Busch Gardens: See the theme park in Tampa, Florida through the 20th century

Vintage Busch Gardens See the theme park in Tampa, Florida through the 20th century

Note: This article may feature affiliate links, and purchases made may earn us a commission at no extra cost to you. Find out more here.


Busch Gardens got its start in 1959 when the Anheuser-Busch beer company transformed 15 acres of Florida’s flat industrial wasteland into a bird garden and beer hospitality center.

Every decade since, it’s grown and changed, and soon would offer a wide range of rides, attractions and adventures. By the 1970s, the park that beer built was the state’s second-largest tourist attraction, drawing millions of travelers each year. 

As of 2021, the popular destination is part of the Sea World family, and still welcomes visitors from all over the world. 

Here, take a step back in time, and see what the famous vintage Busch Gardens amusement park was like from the 1950s right through to the 1990s.

Busch Gardens opening - Vintage 1959 postcard set

Vintage Busch Gardens history: Tampa, Florida (1959)

Unique in every respect, Busch Gardens, a new industrial concept, has attracted visitors from all over the world. 

Busch Gardens dedicated to the memory of the past presidents of Anheuser-Busch, Inc. Adolphus Busch August A. Busch, Sr. Adolphus Busch. III March 31, 1959.

Dedication of Busch Gardens in Tampa Florida 1959


Against the lush green backdrop of Busch Gardens, hundreds of brilliantly-plumed birds provide a range of color representing the entire spectrum. It is truly a photographer’s paradise, so by all means bring your camera.

More than 150,000 trees and shrubs — some never before grown in this part of the world — thrive abundantly at Busch Gardens, and each fall 50,000 annuals are planted to provide a profusion of blooms throughout the year.

The Trained Bird Show, presented several times daily in the Amphitheater, is a favorite of visitors young and old. High-wire acts, aerobatics and dlancing are but a few of the spectacular feats performed by these highly-trained Macaws and Cockatoos.

Vintage Busch Gardens - Tampa Florida 1960 (1)


Busch Gardens is an attraction unique in American Industry. From the time you step onto the “Stairway to the Stars,” the world’s longest escalator, and begin your tour, you’ll discover many exciting and unusual features at Busch Gardens and the adjacent Anheuser-Busch Brewery.

We invite you to tour this scenic tropical wonderland while in Tampa. You are always most welcome.

Cordially, August A Busch

BUSCH GARDENS Open Daily 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Closed Sundays & Holidays FREE ADMISSION

Vintage Busch Gardens - Tampa Florida 1960 (2)

ALSO SEE: Why old Atlantic City was a beautiful & popular vacation destination 100 years ago

Vintage Busch Gardens - Tampa Florida 1960 (3)

Exhibits and attractions below:

  • Playful penguin
  • Adolphus Busch space frame, a unique geodesic structure
  • Profusion of petunias blossom in the sunshine
  • Four species of macaws pose on a tree trunk
  • Hansel & Gretel’s gingerbread house in dwarf village
  • Graceful flamingos present a colorful pink montage
  • Relax in the hospitality house & enjoy the world’s finest beers, with our compliments, of course.

MORE: See Vintage Disneyland, from when Walt Disney’s magical theme park in Southern California opened in the ’50s

Vintage Busch Gardens - Tampa Florida 1960 (5)

Vintage Busch Gardens - Tampa Florida 1960 (4)

Classic Busch Gardens amusement park View Master toy reel

MORE: Vintage View-Master reels & viewers: See dozens of the classic toys that made color pictures come to life

Classic Busch Gardens amusement park View Master toy reel

Vintage Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida – 1966

African animals in a Florida Veldt are seen by visitors from the comfort of a monorail train.

Vintage Busch Gardens amusement park 1966

Old Swiss House

Hungry visitors can get a delicious meal in the restaurant or cafeteria of the Old Swiss House.

Vintage Busch Gardens amusement park 1966

Wild African animals

The giraffe and elephants are almost close enough for train passengers to touch in this Busch Gardens scene.

