The city of Tampa is a study in diversity. Its many neighborhoods are an ethnic soup of cultural richness. There is a sizable population of Latino and Cuban Americans. There are Spanish-Americans and an African-American population that has been slowly growing in contrast to downward trends in other Florida cities.
Downtown Tampa’s towering skyline is dominated by the banking and finance industry. In recent years the Tampa Bay area has become a sports hub, with championship-level pro sports teams. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the 2021 Super Bowl champs. The Tampa Bay Lightning won the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup. The Tampa Bay Rays went to the 2020 World Series. And the home team Rowdies won their conference championship in the United Soccer League. Sports is big business here, and there are plenty of other things to see and do as well, plus my recommendations for the best restaurants in Tampa and where to stay while you’re in town.
Things To Do In Tampa
Ybor City was founded in 1886 by Cuban, Spanish, and Italian immigrants. Almost immediately, it began to flourish as a cigar manufacturing center. At its peak, the cigar industry had 200 small to large factories and rolled 500-million cigars a year. Today you can still watch cigars being rolled in small shops along Ybor’s main streets.
Ybor City is also a nightlife and dining destination. The original Columbia Restaurant is located in Ybor, with its Spanish-American cuisine. More on that later. There are numerous Latin-themed nightclubs along Ybor’s 7th Avenue.
If you like wild animals and crazy rollercoaster rides, spend a day at Busch Gardens. This is Tampa’s largest theme park. It features wild animals in the open zoo environment that is built to replicate natural habitat. You can see the animals from a tram ride, or by skyway gondolas. There are over 200 different species in the park.
Wild rides have a long history at Busch Gardens. The park has no fewer than seven thrill rides to get you screaming.
ZooTampa At Lowry Park
This is Tampa’s oldest attraction, opened in 1930 as a function of the Tampa city government. It is now operated by a private foundation. The zoo covers only 24 acres but has habitat for Asian, African, and Australian animals, plus native Florida wildlife. The zoo is noted as a center for animal veterinary care and rehabilitation of endangered species. The zoo cares for 1,100 animals.
The 250,000-square-foot Florida Aquarium is located near downtown, in the city’s Channel District. It opened in 1995 and now houses over 9,000 marine animals. They are primarily native to Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. The aquarium also features a children’s museum section and a wetlands trail.
Hard Rock Casino
The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino is located just east of Tampa, off Interstate 4. The big attraction here is the casino: 240,000 square feet of gaming and gambling that feature slot machines, poker tables, blackjack, and baccarat. The walls are lined with rock and roll memorabilia from the Hard Rock’s roots in rock music.
This 2.6-mile walkway is in the downtown area and meanders along the Hillsborough River. There are many restaurants along the way, ranging from fresh seafood to Tex-Mex. Most can be found in Sparkman’s Wharf and Heights Public Market. The River Walk connects most of downtown’s attractions and access to hotels.
One of the area’s top attractions is known as Gasparilla Season, which runs from January to April. It kicks off with a pirate ship “invasion,” with a scurvy krewe sailing into the harbor with flags flying and cannons booming. Gasparilla Season events include arts, film, and music festivals. For runners, there is a Gasparilla marathon and half-marathon.
Sports In Tampa
If visiting ballparks is your thing, you have some big ones to pick from. Raymond James Stadium, home of the Super Bowl champ Buccaneers, is located off Dale Mabry Highway, north of downtown. Across the street is Steinbrenner Field, the spring training home of the New York Yankees. The Amalie Arena is in the Channel District and is home of the Stanley Cup champs, Tampa Bay Lightning. Across the bridges is Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, home of the American League champion Tampa Bay Rays.
Tampa is a booming destination for Florida visitors. Less than two hours from the Orlando theme parks, it offers big city attractions, fine restaurants, and big league sports. For more inspiration, consider 9 Fantastic Experiences In St. Petersburg, Florida, Plus Where To Eat And Stay and How To Spend A Beautiful Long Weekend In Clearwater, Florida.
Shopping In Tampa
Hyde Park Village
This has been a shopping and eating magnet in Tampa going back nearly 40 years. Boutique shops and popular restaurants are featured in this six-square-block area south of downtown. The Village has undergone a transformation in recent years to attract business professionals to office space in close proximity to all the village action.
Located in the West Shore area, west of downtown, the Plaza is home to luxury shopping. Here you’ll find the Apple Store, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, and plenty of high-end restaurants.
Tampa Bay Premium Outlets
For those looking for a bargain, the outlets are located off I-75/I-275, northeast of Tampa city proper, in the town of Lutz. Here you will find outlet prices for brands like Michael Kors, Under Armour, Coach, and Polo Ralph Lauren.
Best Restaurants In Tampa
The Columbia Restaurant
Located on Ybor City’s 7th Avenue, this is the original Columbia, which is now a chain of restaurants in several Florida cities. The cuisine is Spanish and Cuban. The restaurant has been around since the early 1900s and owned by the same family the entire time, Casimiro Hernandez Sr. and his descendants. It bills itself as Florida’s oldest restaurant and the largest Spanish restaurant in the world.
Editor’s Note: See why Columbia Restaurant, St. Augustine, made our list of 11 Unique Florida Restaurants You Must Try, plus which other eateries made the cut.
It started out in the 1950s as a small juice stand that served cold breakfasts. As business grew, the owners bought up adjacent properties, and today, Bern’s has eight dining rooms. It seats over 300 people for dinner and serves a great steak. There is an extensive wine list. Don’t forget the enticing dessert menu. The owner is the son of the restaurant’s founders, Bern and Gert Laxer.
Best Hotels In Tampa
If you stand still too long in downtown Tampa, they are likely to build a hotel on top of you. New hotels come online every year, and existing hotels are renovated. Here are a few you might enjoy checking into.
This is a boutique four star hotel in the downtown area on Florida Avenue. It is located in the old federal courthouse, which was built in 1905. This is a Marriott property.
Aloft Tampa Downtown
Also part of the Marriott family, Aloft is located downtown on West Kennedy Boulevard. It has an outdoor pool and is pet friendly.
The Barrymore Riverwalk
Located downtown on the Riverwalk, the Barrymore is across the street from the Straz Performing Arts Center and within walking distance of the Tampa Museum of Art.
Hard Rock Hotel And Casino
As mentioned above, this hotel is east of Tampa, off I-4. Rooms are located in twin towers and adjacent to the gaming and gambling casino. It has three fine dining restaurants and a dozen cafes and grills.