Tampa, Florida, is located along the Gulf Coast and is a surprisingly diverse place to visit. There are world-class beaches, of course, but Tampa is also home to parks, festivals, and some of the oldest coastal towns in the county. Whether you want to relax on the beach, go to a Scottish festival, ride some class II rapids, or visit the Sponge Capital of the World, there is something in Tampa for everyone.
The Tampa Riverwalk is a 2.6-mile-long paved trail following the Hillsborough River through downtown. Most of the trail runs through the arts district, providing easy access to the Tampa Museum of Art, Glazer Children's Museum, and Curtis Hixon Park. While the Riverwalk is a great way to get to some of the city's best attractions, it's also an experience in its own right. It's lined with trees, cafes and restaurants, water bikes and taxis access, and bronze busts of more than a dozen influential figures from the city's history.
Hillsborough River State Park is the perfect place to escape the city life. The park offers RV and tent camping with hot showers and laundry facilities. If you want to rough it up, hike to the primitive camping area on the other side of the river. There's a lot to do here, including nature trails, bike trails, playgrounds, a swimming pool, and a cafe. This park is also home to class II rapids, which are hard to come by in Florida.
Ybor City is Tampa's historic Latin quarter and was at one time the Cigar Capital of the World. Check out the Cuban restaurants, Tampa Bay Baseball Museum, Ybor City Museum State Park, and grab a beer at the local brewery during the day. If you really want to see this district come to life, stick around into the evening. Ybor City is home to numerous nightclubs and bars, including LGBT bars, dance clubs, and college bars. If this isn't your scene, don't worry—you can always grab a hamburger at Mary's Bar & Grille or people-watch at the Carne Chophouse.
While there are a lot of beaches in the Tampa area, Clearwater Beach is one that you just can't miss. The smooth white sand and clear shallow water make it the perfect place to swim in the Gulf, or sit in the sand and soak up the sun. If you're ready for some shade, head to Pier 60 and admire the long sandy beach through the telescopes on the wharf. Stick around for the daily Sunsets at Pier 60 Festival to check out local artisans, street performers, and, of course, breathtaking sunsets.
Fort De Soto Park is located on five interconnected islands in the southwest corner of Tampa Bay. It has just about everything an outdoor lover is looking for: nature trails, fishing, boating, camping, and beautiful white, sandy beaches. Not to mention, it's stunningly beautiful, especially at sunset. This group of islands also has quite a military history. It was once home to a post that consisted of 29 buildings, concrete sidewalks, and a narrow-gauge railroad. Only two coastal defense mortars remain.
Just west of Tampa along the Gulf Coast is Dunedin, one of the oldest coastal towns in Florida. The historic downtown area is frequently described as "charming" and the laid-back lifestyle and waterfront views are addicting. Take part in seasonal events like the lighted holiday boat parade, Oktoberfest, and the annual Scottish celebration, or head off the coast to explore Honeymoon Island and Caladesi State Park.
There's a lot to see at the Florida Aquarium, which is probably why it's one of Tampa's most popular attractions. The Coral Reef tank is one of the aquarium's most impressive draws and the unique Wetlands Trail gives you an up-close and personal view of free-flying birds, alligators, and cypress swamps unique to the state. In addition to observing ocean life, you can also take behind the scenes tours, go on a dolphin cruise, and even snorkel with sharks!
Tarpon Springs is located about 30 miles northwest of Tampa and has one of the most interesting histories of all the towns in the area. This city is home to more Greeks than any other US city. The downtown area is listed in the National Register of History Places and is full of Greek shops, restaurants, and cruises. But that's not all Tarpon Springs is known for, as it's also the sponge capital of the world. While you're there, stop by Spongeorama, which boasts the world's largest selection of natural sponges.
Lettuce Lake Conservation Park is one of the most popular in the Tampa area, likely because it's also one of the most peaceful. Most of the park is made up of the Hillsborough River's natural floodplain and the rest is largely pines and hardwood swamps. This is a great place to get out and enjoy nature and a great spot for birdwatching. Follow the 1.25-mile paved exercise trail, walk the 3,500-foot long boardwalk, and climb the observation tower for some amazing views. Canoes and kayaks are also available to rent on-site.
For those who want something a little less crowded and a little more isolated, Indian Rocks Beach is a must-see. Located just west of Tampa on the Gulf Coast, this beach is a quaint, lovely escape. Enjoy the welcoming white sand and warm waves without the commercialism present at some of the more popular beaches. There are a few restaurants and shops along the coast, but most of the commercial area is laid back and friendly.