Tampa Bay

Updated on 09 September 2022

Explore Tampa Bay: where to stay, what to eat and the top things to do

The heart of Florida’s Gulf Coast, Tampa Bay is both exciting and relaxing at the same time, and now the word is out, it’s not long before you, too, will fall for its charms.

Why go to Tampa Bay?

Just the word ‘Florida’ conjures up so many wonderful images – sunshine, sand and spectacular theme parks. And that’s just Orlando! But venture further west and there is so much more to this super state. Starting from laid-back St Petersburg on Florida’s Gulf Coast and ending in the bustling city of Tampa, we venture to four main parts of Tampa Bay, all of which offer something completely different.

5 must-see areas

St Petersburg

While Florida as a whole is known for its gorgeous weather, it’s St Pete (as the locals call it) that holds the title for the most consecutive sunny days (768 to be precise). But the warm climate isn’t its only draw. This stunning spot has a dreamy waterfront, award-winning beaches, is home to the world-renowned Salvador Dalí Museum, and a downtown that’s urban enough to be cool yet so friendly it’ll make you want to pack your bags and move there. For more information, check out visitstpeteclearwater.com

The Dali Museum in St Pete (Image: Courtesy of VisitStPeteClearwater.com)Courtesy of VisitStPeteClearwater.com


Just a half-hour drive northwest from St Pete, beautiful Clearwater will leave you awestruck. Its three-mile white powdered sands have been named the best beach in America for two years running by TripAdvisor, and sixth-best in the world, and it’s very easy to see why. It’s also graced with excellent restaurants boasting the state’s famous catch, grouper, on their menus and beachfront bars, sunsets to die for and a nightly festival at Pier 60. For more information, check out visitflorida.com

Clearwater Beach (Image: Courtesy of VisitStPeteClearwater.com)Courtesy of VisitStPeteClearwater.com

Pasco County

An hour northeast of Clearwater lies Pasco County (also known as Florida's Sports Coast), a rustic area that has no beach, but oh-so many other activities that you can’t do in other parts of the state. Nature trails abound here and there’s no better place to experience the Florida wilderness. You can zipline and wakeboard, or paddleboard around the stilt houses over in Port Richey, before setting sail on a tranquil sunset cruise, where you might spot a dolphin or three. For more information, visit flsportscoast.com

Mangroves in Port Richey (Image: Joanne Dale/Shutterstock)Joanne Dale/Shutterstock


More than just a business district, Tampa’s urban parks, unique city waterways, top museums and hip hangout areas such as Sparkman Wharf all contribute to the sophisticated yet chilled out vibe of Tampa Bay’s biggest city. And that’s before you even think about Busch Gardens – the incredible theme park with animal encounters and unforgettable experiences. For more information, see visittampabay.com

Tamp Bay skyline (Image: Visit Tampa Bay)Visit Tampa Bay

Ybor City

One of the most unique places in Florida, Ybor City just northeast of downtown Tampa is an absolute must-visit. The historic Latin quarter, founded by cigar magnate Vicente Martinez Ybor in 1885, immediately transports you to Cuba as soon as you step foot on its rooster-roamed sidewalks, which have cigars and fine Cuban coffee for sale on every corner. Once dubbed the cigar capital of the world, producing 700 million in 1927, the history is best preserved in the late 19th-century homes, known as casitas, built high to keep gators and snakes out. Bright yellow streetcars run through Ybor City from downtown Tampa.

The iconic yellow streetcar in Ybor City (Image: Keir Magoulas | Visit Tampa Bay)Keir Magoulas/Visit Tampa Bay

READ MORE: Explore different parts of Tampa here

Where to stay?

Postcard Inn, St Petersburg

Quirky, cool and located right on St Pete Beach, this 196-room inn pays homage to surfers and sun worshippers, with artwork and memorabilia adorning the walls. Choose between gourmet or grab-and-go at mealtimes, and don’t miss cocktail happy hour during weeknights at the Beach Bar. It’s just a 30-minute drive from Tampa International Airport.

Postcard Inn exterior (Image: Courtesy of VisitStPeteClearwater.com)Courtesy of VisitStPeteClearwater.com

Opal Sands Resorts, Clearwater

All 230 stunning guest rooms and suites at Opal Sands look out onto the Gulf of Mexico and the gorgeous white sands of Clearwater Beach below. Stylish and super modern with spa-style bathrooms, deluxe bedding and all the mod-cons you can possibly think of, this paradisial hotel is worth splashing out for.

