Best Places To Stay, Eat, and Visit in Tampa Bay, Florida

With its rich history, pirate-loving culture, and hot restaurant scene, Tampa Bay is a coastal city you want to visit.

The Tampa skyline
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Tampa Bay is Florida's largest open-water estuary, connecting three counties and spilling out into the Gulf of Mexico (home to all those drop-dead gorgeous beaches you know and love). Historic neighborhoods established at the birth of the 20th century remain some of the most culturally rich and exciting places to visit.

There's also the quirky Gasparilla Pirate Festival that's been invading the shores of Tampa Bay for more than a century. The two-month festival celebrates the invasion of pirate José Gaspar with the country's third largest parade, arts fest, and activities for people of all ages. Whether you want to relax on the nearby beaches, explore the historic neighborhoods, act like a pirate, or enjoy the eclectic food scene, Tampa is a coastal community you should plan to visit.

Where To Stay in Tampa Bay

Epicurean Hotel

The most interesting hotel in Tampa is, without a doubt, the Autograph Collection's Epicurean Hotel. A dream destination for foodies, the theme of the luxurious 137-room boutique property is, you guessed it, gourmet food. Rooms feature artisan pantries stocked with varietal wine and craft beer. In-house restaurant Élevage features international cuisine. The rooftop bar EDGE is a great place to sip on a cocktail with panoramic views of the city as the picture-perfect backdrop. The owners of Bern's Steak House developed the hotel concept, and you can even book a "Bern's Steak-Cation Package," which includes a one-night stay and a reservation for dinner for two at Bern's. There's a theater where the hotel hosts local food demos and programming and the Spa Evangeline for some extra pampering.

Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay

The Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay is an upscale property located near the airport on 35 waterfront acres. The pet-friendly hotel, centrally located between Tampa and St. Pete and Clearwater beaches, has west-facing rooms that offer a front-row seat for the sunset. Nearby the hotel, the restaurant Oystercatchers is a popular spot known for its Sunday buffet, which includes two mimosas or bloody marys with an entree purchase.

Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa

Near the Florida State Fairgrounds, the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa is a destination by itself. The hotel features a casino with high-stakes table games, thousands of slot machines, and a state-of-the-art poker room. Restaurants range from fine dining to casual—even a Sugar Factory for a sweet treat. Visit the Rock Spa & Salon for luxurious treatments, or stop by the nail and hair salon.

Tampa, USA - April 27, 2018: Downtown city in Florida with bridges, highway, boat yacht, skyscrapers office modern buildings cityscape with signs for Wells Fargo, NBC, Sykes
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Hub for Cuban Culture

Ybor City

Known as Tampa Bay's Latin Quarter and founded by a Cuban exile and cigar maker in the 1880s is Ybor City. Stroll along the historic brick streets, breathe in the aroma of café con leche, and notice the resident roosters standing guard like the neighborhood watch. Ybor City is home to the original Cuban sandwich, a meal of choice from the burgeoning community of Cuban cigar rollers.

Cigar Capital of the Country

Today, Tampa remains the cigar capital of the country, and you can still find Torcedores rolling hand-made cigars along La Septima Avenida. The best way to explore the neighborhood is to take a walking tour. You'll get a great history lesson and see Jose Marti Park, named after the great freedom fighter and poet. It's the only Cuban-owned soil in America, and you don't even need a visa to visit.

Florida, Tampa, Ybor City, Historic Ferlita Bakery
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Tampa Bay's Neighborhood Charm

It's always an exciting time to visit Tampa, but you'll want to keep coming back to see what's new. Start with the established hotspots to get a feel for the city's heartbeat, and continue exploring new neighborhoods, restaurants, and things to do throughout Tampa.

The Florida Aquarium
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Channelside District

Tampa's Channelside District, home to Sparkman Wharf, an outdoor entertainment area along the downtown waterfront, features craft beer in a biergarten, live music, and various dining options.

Located in the Channelside District, The Florida Aquarium is home to more than 8,000 sea creatures, animals, and plants. It's a great place to learn everything from sharks and sea turtles to coral reefs and local conservation efforts. The aquarium also offers dolphin tours. Get up close and personal with the stingrays or in the No Bone Zone, a habitat filled with sea stars, anemones, and sea cucumbers.

For more fun animal encounters, head out to ZooTampa, located just outside the main hub of downtown Lowry Park.

Riverwalk and Water Street

San Francisco isn't the only city with streetcars. The nostalgic Teco Line Streetcar System connects the 2.4-mile Tampa Riverwalk, a great place to walk, bike, or enjoy nearby attractions, and Water Street Tampa, one of the largest developments in the nation, including new restaurants retail, waterfront parks, and hotels.

Hyde Park

During the same period that Cuban immigrants were establishing Ybor City, railroad financier Henry B. Plant built the first bridge across the Hillsborough River, laying the foundation for the picturesque neighborhood known as Hyde Park. With its lush and shady tree canopy, early 20th century-era brick streets, and southern-style mansions, Hyde Park is an oasis of history and vintage glamour directly on the bay.

