Located on Florida’s beautiful west coast in the Gulf of Mexico, Tampa is quickly rising in popularity amongst all types of travelers. The Tampa Bay region can often get overlooked by the theme park capital of nearby Orlando but the range of activities and beautiful coastlines make Tampa an incredible destination itself. Seafood, culture, nightlife, and amazing coasts are just the start to everything Tampa has to offer.
Planning Your Pack
Before heading out keep in mind the weather and activities you plan on doing in Tampa to decide what to pack.
Most importantly, know that in the spring and summer it rains nearly every day. But it rarely rains for a long time! Short downpours are the norm followed by blue skies. Be prepared to pop into a nearby restaurant or shop and know that the wet weather will more than likely pass quickly.
Humidity is common, particularly through May to August, with temperatures regularly reaching the high 80s and low 90s. September through December is generally comfortable in the high 70s to low 80s, great for long days of outdoor activities. Tampa stays comfortably warm through the winter making it a popular destination for travelers escaping the cold between January and April.
What to Bring
When you picture a Florida vacation, Tampa fits in pretty well. Gear up with shorts and t-shirts for your day to day. There are certainly some upscale locales in and around Tampa so don’t be surprised to see people dressed in linen pants and polo shirts. You can absolutely stick to simple and casual clothing, especially in the coastal beach towns, but you’ll fit right in just as easily if you’re dressed up a bit.
Particularly if you plan some nights out, it's worth packing warm weather pants and nice shirts. The one essential is beach wear. At some point during your trip to Tampa, you’ll inevitably be getting in or on the water.
If you’re there in the cooler winter months an extra layer for chilly evenings will be worth it, any other time of year you can forego the sleeves.
Getting to Tampa
Two main airports service the Tampa Bay area; Tampa airport and St. Petersburg airport. Both are incredibly conveniently located. Tampa’s airport is located a short 15 minute drive outside of downtown and St. Petersburg is located on the downtown waterfront.
The Tampa airport is a great size with frequent flights to all the major US hubs so this will most likely be your landing point.
If you’re visiting Tampa as part of an Orlando trip, the Orlando airport is just over an hour away by car, a straight shot southwest on highway 4.
If you’re driving in it can be convenient to have a car, especially for day trips to Clearwater or St. Petersburg, but it certainly isn't necessary. Getting around downtown by foot, public transit or Uber is very easy. When heading out to the coastal beach towns for the day, a car rental is worth the consideration. It won't be much different in cost compared to an Uber but it will give you some flexibility to move around (just remember you’ll have to pay for parking in most areas).
Where to Stay in Tampa
Where you stay might depend on what you want to do (and your budget). Staying downtown close to the excitement and amenities will be convenient but more expensive, however, there is a range of reasonably priced hotels in the core. Airbnbs in the surrounding neighborhoods are a good option because it's relatively easy to get around.
If you’re there for the beaches or want more of a beach town feel, look at options on the peninsula in or around St. Petersburg or Clearwater. Like most beach towns, you’ll pay for convenience. Prices go up in town or near the water.
Things to do in TampaWhether you stay in or around Tampa, all the best activities are within an hour drive. There are three major areas worth spending a day in; Downtown Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater. Each is within an hour of each other so you could stay in one and day trip to the other two.
Day 1 - Downtown Tampa
You can easily fill a full day exploring downtown Tampa and then finish the evening downtown or in one of the nearby neighborhoods.
Getting Around Downtown Tampa
The downtown river walk is 2.6 miles long and one of the best places to explore. Walk, run, scoot, roll, or bike along the beautiful waterfront to take in everything downtown Tampa has to offer.
The downtown is very walking friendly and the river walk makes it easy and enjoyable to get between the north and south ends of the core. If you want to get around faster (or go further) Coast Bike rental racks are easily accessible. Electric scooters are also littered across the city to quickly move between spots.
The free streetcar is easy to use but doesn’t cover much in the downtown core. It has stops along the south end of downtown but it's meant to get to some of the other neighborhoods (which we’ll check out tonight).
You can also take a water taxi, like Pirate Taxi, to get around. An all day adult pass is $20 and they have frequent service and stops in all the major areas you would want to cover.
River Walk - Start your day at one end of the river walk and spend the morning exploring and taking in the sites. The river walk is endcapped with two food halls making it the perfect starting or ending activity around lunch.
Armature Works - At the northern tip of the river walk, Armature Works has a range of restaurants along with the indoor Heights Public Market which features vendors offering ramen, ice cream, barbecue, Mediterranean, sandwiches, and just about everything in between.
Sparkman’s Wharf - Located on the southern end of the river walk, near numerous other popular sites and activities. Refuel at Sparkman’s Wharf with their many options in the Dining Garden then try one of 90 beers on tap in the Biergarten.
Aquarium and American Victory Ship & Museum - This is the perfect jumping off point for an afternoon at the nearby aquarium or a visit to the museum which is on a fully restored warship. Two of the most popular places to visit in Tampa, both are located south of downtown at the end of the riverwalk.