King suite in the Opal Sands Resort (Image: Opalsands.com)Opalsands.com

SpringHill Suites by Marriott, Tampa Suncoast Parkway

Modern with a corporate feel, the rooms here come kitted out with a huge smart TV, mini-fridge, microwave and coffee machine, plus a wetroom-style bathroom. A super comfy bed is a welcome sight after a day of outdoor adventures in and around Pasco County.

Hotel Alba, Tampa

Luxury awaits at every corner of this recently refurbished uber-modern hotel. Cabana suites with a pool view are huge, more like apartments, with high-end amenities in a living area and separate bedroom, complete with a swanky marble bathroom. The staff here are so attentive and deserve a special mention. You can see Cuban and Southern hospitality reflected in everything from the décor to the food and drinks – don’t leave without trying the sweet tea sangria. Only two miles from Tampa International, the hotel is below the flight path, but that won’t bother you one bit.


A post shared by Hotel Alba (@hotelalbatampa)

READ MORE: South Florida road trip 

Best places to eat and drink

Tampa Bay’s waterfront bars, bistros and inner-city restaurants offer fine cuisine that’s as unique and rich as its culture. Fresh seafood is the order of the day no matter where you go, but there’s plenty of options for meat-eaters and veggies.

Taking influences from Cuba, Southern US, Mexican and Asian, the key dishes to sample are key lime pie (obviously), grouper, shrimp and grits, gator tail, stone crabs (when in season, October to May) and the much-debated Cuban sandwich.

Cuban sandwich (Image: Leigh Loftus/Shutterstock)Leigh Loftus/Shutterstock

The latter remains firmly in the Tampa camp, according to locals, despite Miami laying claim to having invented it. The scrumptious layers of ham, roasted pork, salami, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard squeezed between two slices of crispy Cuban bread was said to have been created for Cuban workers in Tampa’s Ybor City. One thing is clear, though, you have to try one. Head to La Segunda in Ybor City to sample the best.

To revel in utter sophistication – and just to say you’ve been – make sure The Rowe Bar at The Don CeSar in St Pete is on your list for cocktails and a spot of lunch. The huge pink palace is a landmark in the area, and is where Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio honeymooned in the 1950s. Order the goats’ cheese fritters and grouper Ruben, washed down with a Blackberry Smash (Hendrick’s gin, blackberries, house-made syrup, lemon and lime).

The Don CeSar hotel from above (Image: Courtesy of VisitStPeteClearwater.com)Courtesy of VisitStPeteClearwater.com

The casual yet chic Trophy Fish in downtown St Pete offers a side of live music and a sensational sunset with its fresh catch of the day. Choose from chicken, veggies, swordfish or red snapper, then go to the bait shop-style hatch and order it how you like: grilled, blackened or with citrus rub, in tacos, sandwiches or a salad. The cocktail menu is extensive, so to save you time, opt for the Passerelle – gin, lemongrass, honeydew and lemon sparkling wine.

Part of the newly opened Berkeley Beach Club, The Dewey provides jaw-dropping rooftop views over St Pete Beach alongside equally fabulous food. Classy and upscale, there’s no better place than to devour fresh oysters and Champagne. Top tip: try the fried Brussels sprouts. Seriously. Combined with apple, almonds, Parmesan and brown butter sherry vinaigrette, they will be the best sprouts you’ve ever eaten.

The Dewey rooftop featuring dishes and cocktails (Image: Berkeley Beach Club/Facebook)Berkeley Beach Club/Facebook

Sunsets and salads go hand-in-hand at the Palm Pavilion on the beachfront at Clearwater. And by salads, I don’t just mean a few lettuce leaves and a couple of tomatoes. I’m talking a plate packed to the brim with every delicious flavour you can think of. Go for the aptly named Sunset Salad and add chicken (or fish, there are plenty of options). It comes with greens, goats’ cheese, caramelised onions, carrots, peppers, walnuts, strawberries and a raspberry-walnut dressing. Divine. White sangria packed with fresh fruit and muddled with brandy and cinnamon sugar is a must in the drinks department.

Sunset Salad at Palm Pavilion (Image: Lynne Maxwell)Lynne Maxwell

Craft Street Kitchen in Trinity, south of Port Richey, has the ultimate buffalo cauliflower, made with hot sauce, celery and house blue dressing. The bustling bistro has a huge menu, but be sure to save room for the lip-smacking desserts – Snickerdoodle Cookie Skillet or Peanut Butter Pie are the ones.

For lunch with a view-and-a-half, Whiskey Joe’s Bar & Grill in Port Richey is something to be savoured. And I don’t just mean the delicious grub on offer. Sit outside on the deck facing the Cotee River and you’re bound to see a few dolphins pass by as you sip on a Frosé and chow down on the strawberry guava ribs.