Vintage Busch Gardens amusement park 1966

People of all ages enjoy the antics of the bird show performers.

Vintage Busch Gardens amusement park 1966

Beer for mom and dad

In this Hospitality House, adults have the opportunity to sample our beers.

DON’T MISS: Vintage Knott’s Berry Farm: See the Southern California amusement park as it used to be

Vintage Busch Gardens amusement park 1966

People thrill to the sight of this lion in a Veldt setting as they tour the Wild Animal Kingdom on the monorail.

Vintage Busch Gardens amusement park 1966


Busch Gardens — Africa in Florida… “Something for everybody”

There’s a 300-acre “slice” of Africa in Florida just eight miles from downtown Tampa. In fact, Busch Gardens brings Africa so close you can literally touch it … like ride on the back of an elephant.

There’s more to it, however, than a wild animal kingdom, according to August A. Busch Jr., who originally conceived the idea of Busch Gardens.

The chairman and chief executive officer of the Anheuser-Busch brewing company now describes Busch Gardens — circa the ’70s — as a “new generation” outdoor entertainment facility because it uniquely combines a leisure attitude with active participation.

“Busch Gardens has grown into something for everybody,” Dennis P. Long, vice president, Corporate Affairs Division, explains. “Where else can a youngster feed a llama, ride an elephant, shake hands with a chimpanzee, take an exciting barrel ride in a flume, or the whole family look eyeball-to-eyeball with a giraffe or rhinoceros in his own habitat?”

Vintage Busch Gardens Tampa brochure (1970s)

The sprawling park, which began in 1959 with the transformation of 15 acres of flat, sandy industrial wasteland into a bird garden and beer hospitality center, now offers a wide range of adventures and attractions under a policy of a single main-gate admission charge.

As Florida’s second-biggest tourist attraction, Busch Gardens draws more than two million visitors each year from every state and many foreign countries.

In the early years, visitors sought the passive enjoyment of the lush environment with its multitude of rare birds and animals. A series of expansion projects subsequently added new dimensions to the “African experience.”

Some of the highlights include a low-level monorail “safari” through the African Veldt, where herds of wild beasts roam; and Boma, a small animal zoo where visitors come into actual contact with the animals.

Vintage Busch Gardens in the 1970s (4)

Stanleyville is a little hit of downtown Africa with its native bazaar, and 1,000-seat amphitheater where animals and other special shows are held throughout the day; and nearby is the Bird Circus Theater, where macaws and cockatoos do their tricks.

Treetops is a new three-story observation tower which offers entertainment, and a place far out in the Veldt to observe the animals.

The 19th century Trans-Veldt Railway winds its way through the park. Also, there is a boat ride near Stanleyville.

The Adolphus Busch Space Frame, a unique geodesic dome which houses 65 species of exotic birds.

The Old Swiss House, a four-story restaurant is a reproduction of the original Old Swiss House in Lucerne, Switzerland.

The Stairway To The Stars, one of the longest escalator rides in the world, offers a panoramic view of the Gardens and starts the tour of the Anheuser-Busch brewery.

The Hospitality House, a rest stop overlooking the Bird Gardens.

In addition to the regular animal and bird shows, Busch Gardens also offers an expanded live entertainment schedule. There are strolling musicians and costume characters, plus groups playing in the Amphitheater and the Treetops.

ALSO SEE: Sid & Marty Krofft’s ‘Land of the Lost’ TV show & their amazing amusement park (1975)

Vintage Busch Gardens in the 1970s (1)

And, of course, one of the most popular “regulars” of Busch Gardens is J. Fred Muggs, the 21-year old chimp who gained fame on television.

The official host of Busch Gardens is the bigger-than-life — well, man-size — Friendly Eagle, who has become the symbol of the burgeoning family entertainment park as he strolls the grounds making friends. Busch Gardens cares for more than 800 animals and 2,500 birds.

