A Weekend in Tampa? Here’s What to Do!

Welcome to the Tampa Bay area!  Let us roll out the red carpet and show you how you might spend some spare time while you’re here.  We’ve included our go-to favorites in a number of categories to give you the insider track and plenty of options to choose from.  Ready—Set—Go!!

2015-09-26 17.30.46Tampa’s Craft Beer Movement:

Craft brew is huge in Tampa, and gaining steam and market share every day.  While you’re here why not quench your thirst with some of Tampa Bay’s local craft beers?  Or better yet, check out some of the craft brews up close and personal in local brewery tasting rooms.  Perhaps the best nationally known is Tampa’s Cigar City Brewery, but other notables in the craft brew scene include Hidden Springs, Tampa Bay Brewing Company, Six Ten and Coppertail also in Tampa; Cycle Brewing, 3 Daughters and Green Bench in St. Petersburg; Rapp Brewing in Seminole; 7th Sun and Dunedin Brewery in Dunedin (at 20 years of age, Dunedin Brewery is the longest continuously run brewery in Florida).

If you’re interested in learning even more, make sure to schedule a tour of the Cigar City Brewery on Spruce.  For $5 you get not only the tour, but a pint glass as a souvenir and a pour or two.  When I took the tour last our guide told us that the more questions we asked, the more he’d pour.  Game on, we rose to the challenge!

One of the oldest brewhouses is the Tampa Bay Brewing Company in Ybor City.   This is not only a brewhouse, but a full blown restaurant as well.   And I’m not talking just bar food here.  The depth of the menu is amazing, and all offerings have a secret ingredient- beer!  Guy Fieri is mad for their mussels featured on Diners, Drive Ins and Dives.  Make sure to check out their Mug Club.

How to enjoy the water in Tampa Bay:

While you’re here you must, MUST, spend some time on the water.  The options for waterfront enjoyment are nearly boundless.   If white sand beaches are the stuff of your dreams, head directly over to the Pinellas county beaches.  There’s a beach for everyone.  Some of our personal favorites are Honeymoon Island and Caladesi Island on the north end, and Pass-a-Grille and Fort DeSoto on the south end.  You pretty much can’t go wrong if you just get in your car and head west till you hit water.

If you haven’t the time or inclination to explore the beaches, there are still plenty of water activities available to you.  At The Getaway on the west end of Gandy Bridge, Urban Kai offers stand up paddleboarding lessons and events like Yoga on the Water.  Check out Canoe Escape to rent canoes or kayaks for quiet exploration of the natural beauty of the Hillsborough River.

My absolute favorite way to spend time on the water is to rent an e-Boat from e-Boats Tampa, located behind the convention center.  For about $70/hour you and 9 of your best friends can bring your own food and beverages and explore the downtown riverfront at a whopping 7 miles per hour.  Seriously, it’s more fun than a barrel of monkeys, particularly at night when you can experience Agua Luces (lighted bridges), a permanent art installation illuminating the downtown bridges.  Stunning.

If you’d like to just look at the water, take a walk/run/stroll/cycle/rollerblade along the beautiful Bayshore Boulevard, claimed to be the longest continuous sidewalk in the world at 4.5 miles, and lined with some of Tampa’s most beautiful homes.  The Riverwalk offers urban waterfront views, linking the Channelside district to Tampa’s Downtown.    A special delight, enjoy the Channelside fireworks on Saturdays throughout the summer.

Restaurants and Tampa Bay Food in General Cuban Sandwich

Cuban or Grouper?  Sandwich that is.  No mention of food in Tampa Bay is complete without mention of two of our specialties.  These two sandwich categories vie regularly for the “best in” category.  In fact, Miami and Tampa both claim bragging rights to the Cuban sandwich, but recently Tampa was awarded the prize.

The Cuban sandwich is widely held as the common lunch of Tampa’s cigar factory workers in the 1900s.  The traditional Cuban sandwich consists of ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, salami, yellow mustard (no Mayo), and pickles.  The sandwich is sliced diagonally, topped with butter, and pressed and served hot.  Do NOT order yours with lettuce and tomato, it ruins the experience in my opinion.

Grouper, on the other hand, is a mild, flaky, firm-fleshed fish.  It’s delicious served fried, broiled, Cajun or jerk-seasoned, and even as a Grouper Reuben (although why you’d ever want to do that eludes me).   There is nothing better than a great Grouper sandwich.

Some of our favorite locations to experience these delights are:

Cubans:  The Columbia Café at the Tampa Bay History Museum, Pipo’s on South MacDill in South Tampa (actually multiple locations in the Tampa Bay area), The West Tampa Sandwich Shop on Armenia in West Tampa.

Grouper: Big Ray’s Fish Camp in South Tampa’s Ballast Point area, Dockside Dave’s on Madeira Beach, Frenchy’s Restaurants in several Pinellas County locations, Grouper cheeks (yes, I did say cheeks) at the Crab Shack on Gandy Blvd on the Pinellas side, and Skipper’s Smokehouse in north Tampa.

