Tampa, Florida is a city on the western side of Florida that is often overshadowed by other state destinations but has plenty to offer travelers. Indigenous peoples settled here early on and later the bay became known for its pirate presence.
Today, the city pays homage to that history with the yearly Gasparilla Festival. After the Civil War, the railroad and cigar industries took off and are still important. It’s also a popular sports town, home to the Devil Rays baseball team and the Buccaneers football team.
Visitors can experience both the attractions and restaurants of the city as well as the close-by beaches.
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What to Do
The Florida Aquarium– Located right across from the cruise terminal, the Florida Aquarium features exhibits on creatures from above and below the ocean who call the area home. The wetlands section features free-flying birds while the Madagascar exhibit has the ever-popular lemurs. Get discounted tickets here. 701 Channelside Drive
Henry B. Plant Museum– Plant was the west coast of Florida’s version of Henry Flagler, a railroad entrepreneur who built a luxury resort in the former swamplands. Located on the campus of the University of Tampa, the first floor has been brought back to how it looked during its glory days, including furnishings. 401 West Kennedy Boulevard
Tampa Bay History Center– This extensive Smithsonian-affiliated museum details the history of not just Florida, but of the area that became Tampa. Learn more about the Native Americans that settled here long before the Europeans and the thriving cigar industry that lasted largely until the 1960s. 801 Old Water Street
Tampa Museum of Art– The modernly designed museum stands out among the rest of Tampa, located right on the water. In addition to changing exhibits like the current one on Christo, the permanent collection includes modern and contemporary pieces as well as classic Greek and Roman art. 120 West Gasparilla Plaza
Glazer Children’s Museum– Next door is this children’s museum, which features over 170 exhibits on educational topics like science, math or reading. They also have daily programming depending on the age group. 110 West Gasparilla Plaza
Busch Gardens Tampa– While sometimes overlooked because of the Orlando theme parks, Busch Gardens is a family favorite for its wildlife attractions as well as roller coasters for the older bunch. There are also live performances and a ropes course. Get your Busch Gardens Tampa Bay tickets before you go. 10165 North McKinley Drive
Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo– Tampa’s AZA-accredited zoo has been named one of the best in the country for its emphasis on conservation. Animal encounters allow visitors to get up close with their favorite wildlife and learn about them from educators. 1101 West Sligh Avenue
MOSI (Museum of Science and Industry)– Another family-friendly museum is the MOSI, which, in addition to having exhibits on plants and space, also has the state’s only IMAX Dome Theater. Get discounted tickets here. 4801 East Fowler Avenue
American Victory Ship Mariners Museum– Learn about military history from one of the few fully operational World War II ships in the country. They offer both self-guided and guided tours as well as special events. 705 Channelside Drive
Armed Forces History Museum– Across the bay in Largo is another military focused museum. Exhibits include historic uniforms and dioramas of the trenches from previous wars. It starts in World War I and continues to the present. 2050 34th Way North, Largo
The Florida Museum of Photographic Arts– An art dealer and business owner started this museum devoted to photography in 2001. The museum has a permanent collection and regularly changing exhibits. 400 North Ashley Drive, Cube 200
Big Cat Rescue– This organization devotes itself to rescuing big cats from circuses and situations of abuse. They’ve saved over 200 leopards, bobcats, cougars and other felines. Tours are guided so that the animals are not disturbed. 12802 Easy Street
Ybor City State Museum– Set in the former home of 1920s Ferlita Bakery in the heart of Ybor City, this museum has exhibits on Tampa’s original settlement and rise under the cigar industry. It’s operated by the state parks system and is only $4 to visit. 1818 Ninth Avenue
Clearwater Marine Aquarium– Made famous by the film Dolphin Tale, this aquarium is home to the first dolphin to live with a prosthetic. Along with dolphins, you’ll find turtles, otters, and other sea creatures. 249 Windward Passage, Clearwater
Chihuly Collection– Located at the Morean Arts Center, St. Petersburg’s Chihuly Collection is one of only a handful in the United States. The smaller exhibit is high in price, but worth a visit for fans of the artist or of glass sculptures. 720 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg
The Dali Museum– St. Petersburg is also home to a museum devoted to Salvador Dali. It features a large collection of his work and regularly changing exhibits on artists that are similar or connected to Dali. Recent exhibits include ones on Escher, Picasso and Da Vinci. One Dali Boulevard, St. Petersburg
Museum of Fine Arts– Yet another art museum is the more classically focused MFA. The permanent collection includes well-known Impressionists, glassware, decorative arts, photographs, and modern pieces. 255 Beach Drive N.E., St. Petersburg
Save up to 51% on Tampa Bay’s 5 best attractions at CityPASS, which gives you entry into most of the city’s attractions for one low price.
