From pirate invasions to perfectly pressed Cuban sandwiches, Tampa's eclectic influences and traditions offer a paradise from the norm. Soak it all in—just remember to wear sunscreen.
Visit the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, a nonprofit that rescues and rehabilitates injured sea creatures. Its most famous resident, a dolphin named Winter, was the subject of the 2011 movie Dolphin Tale (starring Morgan Freeman).
Best Day Trip
Head to St. Petersburg, about a 30-minute drive or a 50-minute ferry ride from Tampa. Check out the Salvador Dalí Museum (which is in a super modern building), the permanent Dale Chihuly glass collection at the Morean Arts Center (created just to feature his works), or the Brocante Vintage Market for one-of-a-kind treasures, or bypass all that and head to the beach. Pass-a-Grille Beach is a St. Pete favorite, and nearby Don CeSar is a landmark hotel that looks like a pink castle.
Off the Beaten Path
Florida may be best known for its oranges, but locals know that the Tampa area produces some of the tastiest strawberries. In nearby (and aptly named) Plant City, strawberry season takes place between January and April. There's even a festival dedicated to the fruit (the Florida Strawberry Festival) every spring. Visit one of the many farms to pick your own berries, and stop by Parkesdale Market for freshly made strawberry shortcake.
Visitors to Tarpon Springs may think they’ve accidentally teleported to Greece. Greek immigrants settled here in the early 1900s and made careers out of diving for sponges. You can still watch sponge divers today, but the area is now more known for its amazing selection of Greek food. And don’t even think about leaving without tasting baklava from Hella’s Bakery.
Most Iconic Place
Bayshore Boulevard is the beautiful linear park along Tampa Bay. The 4.5-mile balustrade walkway also has the claim to fame of being the world’s longest continuous sidewalk. Locals flock here to jog, bike, and walk their dogs. On the other side of the street are some of Tampa’s most stunning historic homes.
Visit De Soto National Memorial, named after conquistador Hernando de Soto. History buffs can check out the park’s Camp Uzita, a living history site that covers De Soto’s landing in Florida and the Native Americans he encountered. The site also offers plenty of places to kayak, fish, or lounge on the beach (consistently ranked one of the best in Florida).
Tampa has the reputation of being one of the lightning capitals of the world. Hence the city’s hockey team name: the Tampa Bay Lightning. Even if you aren’t going to watch the Bolts play, you can still get a glimpse of Tampa’s bolts while spending a rainy day inside the Tampa Museum of Art (right along the Hillsborough River). The modern, minimalist lobby features all-glass walls and skylights. After exploring some of the exhibitions, you can get a front-row seat as the afternoon storms roll in.
The main square of Hyde Park Village offers one of the best people-watching spots in town—partly due to the cluster of trees that offer shade from the Tampa Bay rays. Park yourself by the three-tiered fountain, preferably with a cup of local joe from Buddy Brew Coffee across the street. As the nucleus of this shopping and dining district, the square gets plenty of foot traffic. Bonus points if you make it during the farmers market, which occurs on the first Sunday of every month.
The Tampa Theatre is rightfully referred to as a movie palace. Built in 1926, the inside of the theater looks like a Mediterranean castle courtyard—the deep blue ceiling even has sparkling night stars. They play limited-screen movies throughout the year, and also play classic films every weekend in the summer (the Casablanca showing is an annual event).
The new Riverwalk, which runs along the Hillsborough River, aims to make Tampa’s downtown much more pedestrian-friendly. The path connects spots such as the Tampa History Center, the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts, Glazer Children’s Museum, the Performing Arts Center, and more. The view’s not bad either—right on the other side of the river is the University of Tampa’s iconic Moorish brick buildings topped with minarets.