Browse the many shops and restaurants in the pedestrian-friendly Hyde Park Village, an upscale shopping and dining district. The neighborhood's eastern boundary is Bayshore Boulevard, where people bike and walk along the waterfront sidewalk.

Hyde Park, Tampa
Courtesy of Visit Tampa Bay

Arts and Entertainment in Tampa Bay

Outdoor Activities

Tampa Bay leads out to the Gulf of Mexico, and there are plenty of opportunities to spend a day in the sun and surf. If you're brand new to the area, you might not realize that all those famous white-sand beaches are on the other side of the bay in St. Pete and Clearwater. If you want to stick to the Tampa side of the bay, hop on an Urban Kai stand-up paddle board at the docks outside of Armature Works or r check out Tampa Bay Water Bikes located on the dock at the Tampa Bay Convention Center.

Amusement Park

Experience equal parts exhilaration and amusement at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. The theme park, located about 10 miles outside of downtown, has something for everyone, including roller coasters, animal safaris, and entertaining shows. They also host a jam-packed calendar of special events throughout the year, including a beer festival and Christmas town exhibit.

Art, History, and Sport Scenes

There is no shortage of culturally relevant museums and family-friendly entertainment options in Tampa. Art lovers flock to the Tampa Museum of Art downtown, the gilded and antique-filled Henry B. Plant Museum, and the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts for its Broadway-style shows and lively performances.

Nearby on the Riverwalk, the Tampa Bay History Center is a Smithsonian-affiliated museum that chronicles nearly 12,000 years of Florida's past.

If you're a sports fan, there are plenty of opportunities to see the pros in action. Tampa is home to the MLB's Bay Rays, NFL's Bay Buccaneers, and NHL's Bay Lightnin. It's also the home of the New York Yankee's spring training facilities.

Where To Eat in Tampa Bay

Where To Brunch

American gastropub Datz dishes up comfort food and craft beer in a stylish setting. It offers brunch with signature dishes like the Chicken n' Waffle Benedict and mimosa pitchers to share.

Once a waterfront warehouse for streetcars in the early 1900s, Armature Works has been completely transformed into the Heights Public Market, a modern food hall. Located on a 50-acre waterfront property on the Riverwalk, the food hall features more than a dozen vendors, including restaurants that serve wood-fired pizza, sushi, barbeque, cold-pressed juices, empanadas, and more.

Where To Eat Dinner

Tampa's food scene has since expanded, but it all started a century ago when Columbia Restaurant opened in Ybor City. Known as Florida's oldest restaurant, Columbia has also been owned and operated by the same Cuban family for five generations. It's where you go for an authentic Cuban sandwich, paella, flan, a mojito, and an authentic taste of warm hospitality.

Winner of a Michelin Bib Gourmand Award, awarded to restaurants with great food and reasonable prices, The Rooster & The Till offers a tasting menu so you can sample a little of all the best food.

The burgeoning food scene in SoHo and Hyde Park area has a long list of decadent dining options. Perhaps the most famous high-end restaurant in Tampa, Bern's Steak House, with its massive wine collection and romantic dim-lit dessert room, is the ultimate date night spot.

Where To Drink

Enjoy a curated menu of craft beers from local, national, and even international vendors at The Independent. You'll want to visit more than once as the special rotate routinely, so you never know what you might find on tap. The Cafe also serves breakfast, snacks, and German-style platters.

Book a tour with Brew Bus Brewing, which will take you around Ybor, West Tampa, Seminole Heights, and Downtown neighborhoods to discover craft beers and breweries. You can also reserve a Private Bus Tour by the hour, making this a fun choice for a day out with family or friends for special occasions.

Tributed to an Old Hollywood bar of the same name, Ciro's is a cool speakeasy with delicious eats and creative cocktails. Some particularly fun "Elixer" names include Living The Vida Loca, Umami Juice, and classic cocktails like Penicillin, El Diablo, and an Old Cuban.

Next door, Ulele, named after a Native American princess, is a waterfront eatery featuring Floridian dishes and an in-house brewery. A barbacoa grill is one of the ways to prepare meals here.

The Seminole Heights neighborhood is a hotbed of chef-led restaurants and watering holes, with places like Ella's Americana Folk Art Café, a combined art gallery, music venue, and dining spot.

Gasparilla Pirate Festival
Courtesy of Visit Tampa Bay

Only in Tampa Bay

Gasparilla Season

Many events happen year-round in Tampa, but perhaps the most famous time to visit is during what locals call Gasparilla season. Gasparilla events occur every year between January and April, including pirate-themed parades, road races, concerts, art fairs, a film festival, and more.

So, what is the Gasparilla Season? Gasparilla is the celebration of legendary pirate José Gaspar and his mythical invasion of Tampa Bay. The festival's main event is the Parade of Pirates—think Mardis Gras for buccaneers.

Whether you like to try new restaurants, are a history buff who loves exploring historic neighborhoods, or want to dress up like a pirate with thousands of other like-minded mates, Tampa is brimming with seemingly endless things to do.

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