For other dining options, here are some of our favorite restaurants by category.  This is by no means is everything, but it’s a start.  Check them out on Yelp or Urban Spoon and see which appeal to you.   Don’t worry, most of our restaurants are very casual.

 

Waterfront Dining

Café Dufrain on Harbour Island

Rick’s on the River in The Heights area

The Columbia Café at the History Museum

Ulele in The Heights area

A Taste of Boston in S Tampa, Ballast Point Pier

Starship Yacht dinner cruise in Channelside

Jackson’s Bistro on Harbour Island

Casual Dining

Skipper’s in North Tampa

New World Brewery in Ybor City

Tampa Bay Brewing Company in Ybor City

The Crab Shack on Gandy Blvd.

Ella’s in SE Seminole Heights

Fly Bar in Downtown Tampa

Daily Eats in SoHo South Tampa

Datz in Palma Ceia South Tampa

Cicio’s Restaurants (numerous) in SoHo S. Tampa

Anise Global Gastro Bar in Downtown Tampa

Ethnic Dining

Thai Island on Davis Island

Gengiz Khan(Turkish)  in South Tampa

Yummy House (Chinese) 2 locations

Catrina’s (Mexican)  in South Tampa

Osteria Natalina (Italian) in South Tampa

Queen of Sheba (Ethiopian) in South Tampa

Curry Leaves (Indian) in Westshore area

Petra (Middle Eastern) near Univ of Tampa

Saigon Deli (Vietnamese) Town n Country

Higher End Dining

Bern’s Steakhouse in S Tampa

Oyster Catchers in the Hyatt in Rocky Point

Armani’s also in the Hyatt in Rocky Point

Restaurant BT in Palma Ceia, South Tampa

The Rooster and The Till in Seminole Heights

Bizou Brasserie in Le Meridien Hotel Downtown The Columbia Ybor City- catch the Flamenco show

Mise en Place in S Tampa near Univ of Tampa

Nightlife:

In terms of nightlife, Tampa has 3 pretty well defined areas where clubs and late night restaurants are clustered: Ybor City, Downtown Tampa, and our SoHo (South Howard) areas.

Ybor City is an area densely populated by restaurants, night clubs and bars that surround 7th Avenue, known as Tampa’s Latin Quarter.   Located just east of Downtown Tampa, it is easily accessible by taxi or by trolley, and there are parking garages should you drive in.  (Make sure to bring money for parking and cover charges)  It’s worth a stroll just to take in the ambience and buzz, and some great people watching as well.  Ybor City’s activities go late into the night.  Enjoy our Cigar City culture and maybe some local cigars while in Ybor.  As in any late night area where drinking is involved, be aware of your surroundings and act accordingly.

SoHo, or South Howard, is located in South Tampa.  Here you’ll find late night restaurants and bars lining Howard and Armenia, with less of the club scene of Ybor.  Dress in SoHo runs casual to fashion forward.  Public parking is limited, so plan to valet your car, or just Uber in.  Bar-hopping is the norm here, with many offering wonderful outdoor decks.  It’s the perfect place to see and be seen.

Downtown Tampa is the area’s newest nighttime hot spot.  From casual to uber-hip, you’ll find someplace to enjoy.  Check out the Sail Pavilion on the water behind the Convention Center for a casual waterfront vibe.  Move on to the Aloft Hotel to check out the W XYZ Bar, also along the river.  Anise Global Gastrobar has fabulous artisanal cocktails (and the stinky bunz are to die for), as does the Bizou Brasserie and Bar at the Le Meridien Hotel.  My personal favorite is Fly Bar which has a fabulous rooftop deck and excellent happy hour menu and prices.  Check out the activity at Curtis Hixon Park on the Hillsborough River.  Many public events are held there including Rock the Park, Sunday Night Yoga in the Park, The Mayor’s River of Green for St. Patrick’s Day, to name a few.  Top your evening off at the nightclub at Jackson’s on Harbour Island and enjoy the dance party.

While not located in the big 3 nightlife hubs, no discussion of Tampa is complete without mention of Skipper’s Smokehouse.  Per their website they’ve been “Smokin’ since 1980”.  There’s really no place like it in the Tampa Bay area.  Located in North Tampa, Skippers serves up food, oysters, and one of the most interesting music scenes in the area.  There you can catch Uncle John’s Band, a Grateful Dead tribute band, weekly and touring groups of all types and varieties.  This is a mainly outdoor venue, so plan accordingly.  Skipper’s has music 6 nights a week, and is closed on Mondays.  This quirky insider’s staple is family and kid friendly to boot (under 21 must be accompanied by parent or guardian).