Among them are many rare species like the Okapi, which is valued at $17,500. This unusual-looking relative of the giraffe was first discovered less than a century ago in the Congo. The company’s goal is to reproduce the Okapi at Busch Gardens and save him from extinction.

Vintage Busch Gardens Tampa - Python roller coaster
Vintage Busch Gardens Tampa – Python roller coaster

ALSO SEE: The story of Six Flags over Texas: The amusement park that started the chain

The highlights of Busch Gardens include:

Elephant Ride: Youngsters can ride on an elephant in the Boma area.

Boma (a Swahili word meaning “walled enclosure”): This is a park within a park, a small animal zoo featuring rare species from Kenya, Tanzania, Mogadishu and Mozambique, plus some unusual birds and mammals from other parts of the world. There is a contact area where animals can be fed and petted by visitors.

Inside Nocturnal Mountain live the “night” animals — vampire bats, aardvarks, hush babies, etc. — whose life cycle has been reversed by special lighting. Boma is also home for small apes, cats (cheetah, lion, tiger and leopard), elephants, bears, reptiles, flightless birds (penguin, emus and ostrich), seals and otters. There’s even a nursery where newborn animals can be viewed.

Vintage Busch Gardens Tampa Congo River Rapids (1970s)

The African Nrehli: A veldt is a Dark Continent prairie, and that is what Busch Gardens is all about. Authentically reproduced are the plains and rivers of wildest Africa. Roaming over nearly 200 acres of the Veldt are herds of animals… some familiar, some not so well-known.

This is an African “Who’s Who” of giraffe, rhinos, antelope, wildebeest, gorillas, Cape buffalo, Arabian camels, zebras, elephants, hippopotamus, cheetahs, oryx, waterbuck, eland, gazelle, leopard, majestic and rarely seen Kuku antelope, the miniature Dik-Dik, etc.

One portion of the veldt is preserved as a “survival center” for the vanishing species where these endangered breeds can reproduce. With a camera, it’s an exciting big game “safari” by monorail or train.

Vintage Busch Gardens in the 1970s (3)

Monorail: This 1-1/2 mile trip begins at the Monorail Station near The Old Swiss House and penetrates into the Veldt, literally going into the midst of the herds at low-level.

Sights along the way include the Great Ape Island, the Congo River, “Lake Victoria,” the lion moat, “Mount Kilimanjaro,” and compounds for the rhinos, cheetah and elephant.

Trans-Veldt Railway: Here is an opportunity to take a 19th-century “safari” journey through the Outer Veldt. The train is a replica in scale of the locomotives and coaches used in Africa in the 1880s.

It serves two stations — Nairobi and Stanleyville. A popular stop is Treetops, in the heart of the Veldt. The full trip covers two miles.

Stanleyville: This expanding African village is the location of the newest attraction in Busch Gardens — the barrel flume ride, which features splashing plunges of 40 and 23 feet.

Vintage Busch Gardens in the 1970s (2)

Within the village are the air-conditioned Amphitheater — which is the showplace for J. Fred Muggs, the elephant show, and other special animal acts, as well as new entertainment groups — the African Bazaar shopping area, the Zambezi Cafe, and Livingstone’s Landing Boat Ride. This section of the Gardens is being expanded.

The Bird Gardens: This is the original Busch Gardens area of 1959… now lagoons, flowers, trees, plants and 2,500 birds of some 350 species.

It’s a place to observe the free-roaming flock of flamingos, have a picture taken with a macaw or two, watch the Cockatoos perform in the bird show, talk to a parrot, study rare species like the Scarlet Ibis, storks, and the Rhinoceros Hornbills in the Adolphus Busch Space Frame, and enjoy the Hospitality House. This area will never change.

The Old Swiss House: While it is the lone departure from the African theme, The Old Swiss House is a special landmark for Busch Gardens. This is an enlarged replica of the famous restaurant in Lucerne which dates back to the 1700s.

