As I am based in Tampa when I am not traveling, I thought I should write a local’s guide to Tampa for any STW readers that are interested in visiting. I did not grow up in Tampa, but I have been based in Tampa on and off since I was 19 years old (getting close to 10 years now)! Over the years, I have watched this city grow before my eyes, and I am excited to share all of the amazing things this city has to offer, as well as practical details on where to stay, when to visit, and how to get around. I hope that you find this Tampa guide helpful as it gives an overview on the following topics:
- When to Visit Tampa
- Where to Stay in Tampa
- Things to do in Tampa
- Where to Eat in Tampa
- Where to Drink in Tampa
- Getting Around Tampa without a Rental Car
- Day Trips from Tampa
When to Visit Tampa
The best time to visit Tampa, Florida is from December – May. Although you will be able to find things to do in Tampa year-round, it is much more enjoyable during the Winter and Spring months. Summer (June-August) brings crowds and even worse heat and humidity than other times of year. September-November offers much more manageable heat than summer, but comes with the risk of hurricane season ruining your vacation (no thank you).
December – February
The winter months offer average highs in the low 70s (F) and average lows in the 50s (F), with 6 days or fewer of rain on average. This is optimal weather for exploring Tampa and the many outdoor activities it has to offer! While it is not as warm as the rest of the year, it is incredibly pleasant weather and the Florida sun will still be beaming.
March – May
The spring months offer average highs in the high 70s/80s, and lows in the 60s/70s (F), with 5 days or fewer of rain on average. This is optimal weather for exploring beaches in the Tampa Bay Area, and spending time poolside.
Tampa Guide: Where to Stay in Tampa
You have a wide variety of options for accommodations in Tampa, ranging from budget to high end. This Tampa Guide aims to provide a variety of options. Where you should stay in Tampa really depends on what you are looking for out of your vacation – I have included details on three of the most popular spots below, as well as more budget-friendly options.
Harbour Island/Tampa Port Area
The area near the Tampa Port/Harbour Island is a fabulous area to stay in Tampa, as it features water views and is very close to two of Tampa’s main attractions – the Riverwalk and Sparkman Wharf (discussed in detail in the “Things to Do” section to follow). It also offers direct access to the trolley, which can take you to Ybor City and other parts of the city.
- The Westin Tampa Riverside – on Harbour Island
- Tampa Marriott Water Street – just across the bridge from Harbour Island
- AirBnb – condos are available for rent on Harbour Island
Staying downtown will position you in the center of it all. Staying here will put you a bit closer to downtown museums and the performing arts center, while still being in close proximity to the Riverwalk.
SoHo / Historic Hyde Park Village
South Howard (“SoHo”) and Historic Hyde Park Village (“Hyde Park”) are within close walking distance of one another, so I have grouped them into one area for the purpose of accommodations. SoHo is known for hosting the major “bar scene” in Tampa, and features many of Tampa’s most well-known restaurants. Historic Hyde Park is an adorable and pedestrian friendly shopping and dining village, about a 5-10 minute walk from South Howard. Staying in these areas will make dining, shopping, and drinking a breeze, and will position you close to Bayshore Boulevard (an area that will be discussed further in the “Things to Do” section).
If you will be visiting Tampa, but are not able to splurge on accommodations that are in a more central location, then I would recommend the following:
- Near the TPA Airport/International Mall Area – this area hosts a wide variety of budget-friendly hotels. Search on Booking.com and look at the hotels near the airport using the map function.You will not be as close to the action downtown, but you will still be a quick 15 minute drive or Uber away!
- AirBnB – there are plenty of rental options in Tampa that are not in the central spots (meaning, they will come with a lower price tag).
Tampa Guide: Things to Do in Tampa
No Tampa Guide would be complete without a detailed listing of things to do! Tampa is a city bursting with options when it comes to things to do. I have outlined many of the most popular options below.
Tampa Museums & Cultural Institutions
- Tampa Museum of Art: (TMA) is the main art museum in Tampa, featuring modern & contemporary art, as well as a Roman, Greek, and Estruscan antiquities collection. TMA often has very interesting visiting exhibits as well, so it would be well worth checking out what exhibit will be there during your stay in Tampa.
- Henry B. Plant Museum (Plant Hall): The Henry B. Plant Museum is located inside the gorgeous Plant Hall at the University of Tampa campus. This museum features the history and lifestyle of America’s Gilded Age, as well as information on Henry B. Plant’s contributions to the development to Tampa Bay and Florida. Whether or not you visit the museum, checking out the unique architecture of Plant Hall is an absolute must while in Tampa.
- Tampa Bar History Center: Museum featuring exhibits about the Tampa Bay Area’s history.
Straz Center for the Performing Arts
The Straz Center for the Performing Arts (“The Straz”) is the place to be if you are interested in seeing a show while in Tampa. Founded in 1987, this established performing arts center hosts a number of shows and broadway plays throughout the year.
Note: If you plan to go to Busch Gardens, The Florida Aquarium, and/or ZooTampa, I would highly recommend purchasing the Tampa CityPASSwhich significantly discounts admissions (54% savings) and also includes admission to a couple of other museums in Tampa/St. Pete.