Where to Eat
The Refinery– Located in Tampa’s Seminole Heights neighborhood, The Refinery is a casual eatery with an emphasis on locally sourced ingredients. Open for lunch, dinner and weekend brunch, dishes include small plates, burgers, and sandwiches. They also have a quality beer menu and a full bar. 5137 North Florida Avenue, (813) 237-2000
Independent Bar and Cafe Tampa– Right down the street is this beer bar with a top-notch menu. Independent is open from breakfast all day, featuring items like meat and cheese plates, pretzels and sandwiches. Ask about what beers are best, as the bar gets a number of specialty kegs not found elsewhere. 5016 North Florida Avenue, (813) 341-4883
717 South– The upscale restaurant in “SoHo,” or South Howard, has been rated one of the top restaurants in Florida. Lunch and dinner options include seafood specialties, flatbreads, and steaks. Also, check out the wine list, with over 400 bottles, and cocktail menu. 717 South Howard Avenue, (813) 250-1661
Haven– Another SoHo restaurant is Haven, a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant. Owned by the same group as the Epicurean, the restaurant has a menu of artisanal cheeses, charcuterie, steaks and seafood dishes. Save room for dessert and a craft cocktail or a selection from the wine cellar. 2208 West Morrison Avenue, (813) 258-2233
Élevage Restaurant– Located inside the Epicurean Hotel, Élevage is far from your standard “hotel restaurant.” Open for breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner, the restaurant has a large wine cellar and a menu of internationally inspired dishes. The chef has been nominated for a James Beard Award. 1207 South Howard Avenue, (813) 999-8726
Columbia Restaurant– If there’s one place you must eat in Tampa, it’s Columbia, a family-run restaurant that’s been operated for over 100 years in historic Ybor City. The Cuban immigrants that created the restaurant served what became known as Cuban sandwiches as well as the famous “1905 Salad.” It’s also one of the largest restaurants in the world, with dozens of sprawling rooms. Cocktails include daiquiris and mojitos. 2117 East 7th Avenue, (813) 248-4961
Ulele– Inspired by the native tribes that lived in the area before European settlement, this restaurant is located on the Tampa Riverwalk. The menu features fresh, local ingredients like seafood and vegetables. The restaurant also has its own in-house brewery. 1810 North Highland Avenue, (813) 999-4952
Oxford Exchange– Oxford Exchange is much more than a restaurant, but also a retail store, coffee shop, and bookstore. But the restaurant itself serves breakfast and lunch and the menu features smoothies, avocado toast, salads, sandwiches and hearty, yet light, fare. You never know who you might run into here as it’s been rumored that Derek Jeter hangs out here! 420 West Kennedy Boulevard, (813) 253-0222
Anise Global Gastrobar– This downtown cocktail bar features globally inspired cuisines like burgers, tacos, and a dish they call “stinky bunz.” Open for lunch, dinner, brunch and late-night bites, this is a popular weekend hangout. Ask the bartenders for cocktail recommendations, but they’re all good. 777 North Ashley Drive, (813) 225-4272
Ciro’s Speakeasy and Supper Club– It’s easy to pass the unassuming apartment building, but those in the know knock on a big, wooden door and give the password to gain entry. The password is given when you make a reservation on the phone or you can wait until someone else is going in. Reserve a table for dinner or if you’re with a group or you can try your luck at the bar. Ciro’s has a full menu, but the cocktails are what really shines. 2109 Bayshore Boulevard, (813) 251-0022
La Segunda Central Bakery– If you haven’t had your fill of Cuban sandwiches yet, head over to La Segunda, a takeaway spot in Ybor City. Grab a sandwich to enjoy on a nearby park bench or take home with you. And don’t forget about the loaves of bread, which you can also buy as the tastiest souvenir in Tampa. 2512 North 15th Street, (813) 248-1531
Bern’s Steak House– And you can’t mention most of the SoHo restaurants without the original flagship, Bern’s, without which none of this would be here. Admire the entire building devoted to their wine next door as you valet park your car. The classic steakhouse requests casual to semi-formal attire, so be prepared and leave the flip flops at home. And, of course, order the steaks, which are the finest in town and are broiled to order. (813) 251-2421
Breweries- Start at Cigar City Brewing, the largest in town, before checking out smaller operations like Coppertail Brewing Co. and Tampa Bay Brewing Company. And while not craft, Yuengling Brewery has an outpost in Tampa as well, which offers samples.
Where to Stay
Epicurean Hotel– This foodie hotel in Hyde Park is a favorite for its in-house restaurants as well as access to nearby shops and eateries. It’s also a Marriott property, so you can earn points during your stay. 1207 South Howard Avenue
The Current Hotel– Close to all Tampa’s attractions, this Autograph Collection property has waterfront views. There’s also a pool, fitness center, and WiFi. 2545 North Rocky Point Drive, Tampa
Hotel Alba– The stylish hotel near Westshore Plaza Mall has an airport shuttle, a swimming pool, and fitness center. Double rooms are perfect to share with your group. 5303 West Kennedy Boulevard, Tampa
The Westshore Grand– Also in Westshore, rooms have large windows and coastal decor. The hotel has a rooftop pool, a restaurant, and a fitness center. 4860 West Kennedy Boulevard, Tampa
Gram’s Place Hostel– Named for musician Gram Parsons is this laid-back hostel. Each room is different here so you can stay in a converted rail car. 3109 North Ola Avenue, Tampa
Research for this guide was made possible by Visit Tampa Bay and the Epicurean Hotel.