Whiskey Joes cocktails (Image: Whiskey Joe's Bar & Grill Port Richey/Facebook)Whiskey Joe's Bar & Grill Port Richey /Facebook

Casual yet tasty dining, the waterfront Gill Dawg Tiki Bar and Grill in Port Richey serves top burgers and beers. Gulf shrimp or Parmesan crusted grouper are top choices, but it does everything well, including chips and dips, plus the coveted Floridian classic, key lime pie.

The ultimate, Instagramable brunch place comes in the form of Tampa’s Oxford Exchange. It feels like you’ve stepped in an aristocrat’s manor, but for the beautiful trinkets, first-edition books and souvenirs (think classy not trashy) on sale in the elegant store at the front. A perfect pile of pancakes with crispy bacon, maple syrup and a cascade of fresh berries looks almost too good to eat. Almost.

While you’ll be hard-pressed to find poor seafood in the region, the award-winning Oystercatchers in Tampa is a must-visit for, what they like to class as, ‘the finest seafood in town’. The view from the waterfront location isn’t bad either.

READ MORE: Explore the Florida Keys

Your ultimate 7-day itinerary

Day 1: Cycling and shuffleboard in St Petersburg

Check into: Postcard Inn, St Pete. Comfy yet cool, you’ll find a bucket and spade packed with goodies on arrival.

Get your culture on: at The Salvador Dalí Museum, the largest collection of the Spanish Surrealist artist’s work outside of Spain. Download the museum’s free app for a self-guided tour. Highlights include the famous Lobster Phone, and Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea painting, which becomes a portrait of Abraham Lincoln when you stand 65 feet (20m) away. The landscaped garden is a work of art in itself. Before you go, take your wristband off, make a wish and tie it to the wish tree.

The crystal style architecture at the back of the Dali Museum (Image: Courtesy of VisitStPeteClearwater.com)Courtesy of VisitStPeteClearwater.com

Stop by: The Don CeSar, for a light lunch in its legendary Rowe Bar. Glamour exudes this iconic pink palace, which has played host to the rich and famous over the years. Before you go, get a photo on the giant beach swing overlooking the gorgeous Gulf.

Head out on a: Murals By Bike tour with Florida CraftArt around downtown St Pete. Hire a cycle and take in some 500 murals and artworks by local artists while stopping off at the many breweries en route to fuel up. Green Bench Brewing has some sterling IPAs on offer – try the Sunshine City, so refreshing – while Cage Brewing has its own funky artwork on show, and unique fruity IPAs and ciders. The Mango Bob is as delicious as it sounds.

Sunshine on my mind mural in St Pete (Image: Courtesy of VisitStPeteClearwater.com)Courtesy of VisitStPeteClearwater.com

Soak up that ale: at Trophy Fish. Choose your meat, fish or veg, in a taco, sandwich or salad then grab a seat and a cocktail. It’s all outside, so kick back and enjoy the live chilled music coupled with the striking Floridian skies. You won’t want to leave.

Finish off the night: playing the famous local game at the world’s oldest and biggest shuffleboard club. Opened in 1924, there are 82 courts for you to try your skills on. Fridays are free so expect it to be busy, and it’s BYOB.

Shuffleboard in St Pete (Image: Courtesy of VisitStPeteClearwater.com)Courtesy of VisitStPeteClearwater.com

Day 2: Kayaking in St Pete and a sunset to remember in Clearwater

Venture to: Shell Key Preserve in a clear kayak, being sure to spot manatees, dolphins, starfish and lots more marine life on the way. Get Up and Go Kayaking’s tours come with a local guide, who tells you all about the mangrove’s residents. Don’t forget to search for sand dollars (a type of urchin) when you stop off at the sandbar.

Kayaking at Shell Key Preserve in clear kayaks (Image: Courtesy of VisitStPeteClearwater.com)Courtesy of VisitStPeteClearwater.com

Enjoy rooftop drinks: at The Dewey while you soak up incredible views over St Pete. If you can tear yourself away from the vistas, head downstairs and enjoy the best grits in town.

Head to: Clearwater to check into the palatial Opal Sands Resort and freshen up. The rooms are magnificent and each has an incredible view of the Gulf of Mexico, not to mention a huge comfy bed.