Zoo Tampa at Lowry Park
ZooTampa (previously known as Lowry Park Zoo) is a 63-acre nonprofit zoo in Tampa. ZooTampa’s core focus is conservation, and is home to a number of endangered or threatened wildlife. You can purchase single day tickets on their website or at the zoo itself, or purchase discounted tickets with the Tampa CityPASS.
Busch Gardens Tampa is an animal-themed theme park. It is a very large park that features a number of rides, roller coasters, and other attractions. You can purchase single day tickets on their website or at the park itself, or purchase discounted tickets with the Tampa CityPASS.
The Florida aquarium is conveniently located right downtown near the Tampa port. It is a non-profit aquarium focused on Florida wildlife. You can purchase single day tickets on their website or at the park itself, or purchase discounted tickets with the Tampa CityPASS.
Tampa Outdoor Activities
The Tampa Riverwalk is a 2.5 mile long pedestrian trail along the Hillsborough River in Tampa. The riverwalk is a perfect option to explore many of the sites and activities in Tampa. I recommend starting at either Sparkman Wharf or Armature Works (each are at opposite ends), and working your way to the other end of the Riverwalk.
Water Activity Rentals – Near Sail Pavilion
While you are in Tampa, I highly recommend trying out some of the water activities available. You can rent kayaks, water bikes, and boats from the rental station near Sail Pavilion.
Bayshore Boulevard is a road on the waterfront in South Downtown Tampa. The sidewalk along the road is a popular spot for walking or running, as the waterfront views are beautiful from there! The sidewalk on Bayshore Boulevard’s claim to fame is that it is the “longest continuous sidewalk in the world” (4.5 miles long).
Tampa Shopping & Dining Areas
There are a number of areas in Tampa that host shopping and dining options in Tampa. Each area has it’s own host of options, and has a unique vibe.
- Sparkman Wharf: An outdoor multi-use area featuring a dining garden, beer garden, and upscale bowling alley.
- Armature Works: A mixed-use building offering a food hall, pop-up shops, and bars.
- Hyde Park Village: Outdoor shopping and dining village offering unique boutiques, restaurants, and entertainment (including an upscale movie theatre – Cinebistro (book in advance).
- Ybor City: Neighborhood in Tampa known for it’s boutiques, vintage shops, and Cuban and Latin American dining establishments.
- International Plaza & Bay Street: A large mall in Tampa hosting a wide variety of shops and department stores. International Mall also has a dining area called Bay Street, which hosts a number of restaurants (mostly chains).
Tampa Guide: Where to Eat in Tampa
Oxford Exchange is one restaurant that simply can not be missed during a visit to Tampa. The architecture, food, and ambiance make for a phenomenal dining experience. My recommendation is to visit Oxford Exchange for brunch – be sure to make a reservation and request a seat in the atrium (you can make reservations on the OpenTable app)! When you are finished with your meal, grab a Buddy Brew coffee or Tea Bella coffee on-site, and explore Oxford’s book store and gift shop.
Oxford Exchange is located just across the street from the Henry B. Plant Museum and Plant Park, so you can hit two birds with one stone.
Bern’s is a famous steakhouse and fine dining establishment in Tampa on South Howard. Reservations can be made directly on their website 2 months in advance (popular dining times will fill up months in advance, so be sure to book ahead if you would like to dine here during your time in Tampa). Bern’s is a very high end restaurant, so it comes with a high price tag – keep this in mind if you are on a budget.
Ulele is a restaurant located along the Riverwalk, featuring Native-Inspired cuisine. The interior design of the restaurant is very cool, and the food is very unique to anything else you will find in Tampa! Be sure to book ahead, and request a seat with a view (reservations can be made on OpenTable).
On Swann is a trendy spot in Historic Hyde Park Village, featuring a open-concept kitchen. They offer seasonal New American cuisine. This is a good option if you plan to spend some time exploring Hyde Park Village during your stay in Tampa. (reservations are recommended)
You have two options for enjoying Columbia‘s traditional Spanish cuisine – at the Riverwalk location (Columbia Cafe) or at the original location in Ybor City. (book ahead – especially for the Ybor location)
Bernini is an established Italian eatery in Ybor City. Known by many as the best Italian restaurant in the Tampa area, it is a great option if you are looking for authentic Italian cuisine during your stay.
Food Halls (Armature Works/SparkMan Wharf)
Though Armature Works and Sparkman Wharf were both mentioned in the “Things to Do” category, they are also worth mentioning again here. Both options feature food courts filled with delicious options from local Tampa-Area dining establishments.
My personal favorites are ramen from Ichicoro at Armature Works, and sandwiches from Flock and Stock at Sparkman.
Tampa Guide: Where to Drink in Tampa
The Tampa Riverwalk is a unique area to drink in Tampa, as open container’s are allowed along the riverwalk (so long as your drink is in a Riverwalk approved cup – provided at drinking establishments). You can make your way from Armature Works all the way down to Sail Pavilion with a riverwalk-approved beverage in hand.
