SO about a month ago we flew to Tampa. Some of you may be thinking “Kaidy? WHY would you go to Florida in August? It’s way too hot!” Although you may be right, that was the only time V and I could go on a trip together due to our school schedules. The weather didn’t actually bother us as long as we drank lots of water. But most importantly, the plane tickets are DIRT cheap in August. Summer is coming to an end, which means you run into fewer field trips and even fewer tourists. This means very few huge crowds, fewer tourist traps to walk into, and very little stress at the airport.
DISCLAIMER: I will start out by saying this: I am not the biggest fan of Tampa. Between the ages of 8-12, I visited Tamp AT LEAST once a year. However, my lovely sister lives there just like she did when I was younger, so V and I jumped on a plane (or two, and then a hotel, and then on another plane) and spent a week in Tampa. Despite my –slight- unwillingness to go there we actually ended up having a blast.
Seeing as this was V’s first time ever being in Florida, I did my best to hide my lack of excitement (or shall we say disdain) and show him as much as I could in 5 days. So if you are planning on traveling to Tampa during the summer, here is a list of things to see/do/eat!
A majority of what we did/saw was slightly outside of Tampa, however, there is still plenty to do in the city itself. Unfortunately (not) due to the fact that we spent most of our vacation eating and sunbathing (as any good vacationer should), I don’t have too many events/museums/festivals to talk about. For that, I express my utmost apologies. But I do want to tell you all about what I saw in the city, but first I want to talk about the River Walk because I love it.
Visit the River Walk
Since I was there last, Tampa has really stepped up its game. Ten years ago Tampa would have been considered “Trigger City” or even “A Ghost Town after 5 PM” but the city has done so much to improve its reputation. For one, they have built the River Walk. This is a beautiful riverside boardwalk right on the Hillsborough River. It’s 2.6 miles long and has something new every couple of feet. Whether it be a restaurant, bar, dog park or even a swing set, I found the River Walk to be exciting and welcoming to all.
We took a walk one night just as the sun was setting and it was absolutely beautiful. Even on a Thursday night, there was a pretty vibrant energy about it. There were bright (yet tasteful) lights on the bridges and we even ran into a group of people riding their bikes and doing wheelies through the town (did they have something to prove??). There are plenty of places to sit and enjoy the fresh air while having a drink or hanging out with friends.
Seminole Heights is a really cool area. Like I said in my intro, Tampa used to not be the best area. Nebraska Avenue used to be an area that you didn’t want to visit after dark. But slowly Mom and Pop restaurants and stores started to take up residence there.
Ever since then Seminole Heights has built a super supportive community. As soon as you walk into a store there you’ll notice that everybody knows everyone else on a first-name basis. It’s truly become a wonderful community.
My favorite spots (which I will talk about there) are definitely Xtreme Tacos and London Heights.
This area has been a huge part of Tampa’s history for years. It’s another area that has really cleaned up its act. It’s partly known for its boutique and bar scene, as well as the free-range chickens. But a huge part of its history belongs to the Cuban Cigar factories. Ybor City State Museum, in fact, has a huge exhibit on the cigar industry. There are restaurants that you can visit and eventually grab a box of cigars.
The Ybor bar scene is the place to be on a Friday night. If you like to party and you’re in Tampa check it out! One of my favorite bars there is Red Star Rock Bar.
Just a short drive outside of Tampa you’ll find yourself in Tarpon Springs. This place is known for its sponges and the greek sponge divers. While I was there, I learned that the Greeks were known for their technique of sponge diving. So when they immigrated to Florida they were ecstatic to learn that the sponge environment in Tarpon Springs was very similar to their’s back home. So they started sponge diving and turned the sponge-economy around. On the historical docks, there are tons of reminders of the once-booming sponge industry, as well as your typical tourist hubs and soap shops.
Here you can go on a boat ride to the nearby islands and go shelling. As well as stopping at one of the cafes to have probably some of the best baklava you will EVER find in the states. There are also saltwater taffy stores and a cool record store called Vinyl Vibes. It’s a great place to go with friends and family and just hang out for a day.
Jump in the Water
One of my favorite things about Tampa is that it’s surrounded by water. On the southern border alone there are Old Tampa Bay, Tampa Bay, Hillsborough Bay, and the Mckay Bay. Lots of people get around the bay and rivers in boats and it’s totally normal for everyone there to be way tanner than you are. (Cough cough thanks Irish heritage) We made sure to jump into as much water as possible.
Go Kayaking or Canoeing
One of the best ways to get to know the Florida waterways is to jump into a kayak or canoe (or as stated by the 10-year-old we ran into doing it “Old-School-Style). My sister, V, and I decided to go canoeing in Chassahowitzka. Chassahowitzka is not as well known as Weeki Wachee, but it’s cheaper and most importantly it wasn’t completely flooded like Weeki Wachee was. Flooded = no kayaking = no fun.
Canoeing was actually so much fun! V spent the entire time, unsuccessfully, looking for crocodiles (he’s always wanted to see one in the wild). My sister played tour guide, making sure we stayed to the left on the way out and to the right on the way back. It was very professional. And I spent my time sitting in the middle distributing snacks, taking photos, and avoiding sunburn. After our (their) workout we headed over to the Seven Sister Spring. There we watched people cave dive and ate some lunch.
