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.
Head to Tampa's Channelside District to explore 12,000 years of Florida history at this Smithsonian affiliate museum. From the area's native inhabitants, the Seminoles, Tocobaga, and Timucua, to Spanish conquistadors, treasure hunters, a map library, and a 1920 cigar store replica, there's plenty of ground to cover and many tales to tell once you step out of the enormous elevators. The family-friendly exhibits span three floors and are interactive. Tampa Bay History Center runs free 90-minute guided tours of the city's historical sites.
GOAT Tom Brady chose to spend the twilight of his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and boy, did that work out well. The Bucs have the lowest winning percentage in the NFL but two Super Bowl wins (2002 and 2020) to their name. During their 2020 triumph, they became the first team to play in and win a Super Bowl at their home stadium. Cannons fire after every touchdown, so if you don't like loud noises, steer clear of the otherwise awesome pirate ship during the game. With a capacity of close to 66,000, the stadium is huge and hosts music concerts too.
If you're near the University of South Florida's main campus, stop by its delightful 16-acre botanical garden for a leisurely walk. The orchid and cacti sections are particular highlights, as are the butterflies. Frequent festivals showcase and sell rare plants that draw enthusiasts from around the Sunshine State. You can buy locally-made honey here too.
The short drive to St. Petersburg is a must if you love art and architecture. The Salvador Dalí Museum is not extensive, but you could easily spend at least two hours looking at the permanent and temporary exhibits. Download the app with its audio tour and augmented and virtual reality elements—it provides more memorable insight into the Surrealist masterpieces. The free docent tour is highly informative, and don't miss out on the garden area, which has a maze and Daliesque touches.
If you prefer frost to fire, check out Amalie Arena, formerly known as the Ice Palace, in Downtown Tampa. The Bolts have won three Stanley Cup championships, including two back-to-back victories, and made three straight finals appearances in recent years, so they know what they're doing. The arena has a capacity of 21,500, and the atmosphere befits the team's electric name. NHL aside, you can catch concerts and other sports contests here too.
Tampa Museum of Art, next to the city's Riverwalk, features ancient and contemporary works to transport you back in time and make you contemplate the present. Peruse pottery from the Greek civilization before mulling over digital art and photography. The building is an ode to clean design, and its exterior lights up exquisitely at dusk. You can look into attending one of the many art classes or lectures the museum hosts. Kids are welcome too.
Close to a million people visit ZooTampa at Lowry Park every year because it's arguably the most family-friendly zoo in the country. This nonprofit venue is a conservation center for endangered wildlife staffed with folks passionate about animals. Their enthusiasm may rub off on you and ignite a lifelong love for the natural world and its inhabitants. Kids especially love the Wallaroo play area with splash pads and rides. When your adventure ends, you can catch more of the action on Secrets of the Zoo: Tampa on Nat Geo WILD.
While Clearwater Marine Aquarium is no Sea World, it has plenty to please your inner child who, once upon a time, wanted to become a marine biologist. You'll get up close and personal with dolphins, eels, otters, sting rays, sea turtles, and pelicans. A behind-the-scenes tour will teach you how the water is maintained and give you a peak at the aquatic hospital in this rescue aquarium. Tickets are pricey but go toward a good cause. Watch Dolphin Tale before you go to elevate the experience.
The Sunken Gardens in St. Petersburg are more than a hundred years old and one of the oldest roadside tourist attractions in the U.S. Amble through this local historic landmark with its pools, waterfalls, flamingos, rescue parrots, and tropical plants, and enjoy the shade and sense of tranquility. You can buy food to feed the koi fish, and there are loads of photo ops amidst the lush greenery. Most of the paths are ADA-accessible, but you'll want to apply insect repellent liberally or bear the consequences.
Tampa's waterfront district or Riverwalk has everything you could want for a relaxed morning or evening, with restaurants, shops, parks, an aquarium, and some of the museums on this list. It's a pedestrian-friendly 2.4-mile stretch, and you can switch to the water when you tire of having the ground under your feet. E-boats and water bikes are readily available, or you can kayak or stand-up paddleboard.
A visit to Tampa, Florida, isn't complete without experiencing the city's vibrant nightlife through a Tampa Bay Pub Crawl. Known for its diverse selection of bars, breweries, and entertainment venues, Tampa's pub crawl scene is a must-try for locals and tourists alike.
Start your night by downloading a local pub crawl app, such as Club Crawl Tampa, which offers a self-guided experience and exclusive discounts. Alternatively, consider joining a guided pub crawl tour to meet fellow travelers and explore multiple bars with a knowledgeable guide.
Hillsborough River State Park is the perfect place to escape 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.