Other Places to Chill Out/Hang Out:

Coffee is big, even in Tampa Bay when sometimes the iced variety seems to make more sense.  We have our fair share of Starbucks, but our local coffee houses have great personality.  Buddy Brew on Kennedy Blvd near University of Tampa has just expanded and is a great place for locally roasted coffee.  DI Coffee is a new java stop on Davis Island.  For even more local coffee try any of our Cuban cafes for café con leche.  Your life may never be the same, and you can duck into any local grocery to pick up some Naviera coffee to take home with you.

The Oxford Exchange, on Kennedy near University of Tampa, combines Buddy Brew coffee, local Te Bella Tea, a book store, home goods store and restaurant in one of the most aesthetically pleasing spaces in Tampa.  It’s a place to shop, snack or dine, or just sit and enjoy the space.

Tampa is a foodie town, and the new Epicurean Hotel, a collaboration with Bern’s Steak House, is betting on it.  Check their schedule for special dinners, wine or classes in the Epicurean Theater, and even their Splash Sundays through August, sponsored by Moet.  Check out their rooftop deck and bar as well.

Neighborhood markets are a fun and interesting way to learn about our community, and maybe score some reasonably priced treats.  The Hyde Park Fresh Market is held the first Sunday 10-3 year round.  Tampa’s Downtown Market is held every Thursday October – May.  The Seminole Heights Market is the second Sunday, held on the grounds of Hillsborough High October – May, and this year during the summer months at Southern Brewing and Winemaking on Nebraska.   Year ‘round the Ybor City Market is open every Saturday for your shopping pleasure.

Festivals and events abound along Tampa’s Riverwalk.  The Tampa Bay History Center, Glazer Children’s Museum, the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts, and Tampa Museum of Art can all be found along the Riverwalk.  Check out the activity at Curtis Hixon Park on the Hillsborough River.  Just soak in the fun, literally, on the splash pad, or become a kid again on the playground.  The new Water Works Park, also along the Hillsborough River just north of I-275 offers a dog park, water features, a festival lawn and stage, with the beautiful Hillsborough River as backdrop.

If sports get your heart racing, be sure to check out our local teams and maybe take in a game while you’re here.  The Lightning (hockey), Buccaneers (football), Storm (arena football), NY Yankees (spring training major league baseball), Tampa Yankees (minor league baseball- offering inexpensive tickets and food and drink specials some nights) all play in Tampa.  In St. Petersburg you can catch the Rays (major league baseball) or Rowdies (soccer).   Check each team’s web site for more information.

Getting Around Without a Car*

There are plenty of options to get around downtown Tampa.  Take a ride in an eco-friendly, open air vehicle offering door to door shuttle services.  Hop aboard HART’s Intown Trolley Line, or grab a cab or Uber.  There are even water taxis that traverse the river.  The historic streetcars are steadily gaining use as a means for downtown Tampa public transportation, and are a big bonus during major events.  Check out the Coast bicycle share program serving Downtown, Hyde Park and Ybor City areas.

Bus Routes

Downtown serves as the transit hub for 30 local and express HART routes, most serving the Marion Street Transit Parkway. Google Transit, Route Shout, One Bus Away, emergency ride home program, etc. 813-254-4278 www.gohart.org

 In-Town Trolley Network

HART’s In-Town Trolley serves Downtown providing quick, convenient transportation from major public parking and downtown hotels to shopping, restaurants, museums, galleries, performing arts, nightlife and major points of interest. Trolleys connect with the TECO Line Streetcar. Every 15 minutes, only $.25/ride, hours vary. 813-254-4278 http://www.gohart.org/routes/trolley/in-town-trolley.html

TECO Line Streetcar

Let a nostalgic air-conditioned streetcar whisk you between historic Ybor City and downtown, stopping at Fort Brooke garage, Tampa Convention Center, Florida Aquarium, Garrison Seaport, Tampa Bay Times Forum and the Channelside Entertainment Complex. Residents, business owners and employees of the Streetcar Special Assessment District can purchase a 20 ride fare card for 1/2 price or an annual pass for $200 at HART outlets. Hours vary.  813-254-4278 www.tecolinestreetcar.org 

Taxi Cabs                      

Taxi rides within an In-Town zone are $3 each for 2 or more people.  Flat rates between this zone and the airport are $25. The In-Town Zone encompasses Downtown, Channel District, Ybor City and Hyde Park.  Click here for the map. Taxis can be hailed from all hotels and taxi stands throughout downtown. Yellow Cab 813-888-5008; United Cab 813-253-2424.

Water Taxi Service

Transport and gorgeous views of the downtown skyline are available by utilizing a water taxi. Currently serving most hotels, Harbour Island, Convention Center, Performing Arts Center, Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, Tampa Heights with more destinations to come. Private charters, scenic tours and more. Tampa Water Taxi 888-665-8687

*Many thanks to the Tampa Downtown Partnership for providing this information.

We hope you enjoy your time in Tampa Bay.  We invite you to call us if you have any questions during your stay, and feedback on this list is always appreciated.

Enjoy!

p.s. – We’d like to give a special shout out to Rachel Radawec of the TDP for her contributions to this document.