I would like to note that you shouldn’t go kayaking here if you don’t have a guide, or can’t read a river map. There’s no shame in not being able to read a river map, I sure as hell can’t, but you don’t want to get lost. Weeki Wachee is definitely more tourist-friendly and easier to navigate. So keep that in mind the next time you go to Tampa.
Let’s go to the Beach-each (I couldn’t resist)
While there are a plethora of beaches to go to around Tampa. One of our favorites is St. Pete Beach. Located just 40 minutes away from Tampa it’s a great local beach. The best part about this beach is that there are areas for people who want a more touristy scene, and areas for locals. There is a cute little boardwalk as well as lots of restaurants and bars.
Hop on a Boat
On our last night in Tampa, we hopped on a boat and rode down Hillsborough River. Obviously not everyone has a sibling with boat owning friends. I get it. However, if it’s possible, jump on a boat and enjoy the ride. After our dinner, we just spent some time going up and down the river enjoying the fresh air and city lights. This experience made me realize that I totally need more friends with boats. I hope each and every one of you will get the chance to experience something like this!
Get That Grub
Like I said we spent most of our time eating. What can I say, I love food. My love of food, however almost directly affects you guys. See, had I not eaten as much as I did, you would have never have learned where the best places to eat are. Okay… maybe this is a lie since Yelp exists, but I’m going to take the win where I can get it.
Anyone who knows me can vouch for the fact that I ABSOLUTELY love Mexican food. It is one of the only things on my list of priorities when I fly back to the Western Hemisphere. Described as a Mexican-American establishment with a Westcoast flair, this place has the absolute best, authentic tacos in Tampa. Best of all they come from a food truck! They are a family run business located in Seminole Heights. I had the Portabello-tempura Tacos and OMG I was in heaven. The only downside to this food truck is that we took the food to go without having actually ordered enough for the three of us.
Good to know: Pretty soon they will be moving into an actual restaurant location, so they deserve all of the love and support they can get!
I don’t know about you guys but I love Biergartens. To me, they are such a novelty (I have, however, never been to an actual German one… I know I’m sorry). Wherever I go, as soon as I find out that there is a Biergarten nearby I have to check it out! That is almost exactly what Sparkman Wharf is… except way cooler.
This place is a Biergarten, Dining Garten, and retail center all in one. It’s outside and all of the restaurants are in old shipping containers (hello recycling!). There is a huge “grassed”-in patio with lounge chairs and picnic tables. It has a bunch of typical garden/picnic games like shuffleboard, lifesize chess, and cornhole. Better yet it is totally dog and child-friendly. I had an amazing ricotta, garlic and mushroom pizza from The Corners Pizza. V got a chicken burger and fries from Flock & Stock.
It’s amazing the amount of diversity they have there. I can say without a doubt that this is a place I would be at all the time if I lived in Tampa. It’s not very touristy but it’s still so fresh and unique!
Ricks on the River is a super cool place to eat. Their menu is made completely out of fish and meat, so, unfortunately, I wouldn’t recommend them to any of my vegetarian friends. This restaurant has a really amazing ambiance and is great for the sports/seafood lover. There is an inside bar while outside there is a huge seating area with a view of the Hillsborough River and the boat parking lot.
Ricks is a great place to hang out, but it’s not really a place to drive too. The experience is completed by a boat ride there (see Hop on a Boat). So like I said IF it is possible, jump on someone’s boat and take a ride.
It is super important to stay hydrated while on vacation. While these places aren’t necessarily known for their water, they are great places to put on your sightseeing-list.
I loved this place. It is attached to the owner’s home, so it’s got a super homey-vibe to it (obviously). The place is small but the barista’s know all of their customer’s names and their orders. There’s a wall covered in bills signed by customers from all around the world. They even have extra dog biscuits for our four-legged friends.
Their menu has a super wide variety of options on it. They have everything from coffees, chais, smoothies, scones, quiches, and sandwiches. They have options for vegetarians, vegans, paleo diets, as well as gluten-free. We ordered some sandwiches to go and some coffees, and it was one of the best breakfasts I had in Tampa. Seriously go check it out!
So I found out about this bar through my sister. They just opened up their new location in Ybor City recently. It’s got a super cool rock-vibe, so if you are a fan of rock, this is just the place for you. It’s a casual place to go and hang out in. You can go in jeans and a t-shirt or even a sundress and fit right in!
The bartenders are super knowledgable and they have a huge selection to choose from. Since it’s located in the middle of Ybor, it’s pretty easy to get to with an Uber, or the TECO Line Streetcar System.
This is another cool bar, it’s all themed like London (As the name says). It is located in Seminole Heights and really has the community feel to it. There is always a group of friends sitting in the corner or at the bar.
The bartenders here are also very knowledgable. They know most of the customers by name and treat everyone (for the most part) like a big family. They have a wide alcohol selection and a British-based menu. We spent some time there and I ate the crab cake (TO DIE FOR) and V ate the Shepards Pie. Definitely a place to visit!
There’s definitely more to do in Tampa then I’ve mentioned here. There are summer festivals, museums and an endless number of restaurants, bars, and boutiques to visit. Even if you’re feeling lost in Tampa there are lots of areas to visit outside of Tampa as well! I guess you guys will just have to go and see for yourself!
Have you ever been to Tampa? Did I miss anything major? Let me know in the comments! XOXO