Take a stroll along: Clearwater Beach, just outside the hotel, in time for sunset. At the far end of the sugar-fine sands you’ll spot Pier 60, a fun promenade packed with little stalls selling all kinds of souvenirs, with street performers, dancers, artisans and crafters all vying for your attention – in a nice way. You can pay $1 if you want to go to the end of the pier but halfway is sufficient enough. Don’t forget to turn around, the moon in all its glory, floating on pinky blue skies, is also a sight not to be missed.

Sunset at Pier 60 on Clearwater Beach (Image: VIAVAL TOURS/Shutterstock)VIAVAL TOURS/Shutterstock

Have dinner: at Palm Pavilion – in the best spot right on the beach. Live music, a vast menu and the most jolly, attentive, friendly staff, with scrummy cocktails to boot. You’ll want to stay here the whole night – and they’d let you!

Day 3: Outdoor adventures in Pasco County

Get back on the highway: and head to Pasco County, an hour or so from Clearwater, where you’ll find the fantastic TreeHoppers Aerial Adventure Park. A bit like Go Ape in the UK, you can test your nerves on a range of courses high up in the treetops. You get equipped with harnesses and clips before being taught how to use it all in a briefing.

TreeHoppers Aerial Park (Image: Florida Sports Coast)Florida Sports Coast

Swing through the trees on zip wires, cross log, wire and chain bridges, stand-up swings and tunnels. It’s great fun and such an achievement afterwards. Don’t forget to take a picnic for lunch to have on site.

Continue your sense of adventure: at The Lift Adventure Park, not far from TreeHoppers. This inflatable aqua park is super enjoyable, as you test your balance skills, Total Wipeout-style. Fear not if you fall in, you have life jackets on. The park is situated on beautiful white sands so when you've had enough, swim ashore and watch the others.

The Lift Adventure Park (Image: Florida Sports Coast)Florida Sports Coast

Having worked up a huge appetite: head to Craft Street Kitchen for dinner. Try the Tuscan flatbread and skillet cornbread with maple pecan butter, and if you can manage it, the steak mac n cheese is incredible.

Check into: SpringHill Suites by Marriott for a much-needed rest after a day of activities.

Day 4: Nature trail time near Port Richey

Set off nice and early for a hike: with a ranger at JB Starkey Wilderness Park. The area offers more than 8,000 acres to wander through plus cycle and equestrian trails. Look out for the Solar System walk, from the Sun to Pluto, with signs depicting the distance on a small scale, of course.

Eat at: Whiskey Joe’s Bar & Grill in Port Richey, for a lunchtime you won’t forget in a hurry. The laid-back beach vibe is complemented by the delicious cocktails and vast menu on offer (grouper tacos, gator bites and ribs are hot favourites). But that’s not all. Sit outside and you’re guaranteed to spot dolphins frolicking on the horizon. Make sure your camera is poised.

Walk off lunch and explore: Werner Boyce Salt Springs State Park. Follow the Eagle Trail and you might see a bald eagle in flight or high up in the trees. You’ll also learn about the tranquil salt marshes and all who live there… thankfully the alligators must’ve been sleeping when I went.

Alligator warning sign at Werner Boyce Salt Springs State Park (Image: Lynne Maxwell)Lynne Maxwell

Set sail on: a Sangria Sunset Cruise and watch the sun kiss the horizon and slide into the Gulf. As you pass the houses on stilts, look out for the Flag House. When the sun leaves behind a marbled pattern of pink and purple, keep your eyes on the horizon to spot dolphins.

The Flag House on a sunset cruise in Port Richey (Image: Florida Sports Coast)Florida Sports Coast

Dig into lots of appetisers: back on dry land at Gill Dawg. It’s the best way to sample everything! Save room for key lime pie, they do it so well here. Well, when in Rome...

Day 5: Aquatic fun and Cuban culture in Tampa 

After breakfast: it’s time to hit the big city – Tampa. First stop, the Florida Aquarium. You can’t miss it with the gigantic stingray replica statue at the entrance. You can easily spend all day here, getting up close to Florida’s aquatic and terrestrial animals, as well as the world’s. Feeling brave? Book a swim with sharks for an experience you’ll never forget.

The giant stingray outside Florida Aquarium (Image: Lynne Maxwell)Lynne Maxwell

Head to: the hip waterfront area known as Sparkman Wharf, for a spot of lunch. It’s a hub of entertainment, restaurants, games, music and live events. Plonk yourself in a place on the lawn amid giant chess pieces and decide what to eat from the vast array of options which include seafood, Asian cuisine, burgers and tacos.

For a history lesson you'll want to pay attention to: head to Ybor City, Tampa’s famous Cuban neighbourhood. Grab a gourmet ice pop from The Hyppo to cool you down on your guided tour. A clued-up guide will tell you all about life here in the late 19th century, as you dodge the roosters who wander freely (and are protected by federal law), and soak up the sounds, smells and sights such as the old cigar factories and surviving casitas.