It is an authentic four-story structure which not only contains formal dining facilities and a cafeteria, but also a collection of antiques imported from Europe.

The Lucerne Room and the Veldt Room both offer dining with a panoramic view of the Veldt.

Vintage Busch Gardens Tampa scenes (1970s)-001

Exciting expansions

A $6.5 million expansion is underway that will include the creation of a Moroccan Village, a mile-long skyride over the Veldt, a “drive-yourself” safari car ride, expanded boat cruise around animal islands, and additional food, beverage and gift facilities.

It is expected the new areas will open at various times in 1975. Busch Gardens is located eight miles northeast of downtown Tampa, at 3000 Busch Boulevard, two miles east of Interstate 75… The one-price admission charge includes all rides, shows, attractions, and parking.

A major 190-unit campground has been established adjacent to the park to accommodate campers and trailers. It is operated by Busch Properties, Inc., a subsidiary of the parent firm.

MORE: See what Disney World in Orlando, Florida, looked like when it first opened in 1971

Vintage ’70s Busch Gardens theme park map

Vintage Busch Gardens park map 1975


Busch Gardens: The Dark Continent – Tampa, Florida (1980s)

Busch Gardens: Brochure for The Dark Continent in Tampa, Florida (1987)

Sights that take your breath away!

Take your seat in the dazzling Moroccan Palace to experience “Kaleidoscope” — our spectacular new song and dance revue. (Photo on cover.) At Busch Gardens, the entertainment never stops!

Hop aboard the Monorail, Skyride or the Trans-Veldt Railroad to track down one of the largest collections of free-roaming animals in the United States — herds of zebra, giraffe, gazelle and antelope, rare black rhinos, stately lions, Cape Buffalo, and more — on the Serengeti Plain.

dazzling Moroccan Palace to experience Kaleidoscope

Rides that make you roar!

Scream on The Scorpion, our wild, looping coaster… hold on through The Python’s 360 degree loops.

Fly with The Phoenix… swirl with The Sandstorm…cruise on the African Queen… hang on to the Monstrous Mamba… ride the white water of the Congo River Rapids… then plunge down Florida’s longest flume — the Stanley Falls.

MORE: These 10 old roller coasters at vintage amusement parks will make you really appreciate today’s safety standards

The Scorpion, our wild, looping coaster... hold on through The Python's' 360 degree loops

Fun that never ends!

Dance in the streets to the big brass sound of The Mystic Sheiks of Morocco… polka with the Bavarian Colony Dancers and Band in the 1200-seat Festhaus… fall under the spell of our beautiful belly dancers and snake charmers. And don’t miss the excitement of all-time favorites… Dolphins of the Deep and the colorful Bird Show.

The Mystic Sheiks of Morocco - polka with the Bavarian Colony Dancers

Animals that tickle your fancy!

See the antics of elephants taking a bath in their new home … let the kids ride aboard a real live elephant.

Glimpse rare white Bengal tigers. Enjoy tropical birds of every kind. Make friends with some of our gentler animals in the petting zoo. And be sure to see our new nursery — it’s bigger than ever and full of delightful, exotic baby animals.

rare white Bengal tigers. Enjoy tropical birds

DON’T MISS: See how Carowinds theme park in North & South Carolina looked in the 1980s

Treasures that tempt you everywhere

Treasures that tempt you everywhere

Why spend your whole Florida vacation on the beach? (1987)

When you can discover everything under the sun at Busch Gardens, Tampa. From a white tiger to a 1,200 foot python. From a photo safari on the Serengeti Plain to a splashy voyage down the Congo River Rapids…

Tampa Bay Magazine Mar-Apr 1987 Busch Gardens

Old Busch Gardens amusement park - Tampa 1980s (2)

Old Busch Gardens amusement park - Tampa 1980s (1)

Vintage Busch Gardens in the 1980s: No place else. (1989)

No place else can you experience in a single day the excitement of a Broadway-style show in a stately Moroccan Palace, explore the wilds of the Serengeti, feel the adventure of the Congo River, and shop the bazaars of Timbuktu.