M. Bird (Armature Works Rooftop)
Speaking of the Armature Works, don’t forget to check out their rooftop bar, M. Bird. This bar features views of the city and water, as well as a list of craft cocktails.
At the opposite end of the Riverwalk is Sail Pavilion, an open air waterfront bar. You will definitely feel like you are on vacation sipping a tropical drink at this establishment.
Sparkman Wharf – Fermented Reality Biergarten
The beer garden in Sparkman Wharf is an open air estabilishment on the grounds, with access to plentiful outdoor seating. There is also an outdoor space to hang out, which often features live entertainment. You can check out what is on tap here.
The Epicurean hotel has a trendy rooftop bar offering specialty cocktails. It is definitely a fabulous option if you want to grab a couple of cocktails before heading to dinner.
MacDinton’s Irish Pub
If you plan to party while you are in Tampa, then Macdinton’s is a solid option. This is a bar frequented by students from the local Tampa colleges. It offers an all you can drink happy hour for $10 (2 hours) every Friday night from 5-7 PM. If you choose to partake in this, make sure to arrive early as the line can get quite long during the Fall and Spring school semesters.
A stones throw away from MacDinton’s, the Dubliner (known by locals as “The Dub”) is an Irish bar that has solid bar food, live music many nights, and a number of beer and wine options. The blueberry beer is my favorite! If you want to visit this bar but want a more relaxed experience, make sure to avoid going on Friday evenings after 7/8 PM (many of the happy hour goers from Macdinton’s tend to continue their night at the Dub).
A “where to drink in Tampa” list would not be complete without mentioning Tampa’s thriving beer scene. Tampa offers a wide variety of local craft breweries – two of my favorites are Coppertail Brewing and Cigar City Brewing Company. If you are a huge beer lover, I would definitely recommend looking into the BrewBus tour options. A great option if you plan to stay in the Tampa is their “Local Loop” which is a hop on hop off shuttle that visits local breweries in Ybor City, Seminole Heights, and downtown Tampa every Sunday on a continuous loop.
Tampa Guide: Getting Around Tampa
While a rental car is certainly a great option in Tampa, the city does have a number of other transport options available.
The easiest and most common way to get around Tampa is by taking an Uber. While taxis are an option here, they are much more expensive and are much more difficult to call. The Tampa Airport (TPA) allows Uber drivers to do both pick-ups and drop-offs at the airport.
A unique way to explore Tampa is by water taxi on the Hillsborough River. While this is not a common means of transportation for locals, it is definitely a fun way to explore the sites as a visitor. If you are interested in learning more about the water taxi, visit the Pirate Water Taxi website.
There are a number of scooter rental companies in the city of Tampa. You simply pick up a vacant scooter and rent it through your mobile device. There are different apps and ways of renting a scooter dependent on the rental company, so you will need to read the instructions listed on the scooter itself.
If you are exploring downtown Tampa, you can utilize the trolley (TECO Streetcar) free of charge. This is a popular option for getting from the Sparkman Wharf/Tampa Port area, down to Ybor City.
From the “Downtowner” app, you will be able to call a ride through the downtowner free of charge. While there are limits to how far the downtowner will take you, it is a good option if you are staying close to downtown. You can learn more about this option here.
Tampa Guide: Day Trips from Tampa
Tampa is very well situated for a variety of Florida day trips. I am working on a separate more detailed blog post on all of the best day trip options from Tampa. For now, I have included a few highlights for the purposes of this Tampa Guide below.
Nearby Gulf Beaches
When people think of visiting Florida, they naturally think of the beach. Though Tampa does not offer direct access to the Gulf beaches, we are a quick 45-60 minute drive away. The most popular options are typically Clearwater or St. Pete Beach, though there are many options along that coast! If you head to St. Pete Beach, Post Card Inn (“PCI”) is a hotel that offers direct public access to the beach, beach bar, and restroom access (parking is offered for a fee).
Downtown St. Pete
Downtown St. Pete is just a quick 20-30 minute drive over the bridge from Tampa. St. Pete offers a wide variety of restaurants, bars, and breweries. It is also home to the Dali Museum – an architectural marvel and museum dedicated to the artwork of Salvador Dali.
Keel & Curley Winery
If you are a big wine-lover, then you should visit Keel & Curley Winery during your stay in Tampa. A quick 20-30 minute drive from downtown, this winery features wines made from fruit (some of which is grown on-site). The property is adorable, and offers tastings and tours.
Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks
Dreaming of Greece? If you are looking for something different to do, you might want to consider visiting the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks. A Greek Community was built from the sponge industry here. Due to this, the area is now famous for their Greek restaurants, bakeries, and markets.
Orlando Theme Parks
Tampa is a very quick and easy drive from the famed Orlando theme parks! In fact, they are so close that I am a Disney annual resident pass holder. For reference, you can get to Disney World‘s Magic Kingdom in a little over an hour with minimal traffic. Not big on Disney? Another very popular theme park is Universal Studios, which is the home of Harry Potter world!
I hope that you found this Tampa guide helpful in planning your visit to the Tampa Bay Area. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below or reach out via my contact form. Happy travels! xx