One place that I have found myself visiting pretty often is Tampa, FL. Some of you may know that I lived in Tampa for two years at the beginning of my college career. Tampa has a lot to offer, from pristine beaches, to a bustling nightlife, as well as attractions, and a cruise port! I’m going to share with you some highlights of my two recent visits, as well as some of my favorite spots for you to visit if you make a short trip to the Tampa Bay!
Tampa is a pretty widespread city, with various areas of Tampa that are all considered to be a part of “Tampa Bay.” With that in mind, some of these locations can be pretty spread out compared to other cities, but they’re all accessible by a short car ride or Uber!
– Food –
I hadn’t tried this restaurant until January of this year, and I wish I could go back! If you’re looking for native Floridian food [think Native American cuisine], this is the place to come! Named after a Native American princess, the restaurant boasts a rich story of the area, along with food that is the modern counterpart to the Native American meals that people in the area used to prepare! The food, atmosphere, and views are all incredible, along with a great beer selection! I recommend trying a bit of everything if you can. Our table got a few different appetizers to share between everyone, and tried a few different beers that they offered. Definitely save room for dessert, they’re all delicious! If you’re going to visit, I’d definitely recommend calling ahead, it can get busy!
This is somewhere that I had visited, and continue to want to go to anytime I go back! Another good place for brunch, this restaurant has a sister location called Ciccio/Cali that is a little farther north of the city [closer to Busch Gardens]. This restaurant has a great brunch, but their dinner menu is my favorite of theirs. They serve everything from sushi to pizzas, but every item that I’ve tried is delicious! They have great cocktails too, make sure to give them a try! Reasonably priced, and a good place to sit and chat with friends, you can’t really go wrong if everyone wants something a little different!
Oxford Exchange is a coffee shop, bookstore, restaurant, study spot, and is 100% Instagram worthy. It is right near the University of Tampa, so a lot of 20-somethings hang out there a lot to study or just meet up for coffee, however, there is a good mix of ages that come to Oxford Exchange due to its close proximity to Bayshore Boulevard [lots of homes and neighborhoods there]. I haven’t had the opportunity to eat at their restaurant, but have been numerous times for coffee and socialization! If you do want to eat at the restaurant, make sure to call ahead, it stays pretty busy! Even if you’re just stopping in for some coffee, most people are a bit more dressed up than they would be at Starbucks, so keep that in mind! It’s also a great place for pictures, so that may be some more incentive to wear that new dress!
Another place I hadn’t visited before while living in Tampa [major regrets there]! If you’re looking for a great brunch, this is definitely the place to go! Located in the area known as “South Tampa,” this is a hotspot for all things brunch and sweets! As with Ulele, you should probably call ahead, or go online and put your name in. When we ate there, we got lucky with a 10 minute wait. When we were leaving, the wait had jumped up over 5 hours [that’s insane!] They have everything you can want from a brunch restaurant, including a fun atmosphere, amazing food, a Bloody Mary Bar, and a bakery! Yes, a bakery – it’s attached to the main building through a little breezeway with outdoor seating. Simply walking inside makes you want to buy everything out of the case, even after a huge brunch! They have all sorts of sweets from ice cream, to chocolates, donuts, cakes, and more! If you want a great brunch place, definitely call and put your name in ASAP!
– Nightlife –
It’s hard to deny a good drink deal as a broke 22 year old on vacation. It’s really hard to narrow down the huge number of bars and clubs in the Tampa Bay area. A popular area is called SoHo, and has a bunch of bars, all within walking distance of one another. One definite stop is happy hour at MacDinton’s Irish Pub. If you think you’ve experienced a good happy hour before, you’ll quickly change your mind when you find out that $10 all you can drink for more than a couple hours is arguably the best happy hour deal I’ve ever experienced. The bar gets pretty crowded, so expect a wait if you don’t get there early. Many of the bars offer a similar deal that starts right around the time that MacDinton’s happy hour ends, so make sure to eat a good meal before heading out! Some other bars in the area include The Dubliner, Soho Saloon, Drynk [if you want the typical nightclub vibe], Yard of Ale, The Lodge, and so many more!
Another area to consider if you want more nightclub vibes would be to head down to Ybor City. This area has a variety of clubs and often has various DJs performing! I haven’t personally experienced Ybor at night other than dinner, but I have heard that it is lots of fun, especially if you like EDM or house music!
– Attractions –
The amount of attractions there are in Tampa is crazy. It’s hard to even narrow them down into a few to see, definitely do some research on attractions before you head down! These are just a couple of them that I would recommend!
If you love roller coasters, adrenaline, and animals as much as I do, Busch Gardens is a must! The park has numerous rides, including a bunch of high-thrill roller coasters [which I love]. If rides aren’t your forte, there are plenty of animal exhibits and shows to see as well. Tickets can be a little pricey [albeit cheaper than the Orlando parks], so search for the off-season tickets, or any discounts that may apply to you! You can get through the park in 1 day easily, but be prepared for a lot of walking! A tip of mine for every theme park, but especially Busch Gardens – bring snacks, and a water bottle that you can refill! Busch Gardens is pretty far inland, and can get very hot, especially in the middle of the day! There are plenty of water fountains around to refill at, and it’ll save you from spending $5 on a water! If you don’t want the rides and just want to see animals, check out the Lowry Park Zoo or the Clearwater Aquarium instead! Adventure Island is Busch Garden’s water park that is located across the street, and is another alternative if you’d prefer to cool down out of the Florida heat!