No place else but Busch Gardens at Tampa Bay, on Florida’s sunny west coast. Come. Enjoy the rides, the shows, the animals, and you can even say G’day to our newest mates from Down Under, the Koalas (coming this summer for a limited time). Vintage Busch Gardens Tampa Florida (1989)

DON’T MISS: Marine World Africa USA: See the old California theme park that had killer whales & dolphins


Vintage Busch Gardens in the 1990s - 1999 (2)

Dumphrey the Dragon

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay’s newest resident “Dumphrey,” a whimsical and friendly dragon, frolics with guests as they explore the park’s newest play area Land of the Dragons.

This fun-filled attraction features unique elements such as a children’s theater, mini-sized ferris wheel and a three-story-tall tree house.

Busch Gardens - Dumphrey (1990s)


The wildest thing at Busch Gardens just might be your child’s imagination (1995)

Colorful forests and fabulous dragons come to life at Busch Garden’s magical Land of the Dragons.

Explore and discover a whimsical world of exciting rides and storybook attractions, at our new children’s interactive adventure play land.

Join a dazzling salute to the most memorable movie moments at the ice skating spectacular, “Hollywood Live On Ice.”

Continue your adventure aboard the legendary the largest, fastest and most ferocious roller coaster ever to roar into the Southeast.

Everything from authentic architecture and shopping to spectacular entertainment, thrilling rides and exotic animals in naturalistic habitats…it’s all at Busch Gardens…taking you where you’ve never been before!

Retro Vintage Busch Gardens amusements and fun (1995)

NOW SEE THIS: Sea World San Diego in the ’70s & ’80s, when you could see Shamu the killer whale, dolphins & lots more

PS: If you liked this article, please share it! You can also get our free newsletter, follow us on Facebook & Pinterest. Thanks for visiting and for supporting a small business! 🤩 


You might also like...

The fun never ends:

Comments on this story

2 Responses

  1. I loved Busch Gardens back in the day. They had a strong and ambitious emphasis on theatrical productions. The Broadway style shows, particularly Kaleidoscope, were sensational, but the smaller productions like Mirage Canteen, Play Me A Country Song, Oktoberfest, Music Express and the Dance shows were all top notch. There were strolling performs, a wonderful marching band and a top notch pianist in the Hospitality House. All gone. Sorry, but the ice shows are cheap, tacky, unimaginative and very dated. They don’t compare to sitting in the cavernous Moroccan Palace before a huge Broadway production, with all the talented singers and dancers from around the country and those incredible sets, lights and costumes. Sadly, the park has become much more like Six Flags, all about coasters. It’s lost much of its charm, beauty, while entertainment has become an after thought.

  2. I went recently. It is so run down and all about very scary coaster. There were many things closed that my 8 and 10 year old could have ridden. I miss the traveling shows and bands that made us feel like we were truly in Africa or Poland the outdoor shows and the food. The food was terrible. Rubber burgers. We paid for the food package ad tickets 700 dollars. If you really want to see animals you must pay more. The best part was sesame land the our 2 and 4 year old grandsons. The sand serpent was the only ride of older ones and the congo river ride. Mayan preserve closed, falcons fury closed, sky ride closed. The park was very run down. I went at a child in the 60’s and with my children in the 80’s. Would never go again. Trying to give grand kids the experience it once was. I remember the really interesting shops with treasures to bring home for sou veneers, no all junk. Games were closed. Good thing no lines. What does that tell you? So sad. No strolling performers or parades or bands. That was the best part back in the day. I went on Tigris with my older grandson, nearly killed me literally. No one checked our bars when we pulled them to our body. I checked my grandsons and had to click in in tight. Then I realized mine was not clicked in at all and had to do it for myself. Thank goodness I did. The ride is short but upside down and very intense. Someone could be thrown out if bar not checked tightly clicked in.

Leave a comment here!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.