts

Located downtown, in Rivergate Plaza’s eye-catching Cube building, you’ll find Tampa’s photography museum.

Established in 2001, the museum collects and curates both historic and contemporary photography. You’ll find work from some of the biggest names in national and international circles, and there’s always an interesting new exhibit. The museum also offers photography classes and participates in community-oriented events such as photography camps for children.

Tampa Firefighters Museum

The Tampa Firefighters Museum opens in a new window is a free museum (donations are welcome) housed in a 1911 firehouse on Zack Street in downtown Tampa. It tells the story of the Tampa Fire Department through artifacts such as old fire engines, equipment, photographs and exhibits.

A first-floor classroom is dedicated to community-oriented information on safety and preparedness. Of course there’s a museum store, and likely some very “cool” souvenirs.

Cracker Country Living History Museum

Head to the state fairgrounds east of downtown Tampa for this one. The Cracker Museum is a living-history treatment of how early Florida settlers lived and worked on what was then frontier.

Visit and chat with interpreters and artisans, see heirloom livestock and plants, and learn about time-honored skills such as churning butter and making candles, all of which is outdoors.

NOTE: the Cracker Museum opens only on certain days each year and for private tours. So check the website before you plan your visit.

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