Lettuce Lake Park
If you want to see some of Florida’s natural environment that isn’t the beach, Lettuce Lake Park is a great place to do it! It is a natural wetland that has plenty of walking areas right over the water! If you’re lucky, you might even see a few alligators! I love natural Florida, it’s so beautiful, and is such a stark contrast to the bustling city only minutes away. If you want some peace and quiet, definitely check this park out! Don’t forget bug spray, especially if you’re going in the early morning or afternoon!
University of South Florida
This isn’t necessarily an attraction, but getting a tour of the school is a good idea if you’re in the area and considering a Florida school! I attended USF for two years before heading to my dream school [Clemson]. Campus is pretty large, but has a gorgeous plaza that is only accessible by walking. It’s a great spot for pictures! If you’re not taking a tour, be careful parking, permits are required in all spots unless strictly marked as visitor [most of the time they’re metered then].
Again, this isn’t entirely an “attraction,” but is something that many people like to drive over when they visit Tampa. If you are going from Tampa city to St. Petersburg [or Anna Maria Island], you will more than likely go over the Skyway Bridge. As the name sounds, it is a super tall bridge! I personally don’t like large bridges [probably one of my weirdest fears, as I’m not even the slightest afraid of heights], so going over the Skyway is a no-go for me. I have been over it before, as well as under it! This bridge is tall enough for cruise ships to pass under! There is a toll, but it is only a few dollars. If you’re not afraid of bridges or heights, definitely drive over it! If you are, have someone else drive, but the view is pretty incredible up there in the sky!
Probably my favorite road in the entire Tampa Bay is Bayshore Boulevard. It backs up to the water, and is lined with a gorgeous railing with the perfect sidewalk for running, biking, walking, rollerblading, or just looking out at the water. I used to nanny off of this road, and enjoyed driving up and down it every day. Bayshore is also the home of Gasparilla, which is Tampa’s version of Mardi Gras, but pirate themed! Definitely drive down it if you have the chance – the homes on this road are stunning! If you have the chance to go to Gasparilla as well [generally in February], definitely go! It’s lots of fun, and who doesn’t love dressing up as a pirate!
– Sports –
Tampa has so many different sports teams that provide for an exciting weekend, almost every weekend! Whether you like hockey, baseball, polo, golf, football [my favorite!], or more, there’s something for you! Not only does Raymond James Stadium provide a great place for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and USF Bulls to play, the stadium is also home to many concerts and events. I have enjoyed many USF games at the stadium, and even had the chance to be in Tampa when my beloved Clemson Tigers won the National Championship there this January [WOOO GO TIGERS]! Other sports teams include the Tampa Bay Lightning [hockey], Tampa Bay Rays [baseball], and the home of the Yankees summer training facility!
– Shopping –
If shopping is important to you when you visit new places, these are my recommendations!
One mall that I tend to find myself going to, even just to walk around is International Plaza. This mall is similar to most large-scale malls. It has all sorts of stores, varying in price and styles. You can find just about everything from a Forever 21, to a Tiffany’s and a Tesla store. There are plenty of large restaurants like Cheesecake Factory to choose from too! If you want to go shopping, International Mall near the airport will most likely have what you’re looking for!
Another shopping area that I love is Hyde Park Village. Like the name suggest, Hyde Park has much more of a “village” feel. It still has popular stores like Francesca’s, LuLu Lemon, and more, but is very small in comparison to the International Mall. One reason I love this shopping area is because it is outdoors, so you can enjoy the beautiful south Florida weather while shopping!
– Beaches –
The beach that I have visited most often while I lived in Tampa was Clearwater Beach. Clearwater has been voted one of the best beaches in Florida numerous times. It’s no surprise with it’s white sand and calm waters. It can get pretty crowded, especially with parking, so make sure you head down early to find a spot! One of my all-time favorite restaurants at Clearwater is Frenchy’s Rockaway Grille. It is right on the beach, has great food and drinks, a fun atmosphere, and views of the beach at almost every table! They even have a walk-up window for drinks that you can walk around the bar with, rather than waiting for a table! I love walking up and down the beach looking for seashells, and Clearwater definitely has plenty! Enjoy the beach, and don’t forget your sunscreen!
Anna Maria Island
Another favorite of mine is Anna Maria Island. It’s about an hour or so south of Tampa, but is worth the drive in my opinion. The island is typically less crowded than Clearwater or St. Pete Beach, and has a bit more of a “surfer town” vibe [even if the waves don’t compare to the Atlantic side]. There are cute little restaurants scattered all over the island, but a favorite of mine is called Skinny’s! It is a short walk from the public beach, and is a great burger place! It is very open to the Florida weather, so definitely give it a try! Don’t forget a dollar to put on their wall!
I hope that sharing some of my favorite places in Tampa can help with your visit! Let me know if you’ve ever visited Tampa in the comments, and what places I missed in this list!