Tabanero Cigar shop in Ybor City (Image: Keir Magoulas | Visit Tampa Bay)Keir Magoulas | Visit Tampa Bay

Round off your tour at Tabanero Cigars on the corner opposite Mr Ybor’s statue. You’ll see cigars getting rolled, and the smoke hits you as you walk through the door, tempting you to try one. I had the best coffee I’ve ever had in this shop. It’s made specially to complement the cigars and has a treacley, smoky taste. Strong without being bitter, it's so good!

Check into: Hotel Alba, a short ride from Ybor City, and enjoy the delicious local cuisine at The Spaniard, one of the hotel's four dining options.

Day 6: Urban water sports and candle pouring in the city

Fill up on pancakes: at the beautifully ornate Oxford Exchange on West Kennedy Boulevard. Remember to check out the lovely shop on the way out, too.

For stand-up paddleboarding city style: head to Urban Kai on the waterfront by Armature Works. There’s something unique about paddleboarding (or kayaking, if you prefer) downstream beneath huge concrete bridges with the bustling traffic above you. But it’s still fun, and a tour guide comes out on the water with you in case you panic!

Standup Paddleboarding in Tampa City (Image: Hannah Mulvey)Hannah Mulvey

Sample a Cuban sandwich: at Hemingway’s in Armature Works, or simply congratulate yourself on conquering urban paddleboarding with a glass of fizz.

Create your own candle: at The Candle Pour in Hyde Park Village. You’ll be hypnotised by all the beautiful fragrances as soon as you enter, perhaps influencing your decision as to which scents to use for your own masterpiece. You’re shown exactly which smells complement others, before learning how to pour the soy wax and set it. They make great presents to take home.

Sample some: of the best, freshest seafood at the award-winning Oystercatchers on Tampa’s waterfront. The classy restaurant claims to have the best view in town, and we can’t argue with that.

Day 7: Coaster time at Busch Gardens

Check out of Hotel Alba: after a breakfast that will set you up for a day of highs and lows… yes, I’m talking roller coasters! You can spot some of the thrilling rides as you edge closer to Busch Gardens, the family-friendly theme park featuring animal encounters, live entertainment and more.  

Go on safari: across the 65-acre Serengeti Plain where giraffes, in particular, will pose for photos and a lettuce leaf or radish lunch. You’ll also get to see rhinos, zebras, antelopes and ostriches from your open-air truck.

A giraffe eating a bouquet of radishes at Busch Gardens (Image: Busch Gardens Tampa Bay/Facebook)Busch Gardens Tampa Bay/Facebook

Have a pit stop lunch: in one of the many eateries and restaurants throughout the park. I went to Dragon Fire Grill, a market-style indoor food court, where performers put on a show that’s almost Broadway-worthy, as you chow down on pizza, chicken platters, Asian cuisine or burgers.

Feeling brave? It’s time to hit the rides. Tackle them all if you can, from park favourites such as Scorpion and Cheetah Hunt, to Cobra’s Curse, Sheikra and Montu – where your legs dangle, you tackle seven inversions, and ride on the outside of the track. It’s all over in around one minute. And speaking of fast, Tigris (pictured) is the tallest launch coaster in the state, catapulting riders up 150 feet (46m) in one heart-stopping surge, before twisting and looping its way around 1,800 feet (548m) of steel track in 45 seconds flat.

Tigris coaster at Busch Gardens (Image: Busch Gardens Tampa Bay/Facebook)Busch Gardens Tampa Bay/Facebook

Adrenaline junkies: should keep an eye out for Busch Gardens’ new ride Iron Gwazi, due to open later this year. It's set to become the world’s fastest and steepest hybrid (a mix of wood and steel track) coaster, and the highest in North America.

Map of Tampa Bay

How to get to Tampa Bay

There are usually daily direct flights from London Gatwick to Tampa International with British Airways.

Alternatively, America As You Like It offers a seven-night package from £1,250 per person and includes direct return flights from London Gatwick to Tampa on British Airways, car hire, two-nights at the Postcard Inn On The Beach in St Petersburg, one night at the Opal Sands in Clearwater Beach, two-nights at the SpringHill Suites Suncoast Parkway in Pasco County and two-nights at Hotel Alba in Tampa. Price based on two people sharing. To book call 020 8742 8299 or visit the website.

More information about the area can be found at:

Main image: Sean Pavone/Shutterstock


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