Oxford Exchange - A nice place right across from the University of Tampa on the other side of the river in downtown. Bookstore, champagne bar, coffee & tea, gift shop, and restaurant all in one.
Get on the water - The Bay will be drawing you in at every turn so don’t hesitate to embrace it. One of the best things to do in Tampa is spending an afternoon on the water, here are some great suggestions:
- Rent your own water craft just outside the Tampa Convention Center and SailPavilion
- Banana bikes
- Mini Power Boats
- Paddle boards
- Kraken Booze Cruise
- 10 person boat rental
While downtown Tampa could easily keep you occupied for at least a full day, there are some great areas nearby worth visiting, particularly for nightlife and dining. Consider an evening at one of the following:
Hyde Park - A beautiful pocket worth checking out, just across the river. Known for great dining and nightlife, there is also a local popup market in the streets on Sunday.
Ybor City - Loved or hated depending on who you ask, historic Ybor City offers a range of bars and restaurants and just as big a range of people that frequent them. There are some pretty cool places here including a small concert venue, The Ritz, and a Spanish restaurant, The Columbia, that’s been a staple in the area since it opened in 1905 (reserve ahead of time). The Streetcar runs between Ybor and downtown so it's easy to pop over for the evening.
Brew Bus - We were surprised by the great beer scene offered in Tampa and the best way to experience as much of it as possible is to hop on the Brew Bus. It will shuttle you between a number of breweries scattered around the city, either focused in one neighborhood or spread out based on your preference. There are different options depending on how much time you have and how many stops you want to make from 4+ hour tours to more casual hop on, hop off options.
Day 2 - St. Petersburg
Across the bay, St Petersburg is an idyllic Florida beach destination. Sun tanning, beaches, boating, and golfing are incredible options, we’ve listed some of our other favorites here.
Getting to St. Petersburg
In the winter and spring months the Cross Bay Ferry is a fun, cheap, and quick way to get from downtown Tampa to St. Petersburg or vice versa. Once you’re across you can easily walk the downtown and Uber to get around to other sites.
Downtown St. Petersburg
St Pete Pier - Recently opened and incredible to explore. A beach, art installations, food, drinks, kids activities, parks, shops, and more - the list goes on.
The Dali Museum - St. Petersburg’s premier art museum.
Central Street is the main street for bars and nightlife in St. Petersburg. There are plenty of fantastic options on the street or nearby. A couple top recommendations include:
Park and Rec - Known as the adult playground, it features indoor arcade games and oversized outdoor games. Bar snacks and cocktails are plentiful, a great place for some afternoon fun.
Hofbrauhaus - An authentic German beer garden
Green Bench and 3 Daughters - Great breweries to check out.
Fergs - A well known sports bar right across from the Ray's stadium.
St. Petersburg Gulf Coast
Clearwater has the top beach reputation but you don’t need to go far from St. Petersburg for beautiful beaches. After exploring the downtown head west to get some fun in the sun.
Madeira Beach to Treasure Island - Right around John's Pass is the best section of the St. Petersburg beach. Post up anywhere along here for the afternoon.
Day 3 - Clearwater
An important distinction, Clearwater is the main city and Clearwater Beach is the small beach town on a long narrow island off the coast. If you’re only going for the beach it’s not necessary to visit both Clearwater and St. Petersburg. The cities themselves are very different; St. Petersburg’s downtown is on the bay side and much larger whereas Clearwater is on the gulf coast and smaller. Clearwater Beach has a more laid back beach town vibe and this is where we recommend you spend your time. Both Clearwater Beach and St. Pete’s Beach are regularly ranked in the top 5 US beaches by Trip Advisor, so whether you visit one or both, you can’t go wrong.
Getting to Clearwater
Downtown Tampa to Clearwater is only about 30 minutes with light traffic but if you’re going during a busy time of year or the weekend, budget at least twice that time. Clearwater Beach, your ultimate destination, is another 10 minutes from there.
Explore the beautiful beachtown by car, on foot, or with the Jolley Trolley that goes up and down the town (only $5 for an unlimited day pass).
Frenchies Rockaway Grill - The Clearwater Beach location has incredible seafood and it's a favorite among tourists and locals.
The Trolley also has a route that goes up and down the coast if you don't have a car.
Dunedin/ Tarpon Springs - A great area to check out with cool breweries and specialty shops. It's also very walkable if you take the trolley here or park your car.
Pinellas Trail - A great coastal biking trail.
Honeymoon Island State Park - If you’re looking to park and sit on a quiet beach for a few hours this is a great stop. It's about a 30 minute drive from Clearwater Beach because you have to loop back to the mainland and then out again. There are public washrooms and parking, but limited amenities or restaurants.
Visiting Tampa, FL
Between downtown Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater, the Tampa Bay region has so much to offer for a sun filled trip. Easily accessible from across the country and offering something for everyone, use this guide as a starting point for your Tampa adventures.